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Teaching ObedienceDiscerning the Spirit     << Ch. 6 >>
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not {your countenance} be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." - Genesis 4:6,7 (NAS)


Once Order is Established
Whether you started off on the right foot early or had to turn around a wayward child a little later on, once you make it to the point where your children respectfully recognize you as their authority, you still cannot place them on �autopilot� and let them go, expecting never to have to correct them again. Children will always need correction, teaching, and training. That�s why God gave them parents - to head up the maintenance and advanced training and educational programs.

As your child grows and changes, you will still need to be nearby to do this task God ordained for you. Never go back to allowing your child to routinely play for hours unsupervised. Don't expect him to raise himself; God gave you that job. After your child is under control and respecting your authority, Tomato Staking in its most intense form, with the child glued to your side, should no longer be needed, but never abandon Tomato Staking completely. Let it evolve into a way of life where your children are always nearby -- within eyesight and earshot � but where you are mentoring them rather then constantly correcting them. Eventually, you will notice a new joy and freedom. With order established you will stop feeling the frantic need to get away from your child for a little peace, and instead can begin to enjoy being with your child. You will find yourself wanting to undertake many things with them simply because you enjoy their company and enjoy teaching them the ways of the Lord. With the power struggles and major disciplinary issues out of the way you can start the pleasant task of getting to know your child�s heart better and begin guiding and shaping it toward the Lord and toward godliness, and you�ll have the time to do it.

The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise son will be glad in him.
- Proverbs 23:24

Knowing God Guides Us to Guide our Children
In order to woo your child's heart toward godliness, you must know God and His ways yourself. You must recognize and understand fallen, prideful human nature and its rebellion against God, and you must accept God's remedy � the perfect, sacrificial work of Christ, wrought by His crucifixion and resurrection.

Once that is accomplished, further knowledge and understanding of scripture enables us to know the character of God, what he requires of us, what we are to emulate, and what we are to be teaching our children. Written to and about human beings, the Bible is saturated with examples of every species of behavior. It is our one essential divine textbook for understanding the hearts of both God and men.

This Biblical understanding of human nature enables us to reflect back on how we thought and acted as a child ourselves. If we can remember what we were like, it will help us to discern the deepest thoughts and motivations of our children. So make scripture reading your constant habit. Let the Bible reveal to you God�s heart; then let it reveal to you your own heart and then to help you in discerning and directing the hearts of your children. 

� the LORD weighs the hearts.
- Proverbs 21:2

Reading Little Minds
Is your child reflecting an accurate image of God? Is he thinking and acting as God would? Is he a reflecting God�s character in demeanor and action? If so, it's time for praise and nurturing. If not, it's time for correction and teaching.

My children's countenances constantly guide my parenting. If, for example I say, "Let's go now," and one of my littlest ones say "no," I don't jump on the word "no" and start disciplining. Yes, my Mommy Radar goes off, but I catch myself and immediately evaluate the situation. Usually the child's tone of voice and facial expressions make things very clear. Sometimes body language is sufficient. What is his countenance telling me? What exactly did his "no" mean? Was his �no� simply an innocent expression of regret meaning: "But Mom, I'm having so much fun here I really don't want to stop now"? Or did it stubbornly mean: "I want to do want I want to do, and I'm not going to stop unless you make me stop." I don�t want to treat both of these responses the same, because the heart is different within. 

In the first instance, the child's attitude is simply disappointment. There is no rebellion or anger involved. So I would simply instruct him pleasantly, "Don't say, 'No' to Mama. You can tell me you are having a lot of fun and don't want to go yet, and you can ask, 'Can we stay a little longer?' But don't say �No.' When I tell you to do something, I want you to say �Yes, Mama.�� I might coach him further, teaching him by having him repeat it for me. There would be no need for discipline.

In the second case, where stubborn defiance is clearly evident, I would be much more firm in my response. I'd still say, "Don't say, 'No', to me", but I'd also add, "Stop what you are doing right now, and do what I told you to." Then I would follow through, demanding prompt compliance.

As you Tomato Stake, constantly observe and discern your children's hearts, reading their thoughts and intentions. Compare them to God�s character and if they are pure, nurture and teach. Encouraging good attitudes with love, and simple, kind words such as, "I like your beautiful smile today." However, if their hearts are less than pure, respond with appropriate correction, discipline, training and instruction.

The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the innermost parts of his being.
- Proverbs 20:27

Watch, Discern, Respond
Here's more on how this mind reading works in practical everyday practice. Suppose I call my one year old to come. At the time I call, I may not really care if he comes or not. Perhaps I just want to offer a hug. If he doesn't hear me call, that's okay, since I may simply have wanted something easily deferred until later. Although I may not have an urgent need for him to obey, still, I naturally look to see if he heard, and I observe his response. 

