I’ve spent a good deal of my life emphasizing family-life education, and a lot of that had to do with guiding children. I want to share with you some of that experience that I’ve had in the last 50 years. It scares me a little bit when I watch what’s happening to some of these families these days. The Bible tells us that the child left to himself will bring his mother to shame. You see it everywhere you look. Children left to themselves. We see more violence. We see more selfishness. We see more strife and conflict, and I think we’ll see some more unless we take seriously some of the directives that I think are available to us in the scriptures of how to approach our children.
I’ve been a marriage counselor, and that means working with children for about 50 years now. That’s almost routine when people come with a problem child. I listen to their story for awhile. It becomes very evident that these people don’t agree on how to handle that child. No, so what you have to do is shelve the child problem. Not ignore it, but shelve it because you’ve got a marriage problem here.
You’ve got two people who can’t get together what to do with this child. That is a very hopeless kind of a situation. And children will learn after a while to pit one parent against the other, and then by the time they’re in their teens, they can do what they please. They were managing their parents rather than the other way around.
I get into the marriage problem, it becomes evident that this is not a marriage problem; this is a man who has a problem, and a woman who has a problem. They can’t even get along on how to run their marriage, much less children. So we have to table the marriage, and help these people look at themselves. Because it takes a happy man, a cheerful man, a relaxed man, and the same kind of a woman to manage children.
It takes cheerful people to manage children. Some people tell me, “I’ve got three preschool kids; you mean I should be cheerful?” Listen; if your mental health depends on the activities of three preschool children, you’re sunk. Yes, a mother of three preschool children can be a happy lady, and if you’re a father with preschool children, you can be a happy man with three preschool children. Course, all you have to do is wait five years, and you won’t have any preschool children. Now you’re gonna be asking, what do you do about grade school kids? Then comes the question: What do you do about teenagers? So it gets more intense. It’s hard work, difficult work, but it’s fun if you do it right.
Like playing football. I used to play football, high school. That’s all I could play. We’d come to school three weeks before the rest of the kids, and we’d toughen ourselves up. We’d toughen our muscles up. That’s what football is. You’d contact each other like that for two hours. It’s called football. It’s a great game. The excruciating pain is delightful.
I can still remember one time lying on the ground at the end of the game. I was breathing dust, but I was too tired to move, so I just breathed dust. There was one of my buddies laying there. I rolled over to him, and we helped each other up, and we were staggering into the football stadium locker room.
He said, “Wasn’t that a great game?”
And I said, “Yeah.” We can hardly walk. “Yeah, that was, wonder who we’ll play next week?”
You see, that’s football. Tough, hard, excruciating. You risk your smashing your skull in, or hurting your backbone. Be crippled for life. You’d do it gladly for the team. You do it gladly for the team! I would limp home lifeless sometimes, just delighted with that kind of privilege of limping home for my team. To be straining at something, and to be involved in something that’s difficult and hard, and demanding, it takes energy.
You fit that into, “Why are you doing it?” If you get the right vision about your opportunity as a parent, in all the strife and difficulty, it adds up to a lot of fun. Now there are some considerations I think we need to think about when it comes to guiding children. I want to give you some of those. One is in Ephesians 6: 2 and 3. The essence of it is, “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God hath given you.” Honor your father and your mother.
That means that you have to be worthy of honor, young lady, and sir. Now, to be worthy of honor implies that we behave in a certain way, doesn’t it? I’m not talking about you and your children, I’m talking about you and your father and mother. I’m talking about your relationship with Grandma and Grandpa, which is a very critical relationship. Do I get some playback here? Honor your father and your mother.
If you have unresolved issues between you and your father and mother, it’s very critical that you get those straightened out, because the process involved in coming to terms with your mother and father are the same processes that are involved in dealing with your own children. Your children watching how you get along with your mother and father is a very important part of raising children. So unresolved issues between you and your family, I think you oughta consider as a very serious matter.
You oughta do everything you can do to see that that relationship is a friendly one. You’re a father now; you have to make sure that your children honor that mother of theirs. You need to be honoring her, too. You oughta think about your wife. I like her, I admire her, I respect her, she’s my main responsibility in this world. God gave me the responsibility to see to it that I do everything I can do to make this wife of mine be the most fulfilled, happy person that she can possibly be. That’s my job as a husband.
