It is easy to make things other than the gospel central in our parenting, especially in crisis moments. I remember when our youngest got fixated on a pair of shoes at a shoe store when she was around 5 years old. Now I used the word fixated because it was not a waning interest or a mere fascination. She wanted them badly because they sparkled and because they, in her mind, would transform her into a princess. Several factors led to an epic meltdown over said shoes. The first mistake was taking her into the shoe store. The second was letting her wander a bit while we focused on shopping for shoes ourselves. The third mistake was always calling her “my little princess” a lot around that time. The fourth was letting her watch Barbie videos…I could go on, but it all culminated in this moment and what was about to transpire was nothing short of a full blown meltdown—the kind of parenting moment where you just want to die but you have to drop everything and try to find the exit before the sprinklers in the store go off.
Most of you with kids know what triggers that type of seismic event. It is one simple word: “No.” If you are honest, in these situations you fear saying it, you calculate the distance to the exit, if you’re smart, and you think to yourself “where do I turn in my parenting card I obviously have no business raising this child.” If your parenting is centered on making your child happy or on not being embarrassed in a public place, you may never experience this moment, but at the expense of a spoiled and entitled child. However, I also think you will have fewer of those incidents if your parenting is gospel-centered.
The question at hand then is “How do I keep the gospel central in my daily parenting?” You’ve probably asked yourself that, and then thrown your hands in the air because here was yet another thing that you felt was too complex and time consuming for your busy day; nevertheless you completely understood the need for it.
Well, I’ve been there myself as the story above shows. Take heart, it’s actually not as complicated as you think. Consider a couple things before you try to make this a formula for success. How old is my child? When do I walk them through this process? Am I ready to do this a hundred times or more before they really understand the connection between behavior and their heart? To give you a sense of what I saying, let’s walk thought the process.
Step 1 – Identify Heart Issues (Hebrews 3:12-13)
This passage warns of the deceitfulness of sin. It is not enough for us as parents to see our children’s sin; we must help them to see it.
Questions prick the conscience but accusations harden the heart!
You may be wondering, “But what questions do I ask?” or “How do I know what I’m looking for in an answer?” Here are a series of questions** that can be asked about any particular incident to understand the heart issue(s) your child was struggling with in that situation:
What was happening? What was going on? (Proverbs 18:13)
Pick your timing here, usually for younger kids this is after a discipline session and when they have calmed down. Get their perspective on the situation. Don’t argue or correct just yet, unless they are just completely distorted in their perspective. Remember this: don’t reason with an unreasonable child; better to come back and try later than to re-escalate a tantrum.
What were you thinking and feeling? (Psalm 139:23-24)
Get them to slow down and don’t take “I don’t know!” for an answer here. You can ask with grace and help them to articulate since most kids have trouble with this, but don’t skip this step! I find giving a child a forced-choice continuum is very helpful. Like, “Were you thinking, I want it and its mine, or I don’t like him and he can’t have it, or I am jealous and I want something for myself?”
What did you do in response to what you were thinking? (Luke 6:43-45)
Get them to confess their sin here or at least identify the wrong behavior. It is their behavior they must take responsibility for, not the other person’s issues. But don’t let them play that game here.
What did you want, what were you hoping to accomplish? (Matthew 6:19-21)
Now we are getting to motives. What did you want? The idea is to get them to identify not only what they wanted but how bad they wanted it. They wanted it enough to disobey, to displease God, to hurt or cause conflict with others. This is key because you move from worldly sorrow to potentially godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10-11). Linger here and make sure they see how what they want can rule their heart.
What was the consequence/result of your actions? (Galatians 6:7-8)
They may have got what they wanted in the moment but help them with “cause and effect thinking” here. This behavior or those words got them into a situation where you had to step in and discipline but, more than that, it grieves God and puts them at odds with the Spirit of God. It may also have hurt others and caused dissention among family or friends. It is here that you spell out what fruits of repentance look like and help them to follow through with reconciling with God and others. Some of the sweetest prayer times and intimate moments happen when you follow through in helping your child see the result of sin and the power of asking, and being granted, forgiveness and grace.
As you can see, these questions help avoid the finger pointing that inevitably happens in these situations. They also help our kids figure out what their part was in any particular situation. It allows God’s Spirit to do a work in their heart as they examine their own actions – we all do better when we discover answers for ourselves rather than someone telling us, especially when it is about who we are, what we do, and why we do what we do.
We will examine the other three steps for gospel-centered parenting next month in part 2 of this series.
Dr. Garrett Higbee
* The content of this blog was created in partnership with Scott O’Malley who is on staff at Twelve Stones Ministry, (www.twelvestones.org) in Brown County, IN.