About one year ago a mother called me to inquire about Church Acadiana. She had one child in the second grade. When I explained that our church was family-integrated, and that her child would sit next to her in church, she was immediately turned off. She said, "I don't think my son can sit still and quiet for one hour." I tried to reason with her. I said, "Isn't he required to sit still and quiet for most of the day at school? If he can do that, surely he can sit still and quiet for one hour on Sunday." She didn't buy it. She never visited our church, and I never heard from her again.
Unfortunately her story is all too common today. Most parents cannot make their children behave. Their kids behave better at school than they do at home. At school, they are still, quiet, and cooperative for the most part, but with Mom and Dad they are wild and uncontrollable.
This sure makes it hard to sell the concept of a family-integrated church in our society. "You want my kids to sit next to me in church and small group? Yeah right! What a nightmare! My kids would completely ruin everything and embarrass me!"
Unfortunately I don't have any easy answers for parents. Struggling parents need lots of love, and they need lots of training, not a brief blog post from a pastor whose family-life is abnormal (a stay-at-home wife, and kids who are homeschooled). I get it. Still, I want to try to offer as much help as I can.
Why can't parents get their kids to behave? There are two big reasons.
First, parents don't know what to expect from their kids. Many parents don't know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. When their kids misbehave, many parents aren't sure if they should discipline them, or if this is just normal kid-behavior that they will eventually outgrow. (They won't.) Many parents allow their kids to back-talk, to throw a fit, to say "No" to a parental command, to ignore their parents, to directly disobey an order, to stand when they are told to sit, to move when they are told to stay put, to make noise when they are told to be quiet. They tell their kids not to do these things, but when their kids act out, they just tolerate it because they aren't sure if they are expecting too much. They aren't sure if their expectations are reasonable.
So let me offer some insight. All of the above behaviors are unacceptable for a child. ALL of them. At what age are these behaviors unacceptable? 10? 13? Nope. All of these behaviors become unacceptable as soon as your child is old enough to understand your command. As soon as your child is old enough to understand what you mean when you say, "Be still," then you should expect them to be still. As soon as your child is old enough to understand what you mean when you say, "Make your mouth quiet," then you should expect them to comply. As soon as they are old enough to understand what you mean when you say, "Stop!" then you should expect them to stop. It's as simple as that.
This means many parents are allowing their eight-year old to act in ways that are unacceptable for a two-year old, simply because they don't know what to expect from an eight-year old. Let me restate the principle clearly: If your child can understand your command, then you should expect obedience (obedience = do it right away with a good attitude).
The second reason that many parents can't get their kids to behave is that they give their kids too much slack. They are too permissive. Too lenient. In other words, the parent gives a command, expects obedience, but when the child disobeys, the parent does not respond with discipline (immediate correction). As a result, the parent's actions send a very a clear message to the child that they can get away with bad behavior. This is a case of one-sided discipline. Discipline involves both teaching and correction. The parent must teach the child how to behave, but the parent also must correct misbehavior. It is this second side of discipline that many parents fail to implement.
Parents need to know that whatever you allow will be repeated. If you allow your child to ignore you this time, they will do it again. If you allow your child to run when you say "walk" this time, they will do it again. If you allow your child to be loud when you say "Be quiet" this time, they will do it again.
To teach your child to behave, you must be, how can I say it, extremely strict. You cannot tolerate the slightest hint of disobedience or disrespect. When your child disobeys, you must act quickly. And you must be consistent. And the discipline must be convincing -- it must be painful enough to make your child regret the behavior, and remember the consequences in the future. Let them know that you mean business. When you speak, they better look, listen, and obey right away, or they will regret it.
And if you are one of those parents who is skeptical of spanking, let me say this. I strongly believe in spanking, but I can't remember the last time that I had to spank one of my six children. Why? Because when your children know without a doubt that you will not hesitate to spank them for being disobedient, they rarely give you cause to spank them.
You can have well-behaved kids. You just have to know what to expect, and you can't give them any slack. Expect instant obedience with a good attitude as soon as they are old enough to understand your command, and then consistently respond to disobedience with discipline that is both immediate and convincing.