You may be dealing with a woman that doesn’t want any help. You may be dealing with a woman that says, “Keep your grubby hands off of me.” I don’t know what you’ve got to work with, but whatever you’ve got to work with is what you’ve got to work with. Maybe a nasty wife, I don’t know. That’s no reason for you to be a nasty husband, because you have a nasty wife, right? And visa versa.
The implication being: It takes a nice man and a nice lady to manage children. Two happy people. See, that’s separate from that job itself. We have in the bookstore over there this workbook, that’s all I’m going to say about managing yourself, there’s this book called, “The Heart of the Problem.” And the heart of the problem of any individual is the heart, and to do what you need to do to be the kind of a person that you need to be in order to be the kind of an adult you need to be, you can get some help out of that.
What we’re talking about right now is a book and a workbook called, “I Want to Enjoy My Children.” Now it’s easy to make babies, isn’t it? But, you just asked for a 20-year job. Tough job. That’s what I wrote in my first book. The next book I said 30 years. I got up to 54. Fifty-four years. Kids are still coming around. I like that.
See, you start something that keeps on going, and it can become increasingly difficult, or it can become increasingly satisfactory, depending on how you go about it. But I think one of the first steps is to take care of your relationship as far as you can. To have a congenial relationship with your mother and father, and that means your father-in-law, and your mother-in-law, too. So what are you going to do with those people? That’s enough to challenge any sensible adult, isn’t it?
Okay, the next one. Training your child is a parental responsibility. Training your child. A lot of people saying these days, “Don’t pressure your child. Don’t impose upon your children. Let your children want to do what they do. If they don’t want to do it, don’t force them to do it.” I see it all the time. Imagine discussing diet with a four-year-old. Would you like to eat your peas? See, if you give ‘em some peas, you should feed it to them. “Eat your peas.”
That becomes a more formidable problem than what do we do about Russia. How do you get peas down your kid’s throat? I’ve had mothers say to me, “How do you get your kids to want to get dressed?”
I say to them, “You want to get dressed, don’t you?”
“Well, why don’t you get dressed before breakfast.”
“I don’t want any breakfast.”
“If you get breakfast while watching T.V. …”
“I don’t want any T.V.”
How do you get children to want to get dressed?
Well, I said, “I don’t know.”
First thing you do is grab ‘em. Then you stuff ‘em into it. That’s training a child in the way that you should go.
“Wouldn’t you like to get dressed? Listen, we’re about to dress you. You can make it as easy or as hard as you want to, but you’re going to get dressed, okay?”
Bedtime: “Would you like to go to bed?”
You know, kids get so tired of having to be consulted for advice from their parents that by the time they’re 18, why should they respect their parents? They’ve been coaching them all these years. The job of training falls to the parent.
Now you may have been raised that way. Your mother asked you, “What would you like to do?”
But you may have that attitude, “Don’t frustrate me, I’m delicate. I’m easily offended. Be careful how you treat me; because I’m gonna get upset if you don’t treat me right.” And you wouldn’t want to hinder your little kid’s little ego, would you? Just let your children catch on to the fact that you’re trying to keep them happy, and they’ll drive you crazy.
Your job is to train them in the way that they should go. I’m talking about a cheerful lady. You know, there are some things I’ve copied down here. I like some of these ideas. One of them is this; Philip Baldwin came up with this one: Children never have been good listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate their elders. That’s interesting, isn’t it?
I used to be a Dean in a college, and I talked to these kids that didn’t want anything to do with their families. Their parents would come and visit, and here is this young lady, she acts just like her mother. Her mother didn’t sit her down and say, “This is how you talk.” See, much of what your children receive from you is caught, not taught. Do you ever get your own voice coming back from your own kids? You didn’t teach them that did you? One way to teach character is to have it around the house.
I think what we’re talking about is much more a matter of being yourself and doing what comes natural, rather than having some fancy rules that you have to obey. So the job of parenthood is to train your children in the way that they should go.
We had some relatives that came over to visit our house, and they had a little girl, about three. They sat down to the table, and this little girl goes, “HA!” Well, we didn’t say anything. “HA! HA! HA!“
And pretty soon the mother says, “Ssssh!”