Suppose he hears me and stops, turns, and looks. What goes through my head? Suppose he pauses with no smile on his face. What do I think then? Suppose he turns and looks down at the toy he is playing with. What then? What do I think and do as I observe each of these outward signs?

Here is the same scenario again, this time with my thoughts included:

I call, "Jeffy, come here." Jeffy stops. I think, "I know he hears me - will he obey me and come? What's he thinking?" Jeffy looks at me with no smile. I think, "He's not smiling. Bad sign. Perhaps he doesn't want to obey, or perhaps he still hasn't quite processed it all yet. I'll wait." Jeffy turns back to look at his toy. I think, "The toy is tempting him not to obey. He wants to keep playing with his toy. I'll give him another second or two to decide." Jeffy begins pushing his car along the floor again. I think, "I know he heard me and understands me. He's made his decision to ignore me and disobey. Time to correct him." 

Less than one minute has elapsed, but I have taken the time to accurately read my child's heart and let it guide my response. Even though it was not initially important whether he came or not, I now must correct him promptly. Why? I don�t really care whether he comes, but I will always care if he is willful and disobedient or gives in to temptation. I will always care if he knowingly chooses to do wrong. Now I am not correcting him for not coming, I am correcting him for character issues. I am training him in godliness.

And so it goes with every correction I execute in my home. I make it a point to always try to accurately discern my children�s motivations and spirit, and then to respond accordingly, with godliness in mind as my goal. Afterwards I continue to observe and discern. If correction was needed, I watch their reactions. Did they understand my point? Do they agree with it? Are they resentful of my correction? Are they angry? Are they still proud and arrogant, but just faking a good attitude? My job is not complete until they have a genuinely good heart and a right spirit.

Wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding, but in the bosom of fools it is made known.
- Proverbs 14:33

Let Attitude Guide You
Vernita: What do I do when my child stands there with arms folded and a pouty look, not directed at me, but at a brother who won't share a toy? His attitude is abominable. It�s not just in sharing situations, but in other situations as well. Just now he was drawing with a pen on a big piece of paper. Making a mistake, he crumpled up the paper and in a VERY pouty way mumbled, "I can't make a picture." I sent him to the corner. This goes on all day, with him being pouty or grumpy over various trifles. I am Tomato Staking him and making sure I spend lots of time playing with him, and hugging him and loving him. So why is he like this and what do I do? Is it time for more drastic measures, such as spanking?

Elizabeth: Since he does this all day, it could very well be little more than a bad habit. At this point I'd treat his depressed "looks" like any other misbehavior. Get his attention and say, "Straighten your face up." Educate him on the attitude and countenance he should have toward anyone. Then tell him what to do next: "Now smile, and share that toy nicely with your brother." Be sure he obeys.

From the "crumpled paper" incident you described, it is more difficult to ascertain his underlying heart attitude. Talk to him first to see his response and gage it. Continue questioning and observing until you read his countenance and lay bare his motives, ascribing accurately a cause to his outward actions. This is truly crucial, since you cannot justly or successfully apply a correction when the underlying motive is unknown. Knowing his motives will help determine how you should proceed. If he was just being cocky, I would correct with the issue of pride in mind. If he was just being habitually moody as usual, I would correct for that, telling him to change his attitude and making sure he obeyed. If he was complaining about having to work for something, I would correct, but focus my rebuke and correction on laziness (perhaps assigning more chores in the future, for example.) If I thought that he really felt that he could never do anything right, I might not discipline at all, but rather have an encouraging talk with him. Motivation should always affect your response, so try to accurately discern motive before correcting.

Correct me, O LORD, but with justice; not with Thine anger, lest Thou bring me to nothing.
- Jeremiah 10:24

A Bad Attitude or Something Else?
Here's another example of mind reading, from my own household. One day my youngest child, four years old at the time, asked innocently, "When do I get to be the boss?" Hmm. Why would he ask that? What does he really mean? I said, "What?" a couple of times because I was stalling for time. I didn�t know if this was a bad attitude that needed to be adjusted or not.

Finally my brain kicked into gear and I asked, "Why do you want to be the boss?" He said, "I dun'no." I cheerfully helped him out with a few suggestions: "Because you like to give orders and boss people around?" He smiled and nodded, "Yes." I smiled and said, "That's not a good enough reason. You need a better reason before you can be the boss." He thought for a few seconds and then replied brightly with what was really on his mind, "If I was a boss, I could build a house." That caught me off guard and I had to quickly think some more. Perhaps he didn�t just want to be bossy, but wanted to get something done. I said, "Yes, to build a house, you need a boss to organize the work to get the job done." This assessment satisfied him, and with that, he went merrily on his way (even though I hadn�t actually answered his question!).

