I read a story about a father named Jim who put his son Paulie to sleep. After a few minutes Paulie called his father and asked for another drink of water.
Dad said, “No, go to sleep.”
After several minutes, Paulie appealed again for a glass of water. Jim was more irritated this time. He spoke sharply and advised his son to forget it.
But the boy would not be put off. He waited for a few minutes and then reopened the case.
Every time Paulie called his dad, Jim became more irritated. Finally, he said, “If you ask for water one more time I’m going to come in there and spank you!”
That quieted the boy for about five minutes, and then he said, “Daddy, when you come in here to spank me would you bring me a glass of water please?” The kid got the water. He did not get the spanking.
It is not surprising that when the Duke of Windsor was asked what impressed him most in America, he replied, “the way American parents obey their children.”
Rules and obedience. These are not words that most children like to talk about. But learning obedience is crucial for their well-being and happiness for the rest of their lives (not to mention the well-being and happiness of parents!).
GOD’S AUTHORITY STRUCTURE
Foundationally, it is important for your child to understand that God is the one who set up authority structures among human beings. He set up the authority structure in the family. Scripture says:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)
The authority of parents, then, is not an authority of their own taking, but is one given them by God. Of course, it is the natural tendency for humans of all ages to balk at authority and rules. But hopefully, as our children grow and mature, they will come to recognize that family rules are there for their protection and wellbeing.
TWO EQUAL AND OPPOSITE DANGERS
When it comes to setting family rules, parents must guard against two equal and opposite dangers. On the one hand, we must guard against the danger of not setting any consistent rules at all. On the other hand, we must guard against the danger of an over-supply of petty regulations. There is a balance that must be found and constantly checked. (This course — and the Christian Parent Center website — will help you find that balance.) Whenever possible — and according to the ages of your children — it is good to often remind them of the reason behind the rule. This doesn’t mean you have to give an explanation for every instruction you give, but it is helpful to give the reasons behind the consistent family rules you’ve made. Your children, over time and as they grow up, will begin to see the merit behind the rules and be able to apply them in other areas of life both inside the home and out.
With this in mind we come to our next principle…
A PRINCIPLE TO REMEMBER: Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you.
Every parent must decide what rules are appropriate for their families. In our family, there are some things we absolutely insist on. Naturally we have rules involving safety issues. But among the rules most diligently taught, trained, and modeled are those having to do with parental honor and respect — which include obedience, respectful speech, and basic politeness. For us to neglect this area of parental honor and respect would be a great detriment to both us and our children.
The apostle Paul in Colossians 3:20 instructs, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Remind your children that their obedience to you brings a smile to the face of God. It pleases Him.
In Ephesians 6:1 Paul then says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” The verse doesn’t say, “Children obey your parents if you think they’re right.” It says, “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
The child is not responsible for weighing and evaluating his parents’ decisions — and then obeying those which he deems right and rejecting those he does not agree with. The child’s responsibility is simply to obey.
Notice also the little phrase “in the Lord” (“Children, obey your parents IN THE LORD, for this is right.”). Children are to obey, not because this is what their parents want, so much as because this is what the Lord Jesus wants. Obedience to parents is the child’s responsibility to Christ. And they are instructed to do this in a way that brings honor to their parents (see Ephesians 6:2). It is not to be a begrudging kind of obedience. It is to be an honoring kind of obedience.
We’ve all read about the little boy whose mother wanted him to sit down but he wouldn’t do it. Finally she took hold of him and sat him down in the chair. He looked up at her with defiance in his eyes and said, “You may make me sit down OUTSIDE, but I’m still standing up INSIDE!”
This is not an honoring kind of obedience. It is a begrudging kind of obedience. Teach children to see the difference. Only the honoring kind of obedience is acceptable to God. Honoring obedience comes as the child learns to obey out of a love of doing right and pleasing God. This incredible transition progressively emerges as you continue to remind your children of the reasons behind the rules you uphold and, of course, as they grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord. This is a matter to be bathed in prayer.
WHEN YOU CAN SAY “YES,” SAY “YES”
There are some things that we as parents can have a little liberty on. If an issue comes up that does not involve a moral or safety issue but is rather a desire based on personal tastes, in our family we tend to (sometimes gritting our teeth) go along with a lot of those little things. This is, loosely speaking, a matter of “picking your battles.”
