(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
“You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'” (Exodus 19:12, NASB).
Happy parenthood involves the willing acceptance of the task of training children. It is natural that we should be puzzled from time to time by the behavior of our children. Growing up in a world of television, baby sitters, and nuclear fission is something new. A great change has taken place in family relationships, and most of us have moments of doubt: are we being too strict or too lenient?
In the midst of a rapidly changing world, there are still some fixed points for the guidance of Christian parents. There are some methods that you can follow for training your children in the way they should go. Four of these are setting limits, supervision, help, and a positive approach. This lesson will consider setting limits; Lesson 12 will discuss the other three. These rules of action are emphasized in the Word of God as principles for Christian living. (Study Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 5:2-3; 1 Timothy 3:4; Exodus 20 and related verses that you may find.)
The necessity for limits
Whenever one life crosses another, it is necessary to establish certain guidelines to make possible friendly relations. These guidelines, whether written or followed by mutual consent, prescribe and limit activity–do’s and don’ts. We refer to them here as limits. The fewer limits the better, but the ones you set must be firm, definite, fair, and consistent. From pre-school age on up, limits are necessary. In the home or neighborhood the smallest children need certain limits pertaining to safety, sharing, destroying, hurting others, taking turns, and respecting others’ feelings.
It should be understood that children will never maintain limits perfectly. Parents often ask, “How often must I tell that child to behave before he will do it?” The answer is, “Constantly.” Children have their ups and downs just as adults do. However, the pre-school child does make a beginning toward accepting limits. For example, a teacher was showing a three-year-old boy the meaning of sharing toys with other children. Some time later she was looking on as he and another boy were playing together. The three-year-old slipped up to the other child, who was playing with a little car, grabbed it out of his hand, and said, “Let’s share.” How you handle such an incident is important. This little boy was just beginning to learn the concept of sharing, even though he misunderstood. He needed some careful teaching, not a scolding.
Agreement on limits
The limits set in any family should be mutually agreeable to both the father and the mother; otherwise, children learn to play one parent against the other. To illustrate, at a banquet in a church one evening Jimmy whispered to his mother, “May I go to the car and play the radio?” “No, you may not!” she replied. So Jimmy watched until his mother was engaged in conversation. He then quietly turned to his father and said, “How about the keys to the car, Dad, so I can go out and listen to the radio?” Without thinking, Dad reached in his pocket, gave his son the keys, and Jimmy disappeared outside. When Dad and Mom came to themselves and realized what had happened, they found it hard to apply discipline because they themselves had disagreed. This is not an unusual occurrence, is it? It is important that husbands and wives be in agreement on limits. The older children become, the more clever they are in pitting one parent against the other. Therefore, it is important that from the early stages of your marriage you accept the fact that whenever one person’s life crosses another there must be some definite understanding so that the relationship may develop smoothly.