An Instructive Word is Better Than a Spanking

Proverbs 17:10 “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”

When I was a new mom, I devoured parenting books. At that time, nearly 10 years ago, most of the Christian books seemed to focus on spanking–when to spank, how to spank, etc. These books gave the impression that the key to rearing upstanding Christian children was all in spanking correctly and consistently for each disobedience. It never seemed to be the magic key for me, so I was thankful as the years went on to find more well-rounded parenting advice elsewhere that affirmed how God was leading me as a mommy.

As far as spanking goes, society is pretty divided about it. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking children, but a recent CNN report indicates that the majority of their readers are in favor of spankings. Contemporary Christians tend to be somewhat divided about the issue, largely due to debate over whether “the rod” in Scripture is a literal rod or a figurative one that describes discipline in general, and due to the fact that the Bible is not nearly as descriptive on spanking as many of the popular books are. The American College of Pediatricians supports the practice of spanking under careful control. I think their guidelines are wise and such control and restraint should be the norm for anyone who chooses to spank their children.

I think there is a place for restrained, occasional spankings by parents who can handle that kind of power wisely, but, contrary to what I read in some of those parenting books, I do not think that a spank alone will ever change the heart of a child. A spanking may be effective for immediately changing a behavior, but, in order to affect our children’s hearts and help them gain wisdom, we need to take the longer route of teaching them–of gently explaining how their behavior affects others, how it hurts them, how it fails to reflect the love and grace God has shown to us, modeling the behavior we want to see, walking them through correct responses when they are prone to fail, etc. It’s not the quick and easy route, for sure.

There is so much more that could be said about how to win the hearts and confidence of our children so that they will value our instruction. This is not at all an exhaustive essay on what I think about spanking or reaching our children’s hearts. And I am in no way an expert or a super-parent, so take my opinions with a grain of salt and search the Scriptures for yourself. These are just a few ideas that I was mulling over as I studied this verse in Proverbs. If you have constructive comments that will sharpen me, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Kids, Mealtime, Picky Eaters, etc.

Hello out there! It’s been a while since I’ve stepped out and written anything on this blog. I’ve been silent partly out of busy-ness and partly out of an understanding of what a fool I am and how little I know about anything worthy of blog-space. I love being a teacher, which is why I started this blog–to explain to others the things I have been learning–and yet I have become afraid of the greater criticism that comes to those who try to teach. So, I’ve decided to be mostly silent and keep my teaching realm at home among my very forgiving sweet kids. For now.

That being said…..today I’ve decided to come back for a brief chat and talk about something highly controversial: picky eaters and what to do about them! (You’d think I’d come back with something a little more mild, huh?) My husband’s side of the family is amused right now if they are reading this, because they KNOW that I am no expert at what I’m about to talk about. I really am a fool and am not saying that anything I do is right for anyone else, but I hope to explain the thoughts behind my actions in order partly to explain myself and partly to encourage others to make their own decisions based on good thinking and not on pressure from others or a desire to make your family look good on the outside. This topic has come up several times lately among young mommies I know, so I’ve decided to stick my neck out and share my two cents. So….here goes!

As I begin, I want to share some verses with you that have helped to shape my choices:

Matthew 15:11 “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Mark 7:15 “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

Romans 14:16-17 “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

As I’ve pondered these verses, I’ve been challenged to not communicate to my children that they are “good” if they eat a lot, eat fast, eat all their food on their plates,  or that they are “bad” if they eat little, eat slowly, have a small appetite, etc. Eating well does not make them “good” in God’s sight, and so I wonder why, many times, parents and grandparents put such grave importance on “cleaning your plate”, being a “good eater,” having a “healthy appetite,” etc. Sometimes, I think our values come from tradition more than they come from biblical thinking.

