Raising Children Successfully

By: Bill Stephens

Anyone who’s done it knows that bringing children into the world and giving them the love, the discipline and the guidance they need to become mature and responsible adults is a large assignment. Three suggestions I would like to make to those hoping to succeed are as follows:

Always Keep Your Word

If you promise a child you’re going to reward him for doing something good, be sure to do it. If you threaten to punish him for doing something bad, be sure to do that also. Failure to keep your word will shatter his security and leave him in a state of confusion. If he can’t depend on you to keep your word, on whom can he depend?

I’ll never forget the disappointment I experienced when I was only five years old. Dad offered to pay any of us children one cent for every pound of beans we picked before Saturday noon. Since I wasn’t in school yet, as my brothers were, I had the advantage. With a burning desire to get ahead in life I threw a sack over my shoulder and headed for the bean patch every morning as my brothers went off to school. They may have been learning how to read and write, but I was making money! For several days I worked knew this amounted to a dollar when wages were dispensed.

When the beans were weighed on Saturday, mine came to 100 pounds as I knew they would. A brother had weighed them for me every day after school and added up the totals. Needless to say, I was not only proud of the work I had done, I was also looking forward to my reward. It was the first dollar I had ever earned.

When the older children received their wages it was one cent per pound as had been promised. But when my turn came and dad weighed the beans I had picked, he mumbled something about it wasn’t possible for a child my age to have picked that many beans even though the scale proved otherwise, so he
handed me a quarter instead of a dollar and closed up shop.

I’ll never forget the hurt I felt. I’d been cheated and I knew it, by my very own dad. Dad hadn’t kept his word, and that hurt me more deeply than the loss of funds. Of course I got over it as the years passed. But even though dad died more than 30 years ago I still wish he hadn’t done that, because it placed a question mark in my mind over his integrity and lowered the esteem I felt for him in my heart.

A child’s confidence is shattered when a parent doesn’t keep his word, whether it involves a sack of beans, a candy bar, a trip to the zoo, a weekend at the beach, or anything else that’s been promised.

Always do what you say or your child won’t know what to expect or on what he can depend.

Johnny had a handful of mud and was ready to fling against the house when his dad shouted: “Johnny, don’t do that or you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.” Johnny thought for a moment and then, splat, the mud landed against the house. “Johnny, I said — no!” his dad repeated. “If you do that again I’ll have to give you a spanking.” Stooping down, Johnny scooped up another handful of mud and with a little less reluctance this time, splat, the mud landed against the house again. “I’m not kidding, Johnny, if you do that again, I’m really going to spank you,” Dad insisted. A little bolder this time, splat, another handful of mud landed against the house. “What am I going to do with him?” Dad shouted to Johnny’s mother who
was watching the ordeal nearby.” He acts like he really wants me to spank him.” “Did you say you would?” she asked. “Yes! I told him before he did it the first time!” “Well, maybe Johnny just wants to see if you can be trusted.” “What does trust have to do with it?” “You said you would spank him if he threw the mud against the house. Now he needs to find out whether you’re a person of your word. If you don’t keep your word on this, how will he be able to trust you on anything else?”

Frequently parents make exaggerated threats to get their children to obey. This is a mistake. Sally was aggravated because Karen was dawdling while the rest of the family was waiting for her to get into the car so they could continue on their vacation trip. To get Karen to hurry Sally shouted, “Karen, if you’re not in this car in one minute, we’re going to leave without you!” Karen made it on time because she didn’t want to get left. For the next hour, however, she sat motionless in the back seat wondering if her mother really loved her or if she had lied. If she really loved her she wouldn’t leave her at a service station in a strange city while the rest of the family proceeded with their vacation. If she wouldn’t have done that, why had she lied?

Always be careful to do what you say. That’s the first suggestion I want to make; otherwise, your child won’t know what to expect or on what he can depend. This doesn’t mean you can’t review a problem with your child and even alter a decision you’ve made, or change a punishment you’ve promised, because you realize it was excessive or unfair, or simply because your child is truly sorry for what he’s done. It does mean, however, that you’re a person of your word and your child knows it!

Never Reward Misbehavior

The second suggestion I want to make is, don’t reward misbehavior or you’ll only encourage it to continue.

Janice threw a tantrum in the grocery store when her parents wouldn’t get her the toy she wanted. She kept on pouting and whining until her parents were so embarrassed they finally gave in just to get her to hush. That was the mistake. The lesson Janice learned was the way to get what you want is by embarrassing your parents thoroughly enough in a public place. If you say no to a child, then after he’s pouted for three days and has gotten over it you decide to give him what he wanted he’ll learn to throw a
tantrum, go on a pout, and get over it, just so he can get his way. It’s amazing how much pain a child will endure if in the end he can get his way.

The reason children whine, pout, and throw temper tantrums, of course, is to get what they want. Once they learn this kind of behavior doesn’t pay it will be dropped. Who wants to put himself through this when nothing is to be gained?

Be careful not to reward misbehavior or you’ll only encourage it to continue. That’s the second suggestion I want to make.

Allow Natural Consequences to be a Teaching Aid

The third suggestion I want to make is: allow your children, especially as they grow older, to endure the consequences of their own mistakes. Children won’t become mature and responsible adults if they’re overprotected. They need to learn while they’re growing up that life bites when irresponsible
choices are made.

It’s a mistake for parents to constantly bail their children out of trouble. They need to learn early in life that bad decisions bring painful consequences. When Joe was in the first grade he insulted his teacher and got away with it because he was so young. When he was ten he stole candy from the grocery store and was released to his parents, and nothing more than a scolding was received. When he was fifteen he stole the keys to his parents’ car and was arrested for driving without a license. His father paid the fine and didn’t require Joe to pay him back. Once again Joe got off scot-free.

Joe’s parents meant well when they spared him the consequences of his misbehavior. But all they ended up doing was causing him to believe he could do anything he wanted without consequences.

When Joe left home to face life on his own, he finally had to face up to the consequences of his own irresponsibility. He got fired in a flurry of words two weeks after he landed his first job because he constantly arrived late.

Joe became bitter and blamed his boss for what happened. He hadn’t learned during childhood, a little at a time, that there’s a relationship between behavior and consequence. Now he has having to learn it as an adult. For the first time in life his parents couldn’t save him from the consequences of his misbehavior. Needless to say, Joe had an awful time submitting to authority and fitting into society as an adult. Emotionally he was stillan adolescent because his parents hadn’t allowed him to endure the
consequences of his own mistakes while growing up.

We do our children a disservice when we don’t allow them to learn early in life that there’s a connection between behavior and consequence. I suggest, therefore, that when Kevin misses the bus a couple of times because he dawdles in the morning instead of getting ready, let him walk the mile to school (unless safety factors prevent it). Do it even if you have to follow close behind. Let him explain to the principal himself why he is late.

If Pam keeps on losing her lunch money, let her miss a meal. You’ll not want to carry this too far when children are small. As they grow older, however, you must insist that they assume responsibility for the choices they make even when these choices cause pain.

Conclusion: To help your child become a mature and responsible adult always keep your word, be careful not to reward misbehavior, and allow them to endure the consequences of their own mistakes consistent with their age. These are the three suggestions I want to leave with you today.

(The above material appeared in a March, 1992 issue of The Bethany Voice.) Christian Information Network