Then you hear this “HA,” “Ssssh,” “HA,” “Ssssh,” “HA,” “Ssssh.”
They realize that this can’t go on for two weeks. Better put a stop to this right now. I didn’t’ ask the mother for permission, I simply said to this little girl, “I want you to stop screaming.” She looked me right in the eye, and went “HA!” Imagine a little kid defying me. Well, so I just picked her up. You know when you talk to your children; you want to get eyeball to eyeball with them.
Either lift them up to where you are, or get down there where they are. I lifted her up to me as I was carrying her to the bedroom. “I told you to stop screaming. I’m gonna isolate you in this room. You stay there until you can come out and not scream.” And I left her.
You can imagine the atmosphere when I got back to the table. Right behind me was this little kid, and we put her up in her chair. She looked at me, and I looked at her, and she didn’t scream.
What was the difference between me and her mother? I meant for her to not scream, and her mother didn’t. This is the thought here. When you ask your children to do something, you must have the confident expectation that what you are requiring of them is in their best interests, and therefore, you will do what you need to do in order to make it happen. You got that? With confident expectation. That what you require your children to do is in their best interests, and therefore, you will do whatever you have to do in order to make it happen.
For instance, when your children need to go to a doctor, what do you do? You take ‘em to the doctor, don’t you? Whether they like it or not. Well you do it because you think they should see doctors.
What do you do about school? You’re not afraid of kids that say they won’t go to school. When school time is up, you see that they go, don’t you?
Well, you have to do the same thing with the limits in your house. You don’t want to require anything of your children that is not fair and reasonable, and in their best interests. Then you do whatever you need to do in order to make it happen.
For instance, we had a rule in our house one time.
By the way, I’ve been married three times. I should explain that. My first wife, we were married for 42 years, and she passed away with a cancer problem. I married again, and my wife died of a brain aneurism after three years. Then married again, and now Jo and I have been married for 9 years, and Jo’s over here. Jo will you stand up.?. Some people wonder that she’s a pretty courageous woman to take me on after … we’ve been married for nine years! So I’m for marriage. You know, you have to work together to train these children in the way that they should go.
Say it’s bedtime. When I was a graduate student, I worked at home quite a bit, and I would see these ladies relate to their children. And we wanted to know where our children were. Do you know where your children are? Do you know what they’re doing? So we had them playing in our backyard. We found out that if you take children and let them play in your back yard that you have very little competition. Very few people will argue with you.
So we had them in our back yard. We had to decide whether to raise grass or kids. We decided we were gonna raise kids. I would hear this mother … you would hear this voice come across the ether waves … “JOHNNNEEEE!”
Everybody could hear it. Johnny kept right on playing. The second time and the third time you’d hear this voice. One of the kids even said, “Hey Johnny, don’t you know your mother’s calling you?”
He said, “Oh, I don’t need to go yet.”
Pretty soon, you hear this voice. “JOHNNY!”
He took off for home.
His mother had two voices. The one just means, “I’m getting your attention.” He didn’t’ pay any attention to that, ‘cause she’s just making noise. Children adjust to your noise, but when you mean it, you say it a different way, and then they know to go.
Bedtime is like that. You say, “It’s bedtime. It’s bedtime. Come on now, it’s bedtime.” You see that happen over and over again. People calling their children and nothing happen. I think this is something that you need to be aware of. When you do that, you are training your children in non-compliance. You’ll do it 100 times a day if you don’t watch.
We pull up to curb, and we got out of the car, and the mother said to her daughter, “Close the car door.”
The daughter took off, didn’t close the car door. She says, “These kids, you can’t tell them anything these days.”
Listen, you’re teaching your daughter non-compliance. She didn’t need to close that car door, you’re gonna close it. Just because you tell her to close it doesn’t mean that you wanted her to close it. She just proved it. Here you mutter to yourself and you close the door. You are training your child in non-compliance.
“Pick up that toy.”
“I said pick up that toy.”
The child doesn’t pick up the toy, and you don’t do anything about it. You’re training your child in non-compliance. Now this is very important, I thought here, because you need to teach your children to obey a directive. Because it’s not going to be too long they’ll be going to school. School teachers are telling me today they are spending most of their time trying to get kids to sit down. Kids don’t need to pay any attention.
