In our family, one seems to be the magic number. As in, one year-old. Lots of milestones occur around the first birthday. Both of our kids were walking, Tara had a few words, and I took the plunge and let them both experiment with a spoon. However, I am referring to another milestone that is even more life-changing: the awareness of the will.We are in the throes of training Brant to submit to our will right now and I wanted to share what I’ve learned, am learning, and have yet to consistently live out. I’m not always consistent, I’m not always as discerning as I should be…and so I fail. I’ve been purposefully seeking wisdom again lately and brushing up on what I’ve been taught by wiser, older mentors and books as I enter into this stage with Brant and want to pass on to you what has been so valuable to me.
You see, for me, babies are easy. Please don’t take that as me being boastful, it’s just that when my babies turned one, life got a bit harder. Babies certainly resist, get angry, and try to do things their way. But at one, it’s as if a whole new world has been discovered…and there are increasing tendencies toward this kind of behavior, which needs correction as soon as it shows itself.
Before diving in, please note that I believe we must have a Biblical understanding of our role(s) as parent. People, whether through conversation or books, are extremely helpful in this, but we must search the Word for ourselves. Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I discuss developing a theological framework from which to parent.
Why Should We Seek to Establish our Parental Authority Early?
1. God created parents to be the earthly authority over children and commands them to obey us, for their good. Exodus 20:12, Deut. 5:16, Ephesians 6:1-2, Colossians 3:20
Simply put, God instructs children to obey their parents.
God gives this command because it is for their good that we are given as authority over them. We are given responsibility to teach and train our children in the ways of the Lord which includes a multitude of “things” pertaining to the character of God, wisdom, character issues, relationship skills, etc…
Perhaps one of the most important reasons that children are blessed with authority in their lives, is for their protection. There is an enemy who wants their soul. But there is a God who is much bigger that wants it even more.
It is in these early formative years that they learn either how to deny or indulge their fleshly appetites. If we wait too long to train them in the area of self-control, it will be too late, for they will already be enslaved to their flesh. How long is too long? I’ve read in several places that if this has not been done by the time they are three or four, the habits are ingrained. This doesn’t mean, I don’t think, that it’s impossible to correct. Just harder than it would have been to nip when it first began.
They won’t be able to understand it, but as they submit to our authority, they will be learning self-control because they are yielding to an authority outside of themselves that is placing constraints on them. When they come to (hopefully) know Christ, they will understand the concept of self-control. Is this not what the Christian life is? Yielding our will to the will of the One who has authority over us? It will do them much good to teach them this when they are young, rather than for them to learn the more difficult way as adults.
To sum it up: children need to be taught how to have self-control. It’s natural and easy to indulge the flesh.
2. A child’s behavior is merely an indicator of the condition of his depraved heart. (Proverbs 4:23, Proverbs 22:15, Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:18, Mark 7:21, Romans 6:17, Ephesians 4:18, Ephesians 6:6)
We are in a battle for the souls of our children. Remember what Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12?
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. “
Remembering this will helps me in the process of establishing and maintaining consistent authority. My child is not my enemy. His own heart is his enemy! He is in need of teaching and training. He was born with an untamed will that is in need of being brought under the submission of mine with the end goal/hope that one day he will yield himself to the authority of God. In other words, I’m working toward a heart change. Though not yet under the control of the Holy Spirit, the flesh can be tamed so that when the Holy Spirit is active in his life, he will have learned how to submit his will to Him.
This is the most important aspect of parenting in the early years. It is from this essential foundation that of establishing authority that trust is learned and an awareness that the child is not the center of the universe is understood. I’ve been told by several seasoned parents that if I consistently work to establish my authority early, the rest of child-rearing will be easier. The child will know and trust that I am parenting with his best interest at heart and will therefore know that my instruction is out of love. He will respond to that in a positive manner.
The first two to two and a half years will demand a lot of behavior correction. If we understand that the problem is not merely the behavior, but instead the condition of the heart, we will be able to correct in a manner that plants seeds for addressing the problems on a heart level later.
3. As believers, we are commanded to put to death the deeds of the flesh. In other words, our passions are not to rule us. But, they war within us, so we must learn how to put them to death. We need to help our children master this, long before they even understand it, for by then it’s too late because they already trained to obey the passions of their flesh.
