Tag Archives: discipline

Should I keep my kid out of church as a consequence?

Is it wrong to pull your child out of church as a consequence?

I’ve been asked two different questions that both center around the idea of keeping a child out of church or church activities.  Both are actually important questions, and come from different circumstances.  But the ultimate conclusion is similar, so I’ll try to grapple with both of them today.

Scenario 1: My child either didn’t do something they were supposed to, or the did something they weren’t supposed to.  They actually love coming to church (mostly because of friends) and I feel like grounding them from church as a consequence.  But I feel like a terrible parent for doing this.  What’s the right thing to do?

Let me begin by saying that I’m replying in general, and each specific situation is different.  But I’ve been thinking about this question for twenty years, and have been all over the place.  Here’s where I am today:

I’m a youth pastor and a parent.  As a youth pastor, I want all of “my kids” to be in all of our church meetings all of the time.  I know that the best discipleship happens over a long period of time with lots of reps together, not just in worship meetings but in life-on-life activities.  As a parent, I know that some of my kids would LOVE to skip church and some of them would take it as the worst punishment I can give them.  First, for the children who don’t really want to go in the first place (social anxiety, rather sleep in, lack of spiritual interest) I don’t want to give them a reward for poor behavior.  For the ones that really love to go, I want to be wise in the Lord.  So perhaps I let them go, but they have to sit with me instead of going to youth (pretend I’m not the youth pastor), or perhaps they must volunteer to serve with kids for a while, or perhaps they don’t get to go to the “fun” activities but are still allowed to go to the primary worship and discipleship meetings.  If they are getting into trouble with another child in the church, I want to be extra careful to set up boundaries or cut off access to their partners in crime.

Through all of this, my dilemma is that I want to remove them from them from environments that seem like a reward so that they feel the sting of what they are doing, but I also want to be very careful not to pull them out of what is hopefully the most encouraging spiritual and character enrichment time of their week.

So, in the realm of using church as a consequence, I’d say there are times and places for it (as a pastor I have occasionally banned kids from coming to certain activities for a period of time because of dangerous or rebellious behavior).  Trips, camps, retreats, and overnights are a privilege, not a right.  But I think those times should be rare, limited, and thought out in the council of other shepherds in their lives.

Scenario 2: My child is overwhelmed at school or is a slower learner than others.  They just really need to spend more time focusing on their schoolwork.  Should we prioritize school over youth and church activities?

This is a hard question and perhaps a little more challenging.  “Overwhelmed” and “slow learner” can mean SO MANY different things to different people.  Let me start by 1) affirming your predicament.  I’ve got at least one child that takes all kinds of special help to learn even basic concepts.  But I also want to 2) encourage you to not feel sorry for your child.  Don’t give them permission to play the victim or moan and cry because things are harder for them.  Every single one of us will have to face life scenarios that are harder for us than other people.  Perhaps school is your child’s scenario.  Instead of letting it because an excuse, learn to look at it as a tool.  So they’re going to have to work hard.  That’s a gift from the Lord, which will prepare them for life much better than if everything came easy.  It’s the super smart ones who often give up too easily when they finally hit a brick wall.

So, should you prioritize school over youth and church activities?  Let me offer another suggestion:

  • Prioritize time and task management.  If your child is a slower learner, they’re going to need to be a better scheduler their entire life.  Now is a great time to start.  Learn to sit down on Sunday evening and make a schedule for the week, blocking out what needs to be done and when it can be done.  Or, learn to get together Friday after school and spend 20 minutes with your child going through what homework assignments need to happen.  There is RARELY a time when your child legitimately CANNOT make it to church on Sunday because of homework.  It’s usually because they were doing too many other things on Friday and Saturday.  Maybe you can’t stay for both services, but with a little bit of advanced scheduling there’s almost always time for one.  If there are special youth activities coming up in the future, help them learn to look ahead and plan in advance.
  • Prioritize margin.  If your child takes longer to do things, perhaps you should help them pick just a couple of things and do them well, instead of encouraging them to be involved in 5-10 different activities that are going to pull them in so many directions.  If the school load is heavy, perhaps they get to choose ONE extracurricular activity.  This might help them to have quality experiences instead of running ragged.  Don’t transfer your own FOMO onto your kids.  They’re going to miss out on FAR more activities in life than they can do.  Encourage them to pick a few and truly BE THERE.
  • Midweek services may be too much.  I get it.  Kids are busy and loaded.  There’s not a ton of time after school to get work done before the midweek services.  This is part of why our church switched our primary youth service to Sundays.  Don’t live in guilt.  Kids can’t be everywhere and do everything. Living in guilt doesn’t enhance your spiritual standing with Jesus.

And Finally…

The concluding thought I have is just the encouragement that YOU are the primary shepherds of your children, not your youth pastor or your church.  If you can’t “make it to church” for some reason, BE the church together.  Don’t use this as an excuse to skip your church’s services all the time, but if some life circumstance prevents you or your kids from attending, remember that we are a Kingdom of Priests!  Spend time together in worship, fellowship, prayer, and sharing the word.  You can do it, God will be with you!