Young kids, five-, six-year old children, they don’t need to pay any attention to the teacher. They’ve been taught for five years; you don’t need to pay any attention to adults, so they’ll put a teacher in that same place where the children are not to comply with the teacher’s wishes. This child’s had five years of this already. See what I’m saying? Don’t teach your children non-compliance.
If you’re not prepared to follow-through on the directive, then don’t give one. But if you give one, make sure you follow through on it.
So number one, the first thing that we have to do is to see to it that our relationship to our in-laws and our parents is as good as we can make it.
Secondly, the rules and the limits that you set for your children, you need to have the confident expectation that what you require of your child is in their best interests, and if so, you will do anything you need to do in order to make them do it.
The rest of the job of parenthood, I think, is a matter of setting limits.
I was telling the folks in the last session … One of my favorite sports, I’m from Michigan, is the University of Michigan Football Stadium. That thing will hold 110,000 people. Whenever they play at home, it doesn’t matter if it’s snowing or raining, it can be below zero, it can be raining as hard as it can rain, it doesn’t matter what the weather, there will be 110,000 people in that stadium.
Now what can you do to draw 110,000 people in a stadium? Well, I’ll tell you what it is. There’s something about predictability that’s involved here, I think. When you go into that stadium, and you look at that football field, and it looks the same as it always did, you don’t expect to see a wavy line on the field. It’s always the same. Same length, same width, same markings, same old dreary markings every time you go in there. I say that’s one of the reasons you go in there. At least that’s predictable.
There’s another thing about that stadium. When the football players come out, they’re all gonna be dressed the same. You don’t have ten guys in a uniform, and the other guy in a track suit. He doesn’t like uniforms, so he just wore a track suit. But what they wear is predictable.
Now the rules that they are gonna be guided by are also predictable. The home team and the visiting team have the same rules. The visitors, spectators, and us old spectators, we all look at the same rules. You need rules, and you need boundaries. That’s what makes the game interesting. Now you’re gonna play the game on that field. That’s a rule for ingenuity to play the game on that field, if you’re not arguing about boundaries or rules.
Same way with tennis. I can play tennis with somebody in a foreign country. I can’t even talk to them, but we can play tennis together because we have rules and boundaries in common.
See how critical and important it is to be subject to rules and boundaries? This is very critical for you to do the same thing. You and your partner are a team. Not competitors, but teammates. And so, your job then as parents is to design a playing field for your children that consists of rules, it consists of boundaries.
There’s another thing about that football game. There are referees there. The referee’s job is to see that these players obey their rules, and stay within the boundaries. How many are there on a football field? You count them next time you see a football game. There are six men on that field, they’re called referees, and they see to it that you play within the rules, and within the boundaries. Now when you step over the boundaries, the referee will blow the whistle. Then he’ll tell the whole crowd, “Outside!”
If he disobeys one of the rules, he’ll blow his whistle and he’ll say, “Number 68, clipping.” He tells the whole 110,000 people, number 68 just clipped. If he didn’t do that, the audience is gonna get after that referee. The purpose of that referee is to see that the game goes on smoothly, and he has to do whatever he has to do to see to it that these people stay within those boundaries and those rules. That’s the essence of parenthood, folks. To see to it that your children head in the direction that you choose for them.
Not, “What would you like to do?” I’d say the decision as to what you ought to do by way of rules and boundaries blessed with the husband and wife. One of the difficulties is you have a husband and wife that will not agree on the rules, but that’s the job you’ve got anyway.
Now you may take your children’s tastes into consideration, their interests, or their skills, or their wishing, or their limitation. You can consider their needs and their interests, but you, you are the one that calls the shots as to what the rules are gonna be.
I remember one time when our children were small, both smaller in grade school. We were at the lake. They were being introduced to water skiing.
Now, my daughter, they asked her, “Do you want to learn to water ski?”
She said, “No.”
I knew that wasn’t true.
Her first response was, “No, I don’t want to learn to water ski.” Everybody else is water skiing, but her, and she’s sitting there.
She said, “I don’t want to water ski.” I knew better than that.
I said to her,” You’re going to get on those skis.”
