value their children. Critical to effective communication is the ability to be
genuine. Most children can sense an inauthentic remark because the verbal claim is incongruent with the body language. It behooves parents to be congruent; that is, words, body language, and tone of voice should convey a consistent message. Expressing one’s feelings honestly gives children clear and direct messages to which they can accurately respond.
When there is a discrepancy between verbal and nonverbal messages, a child will be confused and frustrated. This is sometimes called the double bind: the child cannot respond to both messages at the same time without being contradictory. The major problem is that neither the parent nor the child talks openly about the confusion, which further obscures the truth. Such distorted communication disrupts family functioning.
Communication will be enhanced if parents use encouraging statements such as, “Mike, you did a fine job of cleaning out the sink,” or “Barb, I know it’s difficult for you to do those math problems, but you’re getting better at it.” These messages are very different from negative appraisals, which tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies—for example, “What’s wrong with you; don’t you know any better?” Such remarks lead to discouragement and uncooperative attitudes.
The most important element of communication is listening. When we are listened to, we feel validated and cared for. Our children also need to be heard and understood. Considering their ideas and caring about their feelings are ways in which parents show they accept their children’s perspectives. Taking the time to know how they think and feel leads to deeper understanding. This is the very essence of how children gain the confidence that culminates in self-esteem and good decision-making.
The following illustration demonstrates the supreme importance of listening. When eight-year-old Mario comes home because he has been hurt by his friend Reed, it is important for him to process his feelings with a parent who will listen and try to understand what he feels. This is not a time for the parent to question, scold, make suggestions to fix or repair the relationship, or insinuate that Mario was wrong; nor should the parent march to Reed’s house to solve the dispute. Listening is especially helpful because it gives Mario a chance to express and deal with his feelings safely with someone who truly cares about him. Doing so provides a perspective that most likely will enable him to decide for himself how to handle the situation. In other words, listening in this situation allows Mario to become responsible for the relationship. Knowing that parents accept, understand, and support them gives children confidence in themselves. Given such assurance, they will be empowered to act appropriately.
There are three main types of definitions of forgiveness (Shults and Sandage 2003). First, we can think of the legal aspects of forgiveness, as in eliminating a debt. Second, therapeutic forgiveness focuses on the psychological and relational benefits of going through a forgiveness process. The final definition of forgiveness is redemptive forgiveness, which emphasizes restoration and reconciliation as an outcome of forgiveness. In family relationships especially, there are many opportunities to practice the virtue of forgiveness. Forgiveness in families is redemptive in nature, not therapeutic, as covenant-keeping families empower and exude the grace of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a two-way process: neither parents nor children are perfect, and they all need forgiving when they make mistakes. Every day, we need to admit when we’ve offended or disappointed someone. Saying we forgive each other is living out grace and acceptance, which is rooted in unconditional loving.
Love You Forever, a wonderful children’s book by Robert Munsch (1986), illustrates this kind of love. The boy in this story makes many mistakes throughout his growing years, infancy through adolescence. However, he is assured each night by his mother that he is loved unconditionally: “I’ll love you forever; I’ll like you for always!” This guarantee of always being accepted, no matter what he has done, gives him the confidence and incentive to love others in the same unconditional way. Such is the love we experience as God’s children and ought to extend to our children.
Serving Empowerment gives children the sense that their contribution to the family is
valuable. The perspective that each family member serves and supports the others imparts a feeling of worth and esteem to children and adults alike. When children are expected and encouraged to participate in the functioning of the family, both emotionally and physically, they sense that the family is more than a group of separate individuals. They begin to see themselves as part of a larger system that is greater than all the individual members put together.
When children sense that they are an integral part of the family and that their input is esteemed, they are glad to cooperate and serve. Their contribution will be not only instrumental (doing chores) but also emotional (uplifting the family mood). They will help create family morale, identity, and unity.
Discipline The Bible uses words such as love and honor to describe the ideal parent-child
relationship. Various Old and New Testament passages also discuss the
importance of guidance and correction, and these passages promise that good training will pay off because children will not depart from it. They learn from sound discipline and eventually become self-disciplined, responsible adults.
