I want my baby to love me, will he hate me if I say "NO" to his desires? How do I know if I am asking too much of my child? Are there any guarantees that my teenager won't rebel? All parents have questions like these running through their minds frequently. Are there any good answers? I believe there are some uncomplicated yet difficult answers to these questions. If you would picture your dear little one as a precious plant being nurtured in a garden, you will understand the necessity of four different goals each child must reach to become a successful adult.
When starting a garden, a gardener must plow the land and plant the seeds in straight rows. This way he can tell the true plants from the weeds. He also must set some kind of border around his garden to keep out predators. These same truths apply to your little ones. A clear picture of where you want your child to head in character and development is absolutely essential. Many parents have a vague goal of a "nice person" or a more specific goal of an "NFL star" but few parents have thought about the real character that must be developed to make their child a "nice person" or a "star" of anything. Character goals such as unselfish, thorough, hard-working, enduring in difficulties, and clear in communication are all necessities to reach those vague goals. But how do we develop those?
Just as a gardener must have straight rows to determine the plants from the weeds, a parent must set clear boundaries for the child that focus on what the child is developing in his belief system and will affect every decision he makes. It is important for you as the parent to understand that your twenty to thirty years of experience over your child's few years establishes you as an "expert" whose opinion should/must be respected. Ask yourself, "What does my child need to believe in his heart in order to have a basis for right decisions that benefit everybody involved?" Another fact that you must keep in mind is that a child does not have the chemistry in his brain for actual cause and effect reasoning until he is seven or eight years old. This means that long explanations of your reasons behind a rule will be treated as white noise and will teach your child to turn off his attention when you speak. By the time he is old enough to receive good explanations of reason behind a rule he will have such a habit of turning you off that he will no longer listen to you. So, from birth to the age of three, setting and holding boundaries must be your first priority using a simple, "NO" with a low voice and scowl on your face or "YES" with a high voice and a big smile on your face. This is also the era when "because I said so" is an acceptable answer. You will continue to work on instant obedience to commands in the following years but the first three are essential for building laws in the belief system of the heart of your child. First of all, he must believe that there is someone bigger and stronger than he, who knows more about the world and will make sure he is safe even against his own will. Secondly, he must believe that he is not the only person who exists in his universe and that it is his responsibility not only to take care of himself but also to take care of the others in his universe. His third belief must be that he has responsibilities in life simply because he is alive and a part of a working, breathing family, and it is expected of him to fulfill his responsibilities with a cheerful attitude and a quick response. Try to imagine the results in an adult's life in his work, schooling, family, community and relationship with God if he has not developed these beliefs. Lastly, knowing that there are safe walls around him that will not move no matter how hard he pushes against them, will make him feel secure. Affection and allowing for individuality is important but these do not make a secure child. I like to recommend an "Ask, Tell, Command" system of training that keeps the parent from anger and develops a quick and pleasant response in the child. This kind of training has often saved a child's life but cannot be developed if the parent is not clear and very firm in setting boundaries. We often think that the "patient parent" is the "nice parent". However, "patient parents" often discipline in anger because they allow the child to disobey and disobey and disobey, until they are driven to exhaustion and then anger. On the other hand, the parent who uses "Ask, Tell, Command" requires obedience long before being driven to anger so discipline is delivered in a quiet, calm, firm and loving attitude. the process works like this: "Ask"; "Johnnie, please pick up your toys". It is expected that Johnnie will immediately move to start picking up his toys. If he does not, then "Tell"; get down on his level, look straight in his eyes and say it again with a kind but FIRM tone of voice. Now, if he does not immediately move to pick up his toys, you know he has made a clear decision to disobey and so the "Command" time has arrived. You will say, "I am sorry you chose to disobey me. Now I have to give you a discipline to help you remember that it is very important and much better to obey me". Then you give a discipline that will be a reminder to the child that it is easier and more profitable for him to be obedient. Watch how you give a "time out: if this is your preference of discipline. Most "time outs" simply give a child time to play or daydream his time away and/or dream up how to get even with his parent. You can read a suggested "time out" format that I have found very helpful to many parents and children in my book, "The Four Seasons of Fruitful Parenting", which you can find in the store at www.SermonOnTheMount.org. Be sure to always end a discipline time with hugs and forgiveness so that you end in fellowship with each other.
Predators are an issue that every gardener and parent fears. We set up boundaries like, "Don't talk to strangers" to try to keep our children safe. But there is a more common predator which is ruining children's lives than even strangers. That predator is "lack of self-control". This predator leads a child to anger and violence, losing friends, losing moral purity, losing jobs as an adult and losing their own family. Without the development of a belief in clear boundaries a child's prospects of happiness and success are very limited. However, the most difficult issue with setting boundaries on a child is that this requires the parents to set very firm boundaries on themselves. It takes a lot of self-control to get yourself to move out of that comfortable chair or to lay down that thing you are doing to get eye to eye with a disobedient child for the "Tell" let alone the "Command". As a result many parents "Ask, Ask, Ask" until the child learns that they do not really mean anything they say and it is not necessary to obey. This could mean life or death to a child who is heading out into a street with a coming car he does not see. Your command, "Stop!" if immediately obeyed, will save him but are you sure he will obey? The picture of this situation in your mind will activate you to do the training ahead of such a crisis and get yourself out of that chair. A gardener does a lot of work before he gets anything out of his garden. But it is the vision of an abundant harvest that keeps him doing it.
Boundaries bring focus and power. When the water coming out of a hose is weak, we all know to either put a thumb over the opening or to screw on a sprayer head and suddenly the water sprays with power. The actual amount of water and water pressure has not change in the hose, but the power has. By constricting the opening, the water molecules are forced to line up and work together instead of freely bouncing off the hose walls. This produces greater force and better usefulness. This is also the basic difference between a swamp and a mighty river: boundaries or banks.
So what will you and your child be: a stagnant, purposeless swamp or a clear, powerful river bringing life to all around it? The answer is in the boundaries that build the life-giving beliefs.