Parenting With Training Wheels
Parenting isn’t a straightforward business. There is no universally accepted, decision by decision child training manual to guide us along the way. There are, however, many conflicting voices attempting to tell us how to parent.
Some voices emphasize the importance of sound instruction; of education. "All your child really needs," they suggest, "is proper instruction. This is the best way to teach them the difference between right and wrong."
Others will urge the necessity of curbing your child's will through consistent correction. "All the right teaching in the world won't change the fact that children are inherently rebellious. The only way you'll cure them is by disciplining them when they're disobedient."
Still other voices will warn you of the dangers of correction and will urge you to consistently affirm and reward your child. "Punishments will only discourage and alienate them," they say. "There's no better way to reenforce good behavior than through rewards."
Like a Bike With Training Wheels
Here's a thought – what if each of these voices is at least partially correct? What if good child training involves proper instruction, consistent correction, and purposeful rewards? What if it's essentially like a bike with training wheels?
In this analogy, the bike is the instruction and rewards and consequences are the training wheels. We all know that young children can't ride a bike without training wheels. They're also not able to do what you ask of them unless you "show them" what you value.
Why? Because they don't understand what you're saying. Or put a better way, they haven't learned to appreciate things such as made beds and eating all their vegetables and always telling the truth.
You have to come alongside them and help them, despite their lack of understanding, until they become habits; until they get a good sense of what it feels like to be honest, or diligent, or kind;
until the day when they can ride without training wheels.
Parenting is just like this; and even though not all of our bikes will look exactly the same, in some form or fashion they all need a training wheel on each side. Of course, not everyone agrees with me.
Many parents believe that just one training wheel is sufficient, thank you. But what should that one training wheel be?
Should it be a "correction" wheel or a "rewards" wheel?
A lot of parents we hear from choose the "correction" wheel and toss the "rewards" wheel in the garbage. As they see it, rewarding children for good behavior only teaches them to be good so they can get things. All you really need is to teach them and, if they will not obey, discipline them until they do.
This is an interesting philosophy. Essentially what they're saying is that only disobedience should elicit a response from us. Why?
If you believe that rewarding obedience trains children to obey just to receive a reward, couldn't we also apply this line of thinking to punishments? In other words, shouldn't it also follow that punishing disobedience trains children to obey just to avoid being punished?
Is that true obedience?
Many parents appeal to the Bible to support this philosophy. They suggest that since God does not reward good behavior, why should we? There are at least two problems with this.
1. God does reward good behavior, and...
2. The definition of "rewards" in this instance is far too narrow.
I'll go a step further – would anyone obey God if there weren't rewards attached to obedience?
God is a Parent Too
At this point you might be crying, "Blasphemy!" and if so I think you're missing the point. This has nothing to do with "bribery" and everything to do with God making his expectations clear.
What Christian would argue that there are not blessings attached to walking in the will of God? And what do we do when we receive these blessings? We want to tell others about them. Why? So others may "taste, and see that the Lord is good." Indeed, that's what the blessings are for – to teach us that God is good.
Contrariwise, what Christian would argue that there are not bitter consequences that come from walking outside the will of God? Don't these consequences serve to discourage us from disobeying him? Of course they do. That's what they're for.
God is perfect in the way he trains his children. He tells us the things we should and should not do through his word. He richly rewards our obedience and justly disciplines our disobedience. He is the Preeminent Parent and we should model the way we raise our children as closely as we can to the way he raises us.
Relying on instruction alone during our children's formative years is like sticking them on a bike for the first time and telling them to, "Balance yourself and pedal!"
No parent in their right mind would do that. They need training wheels; not just one, but two.
If you teach your children and reward their obedience, but never check their disobedience, they're going to lose their balance and crash. Teaching them and only punishing disobedience but never rewarding obedience will bring similar results. No parent wants to see their child crash.
Learning to Fly
Instruction is indispensable; but rewards and consequences bring the instruction alive. They make your expectations perfectly clear during the period when your children are still processing the "why" behind your instructions.
It will take time for them to fully grasp the value of putting things back where they belong, being strictly honest at all times, or diligently doing their daily chore. Until that time, rewards and consequences serve to reinforce the standards in your home and keep your children "upright". If used properly, the day will come when the training wheels can come off and they can ride all on their own.
Likewise, God knows that there's a process we have to go through before we do what’s right simply because it’s right. We don’t just jump on that bike and ride. First we crawl, then walk, then run, then ride, then ride without guides.
Hopefully, one day, we'll fly.