If you’ve read many of my other parenting posts, then you know that I am always striving to reach the hearts of my children and I bristle against any teaching that stresses outward performance or conformity without reaching the hearts of my children. I try to take the long, messy road of teaching to the heart rather than using a discipline method that will produce immediate obedience but may reap rebellion, hurt, or confusion in the future. (Of course, no one intentionally chooses a method that will reap rebellion, hurt, or confusion in the future, but some parents just don’t stop to look ahead and calculate the long-term effects of choices that bring pleasing temporary results. Don’t assume that a pleasing result now equals a pleasing long-term result!)

Here are the things that I value when it comes to mealtime and teaching my children:

1. Kindness to others: I try to explain to my children that it is polite to eat food that has been prepared for them by others. I’m trying to teach them to think of others when it comes to mealtime and to let love overrule when they are served something that they don’t like. (At the same time, sometimes I am amazed when an adult would expect a child to show that type of maturity and yet would show such immaturity as to be offended that a child did not like or eat the food prepared!) At the stage my children are in, we ask them to take some “thank you” bites of foods they don’t love, but if there is a food my children are very averse to, I treat them the way I would want to be treated and let them off the hook. (C’mon, now! Aren’t there foods that you really can’t stand? So why are you expecting more of your children than you expect of yourself? Most of us have polite, socially acceptable ways of avoiding the foods we don’t like.) I expect that my children’s ability to eat foods they don’t like will grow as they grow physically, so, in the meantime, I “remember their frame” (Psalm 103:14) as God remembers mine and lets me take baby steps in my own growth.

2. Good stewardship of our bodies: I try often to teach my children about nutrition, and we try to model it with our own choices, too. They know about saturated fat, they ask me what vitamins are in different foods they eat, and they know about the food pyramid. Every once in a while I will sketch out a food pyramid and ask them to list all the foods they’ve eaten that day. If they are low in fruits or vegetables, I’ll point that out and suggest that maybe they have a carrot or apple for a snack rather than a granola bar or cheese stick. I try to help them make good choices for themselves so that someday, when they’re on their own, they WANT to eat wisely. I could just dictate every choice for them, but then I think they’d run a greater risk of choosing Doritos and Mountain Dew everyday for their snacks when the choice is finally theirs.

3. I want mealtime at my home to be a time of enjoyment, togetherness, and celebration, not a time for fights and battles and anxiety about food. Food is given by God for our enjoyment and nourishment. Click here to read a piece that has inspired me to make mealtimes about more than just dinner.

Things I want to avoid:

1. Giving my kids the impression that they are “good” or “bad” kids based on what they eat:
My nephews and one of my nieces eat anything and everything put before them. And lots of it. Sometimes I’m tempted to say something like, “Wow! Look at So-and-so. He ate ALL his food! And he ate it so quickly! What a GOOD eater you are! *patting him on the back*”  When I do that, I am doing an injustice to all the kids. I am communicating to my nephew that I value him more when he eats a lot of food, setting him up for overeating, and I am communicating to my own children that I would be most pleased with them if they would eat a lot of food, tempting them to put their personal value in what they eat, rather than who they are. This is not what I want to value. I want to value those things that come out of their hearts: righteousness, kindness, love, peace, etc.

2. Teaching my children to eat for the wrong reasons:
When I’m around people who value “good eaters,” I’m tempted to cater to those people rather than to follow my Spirit-guided mommy heart, and I’m tempted to make my children eat in order to make me look good and for them to be loved more by others. The fear of people should never rule my choices.

2. Inadvertently teaching my children to overeat:
I’ve read it in many books, and I believe it to be true: children know when their own tummies are full better than we do. When my children were bottle-fed babies and pushed the bottle out of their own mouths, I knew they were full. I never forced the bottle back into their mouths and made them finish it just because there was more left in the bottle. In the same way, I don’t expect them to finish a plate of food if an adult not used to their normal portion-size mounds their plate with food. They know best when they are full, and I don’t think it’s virtuous to make them eat when they are full. At worst, I believe it teaches their bodies to overeat.