Prof. Howard Hendricks tells a true story that profoundly illustrates the importance of picking your battles:
Some parents will send a kid to hell for two inches of hair. Oooh, they make this a federal case! I knew of a Christian couple who chased a son out of their home and told him never to return until he went to a barber shop. He never returned. They’re still looking for him — and wishing they had made a better decision. If you’re going to take a stand, be sure you take a stand on the crucial issues! Oh, the agony of a father saying, “That’s the worst decision I ever made in my life.”
Certainly there are some issues you must take a stand on — such as respect and honor for parents. But there are other issues that you can have liberty on. Hair length or hair style is a perfect example. In the scheme of things, these kinds of issues just aren’t that important.
Another example has to do with clothing. Ideally we like for our children to always dress nicely. But we don’t have an ironclad rule that says, “You will always without exception wear precisely the clothes that mom and dad think are the best choice for that day.”
Sometimes my 6-year-old daughter puts on clothes so “interestingly matched” that even our cats stare at her. But she feels very strongly about wearing those clothes that day. So, okay. We can grin and bear it. If she feels that strongly about it, she can wear those clothes. But we also try to provide some guidelines on how to choose clothes that do match. That way, as our daughter continues to grow older, she progressively learns how to make appropriate decisions regarding clothing.
Larry Christenson tells a true story that illustrates how children can sometimes gain great wisdom when parents bend a little and allow their kids to make foolish decisions on small issues:
Some friends of ours have eight children, and they all love ice cream. On a hot summer day, one of the younger ones declared that she wished they could eat nothing but ice cream. The others chimed agreement, and to their surprise the father said, “All right. Tomorrow you can have all the ice cream you want — nothing but ice cream!” The children squealed with delight, and could scarcely contain themselves until the next day.
They came trooping down to breakfast shouting their orders for chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla ice cream — soup bowls full! Mid-morning snack — ice cream again. Lunch — ice cream, this time slightly smaller portions. When they came in for mid-afternoon snack, their mother was just taking some fresh muffins out of the oven, and the aroma wafted through the whole house.
“Oh goody!” said little Teddy. “Fresh muffins — my favorite!” He made a move for the jam cupboard, but his mother stopped him. “Don’t you remember? It’s ice cream day — nothing but ice cream.” “Oh, yeah…”
“Want to sit up for a bowl?”
“No thanks. Just give me a one-dip cone.”
By supper time the enthusiasm for an all-ice-cream diet had waned considerably. As they sat staring at fresh bowls of ice cream, Mary — whose suggestion had started this whole adventure –looked up at her daddy and said, “Jeepers, couldn’t we just trade in this ice cream for a crust of bread?”
A valuable lesson learned! Remember — children tend to make judgments from an extremely small base of knowledge and experience. As they grow up, you can help them expand that base of knowledge and experience by allowing them to make a few (secretly supervised) foolish decisions.
A PREREQUISITE TO RULE-SETTING
A prerequisite to setting family rules is that your relationship with your children should be one that is characterized by love and respect. Parents sometimes forget that relationships precede rules. The experts have long told us that a child tends to accept your ideas and philosophy because he accepts you. Conversely, he tends to reject your ideas and philosophy when he rejects you.
Without a display of love on your part, your child will react to your rules rather than act upon them. If you want your children to take your rules seriously, then you need to take seriously their need to be loved. That’s the way it works.
All the lessons in this email mini-course on Christian parenting tips are derived from a much larger e-book titled TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL: A CHRISTIAN GUIDE, by Dr. Ron Rhodes. This e-book is brimming with proven strategies for raising your kids Christianly. Because children tend to think visually (with pictures in their minds), the e-book is brimming with word pictures you can share with your kids to teach them key concepts. If you are interested in more information, or would like to order this e-book and then download it immediately, click here.
 DRAPER’S BOOK OF QUOTATIONS FOR THE CHRISTIAN WORLD (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1992), p. 458.
 RAISING THEM RIGHT: FOCUS ON THE FAMILY OFFERS ITS BEST ADVICE ON CHILD- REARING (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1994), p. 29.
 BIBLE ILLUSTRATIONS FOR PREACHING, electronic media, Hypercard database (1991) by Michael Green.
 Larry Christenson, THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), p. 78.
 Ray Stedman, “Parents and Children,” GUIDELINES FOR THE HOME SERIES, Peninsula Bible Church.
 Stedman, “Parents and Children.”
 Howard Hendricks, HEAVEN HELP THE HOME! (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1982), p. 52.