Controlling Chaos vs. Obedience Training for Young Children

10 05 2009

I love training my children.  There are few things more exhilarating than watching a self-centered, flesh-dominated, God-hating, sin-loving little hellion steadily transform into a soft-hearted, God-loving, others-serving contributing member of the family.  I often joke when holding a new baby in our family that I can’t wait until they get to be about 9 months old where I can begin to discipline them.  As much as I enjoy cute cuddly babies (as anyone who is friends with me in facebook can attest) I enjoy even more the process of training young children.

But I’ve noticed more and more lately that my passion is not shared by many around me.  This has confused me for a long time but I think I’m just now beginning to see possibly why.  Most parents actually don’t train their children and Christian parents seem no exception, but almost all parents still discipline their children.  When I would see a parent discipline their child I assumed it was for the purpose of training, but as I’ve observed more and more families over time, I’ve discovered that their discipline is not really training. It’s for the purpose of controlling chaos.  The two couldn’t be any more different.

Here’s an example.  You’re at a public place with your kids and a couple of friends and their kids and you begin to realize your child is being too rowdy, loud and disruptive.  You call to your son Johnny as he walks by saying, “Johnny, come here, I want to talk to you.”  But he’s having too much fun so he ignores you pretending to not hear.  “Johnny,” you call more loudly this time.  He ignores you again.  Now you’re realizing you’re causing as much noise as he ever did and he’s quieting down so you go back to your conversation.

I’ve seen this scenario so many times and it has often puzzled me.  My thought hasn’t been judging the parent but seriously curious as to why they were willing to let that perfect training opportunity pass them by.  I treasure the rare moments when my children deliberately defy me or my wife because they provide the perfect moment to reinforce the child’s need to obey his or her parents.  But, in the above scenario, I’ve watched parents ignore sometimes 10 opportunities in a 30 minute conversation.  What is going on here?

This is my hypothesis.  These parents aren’t trying to train their children to obey, they are trying to control chaos.  Their discipline is based on the amount of chaos they can handle at a given time.  Deliberate disobedience is far less of a concern.  Therefore the child learns to monitor their parent’s mood and the situation closely knowing that the things they can get away with are not dependent so much on them and their behavior as on their parents and the environment.  This is a disaster for kids.  It makes the parents patience and tolerance the real trigger for discipline instead of the child’s behavior.  It trains kids less how to obey and more how to manipulate a situation.  This leads the child to routinely push his or her parents to the edge since they have been systematically trained to find that edge of tolerance and keep their parents there continuously.  How exhausting for the parents.  How destructive for the children.  And when they see an obedient child their reaction is, “I wish my child had that temperament”.  So they blame their child when they have spent years training their children to behave in this manner.  There’s a much better, easier way.

Parents need to intentionally train their children to obey.  This is a very simple process.  All you need is to 1) believe two passages, 2) have three disciplining tools and 3) to embrace one management style.

Here are the two passages –

1. Proverbs 19:18 – “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.”

2. Ephesians 6:1-4 – “1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2″Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3″that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

The three discipline tools vary greatly from child to child but for each child there needs to be tools at at least three levels of intensity.

1) Intensity Level 1 – A tool when you are trying to train a child in a new behavior (i.e. to remember to clear their plate). We typically use only positive reinforcement here.  We give our kids a marble (= $.50) to reinforce each time they do something new we’re training them in.  When they get 30-40 marbles we head to a toy store to buy let them get something special.

2) Intensity Level 2 – A tool that represents when they are reverting in a behavior they’ve already been trained to do.  This, in our family, is usually simply taking away a marble.

3) Intensity Level 3 – This is a training reaction when they are doing something dangerous like run out in a busy street, hitting another child or …. deliberately disobeying their parents.  Yes, disobedience belongs in this category of intensity (if you don’t believe me read above verses).

“But I would be doing level 3 intensity constantly.”  With some kids it can last a couple of years, others a couple of months (and they all occasionally slip) but it will be worth every bit of energy to 100% of the time react to disobedience with the highest level of discipline you believe is healthy for your child.

But if you are going to discipline in this way you need to, as soon as possible, macro manage your children and not micro manage them (Ephesians 6:4).  What this simply means is you can’t create 1000 obedience/disobedience scenarios for your children daily.  The older they get you need to give them more and more freedom and not dominate them but understand the goal is for them to grow up and wisely make decisions on their own allowing for feedback and discussion to disarm the disobedience bomb from going off when it doesn’t need to.  But they have also learned to respect and obey their parents and have learned they can control their will to do the right thing in almost any circumstance.  That is the ideal state in which to begin to train a child how to walk in the Spirit and in obedience to their heavenly Father.

No one is hurt more by controlling chaos parenting than the children.  It is selfish of parents to make their own needs the basis for when and how their child is trained.  Please consider giving your children the gift of obedience training.

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