So, practically, this is how all this works in my house:

I take the recommendation that seems to be the overwhelming favorite of pediatricians. I try to serve healthy, delicious, balanced meals. I try to model good nutrition by what I buy, prepare and eat. I don’t make something different for my kids if they aren’t happy with what I’ve prepared: dinner is what’s on the table and nothing else, with rare exceptions. I make my two older kids try a bite of everything, for the most part, unless it’s something they are very averse to. (A child with abnormal eating difficulties needs to be treated uniquely under a doctor’s care. The type of pickiness I’m addressing is the type that seems to affect the majority of children, from what I’ve observed, not something more extreme.)

We are a work in progress. My 17-month-old would happily eat cheese and granola bars for every meal and hands back any piece of meat, fruit, or vegetable I put on her tray. My older kids often dislike the meals I prepare and usually are skeptical of new things. Sometimes I entertain thoughts of being a “meaner” mom. It would make the here-and-now a lot easier. But I feel confident that the path I’m on is the one God has for me. Other parents with different personalities, backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses and their kids with different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, have different mealtime expectations than we do. And that’s ok. Whether you feel confident in this area or whether you feel inadequate, we’re all works in progress, after all, as God teaches our kids through us and us through our kids. And that’s a good thing to remember about one another.

How We Should Be Talking to Our Kids

Ephesians 4:29-30 “Let no (not a single one!) corrupt (rotten; worthless) communication (more than your words–your tone of voice, your expression, etc.) proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying (building up spiritually; encouraging), that it may minister grace (help; kindness; good will; favor ) unto the hearers.”

I’d like to address a topic that has consumed me lately: the way parents ought to talk to their children. I think this Ephesians passage is a good place to start: as parents, we ought not let a single word come out of our mouths that will tear down our children. Instead, every word should be spiritually encouraging, edifying, and helpful to them.

One way I believe parents “corrupt” their children is in the way they handle discipline situations. Most of us would probably agree that it is important to teach our children to obey and to correct them when they do not. But some parents seem to believe that obedience can be taught at any cost: through yelling, screaming, belittling, manipulating, etc. Oftentimes, we employ these “corrupting” methods because we are viewing their disobedience as more of a personal offense against us (“Why do you put me through this?” “Why do I have to tell you this over and over again?”, “Can’t I just have some peace and quiet for awhile?”) rather than an opportunity to teach and guide our children.

From John Younts’s book, Everyday Talk:

“Parents, when you give in to anger, resentment or self-pity at your children’s bad behavior, you make yourself the center of the problem. You are loving yourself first and most. You must love your kids enough to show them the danger of their behavior. They need to see that their first problem is with God, and only secondarily with you. … You must be more concerned for them than for yourself, and you must be concerned most of all for God. By modeling patience, love, self-control–and all the fruit of the Spirit–you teach your children how extraordinary God is.”

From Tim Kimmel’s Grace-Based Parenting:

We need to “realize that (our) children will struggle with sin. …Consider it an honor to be used by God to show (your) children how to find true forgiveness in Christ. (Don’t be) intimidated by the dialogue that brings the discussion of sin into the light. In fact, (be) grateful to be able to come alongside (your) children with an unconditional love during some of their toughest hours. ”

I believe there’s a better way to correct our children when they’re disobedient, rather than anger, manipulation, exasperation, or belittling. And I believe it’s the biblical way:

Proverbs 16:20-24 “He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he. 21 The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning (persuasiveness). 22 Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly. 23 The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. 24 Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

Proverbs 15 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly… 4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. 18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.… 28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”

If you are a parent, grandparent, youth worker, or anyone who leads children or teenagers, I urge you to shed the tough-guy, heavy-handed approach and adopt the gentler, more pleasant, biblical approach which, perhaps, has not ever occurred to you before. The “corruption” that comes from yelling, belittling, or manipulation may not be evident  until your children are older and no longer hiding their true problems behind a facade of outward obedience.

