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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Teach Your Children – Well

Nov 12, 2020

We can so easily make or break our children:

If you are getting on in years – and especially if you were into the 60s ‘peace and love’ scene – you will instantly recognise the title I have chosen. It of course comes from a 1970 hit song by Crosby, Stills and Nash. While the tune is neat and memorable, the lyrics and the message are not quite what I would necessarily run with. For those interested, you can hear the original version of the song here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkaKwXddT_I

But the title will serve my purposes as I seek to discuss the great care that we parents need to have in regard to our own children. I am especially thinking about the way we speak to them, what we say, and how we say it. But let me offer a story which explains why I am writing on this topic.

The other day my wife and I and our two dogs were out on a popular walking track along a creek. We and other walkers mainly use the dirt path on one side of the creek, while bicyclists mainly use the paved track on the other side. As we were walking along, we noticed a group of folks both walking and biking on the other side.

What got our attention was a guy yelling quite loudly and harshly, presumably at his son. It seems the son had to slow down, perhaps to avoid running into others, and the dad ran into the back of him. Nothing at all major by the look of it. But sadly everyone in the area could hear the dad tearing into and berating his son.

I forget exactly what his short outburst was, but it went something like: ‘You idiot! Don’t be so stupid! What is wrong with you! Don’t do that again!’ While it is possible this was a one-off by the angry dad, I suspect this may have been the norm. He likely often chews out his young son this way.

Right away I felt quite bad for the boy, and I may have shot up a quick prayer for him at the time. When a youngish child gets their own parents calling him names like ‘idiot’ and ‘stupid’ and gets it repeatedly, that will take a real toll. Sure, it may depend to some extent on the temperament of the child. But if he is anything like me, it will be bad news.

You see, for basically all of my life – certainly when I was younger – I have had a very low self-image. I am not fully certain why that is – poor body image and so on may have been part of it. And strangely, I have very few memories of when I was a child. But one thing does remain with me: When quite young I recall telling my dad, ‘The only thing I am good at is not being good at anything.’

So a poor self-image certainly is not helped when one gets hard, cutting words from one’s parents. Not that my parents were this way. If anything, they were not too talkative, so I got little input – positive or negative. But that in part explains why I am – believe it or not – not all that talkative either.

But enough of me. My point is that many children have a rough time growing up. And today the pressures are perhaps greater than ever. Because of mass media, social media, advertising, etc., trying to be cool and have the ‘look’ is a huge pressure on most kids.

So many must be struggling, and craving love and affirmation. So many must be overwhelmed with little sense of a strong personal identity and little sense of a strong sense of self-worth. And getting yelled at in front of a largish group of people certainly drives more nails in the coffin.

As I say, I feel for the kid, and I will need to keep him in my prayers. And there would be millions of other children just like him in the West. It is tragic. Wounded kids make for wounded adults. This is a national calamity. And with more and more children growing up without both mum and dad makes things even worse.

Now I am not making any claims about being an expert in this area. And I most certainly am not making any claims about being a terrific parent. Quite the opposite: I usually think about how bad I have been as a parent – and everything else: husband, Christ-follower, and so on.

I have made far too many mistakes along the way, and I often feel quite bad at my many failures here. But if nothing else, I can urge others to seek to do better, and perhaps not follow my example. Our children are sensitive and fragile and easily damaged. The words we speak to them can build them up or tear them down.

And no, I am not pushing the dodgy Positive Confession teaching here, which gives words almost a magical power, and where one can basically create one’s reality by what one says. The point I am trying to make is that kids hear what is being said, and if they get a constant barrage of negative words, criticisms and attacks, that will adversely affect most of them – often for life.

So every parent has a huge responsibility to teach their children well – by both words and by actions. Again, I am not offering any expertise here. For that you need to run with all the terrific resources that are already out there. Groups like Focus on the Family for example have plenty: books, magazines, videos, online teaching, etc.

Since I do have a number of titles from them, I have pulled a few volumes off my shelves, blown off the dust, and can share a few insights with you. Out of some 60 books in my parenting and family self-help section – books I perhaps should have read more closely when my kids were young – I grabbed several volumes and can offer a quote or two from each.

Image of Solid Answers
Solid Answers by Array Amazon logo

Let me begin by focusing on parents. If you are like me, you may think you have done a lousy job. In his 1991 book Straight Talk, James Dobson is asked about parents whose kids are grown up, and they now know they did not do a great job in raising their kids on the right principles. Dobson responds:

There’s hardly a parent alive who does not have some regrets and painful memories of their failures as a mother or a father. Children are infinitely complex, and we can no more be perfect parents than we can be perfect human beings. The pressures of living are often enormous. We get tired and irritated; we are influenced by our physical bodies and our emotions, which sometimes prevent us from saying the right things and being the model we should be. We don’t always handle our children as unemotionally as we wish we had, and it’s very common to look back a year or two later and see how wrong we were in the way we approached a problem….

