(Formerly titled Manipulating Environments, and re-edited for easier understanding and application. )
Abandon What’s Easy and Promote What’s Right
Parenting is not for the light hearted. Right? It is difficult, often times confusing, and rarely lets up. So as we intend to train our kids with biblical standards there are times in which we can slip into the easy solution… without even realizing, we are unravelling our child’s opportunity to learn the right choices.
The most common mistakes occur when we manipulate (or prearrange) our child’s environments, most specifically in our homes. We think we are making easy choices in order to allow our child to avoid wrong choices. The truth is, it makes life easy for us in the moment, but sabotages our child’s chance to grow in obedience and self control, robbing him of potential success in his future. The worst part is, we may not even know we’re doing it. So let’s take a few minutes to talk this out so we can effectively parent, and produce consistent life long investments into the heart-training of our children.
What does it mean to manipulate our child’s environment?
As a nation we have adopted psychological practices in parenting. A popular trend is to appease our children by removing obstacles, rather than training them to make the wise choice not to touch. For us Christian parents this puts us on the opposite side of what the Bible encourages, which is self-control and the ability to say “no” to ones self. This generally tends to be accomplished by changes we make throughout our home, keeping little hands from touching, playing with, and potentially damaging items we value and don’t want to see broken or destroyed. As a result the common family home now looks like a jungle-gym, leaving little space for adults to live like adults.
As you read through the 8 examples below, consider the end result if you stay the course. For those that do, you will foster a thoughtful child who is deterred from self-centered or self-ruled behaviors, and has developed the wisdom and ability to avoid temptation. What a remarkable gift to give to an individual!
Eight Ways to Manipulate Environments and the Biblical Alternatives:
Note: Of course, items that are a threat to their health and safety should never be in their reach.
Biblical Alternative: Instead, Be purposeful in training your little one to know that there will be items in their lives they are free to touch, and items in their lives they may not touch. This will take time, consistent training and consequence, but as we see in our verse below, God tells us it is not beyond our ability to overcome temptation. This is best learned when a child is very young.
Biblical Truth: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:13
Manipulating the Environment: We place approved snacks in cabinets or on a lower shelf in the refrigerator that are within the child’s reach. It is easier to give them access than to be asked continuously through the day for snacks.
Biblical Alternative: Like God who provides for, not only his children, but even for the birds of the air, we are the ones who are to provide for our children, who are dearly valued. As we do that daily, we help them to understand how to trust in their authority for their provisions, which ultimately transfers over to how they may one day trust God. Furthermore, children have not lived long enough to have the wisdom to know and abide by a right dietary routine. That’s hard enough for adults, right? It’s important that meals and snacks are planned and provided by the parent so the right nutrition is given at the right times throughout the day. Your child can learn to trust your choices, and feel secure in the fact that the cabinets and refrigerator are the parents arena for supplying their family with the right foods.
For further information on a good plan for daily meal/snack routines, see the Training Hearts for Jesus Blog: Mealtime Madness. This has helped many families find peace at the dinner table.
Biblical Truth: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Manipulating the Environment: If you can’t get your child to sit down and pay attention to the book or lesson you are attempting to teach, just follow them around, and share the material with them on the go.
Biblical Alternative: How can a child learn to be self controlled and focused if the parent never requires and trains these godly character traits? God commands self-control and obedience throughout the Bible because it guards us from danger, allows our lives to go well and it brings him glory. God leaves it to us parents to train our children to sit patiently, to listen attentively, and to learn diligently. If you begin training your child with 5 minutes of sitting and listening time (without talking), and work your way up by 5 minute increments, your child will grow to be one who is a learner; who is able to focus. We want our children to excel in self-control, but it must begin in our own home.
Biblical Truth: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Proverbs 19:20
Manipulating the Environment: Place your child’s food on the highchair tray, allowing them to feed themselves with their hands. If they smear and throw their food on the floor, understand it is a part of their development.
Biblical Alternative: Developmentally a child needs training to learn how to feed himself. Biblically, we are always to train our children to consider others better than themself. Aim for the long-view in appropriate behaviors, rather than having to retrain bad (and truly… uncivilized) habits that were permitted by the parent. Sit with your child during mealtimes. As the child gains developmental control over their extremities, you will begin to help him guide the food onto the spoon and into the mouth until the child can neatly do this on his own. In this, you will be helping your child gain control over his fine motor skills, while making it comfortable for others to be dining at the same table as the baby.
Address his impulse to drop food off the highchair by correcting him.
During playtime, you will want to allow your child to drop appropriate items to the floor for the value of learning distance. Keep mealtime as mealtime, and playtime as playtime.
Biblical Truth: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Manipulating the Environment: A child throws a temper tantrum because she can’t have what she wants, so the parent gives her what she wants, or forcibly holds her until she gives up in exhaustion.
Biblical Alternative: A temper tantrum is rebellion and foolishness against parents and God. The child is demanding to be self-ruled, rather than learning to submit under God and his loving authorities. When temper tantrums are left untrained they will increase in degree even into adult life. Train your child to submit to your loving authority and build his trust in knowing you have his best interest at heart and can help him when he is in need. Training should begin at the sign of the first temper tantrum. For more help in dealing with Temper Tantrums, go to our blog Helping Kids Gain Victory or Venting
Biblical Truth: A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. Proverbs 29:11
Manipulating the Environment: Parents place locks on the outside of the bedroom door because the child won’t stay inside.
Biblical Alternative: Once again, instead the child should be allowed to learn the life altering skills of self-control and obedience to guide and protect him. When dad and mom give him instructions to stay in his room, he obeys. This keeps the child from danger through the rest of his life. Allowing him to say “no” to himself and his ungodly desires, while learning to say yes to his parents who love and protect him. Parents can work with the child to obediently stay in bed. Our blog, Bedtime Chaos Resolved may help you more in this area.
Biblical Truth: A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Proverbs 25:28.
Manipulating the Environment: When siblings fight over toys, the parents might buy two of everything to satisfy and avoid the conflicts, or permanently remove the toys that caused the conflict.
Biblical Alternative: Help your children to be humble and patient; to avoid coveting what others have, and to work through conflict biblically (see the Training Hearts for Jesus article: Quibbling Siblings), giving them the gift of selflessness, and the tools for conflict/resolution for their future life and relationships.
Biblical Truths: And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15 (also refer to James 4:1-4 and Ephesians 4:1-3)
Manipulating the Environment: When a child cannot play quietly or has erratic behavior, a parent may place their child in front of a media device or distract him with another form of entertainment.
Biblical Alternative: Again, when we distract a child, rather than train the child, we leave him unprepared for future temptations. This is another opportunity to teach your child the invaluable skill of self-control. Taking these daily opportunities to teach him that there are appropriate times to choose quiet behaviors and indoor voices leaves your child stronger, able to make discerning choices in the future, and strengthens his will against temptations of the flesh. Practice 5 minutes of quiet time with your child. As they gain victories, increase the time by 5 minute increments.
Biblical Truth: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; (Proverbs 10:19-21a)
If you’ve made it to the end of this list, you have proven to be a parent who cares about the biblically intentional opportunities of training for your children! Hopefully these 8 points have helped you to define some areas in your home that might be transformed. Stay on your pursuit for godly parenting, as you leave behind the easy choices, trading them out for the right choices. You may have noticed that the more specific practical solutions are not included in this blog. We hope this hasn’t left you frustrated, but understand we teach how to practically accomplish these biblical alternatives in our Training Hearts for Jesus parenting course, where we can include careful work with our parents in understanding and biblically applying discipline. We hope you will consider joining us. Please let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help.