As parents, we are keenly aware of when our children misbehave. We are quick to give a consequence for a wrong action. When they are little, this is usually enough to restore them to their sweet little selves. As they grow, however, even though we insist on and receive right behavior, we are often left with bad attitudes and a grudging obedience. We know we should get to their hearts, but how? What are we missing?
From the beginning, we teach our children right actions and right attitudes. Behaviors can be motivated by the sin nature (foolishness) or by innocent or ignorant ideas about how the world works (childishness). The child’s attitude reflects his motivations. We know we are getting to a child’s heart when we see right attitudes as well as right behavior. We should see both.
The problem is, we don’t correct for both. Carla Link is fond of saying “As parents we have a tendency to correct for wrong behavior and remind for wrong attitudes.” I have found this to be true in my own parenting. The result is we get right action with a bad attitude. We need to discipline both action AND attitude if we truly desire to reach the hearts of our children. How then, should we address our children’s attitudes?
As you read this post and Part 2, consider also that what we’re after is relationship and connection with our children’s hearts. Sometimes this means looking past an attitude and seeing the person before us through God’s tender eyes. This post from Beth Blunk delves more into this topic.
- Proactively Teach God’s Word
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
It is impossible to truly work on attitude apart from the Word of God. God’s Word gives us insight into “the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” On the positive side of discipline, this involves character training, i.e. instructing our children in what to do, as well as what not to do. What does God require of us? We taught our boys to “put off” the wrong attitudes and to “put on” righteous attitudes. (See Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3) Regular instruction in God’s standards gave us a starting place when correction became necessary. Our boys already knew the ideal and could better assess their attitudes in light of it.
- Promote Right Attitudes
Encourage and praise your children when they demonstrate right attitudes and character qualities. Say things like, “Thank you for clearing the breakfast table so cheerfully.” “I noticed how patient and kind you were when helping your little brother just now.” As often as you can, genuinely praise your children for demonstrating excellent character. It will go a long way toward boosting morale and promoting continued good attitudes.
We should also be mindful as parents to model right attitudes in our homes. Our children will pick up on our attitudes, good or bad, and mirror them. There were times I sought the forgiveness of my children for my own angry words or harsh tone or a complaining spirit when we were stuck in traffic. I wanted my children to know that I, too, had to obey God’s standards and I wasn’t asking them to do something I was unwilling to do myself. They will follow our example so we must show them how to live the things we teach them.
- Promptly Correct
Before it comes out in wrong actions, a bad attitude often reveals itself in a person’s countenance, eyes, posture, and tone. If our children used the wrong tone or rolled their eyes, they were immediately corrected for it. Not allowing it to continue further gives the child the best opportunity to gain self-control over his will and emotions. Take a bad attitude on early and you will have less correction down the road. Once when my 12-year-old son gave a flippant response to my husband, I quickly stopped him and asked him if it was his desire to show honor or dishonor to his dad. My question made him consider his tone and words in light of the biblical truth he had been taught. He repented and was able to reword his response and engage his dad in a humble, respectful manner. By addressing his tone immediately with a biblical reproof, my son was able to gain self-control and choose the right course of action without needing further correction.
In part two, we’ll look at the tools we have available to us for correcting a bad attitude.
Beth Ann Plumberg and her husband Chuck are parents to 4 wonderful sons and daughters-in-love and grandparents to 5 adorable grandchildren. They have taught parenting classes since 1993. They enjoy reading, history and family research and live with 2 cats full-time on the road in their travel trailer.