By Beth D. Baus
Often, when parents come for help because they are having difficulty with their child’s behavior, the problems have been going on for a very long time. There are no simple solutions. Nevertheless, there is hope. With proper intervention, support, and lots of prayer, most parents and children in conflict can work out their problems and experience many moments of happiness throughout the rest of their lives.
I’m going to focus on a particular stage of life called “adolescence” because more often then not, this is the time period that parents and children experience challenges within their relationship. I am not saying that this stage offers nothing more than conflict and frustration. To assume that would be a fallacy, possibly resulting in self-fulfilling prophecy since children tend to rise and fall to our expectations of them. The truth of the matter is that most teens go through this stage without any major problems.
One common misconceived notion is that parents have little influence over their children after their pre-teen years. This is also not correct. Parents continue to exert a great deal of influence on their children during the adolescence stage. This is an important time of continued shaping of their character and spiritual beliefs, howbeit, done more carefully and prayerfully than before. One of the main things that can help an adolescent who is dealing with frustration and parental conflict is simply giving them hope for a better tomorrow, as well as helping them feel secure in their parents’ love, in your (the church and ministers) support, and in the love of God.
It will be important to help parents understand that taking care of their teen is very similar to taking care of a young child. All children, in spite of their age, need love, age appropriate discipline, emotional support, and direction. However, in this stage of development some flexibility is often in order.
Teens are young people whose main task is to form their own identity and prepare for adulthood. This is the time of life when once young and obedient children, challenge the authority of their parents. Everything is a catastrophe for them; a pimple, a slightly soiled outfit, or the wrong color shoes can send them spiraling through a variety of emotions including anger, frustration, and even depression. They are very sensitive to criticism and live in the extreme (things are either awesome or horrible). This can also be a time when parents express frustration because their once loving and affectionate children show them little affection and even seem embarrassed to be associated with them. Their behaviors are often inconsistent, one minute wanting the parent to treat them like an adult and the next minute asking for help on the simplest of tasks.
This is not a comprehensive view of this stage. There really are so many physiological and environmental factors involved which vary from family to family. However, helping parents prepare for this journey, and adjust to the changes, can help them get back on the right road of their relationship.
The next part of this chapter will give some ideas on various intervention techniques that may work during your sessions to elicit conversation and find conflict solutions to their problems.
- Consider asking the parents and child prior to your initial meeting, to join with you in daily prayer for one week regarding their family and your upcoming meeting with them.
- Meet with the parent and child in conflict (preferably individually) to get their perspective on the problem.
- Determine the severity of the problem and whether pastoral intervention is sufficient or if a referral to another counselor who specializes in family relational issues may be needed.
- Don’t take sides and be drawn into the conflict. Be as impartial as possible.
- If after your initial meeting you determine that they may need a few sessions to sort out the conflict, obtain a commitment from both the parent and child to attend additional future meetings.
- Do not ignore the healing touch and power of God’s spirit to move in the lives of these individuals by leaning only on your own knowledge of the counseling process.
- Encourage them by helping them understand God’s grace and love during times of crisis.
- Invite the entire family to join together in one session in order to make observations as to their particular dynamics and communication styles, Notice how they all relate to one another, who sits by who and why, is this child the only one having conflict issues, and how the parents discipline the children in the session. These things can you give insight into how this family functions and why the child and parent may be in conflict.
- Ask the child and parent to list a few changes in the other’s behavior that they would like to see. Process the lists.
- Process their feelings of hurt, disappointment, and regret.
- Ask the child and parent to list a few changes in other’s behavior that they would like to see. Process the lists.
- Ask the child and parent to list a few changes in their own behavior that they need to make in order to improve their relationship.
- Help them verbalize what their expectations are, as well as their needs and responsibilities as members of the family.
- Help them come to some agreement on how these positive changes will be implemented.
- Help them verbalize the need to be sensitive to each other’s emotional needs.
- Explore any spiritual struggles they may be experiencing that are related to their feelings of disappointment.
- Process their beliefs about God and their social relationships in the church.
- Help them understand God’s expectations for respectful behavior from both the child and parent. (Prov 22:6; Deut 6:7; Eph 6:1-4)
- Pray with both child and parent before and after each session.
- Promise to pray for each of them every day for the next feww weeks and ask them to commit to do the same.
Raising Children to Love God
For Christian parents, the ultimate goal is to rear children in a God-centered environment so that they will desire a more intimate relationship with Him. To do that, we lay a foundation in their lives that includes knowing, believing, loving, fearing, and serving. In the church, we help encourage these things by providing a setting that stimulates spiritual growth through teaching, preaching, mentoring, role modeling, and making church a place where children feel safe to ask questions about God.
