The Bible has much to say about the way that parents should act toward their children. More than that, the Bible commands that parents should actively “train” their children (Proverbs 22:6). The promise is there so that we might have confidence that we can be used by God to help shape lives. But parenting is not an easy task. We have detailed some of what the Bible has to say in some of our earlier posts on this blog, but left off last time talking about four methods of parenting outlined by God’s relationship to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3. We said that these methods are:
1) Set forth your expectations and objectives clearly.
2) Inform the child of the consequences for not meeting those objectives.
3) Be consistent with your consequences
4) Model good behavior.
We looked at the first of these methods here. There we said that we should make our children understand what we expect of them, both in actions and character. If you don’t know what you expect of your children, how can they know what you expect? How can they understand their place in your family? It’s important to be clear with them about your expectations and make sure they know, too. When you are clear with your “house rules” and can articulate them, that will help you determine what consequences you can use when those rules are broken.
In Genesis 2, God gives Adam his one instruction, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.” (Gen 2:17) But then He immediately follows it up with what would happen if they did not obey His command: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God clearly states His command, and then says what will happen if they do not obey.
We should follow God’s example and be clear in explaining consequences to our children. This does not mean that you have to explain every consequence. For example, while God said that death was the penalty for disobedience, he did not tell them about the additional curses that He inflicted on them, such as the introduction of painful labor in birth and the difficulty in farming. But He did explain that they would be sufficiently punished for their sin and told them of the worst of the punishments.
When we tell our children of consequences of disobedience, we are setting before them a choice. Sometimes sin is ignorant and sometimes it is willful. I believe that willful sins should be punished more severely than those done in ignorance or accidentally. When our children know their consequences, we can go back to when we explained it to them. We can say, “I told you that you would be punished if you did this. You went ahead and did it anyway. So now I must punish you, because you chose to sin.” It puts the burden of their consequence, not on you as a mean parent, but on them as a creature with free will that made the wrong choice.
Another benefit of explaining consequences is that it forces you to think about what is equitable. It makes you really consider what are serious offenses and what appropriate punishments there might be for breaking your expectations. It will stop you from making ridiculous, spur-of-the-moment punishments. Some parents just wait until they are upset, and then dispense unreasonable and unjust punishments. “Since you didn’t clean out the litterbox, no television for a month!” First, it’s not fair to inflict such a harsh punishment that if you haven’t explained it. Second, it is unrelated to the offense. Third, it is probably overly harsh. The punishment should always fit the crime. Fourth, it is so over the top that it is unlikely that you will be able to follow through with it. It would be better to say, for example, “Caleb, I asked you to clean out the litterbox. You watched television instead. Since it has become a distraction for you and led you to disobedience, I think it would be appropriate for you to not watch TV for the next two days. This will help you remember to do what I have asked you to do first.”
Again, I am not saying that you cannot punish a child unless you have explained every single consequence associated with their disobedience. But when children know their boundaries and what will happen if they don’t obey, they are much more likely to do what is asked. It will reduce frustration with the parents, reduce frustration with the children, and be more effective in the long run. It will also help cement the partnership between parents. Sometimes I will come home and Amy will say something like, “I told Ben that if he jumps off the couch he will lose his turn on the tablet.” That puts both of us on the same page, and helps us to be consistent.
Next time, we will talk about what kind of punishments are appropriate, but for now, understand that it is good and beneficial to explain consequences to your children when you tell them your expectations.