This post is part of a parenting series that started with a reader question. Before reading this post, I recommend that you first read the introductory post and the post about discipline.
Something that Brian and I hear is that we have to get our kids under control. It usually happens when someone sees one of our children get very angry or upset about something (it can very loud). The logic is that if I want to be able to control them when they are teenagers, I need to lay that foundation now, while they’re smaller and weaker than I am.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to control my sons when they are teenagers. I want them to be able to control themselves! God does not want to control us — He wants us to obey Him because we love Him and we trust that He loves us!
So rather than using techniques to modify their behavior, Brian and I focus as much as we can on love, on how to be loving to others, on how to respect others. We are trying to teach them how to be angry without hurting the people around them (which we are both still learning ourselves). We talk a lot about bodies and boundaries and consent.
We spend a lot of time talking about reconciliation and why Jesus came. We talk about being gentle with other people and ourselves (3 out of 3 of our children are perfectionists – NO idea where they got that). We talk about the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. We talk about how this stuff is HARD and we need HELP and God came into the world and into our hearts JUST to help us walk in His Light!
We are doing everything we can to teach our children how to control themselves. Because if they get to be teenagers, and they need us to control them to avoid hurting other people – who will control them when they leave home?
Jesus and the apostles talk a lot about self control – and it is all self-motivated. He never once tells us to “find someone who will control you.” No! Be self controlled! Be self-disciplined! Pick up your cross (not ask someone else to pick it up for you)! Run the good race! I believe that the Bible is talking to children, too.
If our children are on their own walk with God, then we have to LET THEM be on their own walk with God! We are here to help them learn HOW to do the work — we are not here to do the work for them. We must not simulate the work of the Holy Spirit by modifying their behavior – we must teach them how to ask the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts and minds so that their behavior is naturally overflowing with His love.
This all takes time. We have to be careful to have reasonable developmental expectations. I remind myself often that I have had 31 years to learn all this stuff and I still mess up — I must not let myself get angry because they, who have had 5 and 3 years to learn, do not get it right all the time. We bear with each other in love — they love me and forgive me freely through my mistakes and I love them and forgive them freely for theirs.
Jesus is at work in all of us. Jesus overflows with grace and discipline so that we can overflow, too.