17 December 2017

Family Matters: Follow the Leader

Chris writes:

You have the school report in your hand. You are on your way to the teacher-parent interview and you are about to experience one of the few times when someone will be honest with you about your child.

Hopefully you are a parent who looks forward to being told how hard working, obedient and caring your child is. However, you may be a parent who dreads being told what you think you already know and feels powerless to change the situation. My mother stopped going to my secondary school parent interviews when I was around 15, explaining that she was aware that I did not work hard enough at school and she did not need to travel into the school in Belfast to be told what she already knew.

Like my mother, you may be a parent not looking forward to a meeting with your child’s teacher, or you may be simply feeling embarrassed or frustrated about your child not doing what you have asked them to do. If this is you, you will not be surprised to know that this is a situation which has occupied many parents over many years.

When I started working as an educational psychologist I used to run parenting courses and at that stage of my life my main focus was on how to get a child to do what you wanted them to do. Some of you are thinking, that sounds great, please tell me! My short answer is to watch and listen to the ‘Supernanny’ type programmes on television and take on board everything she says and does.

Do not just focus on the punishment aspects of the programme, on their own they are rarely enough. You have to also include the times of praise, fun and relationship building. It is this combination which is the most effective in shaping the behaviour of the child.

Whilst it is important that we have the skills to encourage our children to obey us, as I have got older, I have become less interested in the mechanics of getting children to follow instructions and more interested in what type of children we as parents are creating. In Stephen Covey’s excellent book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families’ he has given his second chapter the title ‘Begin with the End in Mind’.

What form should our vision for our growing children be? I think that it is safe to say that our vision for our children should be the one that is based on Biblical criteria and not the criteria of the particular social group we mix with. This requires some thought and consideration as at times it can be difficult to separate the two, but these will be some of the best spent hours of your life.

When you have isolated the kind of behaviours God expects to see in you as His child, live them out yourself and then encourage your child to copy you.


Susan writes:

Sometimes it is very difficult to know how to discipline a child, isn’t it? Trying to decide the how, why, when and where can often be pretty stressful. Are we being too hard on them? Is it really worth getting excited about? Should we leave it until we get home before dealing with the issue? What IS the best way to communicate to our children that we are not happy with their behaviour? We want them to be obedient but we don’t want to flatten them, do we? These are questions that most parents have to tussle with on what seems a rigorously on-going basis.

In consulting with our eldest child about our methods of disciplining him, one might believe that we were too harsh on him. Certainly, as far as he is concerned he feels he was hard done by when he sees how we respond to his youngest sibling. The youngest, on the other hand, still remains very offended and aggrieved because he was ‘the only one ever grounded’! I can’t even remember this one incidence, which steadfastly remains his plaintive against us as being ‘tight’ parents.

From our perspective, our disciplining mainly came from hearts of love motivated to discourage selfishness. Most of the time (sometimes it WAS our loss of control) our call into submission was a genuine attempt to encourage them to become the people that God designed them to be. Unfortunately we did not always get it right and sometimes were too harsh. For those times we apologise.

I am sure, like me, most of you have an impression of what you were like as a child which affects how you see yourself today. I had a bit of a surprise about myself a few years ago whenever my dad happened to mention that I had been a bit of a handful as a little girl. He proceeded to ream off a hefty stream of incidences that supported his argument. This was quite a shock for me as I had always thought of myself as a very quiet, obedient child. An only girl sandwiched between two brothers, I saw myself as a sort of Cinderella, helping around the house without any fuss or deliberation. Or so I thought! As for arguing with my parents, sulking and putting up a fight…unbelievable!!! Or at least so I thought!

I would encourage you to take a trip down memory lane with someone who knows and cares for you. Perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a few surprises!

With fresh evidence against me I felt the need for further clarification. If I am honest I was looking for evidence to disprove his memories but it sort of back-fired!! On asking some of my children (and I thought I had chosen the children carefully) what they thought of their mother in terms of submitting and acquiescing they laughed and asked if I was joking. They too proceeded to validate their prognosis with some rather painfulto-acknowledge examples of times when I have not been as submissive to authority as I should have been.

This revelation has prompted me to examine my attitude to God’s Divine authority in my life. I want to submit to God and live obediently to Him. However, I am being prompted more and more to examine the rebellious aspect of my character and ask myself if it is holding me back from really experiencing His Kingship in my life. God wants to discipline us so that we too can experience the joy and security of being His children.

Chris and Susan