Clearly, his motives weren't as bad as they first seemed to me. I'm glad that instead of scolding him, I took the time to discern his spirit correctly and learn that he just wanted to build something, not wield power over others. By probing his motives more deeply, I was able to teach good character without any need for discipline.

Don�t just react to the obvious outward actions of your child, but also take time to notice the signs of the inner heart and spirit that are directing those actions. There may be a large reservoir of significant data below the surface that will make your nurturing and disciplining far more intelligent and to the point. 

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.
- Proverbs 25:11

Faking It
Julia: I am working on teaching my four-year-old to obey my first request, and have corrected her for obeying with a bad attitude. But sometimes I suspect she merely "pretends" to have a good attitude to avoid a negative consequence. Should I be concerned about this, or be satisfied that she "appears" to have a good attitude?

Elizabeth: What exactly do you require of her to demonstrate a good attitude? Are you focusing on some outward sign, such as an expansive smile, without being sure the inward heart has changed? To help you learn to discern her spirit accurately, study her face and body language carefully throughout the day for the clues to her inner thoughts. This may require time and patience, particularly if you are not used to watching for it. Watch her body language as she does all sorts of things, and try to correctly guess her next move. Try to recall what went on in your mind when you were a child and see if this helps you to follow her thought processes.

I am tempted to tell you not to ask her to do things that can be faked, like smiling. But the truth is, if you tell children to smile, and you watch their faces, you'll invariably see that as soon as they force themselves to smile, their attitude changes and the smile becomes genuine. Their entire countenance becomes bright, as it reflects their joyful hearts. This reaction is usually quite marked in a small child not yet experienced in lying or duplicity.

If you are certain her smile is "fake," then correct her. You might try saying seriously, "Smile a real smile now." That usually works. Little children are very intuitive and they know exactly what you mean. As soon as your child produces a genuine smile, reward her with your own genuine smile and a word of praise.

I would say finally, that I do not require a cheery smile for everything. A right attitude is not always a smile. Sometimes a good attitude is just the absence of a bad one. and a spirit that is willing to obey.

"Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day."
- I Kings 8:61

Don't Just Discipline - Teach

Godly parenting is not all about discipline and correction. That�s just the part of the picture you need to get straight before you can go on to the more pleasant tasks of teaching, loving, and instilling values. Once you have your children under control, how do you go about teaching? Well, you should be teaching by your own life example of course, but that alone is not usually enough. You need to be talking with your children, and clearly communicating your thoughts and beliefs to them. This verbal teaching should begin when they are little, not just with one-on-one conversations between you and them, but by letting them overhear conversations between you and your spouse or you and your older children, if you have any. 

Perhaps we are a talkative family, but we have these types of conversations constantly at our house. We talk about what we�ve all be doing and where we�ve been going and about all the human relationships that we stumble across in the course of our daily lives. We also talk about the world in general and make observation about all we see going on there. We relate all these things to the word of God and how God teaches us in scripture that we should live.

One perpetual theme in the conversations of our home is the character we see in ourselves and in others. We notice the attitudes and actions of others around us and discuss them when appropriate, as to whether they are good or bad. If good, we discuss how they please God and how we might emulate them; and if bad, we discuss the consequences. We often cite Bible stories offering examples of character qualities being displayed. Although the younger children are often just listening, we attempt whenever possible to include them in our discussions by asking them questions and explaining the main points at their age level.

We do not save up these conversations for only after our children have misbehaved. Nor do we allocate special times, such are during family devotions, to do this. Instead, we seize upon the endless opportunities that present themselves all throughout the day and use them to relate all of life to God and His divine plan for us. Make teaching your constant mindset and you will never want for endless opportunities to "train up your children in the way they should go."

My son, give attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding; That you may observe discretion, and your lips may reserve knowledge.
- Proverbs 5:1-2

The Fine Art of Lecturing
While most of our conversations are pleasant exchanges centered on how God's ways apply to each everyday situation, when our children do require verbal correcting, the tone of our conversation changes to a more formal lecture format to get our point across.

With small children we keep our "lectures" very short -- telling them what they did wrong and not to repeat it. As they grow, and as circumstances warrant, we do more questioning, instructing, and explaining -- always continuing until we feel there is understanding and agreement.

Marla: How do you lecture children about an offense without making them feel overly guilty? Are there things you avoid? My husband grew up in a home where the children were controlled by making them feel guilty about everything. So, of course, he is highly sensitive to this, but ironically finds himself doing the same because he knows nothing else. I was raised in a "yelling" home so we don't want that either. We are eager for your advice.

Elizabeth: The following four principles are key to effectual lecturing: 1. Discuss and lecture as needed, but never nag, whine, or attempt to manipulate with shame. 2. Carefully watch and read the heart of your listeners and KNOW WHEN TO QUIT. 3. After you sense genuine repentance, stop scolding and continue on in a gentle manner, with helpful instruction and love. 4. Do not end the session until peaceful harmony has been reestablished and your child has learned the lesson you wanted to teach.