Clearly, each child is born with their own temperament and personality traits that can make helping some make good choices, a little more challenging. We can guide and provide positive Christian opportunities; however, no one can force someone else to make good life choices. Even God gives us (and our children) the ability to choose right from wrong. God promises to lead and direct us, but He will not force us. The goal is to help children want to walk in the footsteps of their God loving parents and those ministers He has placed in their lives, just as we want and desire to walk in the footsteps of God.
Modeling a life of discipleship is of the utmost importance! We are what we observe. Therefore, it is imperative that children see what it means to love God and love this Christian walk through lives of their parents and other people God has placed in their path. A child’s perception of what it means to serve God is built upon their example. It is impractical to believe that we can raise God fearing children if there are not genuine godly examples for them to emulate. If children see prejudice, hypocrisy, and selfishness, they will not be attracted to this Christian way of life. Instead, they will most likely succumb to negative peer influence and later have a negative attitude toward God and the church.
A friend of mine shares this story about her son Richard, who is a bright, but often impulsive young boy. He had gotten in trouble at school and his mother, driving him first to the store and then home, asked Richard to please remind her that she needed to discipline him for the problems he had caused at school that day. She was concerned that because they had to so many errands to run, she might forget. Recently her pastor had made the statement “If you don’t do what you tell your children you are going to do, you are lying.” Not wanting her children to see her as a liar, she asked Richard to remind her.
Just as she had suspected, she forgot. But Richard didn’t. As she was putting her things away, Richard piped up, “Mom, don’t forget about the discipline. I don’t want you to be a liar.”
Teaching children by role modeling God’s character, and not just teaching them His commandments, provides them evidence that living for God is of ultimate importance. Faithfulness to His Word and to the church is crucial. If we have not clearly demonstrated to our children that following God is first-rate, then how will we ever persuade them that understanding and following His laws are worth their effort and time? Simply put, our lips and lives need to say, “I believe in God and His Word.”
Assuring that children have their physical needs such as food, shelter, and clothing provided for is only part of what we do as helpers of God. Equally as important is to help ensure that each child and family member is provided emotional support and spiritual guidance. This is true biblical teaching and modeling of but faith in God, a message that is often not taught with words, but is caught and modeled by our Christ-like actions toward others. No child should ever leave our churches feeling unwanted or unloved; just as no parents should leave without a clear understanding of the principals to Christ centered living. And the most effective way to provide this … is to model it.
The following list can be shared with parents and/or other s of the church staff who provide encouragement and support for children.
Follow Me as I Follow Christ
27 Ways to Show Kids You Care
- Notice them. Catch them doing something right and tell them about it.
- Listen to them. Take some time, make eye contact, smile, and seem genuinely interested in what they are saying. You might be surprised what you will learn.
- Laugh together. (Prov 15:30)
- Model the life of discipleship.
- Teach them good manners.
- Give them space when they need it. This is especially important for teenagers.
- Talk to them about their dreams.
- Be faithful to church.
- Relax. Don’t let your own stress get the best of you and rob you of a good relationship with the child God has placed in your care.
- Apologize when you’ve done something wrong.
- Keep your promises.
- Teach them the Word of God. (Deu 11:18)
- Appropriately discipline them. (Prov 22:15)
- Love God with all your soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)
- Wave and smile when you part.
- Ask them for their opinion.
- Let them act their age.
- Praise more and criticize less. Give them lots of compliments.
- Encourage them. (Prov 18:21)
- Be consistent
- Be flexible. Say yes more often.
- Respect them and their opinions. Thoroughly listen to what they have to say before making any comments or suggestions. Never yell at or humiliate them in front of others.
- Teach by example.
- Love them, no matter what.
- Never forget that to a child, LOVE is often spelled T-I-M-E. (Prov 29:15)
- Pray for them and with them.
- Ask them to pray for you.
Love without discipline is harmful to children. Love that that gives too many “things” can spoil, rob, and give them a false perspective on how life really works. If children get everything hey want and have no responsibilities or rules, and have parents that bail them out of every situation, those same children often grow up to be irresponsible and unthankful adults whose view of ministry and God become more about what they can get, than what they can give.
On the other hand, love that is too demanding and insensitive isn’t love at all. Parents who express their love with rigid rules and have unrealistic expectations, can kill the joy out of any family relationship. When children are always being grounded, punished, and get very little praise, they grow up to become bitter and resentful adults who struggle with feelings of low self worth. In addition, how they see and experience God becomes similar to how they view their parents. If they view their parents as harsh and demanding, they will often view God the very same way.
