Everything Old Is New Again

Everything Old Is New Again


by Dr. James Dobson

One night many years ago, when Focus on the Family was just getting off the ground, I was invited to speak at a church in Santa Ana, Calif. I offered a wealth of what I considered to be wonderful insights about biblical childrearing, and after the service, I stood at the front of the sanctuary while 25 or 30 parents gathered around to ask follow-up questions. I was waxing eloquent about the importance of discipline when a loud crash erupted from the balcony.

My own children, Danae and Ryan, were chasing one another over the seats — screaming, falling and tumbling. The commotion resembled a miniature tornado moving through the upper level of the church. I turned and grinned sheepishly at the woman who had just asked for my advice on how to raise well-behaved kids. That was the last time I took my children with me to a speaking engagement!

Despite little embarrassments such as that one, the Lord used those childrearing pointers to help launch the ministry of Focus on the Family and influence a generation of young parents. I can’t take credit for any of it, of course, because the principles I described did not originate with me. Rather, I derived them from the timeless truths of my understanding of Scripture.

The young children of that era have since grown up to start families of their own, and I believe the same basic concepts of parenting and discipline are relevant for their generation. That is why I have been hard at work with the film crew here at Focus on the Family to update and repackage those principles for a 21st-century audience. The result is a new video curriculum and seminar that has been dubbed the Your Child series.

Discipline basics

As I discovered that night in Santa Ana, the principles of good discipline are not designed to turn children into little robots. Despite our best efforts, kids will be silly, sassy and irresponsible on occasion.

Still, one of the primary messages of the Your Child curriculum is that you, as a parent, can avoid some big headaches by following six straightforward principles.

  1. Clearly define your boundaries in advance. If you haven’t spelled them out, don’t bother trying to enforce them later.
  2. When defiantly challenged, respond with confident decisiveness. This becomes easier once you have mastered the third principle.
  3. Distinguish between willful defiance (which usually calls for punishment) and childish irresponsibility.
  4. Comfort and teach your children when the confrontation is over. After a conflict, many youngsters want to be held and reassured. By all means, do so!
  5. Avoid making impossible demands. Never punish a child for involuntarily wetting the bed or for not becoming potty trained in your timeframe. Such unrealistic stipulations will emotionally damage him.
  6. Let love be your guide. A relationship characterized by genuine love and affection is likely to be a healthy one, even though parental mistakes and errors are inevitable.

Compliant vs. defiant

The Your Child series is also designed to help you understand your child’s unique temperament. Some kids are born naturally compliant. They sleep through the night and never soil their pants on the way to church. As they grow older, they love to clean their rooms and do their homework. They get along with everyone, especially their siblings and parents. If you have one of these little angels in your family, be thankful!

On the other end of the spectrum are those youngsters who were born kicking, screaming and ready for a fight. Unlike the compliant child who wouldn’t dream of making a mess in his pants at church, the strong-willed child withholds his internal plumbing until you hand him to a friend who doesn’t like kids and then yours lets loose. The rebellion only escalates from there, all the way through the teenage years. You, the parent, haven’t failed to correctly train your child. He simply has it in his nature to look you in the eye and say, “Make me!”

If you’re the parent of one of these firebrands, take heart. Raising a defiant child is difficult, to be certain. But consider that your strong-willed child may have an even greater potential for character development, accomplishment and leadership than his compliant siblings. The temperament that causes a toddler to stamp his little foot and tell you “No!” may be what will lead him, 15 years later, to say “No!” to his peers when they offer him drugs.

Spiritual training:
the ultimate priority

Above all else, parents must create every opportunity to teach the next generation that there is meaning to this life — meaning that can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is not something that can simply be accomplished in a formal session between parent and child at bedtime. Pray with your child and read the Word with her; proper spiritual training is a 24-hour-a-day responsibility.

If you say your relationship with God is important but your life doesn’t show it, your child will likely pick up that attitude. In contrast, when she sees you living the Christian life with integrity, passion and conviction on a daily basis, she’ll be much more likely to grasp the importance of spiritual growth.

Passing along spiritual values to your children is much like passing the baton during a relay race. The greatest risk of dropping the baton comes during the hand-off to the next runner. In the same way, unless parents remain diligent and intentional, their spiritual values can easily become lost in the transfer between generations.

My prayer is that the Your Child series will enable parents to equip their own children with the spiritual maturity they need to finish the race strong.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
Copyright © 2004 Focus on the Family.
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