If your child's eyes are glazing over with boredom, then you probably need to improve your lecturing skills. Ask thought-provoking, not guilt-laden, questions. Obtain some honest (but polite) feedback from them to be sure they understand and to be sure that you understand and are justly dealing with the situation. Ask them to search their souls and explain the motivation behind their conduct. Don't whine, pleading, "Whhhyyyy did you do such a horrible thing to me�" Instead, ask them, in a calm, matter-of-fact way: "Why did you do that? What was going through your head? Did you consider the consequences?�" Don�t bulldoze over them, but wait for a thoughtful responses to each question. Armed with the answer, you can now show them where their character and wisdom failed when they chose to do wrong. Patient questioning, coaching and teaching! That's the proper way.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
- Psalms 139:23-24

Lecturing Without Overkill
A while back, I had occasion to observe a well-meaning mom "lecturing" a child for a very minor infraction that the child had committed in carelessness. A quiet verbal reprimand would have sufficed, since the offense was not intentional, but the mom, in front of a group of other parents and children, decided to commit verbal assault instead. She angrily summoned the child, and accusingly asked a string of guilt-laden questions: "Why did you do that? Why didn't you see what you were doing? Why didn't you think the way any decent child would think? Why do you always have to be told what to do?� And on and on.

The child was mortified. He hadn't meant to offend. He was truly repentant. The parent was not satisfied with his tears and the repeated "I'm sorrys" he offered. The parent continued the torment by taking the child to another room where she could accuse, berate, and shame the him all over again. Still not satisfied, the mom was starting up again for a third time, when I - unable to take this parental malpractice any longer - politely intervened, distracted the parent, and ended the torture.

As I reflected back on this episode, all I could think of was the word "OVERKILL". Please don't do this to your child. Quietly and firmly make your point and move on. When your words have touched your child's heart, STOP. Alter your demeanor to an appropriately pleasant or serious one, and continue with kindness and helpfulness, not condemnation. Both child and parent should be on the same side in the end, not one feeling guilt and shame beyond hope of redemption, and the other feeling triumphant, vindicated, and gratified. Whine, shame, or nag, and your child will soon begin to tune you out. Indulge routinely in overkill and be certain of this: your child will eventually become bitter against you. The risk is very real that the damage you wreak will be irreparable.

Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.
- Deuteronomy 4:9

Discipline Without Overkill
Before I move on to a special chapter all on Tomato Staking, I want to briefly warn against overkill in discipline itself. Many people assume that the word �discipline� always means �spanking�. No, it does not. Neither does �correction� automatically mean spanking. There are many ways to discipline and correct, and you should only use what you need to use to achieve the effect you are seeking. 

I never administer a spanking to a child who does not need a spanking. I never want any of my children to be terrified of me or my corrections. They won't be terrified if I treat them fairly, correcting only as needed and to the degree needed. If a simple verbal rebuke works, then that's all I use. If a lecture or a little time in the corner is needed, I do that. I only spank when I believe it to be the best way to deal with that particular child on that particular occasion. Again, everything depends on knowing my child and carefully assessing the situation as I proceed.

Here's an example of what I might do were I to catch a normally tender hearted, well-behaved child, in the act of disobedience:

Mom: (Sees child going into the "off limits" cookie jar.) "Go get the paddle."
Child: (Appearing immediately sorry and worried, the child fetches the paddle because he's been trained to obey.)
Mom: (Sees that the child is agitated about getting a spanking. Mom knows that this is a more sensitive child than most, and that just being caught is punishment enough to motivate a change in future behavior, thus there's no need to spank. Instead she switches to lecture mode.) "What were you doing wrong?"
Child: "Getting a cookie."
Mom: "Didn't I say no cookies until after lunch?"
Child: "Yes Mom." (Child has tears in his eyes and remorse written all over his face. He knows he has done wrong and is repentant.)
Mom: (Shows child the paddle) "Do I need to spank you to get you to remember what I told you?"
Child: "No, Mom."
Mom: "Stay out of the cookie jar. Do you understand?"
Child: "Yes, Mom."
Mom: (Is satisfied that he is motivated not to transgress again, so she dismisses him with a direction) "Now go eat your sandwich."

Notice that no spanking was given. Whether or not you spank depends on whether or not you NEED to spank. Don't use spanking or harsh discipline automatically for everything. Once your children have made it through the initial training phase, you should not be spanking them constantly. Watch your child's heart and avoid overkill. Use discussion and lecturing to get your point across as needed. Remember that you want repentance, not resentment.

"Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!
- Deuteronomy 5:29

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.