14. Encourage positive character qualities. While we may be challenged to compete or excel in the beauty, brains, and brawn pageant, we all have the ability to be honest, courteous, cheerful, loyal, enthusiastic, faithful, and much more. The ability to develop these qualities is totally separate from what anyone thinks of us. And the affirmation aspect of this goal is the great value these qualities will be to your children in the workplace, their future marriage, the mission God calls them to, etc.
When I visit with high school students on the topic of dating, I like to ask what makes a girl or boy popular with the “in” crowd. Good looks and a confident personality usually top the list. When I ask a group of guys if they sit around and talk about a girl’s loyalty, honesty, and integrity as an attraction for dating, they ROFL. Our culture glorifies the superficial, yet the character qualities we are emphasizing here are the very things that contribute to a tremendous marriage; the ultimate goal of dating. We encouraged our children to look at the character of a potential dating partner when entering a relationship that may lead to marriage as opposed to being swayed by someone who is good-looking and makes you laugh.
How do we instill these positive character qualities into our kids? We teach and we model. Ages 1 to 7 are known as the “age of regulation”. We make the rules and consequences clear. On the negative side, we punish for willful defiance. On the positive side, we teach healthy character traits through charts, stickers, rewards, and other motivational methods. By ages 8 to 12, children enter the “age of imitation”. If we have developed a relationship with our kids, they now take on the positive character traits they observe in us. We are not just the authority figure; we are the inspirational figure as well. And it behooves us to walk in a worthy manner as an example to our children.
#13 Teach self-control. One of the fruits of healthy discipline is self-control. Children are generally motivated by a desire to have their needs and wants met right away. They want their desires attended to pronto. Self-control, on the other hand, brings some patience and thoughtfulness into the equation.
There are three aspects of self-control we want to teach our children. First, we want to teach the concept of delayed gratification. Not everything has to happen right now. Sometimes the desired activity or reward needs to wait. One way we taught this concept to our kids was in how we let them spend their money. We encouraged and guided them in how to save their spending money for something they really wanted but required more than their cash on hand; rather than running to the store to spend all their money every time they earned some pay.
Another aspect of self-control we want to take root in our child is the idea that we cannot and should not satisfy every physical desire. Just because they can conceive it, does not mean we have to achieve it. We need to teach them the priority of legitimate needs over wants. We need to teach them how self-control becomes a godly weapon in the fight against our sinful desires and irresponsible behavior. These lessons, learned early, set an incredible foundation for a lifelong walking in the Spirit.
Lastly, we want to teach our children the important role self-control plays in controlling our tempers, speaking without complaining, not giving in to anger, and defeating other negative behaviors. For the believers in your house, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and as such, walking in the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit and we will not satisfy the desires of the flesh. Can self-control be taught to children before they have the Holy Spirit to empower them to live it? I believe it can because they live in a sanctified home. In our homes, we have many opportunities to practice this lesson. And you are the ones to teach them how.
#12 Discipline in an emotionally healthy manner. Children do not feel good about themselves when they “get away with things.” At the same time, discipline that is arbitrary or angry is unhealthy and frustrates our children. We encourage our kids when our discipline instructs and teaches rather than serves as an avenue to “get even” with our disobedient child.
In the early years, children are motivated by discovery and feeling, not by reason. As they develop their understanding of right and wrong, we need to make the rules abundantly clear as well as the consequences or punishment if the rules are broken. One of the areas we need clarity is recognizing the distinction between childish irresponsibility and willful defiance.
Things like leaving their baseball glove out in the rain or spilling their milk at the dinner table are examples of childish irresponsibility. These things happen because children are forgetful, clumsy, immature, etc. Children should not be punished for being children.
Willful defiance, on the other hand, needs to be addressed with immediate and appropriate discipline. What do I mean by willful defiance? Let me give you an example from our household without identification to protect the miscreant. We had a gymnast toddler who somehow managed to stand up in her high chair no matter how secure we made the seat restraint. On one of the occasions when Houdini stood up in her chair, I calmly said, “_____, please sit back down in your chair.” Her response was classic toddler. Rather than sitting down, she put her tiny foot up on the tray in a Captain Morgan pose and looked at me with the clearest, “NO and what are you going to do about it, Dad?” expression you have ever seen. This is willful defiance. The child clearly knows and understands what is expected and goes in the opposite direction. So, I did something about it. I administered an age-appropriate spanking in a controlled manner and gave her a another opportunity to obey. We celebrated her new choice to obey her parents.
An expanded version of Ephesians 6:4 might read, “Fathers, do not provoke, antagonize, or exasperate your children to the point of harming your relationship. Instead, nourish them by establishing a training program that puts into their minds the ways and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we discipline in an emotionally healthy manner, we encourage – not frustrate – our children. And a training program that follows this path will nourish your kids.