This post is adapted from Bonding with Your Child through Boundaries by June Hunt with PeggySue Wells.
Train Up Your Child
God intended “home” to be an incubator for children, a place for kids to explore their world and to become all he created them to be. Within this safe nest, your role is to nurture their potential, discourage their defiance, and focus on their strengths.
Scripture tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This verse doesn’t mean there is one ironclad set of boundaries appropriate for training all children or that parents who adhere to those rules are guaranteed godly offspring.
The point of parenting is not to cultivate uniform perfection. “Train up a child in the way he should go” refers to understanding the natural bent of each of your children and encouraging their growth from that perspective. As you discern their God-given strengths, you need to establish firm and fair boundaries to instill the self-discipline required to reach their full potential.
To this end, here are eight important dos and don’ts for bonding with your child through boundaries:
1. Do . . . mold your children’s will without breaking their spirit.
That old saying is true: “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” Even as you reinforce boundaries, treat children with kindness, patience, fairness, and respect. This will uplift their spirit, demonstrating their value as a unique creation of God. Children need their parents to lovingly affirm them with plenty of hugs, kisses, and pats on the back. They need you to praise their efforts— which they can control—not just their abilities.
2. Don’t . . . use harmful practices.
Such practices include unfairness and harsh punishment, impatience and jumping to conclusions, perfectionism and hurtful comparisons, or other tactics that constitute verbal or emotional abuse. To avoid humiliating your child, support in public, confront in private. A parent’s goal is to shape the will of the child without breaking the spirit. The Bible says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col. 3:21).
3. Do . . . communicate your expectations clearly.
Model effective communication. Prior to problems arising, describe in detail what you expect your children to do (and not to do) and what will result regarding rewards and repercussions. When training your children to obey, you’ll sometimes need to give gentle reminders. Mastering new information doesn’t happen overnight. After all, it even takes adults twenty-one days to form a habit.
4. Don’t . . . plead, excuse, lecture, or become emotionally distraught when your child disobeys.
These tactics remove the focus from the problem behavior and place it on . . . you. Speak clearly and confidently and, if necessary, rehearse or role-play your words before they’re spoken. Don’t allow your children to negotiate and argue with you as if they were your peers. They’re not.
5. Do . . . wisely pick your “battles,” leaving room for kids to act like kids.
Don’t be overly rigid, bound by rules, or legalistic. However, when your kids cross established boundaries, enact firm and fair repercussions—every time. Said another way: Wise parents pick their battles, and win the battles they pick. Never underestimate your children’s awareness that they are breaking the rules. Therefore, never excuse or tolerate willful violations of important boundaries.
6. Don’t . . . punish children for acting their age—when they’re not being rebellious.
The point of parenting is not perfection. Allow and encourage children to express themselves—their questions, doubts, fears, and skepticism—with creativity and youthful exuberance.
7. Do . . . help your children see their misbehavior as a problem they can solve.
This teaches them problem-solving skills that will serve them for a lifetime and helps them own their behavior rather than excuse it. When you identify misbehavior as a “problem” and ask your children what they plan to do about their problem, you communicate that they, not you, need to take a leading role in finding a solution.
8. Don’t . . . allow your children to transfer their problems to you.
Yes, you want to be available to help. But, whenever possible, don’t let your child’s problem be your problem! Don’t rescue kids from the repercussions of their own responsibilities. Allowing kids to reap repercussions based on their problem behavior reinforces this point. We are individually responsible for our own irresponsibility. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
June Hunt is the founder of the international ministry Hope For The Heart. She is the author of numerous books, including Hope for the Heart, Caring for a Loved One with Cancer, and Bonding with Your Teen through Boundaries, and Bonding with Your Child through Boundaries.