Consequences Don’t Have to be Immediate

Have you ever made a promise to a toddler and then forgot, only to have them remind you 27 times?  They don’t forget.  Yet when it comes to doling out consequences for behavior, we often feel immense pressure to come up with the perfect consequence on the spot.  This can be especially difficult when we’re angry, exasperated, and wondering how you’re supposed to come up with the perfect deterrent for a situation you never fathomed could even happen.  Emotions are high all the way around, and it’s likely that one or the other of you is going to react over the top.  Not the ideal learning laboratory.

The good news: unless you’re parenting a rat, dog, or ferret, or 18 month old, you don’t always have to feel compelled to come up with an immediate consequence.  Actually, delayed consequences can have a lot more power.

Children, and especially teenagers, are emotional creatures.  And just like us, when their emotions are flaring, it’s very difficult to think logically, rationally, or learn much of anything.  You can try to enforce your family standards while you both are in fight or flight mode, OR you can wait a little while gather your wits, get some council, think through the fallacies of your consequences, let the anticipation build, and THEN drop the hammer like Thor on one of those green thingies from the movies.

What might this look like?

  • Child A gets caught cusssing/cheating/hitting/stealing/drinking/lying/etc-ing.
  • Parent A feels like they are going to blow up inside, but instead responds with an even mannered “ooooo… that’s a really big deal. I’m not even sure how to handle this.  Why don’t you go to your room/mow the lawn/fold laundry/start your homework while I figure out what an appropriate consequence is.”
  • Child A begins to protest, laying out a defense that would get OJ acquitted again.
  • Parent A responds with “yeah, what a bummer… go ahead and do what I just asked while I think through what’s an appropriate consequence to make sure this never happens again”
  • Parent A takes as long as they want… minutes, hours, all day to think it through, call for advice, talk to the other parent.  Child A gets to cool off from the firestorm of defense they were attempting, and now gets to live in anticipation of the cruelty that awaits them.
  • When the Parents are ready, they call the for the child, rehearse what the child or teen did, talk about why it’s such a big deal, and then drop the consequence bomb.

Why is this method so desirable?

  • Anticipation makes everything more awesome.  Dates, desserts, and discipline!
  • You get time to cool off and give an appropriate consequence. You even have time to get creative.
  • You don’t have to punish angry, and this is a huge teaching moment for your kids.  You didn’t react in anger, you collected yourself.  This is what they should also do.
  • You have time to make sure you give a punishment you can actually stick with.
  • You might actually have a great discussion instead of just a fight.

This love and logic method of parenting is laid out in detail in Foster Cline & Jim Fay’s Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.  I highly recommend it.

Have fun! And do me a favor, share this if you think it’s worthwhile!

 

Relax your Grip

Have you ever tried to keep a firm grip on a handful of Jello?  The harder you squeeze, the greater the mess.  Trying to control your kid’s behavior can often turn out the same way.

Many of us have had the thought “I’d be such a better parent if I could control my kid’d decisions!”  But there are a few fallacies in that logic.

1)Your child is not a robot, and has a free will of their own.

2) You are a faulty human and blow choices all the time.  If you controlled every decision your child makes, they’d still make plenty of bad decisions!

3) Having total control is not nearly as fun and exciting as trying to guide an unpredictable free willed human being!

So what if the key to seeing better outcomes with your child’s decision making was actually to relax your grip?

Psychologist Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD, states that people of all ages don’t think of control in absolute terms, but rather subjectively based on the previous levels of control they’ve experienced.  What this means is that when we give our little ones too much decision making power, they feel much more offense as we get older and start reeling in their freedom.  We parents actually do this all the time, because most choices a little kid makes feel inconsequential over the long term, but choices in adolescence can affect the rest of their lives.  Sadly, many kids start with too much power and as a result live unhappy lives as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.

In the book Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay speak of “the V of Love” when it comes to setting limits and building responsibility.

When children are small, rather than telling them everything to do, we can give them limited choices that don’t bear much consequence one way or another.  For a toddler, this might be “Do you want the red or the blue cup”, and as they get a little older it might be “do you want to play soccer or basketball this year”.  The key is to give them actual, but limited, decision making power, over areas where you feel comfortable with any of the choices.  As they get older, you introduce more freedom, wider limits, and greater choice that comes with actual consequence.  Important parental skills at this point include always giving them choices you will actually be willing to uphold, and not caving in to bail them out.  But remember, they’re not always going to choose what you want.  Sometimes we need to consult them on their decision, let them choose poorly, and then let natural consequences take over.

The goal is that by the time your children are in the middle of high school, they should be responsible for most of the choices in their life, so that moving out and college isn’t a shock to their system or a time to break free of the shackles while breaking all of the 10 commandments before breakfast.

When it comes to teens, I love these points from Parenting Teens with Love and Logic:  “Don’t be greedy.  Never take any more control than you absolutely need to have.”  You want to avoid control battles at all costs, but when you’re absolutely forced into a control battle, win it at all costs.  Because the stakes are so high, you need to pick those battles carefully.

You can’t control what kind of music your child likes.  You can’t control who they are going to see at school and who they decide to befriend.  You can’t control how much they care about school, work, etc.  But you can give them a lifetime of realizing that they do have a choice, and that every choice has its consequences.  God willing, with a little wisdom and a little freedom, when they’re finally done growing up they will have internalized the values you could never force into them in the first place.

LPOP 9 What’s Your Parenting Style

Drill Sergents, Helicopters, and Consultants, Oh My!

Here’s an overview of three different types of parenting styles with three different consequences.