What if instead of focusing on our child’s behaviors, we focused on the heart of our child? I am not suggesting we should ignore inappropriate behaviors, but that we also take the time to dig a little deeper.
Several times over the last few months, we have had a chance to see how this would work with our daughter and her tween and teen friends. When punishment is given to this age group, it seems to be more immediate and forceful. I am not sure if the parents are beginning to wear out or if it is an impatience with repeated behaviors. I have seen quite a few girls recently try to explain what happened to parents who refused to listen. In most of the cases, I was aware of the entire story and the child had some very valid points.
I have found that having an open discussion about the situation can be very enlightening. You may be surprised at what motivates your child to behave in certain ways. Your child will probably be surprised you really do want to hear his side of the story. You may be tempted to interrupt several times as you see flaws in his reasoning. Be patient and let him talk until he has said everything he wanted to say.
If you have the luxury of time, tell her you need to reflect on what she said before you render a verdict. Pray about what you have seen as your daughter gave you a glimpse into her heart. Beyond the actual misbehavior, what heart issues did you hear? Your child might even surprise you. Perhaps her heart was in the right place, but she made an inexperienced, unwise decision. Those types of infractions should probably be dealt with less harshly than cases of bad attitudes or defiance.
Once you have identified any potential heart issues, it is important to find a consequence that will help work on the heart as well as the behavior. I am a firm believer in being honest with your child. Tell him what you heard that disturbed you. In a loving way try and work with him to find a way to soften his heart. Try to keep whatever fears this exercise produced in you quiet enough to deal with your child calmly. In my experience, screaming never accomplishes as much as a good heart to heart conversation.
The most important thing to remember when disciplining a child of any age is that you are training her to respond to God’s correction. Training her heart to be soft and open to correction is essential to her leading a Christian life. The last thing you want for your child, is to be someone who knows all of the “correct” things to say and do, but has a heart that is hardened to God and His instructions.
This method will take a lot more time and energy than a more standard approach to discipline. On the surface your child may turn out to be just as well behaved as another child. Yet you will have taken the time and energy to really get to know your child’s heart. You will have more chances to try and mold it into a heart God can use. The extra time and energy expended on your part could just make an eternal difference in your child’s future.