Establishing Boundaries, Part i. Bringing up Kids God's Way, Part 9 What About Control? Part a


"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (Prov 22:6 NIV)

I was standing in the shoe section of the local department store, holding out a pair of shoes, when my two-year-old started to scream. As his face turned shades of blue and his arms and legs flailed about in an attempt to keep me away from him, his message was clear: He didn't WANT a new pair of shoes!

At first I was astonished. My son had never acted this way before, and besides, what was wrong with buying him a new pair of shoes?

I was also embarrassed. The eyes of all the other shoppers were directed straight at me and my screaming son. I could just hear their thoughts: "Child Abuse!" How could I tell them that the supposed "abuse" was trying to buy a new pair of shoes?

And that gave way to the most dangerous of emotions: RAGE!!! How could he DARE do such a thing to me???

Then came the temptation: All you have to do is put the shoes back on the shelf and it will all go away!

But another tiny voice also managed to squeeze its way through: "What you do now will set precedence for future behavior! You need to establish boundaries!"

We've all either experienced or witnessed similar scenarios, and likely, we've either witnessed or experienced times when we've given in. I mean, let's face it: Kids like to be in control!

But then, don't we all? The need for control begins at infanthood and continues through every moment of our adult lives. When we are in control, we feel secure, and when we aren't in control, we feel unsettled, unhappy, rebellious.

There's only one problem: We aren't supposed to be in control. God is!

How can we help our children learn to relinquish control to God? By teaching them how to relinquish control all through their childhood.

I didn't give in to my two-year-old that day, and he was still screeching when we and the new shoes got to the car. Needless to say, my son then learned an important lesson on acceptable and non-acceptable behavior, and though the scenario did repeat itself a few times, the groundwork was laid: My son learned that screaming didn't always control my behavior!

Let's face it: Children are not mentally equipped to be in control. They don't have enough experience in life to be able to make all of the right decisions. They focus on the "now", on gratifying their present desires, rather than on the future consequences of their choices. It is the responsibility of the adults in children's lives to make the vital decisions, to be responsible for teaching children good habits.

But how do you do so, without provoking them to wrath?

By establishing boundaries early on.

When he was a year old, we had to take my oldest son to Europe to visit his dying grandfather. The change in time threw his system completely off, and for the next two months, he didn't sleep. Of course, like any "good" mother, as soon as he would cry, I would be at his side. I was also working full-time and trying to maintain a busy household. It didn't take long for the sleepless nights to take their toll on my health. Then one day it dawned on me: My son's sleeping difficulties were controlling me, and my body simply couldn't do it anymore. I had to establish some boundaries!

I made it a priority during the next days to spend extra time with my son, to cuddle him and play with him when he wasn't crying; but at night, I had to let him cry himself to sleep. It was hard, but after just a couple of days of me not running to his side every time he cried, he was again sleeping through the night.

Does this seem cruel? Perhaps. But the message my son received was simple: There is a time to be held and comforted, and there is a time when you get through situations on your own.

As an infant, this same son loved the comforting effects of nursing, and would demand to be fed continually. I had been convinced that feeding on demand was the best for my child, but it soon became apparent that there were disadvantages to this plan. First of all, my son surpassed 20 pounds before he was two months old. Secondly, the constant feedings soon took their toll on my health. Though I did everything I knew to do, the continuous nutritional drain was more than eating right and drinking enough water could counterbalance.

I realized that if my son was going to learn temperance in life, and if I was going to be able to continue nursing him, it would have to begin with me setting some boundaries. Initially I put my son on a two hour feeding schedule. When he cried to be fed, I comforted him in other ways. I quickly discovered he loved to rock and bounce, so I put him in his bouncy chair and gave him a ride until his crying turned into shrieks of laughter. I also introduced the bottle for one feed a day, and passed this responsibility on to my husband.

It worked. Before long my son was on four hour feeds and he had learned that there were other ways to receive comfort. But more than this, the groundwork was laid for learning temperance.

Friends, no matter how hard it is, we cannot give in to every demand of our children. We must care for them, love them, provide them with the comfort and support that they need, but it is OUR responsibility to teach them how to live temperately and responsibility. We are the ones to teach them what is and isn't acceptable behavior, and we do so by establishing boundaries early on.

Enough to ponder, but do ponder this: Who is in control will determine much about the future outcome of your child. We do not do our kids a service by giving in to their every whim. Establishing boundaries early on is a key to helping them grow up in a mature fashion.

Lyn Chaffart

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