I knew that if she got on those skis that she would love it. I knew that much about her. Now you see, you have to pay attention to your children so you know where they are; you know what they can do, and what they can’t do. But as her father, I saw to it that she got on those skis, because I knew perfectly well that she was longing to get on those skis, and sure enough she became a water skier, but she needed a little help in order to do it.
This is a concept that I want to leave with you. Help your children obey the rules. For instance, I want your mother to call from the house. The little girl is playing outside. “Time to come in!” You’d hear that voice again. “Time to come in!” Nothing happens. “TIME TO COME IN!” And pretty soon you see this woman; she’s coming out of the house now with her hair flying. As she approaches this kid, “Didn’t I tell you to come in? Wham!” Now she’s got a bawling child, and she’s mad, and they’re both outside.
There must be a better way to do it. Have you ever had that experience? What did she need? She needed some help. How is the quickest way to help your child to get into the house? What would you say? Does anybody have any ideas? Go and get ‘em. You’re teaching her, I called you, and I mean for you to come in. You just gently lead her into the house. It doesn’t require a lecture or anything. You’re training her that you mean what you say.
See, I’m talking about a friendly mother now; I’m not talking about an unfriendly mother. But this little kid, she doesn’t know you mean what you say unless you teach her that you mean what you say. What’s the quickest way to get your child in bed? Scoop ‘em up and put ‘em in bed. Won’t they become dependent on you? I haven’t found that to be true. Your children are normal, natural children, and so what you’ve got is a little rebel, haven’t you? It was born into her; you didn’t give it to her. You didn’t create … well, some psychologists will tell you that you’re creating a rebel because you are establishing some limits. If you don’t want to have a rebellious child, then don’t have any limits, and you won’t have a rebellious child. So what do you get? You get a spoiled brat, don’t you? If you don’t want to create a rebel, then don’t have any boundaries.
The Bible says that’s not true. That little kid is a born rebel. That’s why the Christian education is so important. That rebellious spirit has to be surrendered to the Lord. In the meantime, our job is to hold those kids steady. One of the most important things that kids need to learn in their preschool days is that education requires that you sit still! You can take them to church and teach them to sit still!
“I gotta go to the bathroom.” Well, next time you take them to the bathroom before you sit ‘em down.
I don’t care how you do it, but one of your jobs is to teach your children to sit still, because you have to do that in order to teach, to study, don’t you? One of the reasons your children have such poor performance in school is because they’re not expected to do anything. So, if your children need help, give whatever help they need. Our daughter one time, we had a rule that you go to church every Sunday, and every Wednesday, our daughter was a teenager, and she announced one Wednesday that she was not going to church. “I am not going to church.”
Well you can’t tell me, a big man like me you’re not going to church. You are going to church, and I’m gonna help you. Now what kind of help did she need? Well, we had to put on her shoes. Have you ever tried to put shoes on a teenager that didn’t want her shoes? It took my wife and I together to do it, but we got ‘em on. Then we got her up out of her chair, and her knees wouldn’t work, so this stiff-kneed kid, we finally got her into the car, and she sat there in that car glaring at everything. We get to church, and pulled up to the church, and there was her girlfriend standing out there. She jumped out of the car and greeter her girlfriend. You know that girlfriend had no idea how we got her there. You just go to church on Wednesday, and we’re gonna give you all the help you need.
Well, don’t you think you’ll turn your children against church? Are you afraid of turning you children against education? Are you afraid of turning your children against doctors? You will do what you consider to be important.
If you are going to train your children that going to church is unimportant, then you will do that. You see, you’re telling yourself that you’re giving them a choice. You don’t give children a choice about whether they go to school, do you? Whether they should go to the doctor? So many times, you don’t have a choice, in my judgment.
My children went to church every Sunday and every Wednesday, whether they liked it or not. I remember one of my kids was saying, “Boy that was a lousy sermon this morning.” I said, “Yeah, it sure was. Hope it will be better tonight.” I’ve had some of my children have a nasty teacher for a whole semester. We made her go to school every day to this nasty teacher for a whole semester.
Well it was good for her. Life doesn’t turn out so everybody’s nice to you. You have to live with nasty people sometimes. If you’re trying to make your children happy … ”Oh, you look unhappy, you don’t have to do this.”