Children need discipline, schedules, clear expectations, and family responsibilities. But they also need tolerance, tenderness, and support with no strings attached. In I Corinthians 13, Paul describes for us the qualities of this type of authentic love which can also result in a healthy intimacy between both parents and children; “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Discipline can consist of positive reinforcements such as praise for cleaning their room or taking them out for ice cream because they got a “B” in their math class. There are times when negative reinforcements can also be beneficial. Some negative reinforcements that can help teach children what is and is not acceptable are:
- Natural Consequences
- When she/or he throws the toy because they are mad and it breaks, they learn a natural consequence; when I’m mad, throwing my favorite toy only means I won’t have it any more because it’s broken.
- Losing Privileges
- If she doesn’t put away her clean clothes she won’t be able to go out and play. Parents must be consistent and follow through with the consequence or the only thing taught them is that the parent is untruthful and can be manipulated.
- Time Out
- If a child is having difficulty controlling their anger, give them some time to cool down. Be reasonable. The punishment must fit the crime. Be sure to evaluate whether or not they are feeling tired, sick, or hungry, and if those things could be exhibiting itself in the form of anger.
- This usually works best with younger children between the ages of 2-7 and becomes less appropriate when a child gets older. spanking should be used infrequently and only as a last resort. A good “rule of thumb” is to administer this type of correction only in instances of defiance on the part of the child and not for mishaps, carelessness, or displays of immaturity in their judgment. Spanking should never be abusive, never done when the parent’s anger is out of control or at a high level, should never leave any marks, and should be administered with an open hand 2-3 swats on their buttocks, over their clothes, never on their face, or on any other part of their body. Spanking is more beneficial if followed by statements such as, “I spanked you because….” Next time do . . . .,” and should be followed with assurance of the parents’ love for them, if not immediately, than within a relatively short period of time.
Discipline = Love
One of the most virtuous women that I know once told me how she used a simple verse in scripture to teach her son about a very real and intimate expression of love called “discipline.” Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (NKJV)
Her son, a now vibrant, Christian, middle aged man, will tell about the time that his mother lovingly sat him down and showed him this verse. She went on to explain that she loved him very much, and because she loved him so deeply, if he should misbehave in a way that required her to discipline him, she had no alternative but to do so. Not doing so would mean she didn’t really love him. She then gently hugged him and sent her very energetic son out to play.
Not long after their little talk, there came a day when Richard got himself into some trouble. His mother sat him down in his room and reminded him how much she loved him and how easy it would be for her to just turn her head and not spank him. She then reminded him of the scripture in Proverbs and her commitment to God to love her son. To her surprise, Richard, a rambunctious and self willed young boy, looked his mother in the eyes and said, “Ok, mother.” He then slowly turned over and lay on the bed ready to receive his spanking. After the spanking, her beautiful little blued eyed boy, with tears in his eyes, turned around and hugged her neck and said, “Mom, thank you for loving me.”
Sometime later, little Richard got into another skirmish. His father, who knew nothing of the earlier incident, proceeded to spank his young son. Once the spanking was over, Richard, who had not forgotten the scripture that his mother had taught him, reached over and lovingly placed his little arms gently around his father’s neck and with tears in his eyes, whispered, “Thank you Dad for loving me.”
Scripture Reference on Parenting & Children
Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shall love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall gi ve delight unto thy soul.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
- With proper interventions, support, and lots of prayer, most parents and children in conflict can work out their problems and experience many moments of happiness throughout their life.
- Parents continue to exert a great deal of influence on their children during adolescence. This is an important time of continued shaping of their character and spiritual beliefs.
- All kids, in spite of their age, need love, age appropriate discipline, emotional support and direction.
- Teens are young people whose main task is to form their own identity and prepare for adulthood.
- Encourage the family by helping them understand God’s grace and love during times of crisis.
- It is impractical to believe that we can raise God fearing children if there are not genuine godly examples for them to emulate.
- The goal is to help children want to walk in the footsteps of their God loving parents and those ministers He has placed in their lives.
- Children need discipline, schedules, clear expectations, and family responsibilities. But they also need tolerance, tenderness, and support with no strings attached.
- Love without discipline is harmful to children. Love that that gives too many “things” can give them a false perspective on how life works in our society.
- On the other hand, love that is too demanding and insensitive isn’t love at all. Parents who express their love with rigid rules and have unrealistic expectations, can kill the joy out of family relationships.
- Discipline can consist of positive reinforcements such as praise for cleaning their room or taking them out for ice cream because they got a “B” in their math class. There are times when negative reinforcements can also be beneficial.
- If children view their parents as harsh and demanding, they will often view God the very same way.
The above article, “Parent-Child Conflict” is written by Beth D. Baus. The article was excerpted from chapter 7 of Baus’ book Christian Counseling.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.