For further reading: Romans 7:5, 14, 18Romans 8:3-8, Romans 8:13, Romans 13:14, 1 Corinthians 3:3, Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:17Galatians 5:24, Galatians 6:8, Eph. 2:3, Col. 2:20-231 Peter 2:111 Peter 3:18, 1 Peter 4:2.
So how do we go about establishing our authority in our children’s lives?
1. Make it very clear from the get-go who is in charge. Babies by default, will cry when they need something. This is not inherently bad, it’s their only way of communicating! You could call this a will-to-survive. However, as the baby grows, this changes from a will to survive to a will-to-be-gratified. You’ve seen it, right? A baby wants to get down when in your lap or doesn’t want a diaper change, so he arches his back and throws a fit. Or the older child in the grocery store wants something that his mother won’t allow him. These are demonstrations of folly (definition: “an act which is inconsistent with the dictates of reason, or with the ordinary rules of prudence,” Websters 1828 Dictionary), which need to be corrected.
I seek to use Scripture as I do this. I want my children to know and understand that God loves them and has placed me in their life for their good. The first Bible verse Tara memorized was, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). This is the reason given for why she must obey me. I use Scripture pertaining to specific issues I’m confronting, but when it comes to obedience training, this is the one.
2. I must not ever give the child reason to doubt my authority. A command should be issued one time, and one time only. A child needs to learn first-time obedience. All other is disobedience. By issuing a command more than once, I give opportunity for the child to doubt that I really mean what we say. If I repeat myself instead of correcting the child for disobedience, he will learn that after mommy says it five times, that’s when she means business. I have done this and all it leads to is anger. Nor does not serve the child in any positive manner. He does not learn obedience this way.
I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t endorse it, but I love the definition of obedience that Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller give in their book: Obedience is doing what somebody tells you right away, without being reminded.
While we’re at it, go learn this song with your kids! Tara and I have been singing it and it is so helpful!
3. This means when I give a command, I must follow through! If I tell my child to do something and it’s not done right away, the child is disobeying and is in need of gentle correction.
4. There will certainly be battles along the way as the child fights for control. I must win every battle, with self-controlled, joyful composure. He doesn’t want to pick up her toys when you say it’s time? Stick it out mama, and make him pick up his toys. He will learn that you are in charge and that it is pleasant and good for him to obey you instead of resisting your will. There is no need to be harsh, but we should be firm. If we allow him to win, we encourage a spirit of rebellion to grow. We will be shooting our own selves in the foot and doing a major dis-service to our child. Yielding to authority will not be mastered.
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Some encouragement for along the way…
Your labor will bear fruit! If we are consistently applying the principles laid out in Scripture, we are promised in Proverbs that our children will be a delight to us. I have experienced this and it is so much better than constant frustration which can lead to bitterness and resentment toward the child.
“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.
Lastly, remember that child-rearing is also God’s way of sanctifying us. The longer I parent, the more I understand this! All of the things I have just laid out for you are things I am imperfect at living out. I have become angry, I have made suggestions instead of issued commands, I have been harsh. In spite of those facts, the Holy Spirit has gently convicted me and led me to repentance. He has corrected me so that I see my own need to practice doing what I am expecting of my child. I am so thankful.
Brushing up on this has been helpful for me, not only to remind myself what I need to be doing, but why I’m doing it. What about you?
“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways…
Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Proverbs 23:26, 24:14
Helpful, Biblical Parenting Resources:
Please note that while we have been greatly encouraged by the teaching of each of these resources, we don’t necessarily agree with everything that may be taught by an individual teacher. We appreciate each of them and believe they are Biblical in their teachings about child-rearing.
2. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
3. Vision Forum
5. No Greater Joy Ministries I was particularly hesitant to list this one, but not to I felt, would be a shame. The Pearls are very controversial people, but I cannot deny their love for God, the evident fruit in their children’s lives of godly parenting, and the wisdom we’ve gleaned from their very practical insights about child rearing. We disagree on some other theological fronts and on some of their child-rearing advice, but overall , think they are very wise. Please remember to always pray for wisdom when reading something written by another fellow man!
Check out Raising Homemakers, where this post is linked with many other valuable resources!