To all the frazzled parents looking around at their wrecked house as wild children get more stir-crazy by the moment, I have good news.
I used to think there were basically two kinds of kids: peaceful kids and chaotic kids. But the more I parent my own toddler and lead kids in a ministry that serves thousands of children a week (Kids’ Club), the more I’ve come to believe that peace is a skill that kids can learn over time.
Yes, even during the COVID-19 chaos, your home can be a peaceful, loving, wonderful place for your kids.
If you’re a follower of Jesus (like me), the Bible actually has an amazing promise for us. According to Proverbs 29, “If you correct your children, they will give you peace. They will bring you the delights you desire” (NIRV). How’s THAT for a promise, parents? Sign me up!
That word “correct,” though—what’s it mean? Some translations say “discipline.” So is the Bible telling us we can punish our way to peace?
NO. Nope. Not what that word means at all.
“Discipline” comes from the same word as “disciple,” a word which means “learner.” Which means the purpose of discipline isn’t to punish or make kids feel bad—both of which, by the way, can actually cause more chaos and less peace. The purpose of discipline is to teach.
If that verse is true and peace is something kids can learn, then it’s something we as parents can teach, too. Punishment isn’t the only option. Teaching can be part of your parenting tool belt, too. (And in a lot of cases, it’s the better tool.)
Now, I don’t mean the Google-Classroom style of teaching. I mean teaching by example. Of course, fair consequences lead to important teaching moments, too. And punishment isn’t always bad or inappropriate. I’m simply saying that when the Bible talks about discipline, it’s talking about teaching children in respectful and life-giving ways.
This is a massive topic, and every kid and parent is unique, so I don’t want to give the impression that one approach is going to work for 100% of families, 100% of the time. You’ve got to give grace to yourself and patience to your kid, regardless of your methods. I also don’t want to go into the latest of child psychology. (But if you do, I highly recommend the books The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline. If you’re more into podcasts or videos, just look up Dr. Dan Siegel. Those resources have been immensely helpful to me as a parent and a professional who works with kids.)
Behavior is often the result of something happening inside that a kid can’t explain. Discipline-as-teaching is a way to put relationships above performance—or in other words, to show your kid that your love for them is based on who they are, not whether they behave perfectly all the time. Because they won’t. (Neither do I, by the way, and neither do you.)
Building into your kids’ beliefs about who they are, how you feel about them, and teaching them that they can make great choices will help your home feel more peaceful. And a lot more fun!
So here are some key phrases that will, over time, help you to empower your kids to learn the skill of peace so that you yell less and win more. Have a happier home, a better relationship with your kids, and actually enjoy your quarantine time and beyond.
- “I like you.” Think about the last time someone told you that they genuinely like your company. Feels good, doesn’t it? Same for your kid! Knowing you’re loved and liked creates a sense of inner peace and security. You don’t have to perform or behave a certain way for the people who like you as you are. Even if there are plenty of times your kid seems unlikeable or unloveable, you need to teach them that your loving and liking them is unconditional. You need to always be the person who will choose to like them, and they need to know that.
- “You are good.” The Bible is clear on this one. When God creates people in His image and tells them to be fruitful and multiply, he calls them “very good” (Genesis 1:31). While people eventually mess up and sin and all its consequences come into the world, it doesn’t change the fact that a good God creates people intrinsically good. Your kid’s behavior isn’t always good, but you can still teach them that God calls us good. When a kid believes he is good, his behavior tends toward goodness.
- “Tell me more.” Dr. Karyn Purvis said, “Behavior is the language of children who have lost their voice.” She means that when kids feel an intense feeling—anger, for example—but they don’t believe saying words will accomplish anything to express that feeling, they use their bodies—by angrily hitting, throwing, flopping, etc. By teaching your kid to use their words, you’re also showing them they’re worth being listened to, and that there are non-harmful ways to express big feelings.
- “You can choose.” Some kids believe they don’t have control over their bodies, emotions, or minds, and so they act on every impulse. Giving a kid a choice can help them feel secure and in control, which is a wonderful feeling of autonomy. (Pro Tip: Don’t give choices you aren’t OK with. If you’re giving options between two activities—for example, playing in the yard or reading a book—you need to be OK with them picking either activity.) By giving choices, you’re helping your kid to think before they act—in other words, you’re teaching self-control.
Like I said, there’s no silver bullet with parenting, and none of the phrases above are magical. It might take time for them to sink in with your kid—or even with you! That’s OK. Take it one day at a time, one chance to connect at a time.
Maybe the best part? I can say from personal experience that not only does this approach cut down on the yelling and tantrums (from parents or kids!), but it rewires our brains to be more like Jesus. It brings more peace to us in how we parent and how we experience God. He isn’t afraid of our bad behavior. He’s infinitely patient. He loves us unconditionally. He has more than enough grace for our bad days. Even better, He has wisdom to help us grow and have better days. The more we can tap into His leadership style in how we parent our kids, the more we all can get transformed into better versions of ourselves. As you learn to teach your kid (instead of only punishing), let God continue to teach you.
And at the end of this COVID-19 quarantine, how wonderful it’ll be to look back and remember that it was one of the most joy-filled times in your home!