*I’ve struggled over how to construct this post for days, and I’m still not satisfied with it. I think this is a HUGE issue, and I keep seeing and hearing antecdotes that make me want to share God’s Word far and wide on this topic. Maybe at some point I’ll be articulate enough to do it justice, but for now here is my feeble attempt to share the treasures of what God has been teaching me lately. May it spur you on to further thought and study.

Bible Story Books and Verse Memorization for Young Children

We’ve used several books for Bible reading time/ verse memorization with our young children. I thought I’d share with you some of the resources we’ve used, and you can feel free to respond with some of your favorites. Also, I’ve put these in developmentally appropriate order. We used the first book when our children were barely talking, and we’re using the last few resources now with our two pre-K children.

1. The ABC Memory Book: Our children learned several verses around the time they were also learning their ABC’s: “A- All we like sheep have gone astray. B- But He was wounded for our transgressions. etc.” We would recite these verses and talk about them at breakfast each morning. I was amazed at the number of verses our toddlers learned.

2. The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth N. Taylor: I should mention that there is a new version of this classic book with more cartoony pictures, which I don’t care for. The original pictures are beautiful and, in my opinion, needed no update. Each Bible story is short enough to hold the attention of even young children, and they love to look at the pictures.

3. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones: This is a unique, gospel-centered Bible story book. The thing I love about this Bible story book is that each and every story, including those in the Old Testament, points to Jesus. I just love it. Now, I know a lot of people who love the art in this book, but, personally, I’m not overly fond of it.

4. Kids4Truth: My church hosts a Kids4Truth club with incentives for memorizing verses. Kids4Truth is a unique, doctrine-based program that includes not only verse memorization, but also catechism-like questions and answers to teach children about 12 basic doctrines of the Bible. If you have no Kids4Truth club near you, you can still use the resources in your own family. They’re excellent.

Feel free to comment and share with us some of your favorite resources!

Weapons and Little Boys

Several months ago my 3-year-old little guy was exposed to toy guns and swords at a friend’s house, and it was love at first sight. Instantly, he began “shooting” his sister, mommy, and daddy. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought a lot about how we would handle weapons at our house, but I knew it was time to formulate a plan that would help us teach good virtues to our children.

We’re book-lovers in our house, so of course I turned to stories to help me teach my son about virtuous weapon-use. After much searching, I found some delightful books that have not only entertained us but have also taught us some wonderful lessons about bravery, duty, following wise counsel, etc.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to our new book-friends:

St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges: This is a Caldecott winner. Though the vocabulary is way out of my son’s range of understanding, the pictures are magnificent and keep him looking at this book over and over again.

The Making of a Knight: How Sir James Earned His Armor by Patrick O’Brien: This story chronicles the life of a boy who desires to one day be a knight. After serving faithfully as a page and then a squire, his dream becomes a reality. This is a good book for learning the terminology (What is a lance? jousting? a squire? etc.). And the theme that James’s faithfulness in the little things led to his eventual knighting is a good lesson in faithfulness to responsibility.

Tales of King Arthur: Excalibur by Hudson Talbott: This is one of a series of books, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest, because this is my favorite of the three I’ve reviewed here, and my son loves it too. My 3-year-old son understands that King Arthur didn’t listen to wise counsel and behaved foolishly, which resulted in his precious sword being broken. But Arthur’s repentance brings a special blessing: the Excalibur sword. With this blessing comes a great responsibility to use it wisely.

And my son’s favorite weapon story is the story of David and Goliath. We tell this one over and over again. We have several different story Bibles that we use with our children, and I think that, in each, the “David and Goliath” pages open on their own by now!

What are your favorite “weapon” stories that teach good virtue? How have you handled this situation in your house?

Published in: on October 19, 2008 at 3:25 am  Comments (8)