Good Kids aren't the result of Luck

Good Kids are not a Gift of Fortune

A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother. Proverbs 10:1
It’s grocery-shopping day. You’re about halfway done, and it seems like in every aisle you’ve had to tell someone to stop picking up items or to stay by the cart. You encounter a mother whose cart is just barely containing a three-year-old who has thrown her head back and begun kicking at her mother and screaming, “BANANAAAAAAAAAA!” The mother looks at you as you approach and says to you, “You’re so lucky you have good kids.”

In the moment all you can think to do is smile, thank her, and walk away praying for her, but you’re also rather annoyed at this mother’s foolishness. Luck? Seriously? If only you had the time to tell her what it really was.

Or… are you the mom with the screaming preschooler? Are you the one who thinks your child just has a strong personality and can’t be subdued the way the most well-behaved children are? After all, even though your child throws tantrums every time she doesn’t get what she wants, she’s generally sweet and obedient… after arguing her point about everything, of course.

You have heard it said, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6. You agree with it heartily, but what exactly does it mean?

There is much to be said about this verse, indeed much more than can be said in a blog post, so let’s look at a few of the DOs and DON’Ts of carrying out this command.

DO raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Let everything you do be to the glory of God, and teach your children to do the same. Many, many behavior issues, especially when it comes to how to treat others, boils down to not loving our neighbor. Have you looked at 1 Corinthians 13 lately? “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth…” (vv4-6).

We like to think of these verses for ourselves, but do we apply them to our children? Do we excuse selfishness with toys or shrieking because the child doing those things is fifteen months old? Well, here’s a “do” for you: DO start early. Too many parents don’t give their children nearly enough credit; they understand exponentially more than they can articulate.

Have you seen a grumpy, even angry, “mean-mugging” one-year-old who always insists on his own way and has his parents wrapped around his finger? Have you seen a sweet, smiling, caring one-year-old who listens when his parents tell him no or faces the consequences when he doesn’t? The difference is not personality, it is his parents’ expectations and requirements of him.

Notice these descriptions. The first toddler has taken over as boss of the house, probably because his parents are busy with older kids and find appeasing the little one easier than constantly disciplining him. But, for this reason, his entire household is in distress because he is the tyrant of the abode. When he says, “BA!” he gets the ball, no matter who has it at that moment. When he says, “NACK!” he gets a snack–even if mom is cooking supper right at that moment. It is expected that he is the baby and will grow out of this behavior, but the truth is that he is learning to treat himself as more important than others–the opposite of the command in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”

If there is anyone with empty conceit, it is a toddler. No, a child that young cannot read Philippians, and no, he doesn’t exactly understand what humility is, but if he were four years old instead of one, wouldn’t you be requiring the right behavior and teaching the reasons for it? So, just do that now instead of attempting a 180 in three years with a child who has learned that everything he does is right.

The second toddler is not an angel child by any stretch of the imagination. He does disobey (and by this age, yes, it absolutely does count as disobedience and probably has for at least a few months now), and maybe he even screams when he doesn’t get what he wants. But his parents have set standards. He is not allowed to disobey, and every time he does he receives immediate consequences. He is not allowed to throw a fit when he doesn’t get his way, and when he does he receives immediate consequences.

Now, in this case, personality almost certainly plays a part in how often he has to face the consequences of his actions. Some kids only have to be told once about things like biting Mommy when they’re nursing. But some kids are the five-year-old who got second-degree burns and literally thought he died for a minute from sticking keys in an outlet yet is still tempted to stick things in outlets–just a hypothetical example, not a real kid. And we probably all know the kid whose parents refused to say “it just doesn’t work” to tried-and-true discipline and worked with their child ten times a day, every day, for about five years, before they finally saw the consistent fruit of their persistence. So, yes, personality can play a role in how many times a child must be disciplined or face the natural consequences of his actions, but this does not determine how diligent his parents must be. In fact, sometimes the naturally more compliant children are the ones you have to look out for because of the simple fact that they haven’t had to be corrected as many times as their stubborn siblings. They haven’t had as much training!

You’ve likely looked around your church and seen a variety of behavior types. There are differing standards that are acceptable, and there differing standards that are not. Make sure to talk to your husband about what standards you should have for your kids during church, and review them from time to time to see if any reevaluation or renewal of commitments is needed. A simple handle for church behavior is, again, to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). Apply this to your children and to yourself; consider how what your kids do during church might affect other people. For example, maybe their whispering doesn’t distract you, but it might distract the people in front of you. Or, perhaps your kids are allowed to run in the house, but they need to know they aren’t allowed to run in the church building because they might hurt someone.

Consistency and immediacy are the key here. Have set standards, and if you don’t know what those standards should be, ask someone with good kids. If you’re tempted to think certain parents are too strict, consider the idea that you might not be strict enough. Are the kids generally happy and friendly rather than awkward and scared? Do the children, especially the older ones, seem like they understand and accept why their parents have the expectations and requirements they do? If you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, chances are the parents are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Don’t ever count to three with your kids. Just don’t. Tell them what to do, and if there’s any cause for doubt that they heard or understand what you said, tell them one more time. But then require obedience–on your terms, not theirs. Don’t be lazy and holler at your child from the other side of the room ten times. If she doesn’t obey the first time, go to her and make her do it.

Don’t get exasperated with other people telling you what your child did wrong, even if the one telling you is another child. Not every bad report is a tattle. Don’t write it off as an accident or ignore it. Make every effort to find out what happened and remedy the situation appropriately. And for goodness’ sake, if your child has a habit of lying, don't take his word on everything.

Speaking of lying, have a zero tolerance policy on that particular sin. Lying is destructive in ways other sins aren’t. Have you considered what “nip it in the bud” literally means? It’s getting rid of the thing–whatever has begun to take root and poke its head out of the ground–before it’s had time to bloom and grow. This should be done with every sin, whether in our children or in ourselves, but this is especially true of lying. When he makes up a fantastical story and tries to convince other kids it’s true, that’s the bud. Of course, telling fantastical stories is a good thing, but telling people those stories are true is a lie. When she said she only used one pump of hand soap but the sink is filled to the brim with bubbles, that’s the bud. Nip it.

There are many, many more things that could be said about raising your kids to be godly, but we must not merely think we can do it alone.  The most important thing you can do is often the last thing you consider- that is prayer.  Be on your knees constantly before the Lord begging Him for your children's souls.  

Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher, spoke about how often his mother would pray for his siblings and him.  On one occasion, he walked in on her praying this way: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” The thought of his own mother bearing witness against him pierced his soul and stirred his heart. Her intercession made such a deep impression on her young son that many years later he would write, “How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come?” Another time she wrapped her arms around his neck and simply cried to God, “Oh, that my son might live before Thee!” The deepest desire of her heart was to see her children embrace her Savior.

Good children are not the result of luck but they are the result of God's grace as we live out our faith in obedience.  Teach them obedience, discipline them, pray for them, and constantly share with them the truth of God's grace.  
“Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace….” Psalm 144:12