A Romans 5 Approach to Parenting
Sometimes parents are afraid to be firm with their children for fear that their kids won’t like them or that they’ll add too much pressure that their kids can’t handle. Unfortunately, many children take advantage of their parents’ graciousness and don’t reciprocate in a positive way.
It’s Training Time
The reality is that many children need a boot camp experience in following instructions, working on attitude, or getting control of their anger. Firmness is an important parenting strategy.
Firmness makes a child’s present pattern of response uncomfortable. It’s amazing how comfortable some children are with resistance, whining, meanness, or a bad attitude. Firmness makes it clear that we aren’t going to continue to live this way.
Firmness Isn’t Just More Consequences
Some parents immediately think of consequences when they think of firmness, but consequences are only a piece of the strategy. One of the things that makes firmness work is clarifying expectations. When you write it down, post it on the wall, or simply ask your child to repeat what you expect to happen, you are increasing your firm approach.
Another aspect of firmness is constructive confrontation, that uses the power of words without anger to give further clarity to the situation. Getting close to a child and saying, “Kailey, it looks like you’re not obeying me. I told you to stop watching the video and come and help me in the kitchen. You need to turn it off now.”
Anger at kids isn’t necessary, but your close proximity increases the child’s discomfort. When a child doesn’t respond to your relational approach, firmness communicates that change isn’t optional.
“I’m Waiting” Increases Accountability
Firmness might also come in the form of waiting expectantly. When you give a child an assignment, don’t just walk away and assume it’ll get done. Your child may need for you to stand there for a few moments to make sure he’s moving in the right direction. Your firm presence at that moment increases the discomfort and moves children forward.
Sometimes parents move too quickly to correction strategies and overuse their toolbox of consequences. The reality is that all consequences weaken their usefulness over time so when possible, it’s best to rely on other change tools such as firmness. Constructive confrontation, waiting expectantly, and clarifying expectations are all-important for establishing a firm parenting approach and often work before consequences become necessary.
Focus on What to Do, Not Just What Not to Do
Be careful, though, that you don’t just focus on what you want your child not to do. That’s correction. Children also need training to do the right thing. Focus on what the child needs to do instead. In fact, it’s best to focus on a heart-quality or character issue. “Trevor, we’re working on kindness and what you just did to your brother missed the mark. So, I’d like you to try that again. Show me some kindness.”
Character is often learned under pressure. It’s true that life imposes its own pressure on our lives but sometimes kids can’t feel it. That’s when parents must help them feel the pressure a little more. We aren’t suggesting that parents be mean to their kids, but it’s often helpful to make a specific effort in certain areas for kids so that they can strengthen areas of weakness.
The home is a place for children to learn and grow. If kids don’t develop self-control, cooperation, honor, and integrity at home, they’ll have a much more difficult time out in the world. In fact, your controlled firmness at home can teach children lessons more easily than the harshness of life that will come later.
A Lesson from Romans 5
Romans 5:3-4 reads, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The important principle in this passage is one that applies to all people, even children. Growth often takes place under pressure.
Notice that there are four words in that verse. Suffering, perseverance, character, and hope. When parents increase the pressure (suffering) and give kids a plan (perseverance) then growth (character) is the byproduct and a positive view of the future (hope) is the result.
Your parenting strategy needs to have a focus on character and a willingness to add some suffering, in the form of firmness, into your child’s life. Essentially you’re going to communicate the message that we aren’t going to live this way any more. The message is “This isn’t good for you now or for your future and it’s not good for our family.” Your strategy is to help your child feel uncomfortable with the present operating plan. Things have to change. Firmness starts moving kids in a positive direction.
It’s about the Heart Not Just Behavior
But don’t just start being firm without giving your kids a plan of what you want them to do. Focus on the character quality you’re trying to develop.
If your daughter resists instruction you’re going to work on cooperation. If your son is mean to his brother then he needs to learn kindness. If you have a child who lies, then integrity is the goal. If you keep your eyes on the positive character needed to move forward then you’ll be able to maintain a positive approach even in the midst of the pressure you’re creating.
Your child needs to develop perseverance, but few children understand what it is. Kids tend to live for the present and often want things immediately. Adults know that many good things take time and hard work, and children will need to develop perseverance in their lives in order to be successful.
If you’re developing a plan for meanness then help your child know how to persevere. After all, when his little brother is annoying, how should your son respond without meanness? When your daughter wants to finish her video instead of helping you in the kitchen, how should she think differently about the situation?
Answers to those kinds of questions help children know what perseverance looks like in very practical terms.
Kids Start to Change, and Change Brings Hope
Once you have clarified the goal (character) and you’ve given your child a plan (perseverance) then you add the firmness (suffering) and good things start to happen.
The beauty of this approach is that kids not only start to change but they experience the hope promised in the verse. They begin to believe that it is possible to get a good grade when they work hard, or handle their emotions when they develop self-control.
Using the Romans 5 model for helping children change patterns of negative behavior gives both parents and children a roadmap for addressing difficult parenting challenges.
Not only do the children experience more hope but parents do as well. Firmness is an important component of a good parenting plan when it fits into the positive, forward looking approach of focusing on the goal of character development.
Instead of just telling kids what you want them to stop doing, you’ll be challenging them to work toward a goal and move forward toward maturity.
Listen to Dr Turansky’s podcast on Leading a Child to Christ.