Children are a gift from the Lord, and all parents want things to go well with their children. I shall share in this perspective some insights gleaned from two parenting courses* God has graciously given me the opportunity to attend.
Just as life can be aimless without a sense of purpose, parenting can be directionless without some understanding of the goal. Thankfully, God has shown us clearly in His Word that the goal of Christian parenting is the fear of the LORD as evidenced by our obedience to His Word (Deuteronomy 6:1-2). To inculcate the fear of the LORD, Alan Wong from Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) shared that we need to teach children that God is not only the God of love but also of judgement and that we are accountable to Him (Romans 14:12). To teach obedience to God’s Word, children must first learn to obey their parents, and parents need to model obedience as a way of life (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
Having settled the big picture, what are some milestones we need to take note of? Paul David Tripp highlighted the following in a Parenting Conference “Getting to the Heart of Parenting.”
Infancy to Childhood (Age 0 to 5)
The central focus for this age group is “Living under Authority.” Because all of us are borne into sin, we delight in self-rule and there is a natural rebellion toward authority. Children from a young age struggle with parents about when to eat, when to switch off the TV, when to go to bed, etc. because they believe they are autonomous – independent and having the right to do with their lives what they want to do. It is therefore critical for parents to teach young children that everyone lives under authority and they need to learn to willingly submit to authority. Here are 4 helpful tips from Paul Tripp on teaching authority to young children:
- Children need firm and loving authority as well as active discipline. The purpose of discipline is to rescue children from danger (their foolishness will destroy them) and to restore them. And the principle tool of discipline for clear rebellion to authority during this stage is the rod or spanking because young children do not know their foolishness (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15-17). When spanking is required, consider the following:
- Parents need to remember that our authority is ambassadorial (Ephesians 6:4) – we are the visible, physical representation of God to our children. It is helpful for parents to ask periodically, “What is my child learning about God’s authority from my authority – from my facial expression, words, tone of voice?” If our expression of parental authority is impatience, anger and condemnation, we are teaching our children that authority is dark and angry and they will grow up rebelling more against authority.
- Teach children the meaning of “honour” in Ephesians 6:1-4. In the words of Paul Tripp, “Honour is treating my parents with respect and esteem because of their God-appointed position of authority.” It is therefore not appropriate for children to address their parents as they would their peers, or to command their parents to do things for them. It is also important for children to learn that while they can appeal to authority, it is the authority figure who instructs/tells them what to do and not the other way round. For example, when a child demands to have a sandwich, mummy can teach authority in this way: “Think about what you just said. You were telling mummy what to do. When you tell mummy what to do, you are not under authority. Now say it in a different way.”
- Teach children the meaning of “obey” in Ephesians 6:1-4. In the words of Paul Tripp, “Obey is a willing submission to my parents that causes me to do what I am told – without challenge, without excuse, without delay.” Because obedience is expected right from the first second an instruction is given, Paul Tripp advised parents to stop counting (e.g., stop counting to 5 because it gives the child minutes of autonomy).
- Pray before you talk to your child (you need to calm yourself first)
- Invite your child to a private place (do not spank in public)
- Sit the child on your lap and discuss the offence
- Give the child an opportunity to confess the wrong
- Pray out loud for the child – pray for God’s grace, pray for obedience
- Spank physically
- Hold the child and assure him that you love him
Childhood (Age 6 to 12)
The central focus for this age group is “Character.” Not every wrong thing a child does is direct rebellion to authority. In a lot of situations, the wrong is a result of a lack of character. And the Bible connects character deficiency to idolatry (Romans 1:25). Here are 4 helpful tips from Paul Tripp on developing character in children:
- It is not enough just to point out the lack of character. We need to help children see that their heart is always ruled by something – God the Creator or Idols the created things (Romans 1:25). For example, mummy is struggling in the kitchen and the child is busy playing. She can invite the child to help her in the kitchen. If the child refuses, she can speak to him at a later time to help him understand what is going on in his heart (pleasure rules his heart) by talking to him in the following manner: “Did you see mummy has a lot of work in the kitchen? Did you care? Did you know why you don’t care? When I was busy in the kitchen, what was important to you?”
- Character deficiency opens up an opportunity to teach God’s truth and administer God’s grace to the child. Some helpful tools to encourage change during teachable moments are instruction, correction (show him the right way), example (talk about your own struggles and confess your need for grace), and rebuke. The following 5 questions can help us understand a child’s heart:
- What happened?
- What were you thinking and feeling as it was happening? (This question looks at the heart.)
- What did you do in response? (We are teaching through this question that behaviour is caused by the heart.)
- Why did you do it? What were you seeking to accomplish? (This question looks at the goal.)
- What was the result? (This question looks at the consequence or harvest.)
- To be more goal-oriented in character development, parents can do a half-yearly assessment on the child’s relationship with God, with others and with himself to see what the child lacks or struggles. For example, is the child lazy or self-excusing or lacking responsibility in his relationship with himself? Is the child mean, demanding and controlling in his relationship with others? Is the child worshipping or rejecting God?
- It takes character to go after character. To help children grow in godly character, parents need to grow in godly character too.
May this closing quote from Michael Youssef encourage us to continually model the faith in all aspects of life so that our children can see the reality of God in our daily living.
“When our children see us clinging to the promises of God,
they will grow up trusting in His goodness.
If we fail as adults in praying for and praying with the next generation,
then they will become spiritually unsure.”
* The two courses are “Dramatised Family Devotion” Workshop by Alan Wong in August 2016 and “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” Conference with Paul David Tripp in October 2013.
Ms Chan Suet Fong
October 9, 2016