It may be possible to control behavior. However, control of the heart is another matter. As Tedd Tripp teaches, you can shepherd your child’s heart. But you cannot control his heart. So the purpose of your authority as a parent is to shepherd your children, to build them up, to strengthen them. But attempts as controlling children without shepherding them will lead to frustration.
Over time attempts at control through rules will lead your children away from Christ (Colossians 2:23). Controlling your children in this way will weaken them and tear them down. Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:10 says that God gave him authority for building up and not for tearing down. This is important. As a parent, you want to do far more than simply control your children.
Parental authority based on control leads to manipulation, domination, and failed relationships. Control is evidence by pressure to solve problems quickly. When control is the focus, relationships suffer. Parental authority that is based on building up through shepherding takes time. It requires an investment in depending on God’s power and leads to lasting, deepening relationships.
Here are some examples of relying on behavioral control that will produce negative long-term damage to relationships with your children:
- Manipulation — “Do what t I ask and you can have a special dessert or you can go to the big game next week.”
- Intimidation — “Do what I want if you know what is good for you.”
- Emotional ploys — “It hurts me so much to see you argue, please stop so we can have peace.”
- Power plays — “I am your parent, I am in control. You answer to me.”
- Threats — “If you don’t come right now, no videos for a week.”
- Blame-Shifting — “If you would behave, I wouldn’t get angry. “
True shepherding, building children up, is achieved by actively engaging in the spiritual battle for the souls of your children. You understand that your authority is given to you by God so that in every situation you can point your children to the wonder of Christ. You do this by using God’s instruction and his methods of discipline:
- You listen well so that your children know they have been heard and understood.
- You use pleasant words, even when correction and discipline is required. You always let your children know they need the power of Christ to obey in the Lord.
- You make God the final authority, and not yourself. You do this by constantly referencing his word.
- Your house rules focus on keeping God’s commands and not your own preferences.
- When your children sin against you your response is one of compassion rather than hurt and anger.
- You are more happy to see repentance than you are to see improved performance.
- Your goal is to draw your children closer to Christ.
Controlling the heart truly is Mission Impossible. Shepherd your children towards Christ using the power of his word. Attempts to control children will produce angry children. Follow Paul’s direction:
Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
This post originally appeared on Shepherd Press and was republished with permission.
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, and he is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is a ruling elder at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.