One helpful method of discipline is the concept of natural and logical consequences (discussed in chapter 6). This method is familiar to us because God dealt with the children of Israel in a similar way. God’s people had to face the consequences of their choices and behaviors. There are consequences to be reckoned with when we disobey. The blessing of the covenant was conditional in that they reaped what they sowed (although God’s gift of love and grace was unconditional). God has laid down laws such as the Ten Commandments to guide us in rightful living, which will bring meaning to our lives. God has our best interests in mind and knows what will bring fullness and peace and purpose.
In the same way, children learn best when they experience consequences for their behavior, especially if they realize that the rules are a product of their parents’ love and concern for them. This is in contrast to training children primarily by punishing their negative behavior, an approach that puts all the responsibility on the parents—they alone make the decision to wield punitive power when they are displeased. It is more helpful for children to come to understand that their misbehavior has specific consequences and that the ultimate responsibility rests with them.
Take the example of five-year-old Alexis in a rocking chair. Rocking back and forth brings pleasure and joy, but if she rocks too hard or becomes too rambunctious, the chair falls over and she suffers the consequences of her action. This experience helps her monitor herself the next time she rocks in the chair. Children find their own limits through these consequences. As they self-correct and set appropriate boundaries for themselves, they are taking responsibility for their actions.
How should parents go about the business of setting up fair and reasonable rules (with logical consequences) to help their children learn limits and eventually become responsible for their own behavior? Children should be given a reasonable limit and told that a specific consequence will be applied if they go beyond that limit. For example, if Ming is given the task of taking the garbage out before dinner, he has a clear task and timeframe. When dinner comes and he has not remembered to take out the garbage, his place at the dinner table is not set (meaning no plates, utensils, cups, etc.). Of course, he will get dinner once he completes his task of throwing away the trash.
Notice how the consequence is logically related to the misbehavior and carried out in a clear and pleasant manner. There is no need for a verbal reprimand, which might well lead parent and child into a useless power struggle and
sidetrack attention from the child’s responsibility for the consequence. The main point is that the parent does not need to scold or punish but must see to it that the child becomes fully aware of the consequences of the behavior. Additionally, with a clear expectation and consequence, silence allows the child to own the problem and its solution. One important caveat is that the consequence needs to be something the parents can live with. For example, if it is challenging or uncomfortable for parents to withhold dinner until the task is completed, then this approach should be used with some other logical consequence. This allows the child to accept limits and eventually to achieve self-discipline.
Obviously, a crucial point is how the consequences are set up and carried out. The consequences should, of course, be appropriate to the child’s age and maturity. Also, parents should not be unduly restrictive and punitive by making rules and regulations that seem unfair or unreasonable to the children. Remember that the certainty of the consequence is more important than the severity.
Here the idea of the family council comes into play. When children are old enough, they should be included in setting up the rules and the consequences of failing to keep them. The family decides together what are reasonable rules and expectations for everyone. It must be an equitable arrangement. For example, if the family rule is “no dishes are to be left in the sink after supper,” then every family member must submit to the consequence. Therefore, if the father forgets, he, like any other family member, must wash the dishes the next morning.
When assigning chores, wise parents are flexible and listen to every family member. Perhaps someone is too fussy about how the beds are made, and another too careless in mowing the lawn. If folding laundry is assigned to a teenager, then clear expectations about how to fold the laundry should be provided. However, if a particular family member is too picky about how the laundry is folded, they should either take the chore on themselves or not complain or redo the folding after the teen completes it. Individuals need to complete their tasks to their ability and their preference. These matters need to be discussed together openly in the family council. This is the time and place to set up assignments that are age appropriate and fair. The family council provides an opportunity for children to learn the democratic principles of equality, freedom of speech, and fairness. All members should have input as to whether the emotional needs of the family are being met. Even the youngest child can point out that the family is not spending enough time together having fun and give suggestions for remedying the problem. Or the teenagers may need to point out that since they are older and can handle more independence, it is time to make some changes in policies.
The mode of discipline we have suggested entails personal empowerment. The ultimate goal is mutual empowerment among all family members. Of course, the
onus of responsibility will initially be on the parents. They will need to take time with the family, listen to each member, and consider the uniqueness of each child. The parents must be willing to forgive and be forgiven, set an example by submitting to the same requirements asked of the others, and model love and caring behavior, fairness, and consistency. As modeled in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15), wise parents allow a child the right to choose a behavior despite the consequence to be faced. They know when to step back and allow the consequence to do the correcting, as well as when to intervene to prevent a destructive consequence from exacting its toll.