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, isn’t it? You can’t make ‘em happy. You see to it that they do what you asked them to do. Why do you ask them to do it? Because in your judgment what you asked them to do is in their best interests.
I talk to folks sometimes; their children are old enough now to choose a college. I remember this mother very triumphantly saying, “I’m so happy she chose the college I wanted her to go to, and I didn’t tell her what I thought at all.” I don’t think that’s so admirable. Just imagine, here’s a college student, a person old enough to go to college, and her folks couldn’t even care less where she goes to college.
I should think that one of the most important things would be to understand what mother’s opinion is about college. Not only that, but this is where I want you to go. When our kids were college age, we gave them lists. We said, “You will go to a college on this list. Pick anyone you want on this list.”
Children need help. They need a friendly adult who has a friendly relationship with his partner, and the two of you with your primary preoccupation in life is to make choices on behalf of your children. Your beloved children. That’s one of your primary tasks.
So when you’re setting limits then, let me suggest some ideas for setting limits. They help the parent and the child to know what is expected. Supper time is 6:00. When our kids were growing up, my wife used to call, “Supper’s ready.” Supper wasn’t ready; she didn’t have the table set yet. What she meant is, “I’m starting to mash the potatoes,” that’s what she meant. What it meant to me and the kids is, “Stay out of the kitchen, or you’ll get a job.”
When supper was ready, she meant for us to get in that room, and we got in. So that was one of our limits, when supper was ready. See, she cut that out after awhile when she realized that she was saying something she didn’t mean. Supper wasn’t ready. So when she corrected that, when supper was ready, we get back to the table. I don’t care what rules you make. Whatever limits you set, you better be convinced that they’re in the kid’s best interests, and you see to it that they do it.
By teaching children non-compliance is one of the most important things that they’ll learn, ’cause you have bosses that don’t treat you right, you have neighbors that don’t treat you right, you have sales people that don’t treat you right. You do what you do because you have to do it, not because people are nice to you.
Now one of your requirements is that we are nice to each other in this house. Don’t scream at each other. See, if you set that kind of a limit, you’re gonna work at it for a long time to get them not to do that. But the first thing you’ve got to do is quit screaming yourself.
You know, when I was in school, the women were screaming at their kids, “YOU COME IN THE HOUSE!” So we taught them, you shouldn’t scream at your children like that. Then they would say, “You come in the house.” The same nasty spirit; all they did was cut down on the volume. Follow what I’m saying?
You’re demonstrating your character while you’re training your children. So a real limit will help them to understand what is expected. Come home at 9:00. Come in at 6:00. But you don’t ask them to do that unless you are prepared to follow it up. That means that your physical presence has to be there.
Number two. It gives you a framework for guidance and training. I’m going to teach you how to tie your shoes. Put your shoes on, I want you to tie your shoes. So you teach them how to tie their shoes, and then you follow-up and see to it that they tie their shoes. Now once they know how to tie their shoes, you want them to tie their shoes, not you.
Teaching children to comply with some reasonable limits is the best thing that you can do for them in terms of what they’ll have to do when they are adults. When they have to comply with the requests of an employer or employee, or a group that they’re in, but to have a mind to comply with reasonable limits is a wonderful attitude to have in life.
Number three. It gives you a basis for your supervision. It’s not that you come in when you feel like it, if he says that time, and it’s up to you to see that they get there at that time.
This is also a test of parental unity. Can you set a limit that the two of you will agree on? You see, one of the parents can say, “I think you’re too hard on the children.” The limit might be, pick up the toys when you’re through with them. The other parent says that’s too strict. So when one is home, they pick up the toys. When the other one is home they don’t have to pick up the toys. What you’re talking about is that these children observing that you don’t need to pay attention to these adults.
There was one kid that said, "I can get anything I want. There are certain things if I want those; I would never ask my dad, I’d ask my mom. If I get my mom to come in, she’ll take on my dad. There are other things, if I want those, I wouldn’t ask my dad, I’d ask my mom. When I get them committed, he’ll take on my mom. Mom will take on my dad.” Well you stand back and let them fight it out. Another point, do you set limits that reveal areas of need? What kind of help do your children need? You should study.