Here’s the punch line: a child has two gaping needs that only you can fulfill in the beginning. One is to be loved; the other is to matter. If you see to it that both these needs are fulfilled, childhood misbehavior will virtually melt away. How do you parent to these ends?
To be loved?
Raising outstanding godly offspring is a private, deep, hidden work that happens behind closed doors. It means saying “no” to almost everything else for a number of years,even many social activities. It means becoming occupied with your children, consumed with them. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34).
A mother may be physically with her children day in and day out, but her mind may be continuously distracted somewhere else. The great surprise in raising children is coming to the realization that they have the same full emotional world with all of its concerns and misgivings and challenges that you carry…only they can’t articulate it as well. Think of how huge your own world is…and what goes on in your brain just about you, every day. Well, it is just as huge to your child. Every child is as you are now, barely able to see past himself! And this doesn’t go away. It grows and grows. It is what being a human being is: a waltz with the infinite nature of being made in the image of God.
To begin to win his heart you must begin to see life from his point of view, as well as your own. Is there something in his day to challenge him, to excite him, to occupy him meaningfully? Is he noticed, cherished, valued? The small conversations between you two now are the privileged entrance to the adult conversations of tomorrow. Are you investing in a future best friend, or do you view this present seeming trivia as non-consequential, a distraction from people whom you’d rather talk/be with? For a child will eventually go where he is emotionally nourished. Your best defense against the appeal of outsiders is a good offense. Love your children better than the other guy does!
Bonding with mom and dad is hugely important to emotional stability for all of life. When children are infants there should be tons of skin-to-skin contact and touch. There needs to be lots of eyeball-to-eyeball warm loving talk/chatter/cooing. More. And as they grow, there needs to continue to be appreciative godly touch (for their sake, not your own), augmented by warm, loving verbal bravos – “Atta’ girl, you can do it!” “What a guy, terrific!” The message needs to be loud and clear to each of your children that “You are the apple of my eye”—exactly as the Heavenly Father gives love to you every day. Just because there are thousands of people in the world doesn’t diminish His love to any one of them. Parenting is a crash course is spilling love everywhere, continually, becoming godlike.
Parent your children as you feel the Heavenly Father parents you as an adult. Take note that when He disciplines you, He never withdraws from you. He is still right there, a humble prayer away. He puts His own pressures upon you, but continues loving dialog with you in the darkness. Get your children steadily under your arm, firmly by your side, looking at life together. The perspective is, “We are looking at this challenge together”—whether it be the child’s own individual challenge or the family’s collective challenge.
This concept is only a continuation of the way you first greet life together. When you bring a new baby home, it is optimum to have your previous baby by your side while someone brings in the new addition. Your family greets the new child together, conveying the warm message that this is our baby, not a replacement of you. And through the years, you need to keep the message coming. For example, “This stranger or friend whom we are now talking with is not a replacement of you. This person is an enrichment to both of our lives. Sweetie, come sit quietly with us; we want you.”
And then the child needs to see that you are continuously placing before him small incremental academic challenges: anything that stimulates and enlarges the brain’s capacity…so that life has luster to him. So, he can become skillful (i.e., capable), fearless in any new setting, a contributor to life. Mental stimulation is vital to becoming a full human being. A child needs to know that it matters that he even exists—not just to his parents, but to a larger world as well!
There is nothing so intoxicating as learning something new, if it is done right (in small enough increments), and personally becoming more than you were yesterday.
Copious amounts of stimulation is what is needed. If you don’t provide access to this in this wholesome way, your children’s need for it will be met in devious ways or by aimless daydreaming, or via the first leap out of the home possible, or through inordinate, continual absorption in thinking about a future far-off marriage. Home must be subtly and continuously exciting, a place of ongoing education. If children’s heads are veritably spinning with the next great challenge today, they won’t have time to think about a maybe “better” future, or life in someone else’s home or in some other place.
Keep the carrot dangling in front of your children. Say “no” to everything else until this is happening on a continuous, routine basis. Say “no” to even more things. Concentrate. Focus here for no regrets. You’re dealing with childhood dynamite. There is only a short fuse, and you only have a few years to make sure it goes off in the right direction.