Over the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly and contemplatively reading a new book. You see, I’ve been working through some issues with my children and often realizing that we have problems. The love and respect I want to create between them doesn’t always seem to happen. I feel like I spend more of my time nagging and complaining than baking cookies and loving on my children. Sometimes I even look around at their “problems” and realize that they get them from the way I relate to them.
The thing is that I don’t want this nagging and arguing to be our destiny. I don’t want to create difficulty in our relationship, and more importantly I don’t want to lose their young hearts and thereby lose my authority in planting the gospel message in their lives. So, it was with great hope that I began to read the book Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.
In Motivate Your Child, Turansky and Miller propose changes to your parenting. They want to remind you that parenting is a process where your give your child the tools that they need to navigate life. The topics explored in Motivate Your Child include learning about the four promptings of the conscience, using the conscience to build internal motivation in your children, being creative as you spiritually engage your children, and helping children respond to their mistakes.
Just as important as the parenting advice are practical examples, and this book abounds with these examples. Each chapter is filled with stories from real parents who are in the trenches, just like we are, battling to raise godly children in an ungodly world. You can learn a lot about Biblical parenting just from seeing how Turansky and Miller help these parents work through the issues that they have with their children.
For example, one of the stories early in the book is key to showing that parents need to have a strategy in their parenting. Do any of you have kids that bicker and fight all the time or am I the only one? It’s hard. We have four children in an average-sized 1600 square foot home, and they’re always bumping into each other’s stuff (sometimes intentionally), moving things the other one was playing with and just generally being children. Sometimes the unkind words and tones sting my ears.
In the beginning of the book, the authors relate the story of a mom who wanted their children to develop a close relationship, even though at the time they often bickered and fought. When they were fighting, their parents would tell them, “Brothers love each other.” When they were playing nicely, their parents would remind them, “Brothers love each other.” They would review the scripture in Romans 12:10 that says “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” As adults, she has sons who really love each other.
So, I decided to see if that would really work in our household. When my children are arguing, I remind them to use kind tones because “Sisters and brothers love each other.” When my children are playing nicely, I sometimes mention how wonderful it is to see them loving each other. Just me saying “Sisters love each other” or “Brothers love each other” in the heat of a conflict being siblings has even prompted apologies between the four of them–apologies I never asked for–as their young consciences were pricked by their own wrongdoings.
Turansky and Miller brilliantly follow up their example on “brothers love each other” with this critical piece of advice for parents:
What parents say leaves a marked impression on their children’s hearts. Unfortunately, many parents spend too much time talking about what children are doing wrong and not what they need to do right instead. They say things like, “Would you cut it out!” “Stop it!” “When are you going to get it right?” “You’re making me upset here.” “I can’t believe you keep doing this.”
Am I the only parent who has been guilty of spending way more time telling my children what they did wrong than letting them know how to do things right?
To help guide parents in how to teach their children to do things right from inside their hearts rather than through parental nagging, Turansky and Miller begin to set up an explanation of conscience to parents. There are four internal promptings of the conscience that help us to navigate through life. These are: (1) Doing what’s right, (2) Dealing with wrongs, (3) Being honest, and (4) Caring about others. Many behavior problems on the part of children come from weakness in and needing more training in one of these four areas of conscience. A big part of the rest of the book is devoted to helping you build these four areas of your child’s conscience.
Another area of the book that was a really great benefit to our family was the chapter on handling correction. I was able to share with my older son the story of the “stupid verse,” and get laughter and understanding from him as correction is one of his weak points. Then, we were able to begin going through the questions of correction in the book when the opportunities for correction came up.
As we began to implement this, I began to see something in my son I had never seen before. My red-headed, fly-off-the-handle son would always answer the question, “What are you going to do next time?” with an “I don’t know.” He didn’t have have a plan for the future. I had always assumed that because I told him what he did was wrong that he would automatically know what was right to do next time, and he didn’t. This has been a revelation in our house, and it’s been a drastic help for us as I learned that I had to help him learn how to plan for the future and to practice responding correctly.
I also learned something that was a serious problem for me as a parent. I would often respond with anger when I had to correct a child. I would act as if it was an interruption in our day and as if it was something I didn’t have time for. I learned from Turansky and Miller that the conversation that I had with my child when I was correcting him or her might be the most important conversation I had with my child that day.
Now, instead of dreading having to correct my children and praying that they’ll be so good that I won’t have to deal with bad behavior, I pray instead that when behaviors occur that need correction that I’ll make the time to seriously correct my children in the way that God would have me to, and that the opportunity to provide correction would not be an opportunity that I would waste. This prayer alone has led to a much more peaceful house as my children are not as often burdened with my impatient and unloving reaction to their childish mistakes.
These are just a couple of the things I’ve changed in our house based on this book. There are several other things I understand better now and that I want to spend some time correcting about my parenting after reading this book, and I’m planning on reading through it again to gain more wisdom and understanding of my children. (I also promise that as I do I’ll blog a little more about the book.) Parenting is hard, and this book is a great support and source of Biblical wisdom along the parenting way.
As I wrap up this review, I notice that I haven’t even mentioned except in passing the chapters in the last half of the book on spiritual development in your children. They have chapters on leading your child to Christ, family fun in connecting your children to the scriptures, and how practicing faith with children makes that faith become real for them (and for you too!). This is all brilliant support and information too, but I will confess that, as a parent, I’m still working through the ideas in the first half, and mentally I haven’t even gotten to the second half because this book is so full of good information and help for parenting.