Raising children is “steady-at-it-exhausting-work.” There’s no getting around that. The enemy keeps saying “You’re having to do this for so long with no results,” but good results are accruing, like putting investments in the bank. You’ll see it in the years to come.
The surprise to every new mother is the relentless work it takes. The enemy says “You must be doing something wrong.” No, the victory is in the consistency. Every child is like a bird hitting the hard window of sin and falling to the ground. Some children get it immediately. But for others it takes years of hitting that window of the parent’s constancy to get it. That is why you must keep it up, or else all your beginning work is wasted.
Discipline is punitive for the moment—a just punishment for a wayward act. But training is the preparation a mother gives before going into situations (how are we going to act in this restaurant, at this person’s house, in our own yard toward our eternal brother or sister) and the reinforcement she gives after the situation—a vigilance over the conversion of the heart in the matter, for the future. Both discipline and training are needed to raise our little ones. So many mothers stop at discipline and have no idea that the other (training) exists.
Let’s take the case of a children’s mischief of smearing garden fruit-berries on a neighbor’s building. What should you do, once you discover it?
Discipline: administer it at the moment. Ask them what they did (never why; the cause is, in every case, the sin nature in them) and what should they have done? Make them confess it with their lips. If they can’t say it, you’re not there yet. You haven’t gotten to the heart.
Training: make sure that the children understand (and experience as a fact) that every disobedience will be costly to their own self-interest. (They will end up with far more work; something will be denied them; burdensome consequences will shackle their life over the next several hours…). In child training, it is very important that the event stings the child, and that his/her perception if not only that they have irritated you.
Immediately afterwards, find a Scripture verse that gets at the heart of what was violated, and have the child write it. If the child is very young, you can write it and then the child traces the letters. When a child is a wee bit older, you can write it by skipping every other line and then the child can copy it right underneath each word; older children can just copy it straight out of the Bible. Make older children memorize it and come say it to you. Or if it is a longer passage, they can just memorize one line, and then for the next infraction, recite two lines…etc.
Draw a picture of how your child invaded the circle of space around someone else’s domain, personhood and property. Explain how invading that space fully could eventually result in murder—a choice of “me and my wants” over “someone else’s right to exist or have property.” Always multiply the ramifications of the event. “What if everyone did this? Where does this behavior lead? Do you want that?”
Restitution: Gave the child remove the berries with a toothbrush and water, or scrub brush. Write an “I’m sorry” note. Have them pay for new paint. (You get the idea.)
Emotional: Go into your child’s room and say: “Now, how would you like it if I ruined something of yours? If I cut a big hole out of your skirt or pants?, tear up your book?” Don’t actually do it, but let the child feel the emotion of thinking he/she will be violated himself/herself—what a neighbor would feel when seeing it.
Talk about it later—out of the heat of the moment—when things are calm between you, perhaps that evening before bedtime. Talk about what guilt feels like for a long time afterwards. Talk about strategies for overcoming temptations to do wrong in the future.
Have them memorize and say: “Sin takes me further than I want to go, makes me pay more than I wanted to pay, and makes me stay longer than I wanted to stay.” Emphasize that all sin is spiritual leukemia. Only obedience brings blessing. Righteousness gives us a squeaky clean heart, bright eyes, and a clear conscience to carry to bed in one’s heart. A guilty heart is no way to go through life and remain happy. Bright, clear eyes are the final litmus test of whether the heart is clear or not.
Then make sure that you affirm your love of them. Communicate that the event is over with, forgiven; that even parents make wrong choices and have to pay for it in their hearts and lives; that we are all under the wing of God’s good grace; that we may be fully reinstated in the love relationship after we confess it; that we all have the sin nature; that we are all in need of a savior. Emphasize that there is a way out of our every mess. There should never be a lingering coldness and rejection of your children because of some sinful deed. There is warmth within the Holy Trinity at all times.
A closing reminder: not all these training techniques should be used every time. They are just more tools to add to your parenting toolbox. For more tips, see Beyond Discipline or, better yet, our Child Training Tips Bundle.