Model what you expect. My father once said to me, “You do what I say not what I do!” My father was at least open and honest about the fact that his behavior was not a worthy model. Unfortunately, many parents are not so aware that what they are modeling the children are likely to imitate. A woman sat in my office and confessed that she did not want her girls to follow her example. But, then she justified her behavior by pointing out that her husband was such a miserable failure that he made her angry all the time therefore she could not help her behavior. The Apostle Paul recognized the power of modeling when he wrote “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” We should be able to follow his example.
Teach all the time. I did not say lecture all the time. Deuteronomy 6 sets out a clear and concise pathway for parents. In verses six and seven Moses gives this instruction. First, cultivate your own appreciation for the Word of God. Moses says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” Second, he instructs his readers in the methodology of transferring values from one generation to another. He teaches us to “teach (these words) diligently to your children.” The emphasis here is upon intentional formal instruction. But, he continues, “talk of them when you…” and to put it in contemporary language, when you put them to bed, when you take the fishing, when you go hunting, when you clean the house, when you work on the car, etc. In other words, weave the concepts of the Word of God into the fabric of daily living.
Practice consistency. It does not take children (who are born with a PhD in manipulation) to know how to play parents. So, be sure that you are both on the same page. Even if you disagree with the way your mate handled something, support him/her. Then behind closed doors work out a correction and let the parent who over disciplined or under disciplined make the correction with the child. Ask forgiveness where necessary (never show weakness, but models character).
Focus on praise. Secular research bears out what the Bible teaches. We are to focus on the positive. Little wonder there are sixteen positive one another commands in the New Testament (love one another, comfort one another, encourage one another, etc) and only five negative one anothers (do not back bite one another, etc). I recently had a Dad in counseling. His wife was frustrated about a number of issues, but on of the big ones was his intense criticism of his son’s performance on the ball field. One of my assignments for him was to refrain from negative comments and fine at least three things at every practice or game he attends about which he can praise his son in a specific manner (that was a great block you executed on that last third down play). He looked at me with a face that said, “You are kidding, right?” I responded, “I am serious. So serious that I want you to keep a journal and record every positive comment to him and what it was.”
Love and respect your mate. Children can be very resilient if they live in a family where Dad loves Mom and Mom respects Dad even if there are many other struggles such as poverty or illness. All too often husbands will cite I Peter 3:1 and use it in an unkind way to bring their wives into submission. However, they often miss the fact that this is one of those bookend passages. Verse seven exhorts the husband to live with his with understanding, i.e. love her. As a general rule when a husband lives out this verse, his wife will be much more likely to follow his leadership (respect/submit to him). In this type home parents are providing the best atmosphere for growing successful children.