Back in August I shared some thoughts on child discipline and child affirmation. I have been meaning to get back to those, to flesh them out a little more with our own experiences and practices. This isn't to say, "This is how you must do it," but rather, to share a little of what those thoughts have looked like in our life and in our family. If you haven't read those posts yet, I encourage you to do so: Thoughts on Child Discipline and Thoughts on Affirming our Children.
Guess who didn't want to clean up the mess she made?
Katie is our "wild card."
Our first three children were fairly easy. Sure, each of them had their issues and difficult stages, but for the most part the stages were simple, straightforward, and short-lived. I never went through a time of "I have no idea what to do with this child!" and for the most part, obedience came calmly, evenly, and just as we expected. The kids learned from a very young age that mom and dad are in charge and that it is their job to obey. We taught them and trained them with love, patience and grace and basically, everything went smoothly. Perfect, no. Smoothly, yes.
And then we had Katie. She is strong-willed, feisty, mischievous, sneaky, and doesn't like to do things she is told. Starting at around the age of two, we realized that parenting her was going to be a whole new ballgame. We would give her directions such as, "Go get your jammies on" and she would reply, "But I don't want to." "Katie, why did you go potty on the floor?" "Because I wanted to." "Hey Katie, look, it's raining!" "No it's not!" Ad infinitum.
Katie tested every parenting theory and practice we had. We have had to worker harder to gain her obedience than the first three (combined!) and we have had to extend grace and patience in levels that could only come from the Lord. We never tolerated sassiness, back-talking, or willful disobedience (all were met with loving and gracious discipline), but the road to her submission to us has been long. We had to adjust things as we went, we had to try new techniques, and we had to just wait. We had to wait for her will to break without her spirit being broken in the process. I would never want to break that spirit—I am sure God has BIG plans for that BIG personality!
And that's where my first point about child discipline comes in:
Kids are kids. “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a fact. Time, maturity, and diligent parent training are the cure…not our angry words.
I remember clearly the first time I "got" what this verse meant. I was dorm parenting teenagers and some of the things they said were so outlandish that I would stand there stunned. One day I was especially frustrated with the blatant selfishness of a student and God clearly spoke the words of Proverbs 22 into my heart and mind: "Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child." I realized right then that to expect a child (even a teen) to act like an adult is like wishing for snow in July. It just isn't going to happen (at least not in the Northern Hemisphere!) Foolishness is bound—tied tight—to a child's heart. It is a fact. They act like immature kids because they are immature kids. The mess up, do silly things, have accidents, make bad decisions, and test the boundaries. It's because they are kids.
Angry words are not going to solve this (though I admit to having some angry words with my Katie!) Becoming angry with a child and raising your voice is not the way to steer a child back on course. The only thing angry and loud words achieve is your child becoming afraid of you. Instead, as parents we need to understand and accept the fact that this foolishness that is bound to their hearts is only going to be loosened by time (and thus patience), maturity, and diligent parent training.
Diligence: Careful and persistent work or effort.
As we train our children, we have to offer them unconditional love and grace while we make every effort to put them back on the path of obedience every time they step off. There isn't room for inconsistency in our discipline. Inconsistency tells our kids that the issue isn't always important—it's only important when we are annoyed enough to deal with it instead of just "letting it go."
And so it has been with our Katie. Her foolishness is bound a little tighter than the other kids'. But with persistence, loving and gracious training, and consisten discipline we are seeing the gentle bending of her will (with her spirit still intact!) By us understanding that her behavior couldn't be "yelled out of her" and that instead, her foolishness is part of her natural, sinful nature, we were able to step back, breathe deep, and prepare ourselves for the long haul of diligent training.
Is she now—at age three and a half—a perfectly obedience child? Ha! No, not at all. We joke that Katie is a little sugar and whole lotta spice! But you know what? The diligence is paying off. She's watching her steps. She's trying to obey. She comes to us when she has a problem. She is making better choices. She is learning to obey with a cheerful attitude. We have a long road of ahead of us, but we are prepared to give her (and the other kids) all the time, patience, love, grace, and guidance that she needs.
That way, when she finds her baby sister's diaper rash cream and decides to give herself a facial, we can lovingly take a picture and then explain to her that she needs to ask mommy and daddy before she puts anything on her body.