Diversion: The Parenting Nightmare
by: Dr. Allen Domelle
I’m always amazed at the tactics parents use to try to control their children. I certainly understand how the modern-day parent is afraid of following the scriptural methods of training a child because of the fear of being turned over to child protective services, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for allowing your children to act unruly in public. All you have to do is walk through a mall or sit in a restaurant to see the modern-day parent trying to control their child.
I was sitting in an airplane on a flight to one of my meetings, and across the row from me was a parent trying to control their child on the flight. That child was disrupting the peace in the entire area. The children were running uncontrollably up and down the aisles disturbing the passengers on the airplane. It finally came to the point when the flight attendant had to come to the parents to tell them to get control of their children.
I’ve watched parents in church for years try to control their children, only to shake my head at their tactics. Parents give their children candy, coloring books, song books, or anything that holds the child’s attention for the duration of the service. Their prayer throughout the service must be a hope that the pastor isn’t long winded.
In many of these instances are parents using diversion tactics to train their children. What I mean by this statement is the parent uses objects to hold the child’s attention instead of teaching the child to obey. These parent use television, video games, toys, bribery, or candy in an attempt to keep their child from being unruly, only to have to face their child’s tantrums again when the diversion gets old. Sadly, the diversion tactic will only lead to a parent’s nightmare because one day that child will grow up, and diversion won’t keep them from doing what they want to do. The result of this will be children who are out-of-control in society, and many times they end up in trouble with the law.
The Scriptures are clear on how parents should train their children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” You will notice that God didn’t tell the parent to divert their attention away from what they are doing, but the parent is supposed to train the child what to do. Training is never easy, but it is the responsibility of every parent.
Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” Obedience isn’t supposed to be a choice; it is the expectation a parent should have for their child. Anything less than obedience must be disciplined. God says in Proverbs 29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” There comes a time when a parent is going to have to come to grips with the fact that diverting your child’s attention doesn’t change their disposition. The only answer is to follow the scriptural advice on training children.
I don’t claim to be a parenting expert or guru, but I do know what my parents did to help me turn out right. Everyone is always looking for the perfect parent, but you will never find one because all parents are sinners. It truly comes down to one thing: you must stop trying to divert your child’s attention and train them to do right. Let me give you several tips that will help you to train your children to obey instead of diverting them to unruly and destructive behavior.
1. Instruct once, afterwards correct.
Have you every seen a parent who negotiates with their child for decent behavior? It is a joke! The parent who negotiates with their child always loses. You have to understand that this is not a business deal. You are training a child to make it through life, and society is not going to negotiate with them when they are unruly. The only negotiating tactic society uses is handcuffs.
The common negotiating tactic parents use is counting. Their child does wrong, and they call their child’s name and start counting, “1, 2, 3…” as if they are really getting their child’s attention. Finally, the parent either gives up and lets the child do what they want to do, or the parent becomes exasperated and begins yelling at the child in an attempt to get them to obey.
Let me suggest you read Proverbs 13:24 which reads, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” The loving parent will instruct their child one time, and afterwards punish them if they continue to disobey. You don’t have to negotiate, count, or cuddle the child to get them to obey. Your children learn how far they can go before they get punished, and they will most often go to that boundary. If your boundary is that you expect immediate obedience, you will find your child will often obey right away.
2. Clearly explain your expectations.
One of the reasons children act unruly is because they don’t know what their parents expect. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Notice how clearly God expects you to train your child. He says you are to “diligently” teach them. God uses words like, “sittest,” “walkest,” “liest down,” and “risest up.” These are clear directives of a parent who says, this is how we sit; this is how we walk; this is how we act at night and in the day. These are clearly defined lines.
The clearer you are with your expectations, the easier parenting becomes. Your children will understand what you expect from them, and they will understand that anything less than the expectation will result in punishment. It is not cruel, it is simply giving clear definitions of how you expect them to act.
3. Practice for the real deal.
One of the mistakes parents make is they take their children out and expect them to act right in public when they don’t act right at home. Children will act in public the same way they act at home. If you don’t want your children to embarrass you in public, you would be wise to be sure that they are obedient at home.
You will notice that much of the parenting advice God gives in Deuteronomy 6:7 is while they are at home. I believe that God shows this because He understands that if a parent gets their children under control at home, they will act properly in public. You can’t expect a miraculous change of obedience in public if your children are not being prepared at home.
Parent, if you want your child to act right at church, practice church at home. Sit your children down and have them listen to preaching on the couch. Don’t give them coloring books while the preaching is being played, but make them sit and listen just like they would in church. The same goes for eating in public. Make sure your children act right when they are eating at home and you will find that they will not embarrass you when you are in public.
4. Fear is a wonderful motivator: make ultimatums.
Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fear shows respects. When you fear God, you respect what He can and will do if you disobey. Throughout the Scriptures, God often says what He will do if you disobey. God is giving ultimatums, and those ultimatums cause the Christian to fear the LORD.
Neither fear or ultimatums are bad if used properly. We have allowed modern psychiatrists, whose counsel has led to a chaotic society, to make us think fear and ultimatums are bad. They are not bad if you mean them and if the result is holy living.
When I was a boy, my parents “threatened” (I use this word lightly) my siblings and me that if we disobeyed, they would deal with us when we got home. Trust me, they meant what they said. The fear they placed in our hearts through their ultimatums produced behaved children who have grown up and become productive in society.
My friend, if your children have nothing to fear, they will continue to act unruly. You need to make it clear that if they disobey in public, and they will, you will deal with them when you get home. If you are in a grocery store and your child is throwing a tantrum, the best thing you can do is leave your grocery cart where it is and take the child home to punish them. If your child is acting up in church, take them by the hand and walk happily out of the auditorium and deal with their disobedience. Stop trying to divert their disobedience with bribery. You deal with disobedience through punishment.
5. Praise success: don’t discourage.
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” One reason children act unruly is because they never get praised when they do right. Yes, there comes a point when doing right doesn’t have to be praised all the time, but children desire the approval of their parents. This is why God says in Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” If all you do is correct and never praise, you will discourage your child. If the only time your children get your attention is when they do wrong, they will continue to do wrong because they yearn for their parent’s attention and approval. If their good actions get your attention more through praise, you will be surprised how your children will continue to do right because they enjoy hearing your approval.
I’ve heard parents often tell people never to tell their children how well they are doing because they don’t want them to become prideful. I understand a parent’s thinking when they say this, but your children should hear how pleased you are that they are doing right. God made children with a desire to please their parents. If you praise them for doing right, they won’t get discouraged and do wrong to get your attention.
Certainly, this article is not going to change your children overnight, but it should be a help to keep you from using diversion as your parenting technique. Always remember that you can only use diversion for so long, but diversions will lose their interest. If your children learn to do right by obeying, you will find your times of embarrassment will be few and far between.