I know God will honor that prayer, even for parents whose job is finished. The Lord does not want you to suffer from guilt over events you can no longer influence. The past is the past. Let it die, never to be resurrected. Give the situation to God, and let Him have it. I think you’ll be surprised to learn that you’re no longer alone!

And in his 1996 book Solid Answers he has a chapter on building self-confidence in children, and how there is an epidemic of self-doubt and feelings of low self-esteem. In response to one question on this he writes:

Kids are extremely sensitive to their parents’ love and respect. That’s why adults must learn to guard what they say in their presence. Many times I have been consulted by a mother regarding a particular problem her child is having. As Mom describes the details of the boy or girl’s problems, I notice that the subject of all this conversation is standing about a yard behind her. His ears are ten feet tall as he listens to a candid description of all his faults. The child may remember that conversation for a lifetime. Parents often inadvertently convey disrespect to a child whom they genuinely love….

My final quote comes from Rob Parsons. His 1995 volume The Sixty Minute Father has a chapter on the need to praise children. He says, “So much of the training we give our children is based on catching them doing something wrong and criticising them for it. But there is another way. . . . Although most of us eventually respond to criticism – the faster route is always praise.”

He quotes another who says, “Help people reach their full potential – catch them doing something right.” He then goes on to say:

The power of praise is awesome. There is hardly a person on the face of the earth who does not respond to it. Most of us know how effective it can be in the work situation but forget that to a child it can be like rain in the desert. Praise does so many things at once. It tells us that what we are doing is right. It encourages us to do it again. It makes us want to please the person who has encouraged us. And it builds bonds of affection. It must never be insincere, but it can be given for small victories. . . . The principle of catching our children doing something right is a powerful one.

If you are familiar with his talks, you know that he famously discusses the teenager and his messy bedroom, with clothes and stuff strewn everywhere. How do you say something positive then? How do you give praise in that situation? He suggests this: “Son, your ceiling certainly is tidy!”

As I said, I am no parenting expert, and I am no expert parent. I made many mistakes, and I wish I had done a better job. So do not turn to me for counsel and guidance, but to these experts that I have shared from. And what I shared of course only scratches the surface. So much more can be said.

But I close with a quote attributed to abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Amen to that.

Afterword

As mentioned, I am not a counsellor or a pastor or anything like that. So if some of you are hoping I will now be penning many more how-to type of articles, given how unqualified I am, that probably won’t happen. Unless of course the Lord strongly urges me in that direction!

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14 Responses to Teach Your Children – Well

  • It ain’t rocket science. Kids need to know 3 things: 1. What are the rules? – spelled out clear and concise and not made out of rubber or negotiable or ambiguous. 2. They need to know how far they can push the limits of those clear concise understood rules. 3. They need to know what are the consequences when they push the limits too far. If you say “Don’t do that’ more than twice to your kid – you are are failing as a parent. No means no. And when you kid is 15 – even less these days – and running riot – it’s because you didn’t love your kid enough to enforce the rules and your disapproval when the rules were transgressed. And impose sanctions. And your kid will know it. The out of control behaviour and insolence is the protest about your lack of love and courage when it was most needed.

  • Thanks Phillip. Yes that is half the equation. The need for discipline and clear boundaries is always something parenting experts like James Dobson have stressed. But the other half is letting our kids really know that we love them and care for them and we seek to affirm them. Kids need both, and they go together.

  • Good job Pastor

    See Deuteronomy 6

    PS DONALD TRUMP URGENTLY NEEDS YOUR HELP.

    Dale Summitt
    Author (“America: A Nation Divided Against Itself”, et.al.)
    Owner, Trailblazing America

  • I agree. But affirming and loving your kids does noit exclude giving them rules they can understand, and the reasons for them, and imposing sanctions when the rules , which are for their good and protection, are transgressed. The greatest person to create ‘community’ – a ‘household’ was St Benedict. About a quarter of his Rule is taken up with sanctions against those who transgress. I guess that’s why Benedictines are still with us after 1500 years.

  • Thanks again Phillip. Yes I agree. Which is why I said kids need both. Lots of love and affirmation but no boundaries and discipline will not work out well. So too, lots of boundaries and discipline but no love and affirmation will also not end up well.

  • I have many regrets as a parent for the way I spoke to my kids. I was basically a single mom and yelling was the only form of communication my children seemed to respond to. As a grandmother now, I see and hear my daughters respond a particular way towards their kids and my heart hurts, knowing I did that to them. I try to warn them not to repeat things I have done and now regret but sadly, you know how hard it is to get our children to listen and learn from our mistakes. They always seem to need to make their own and usually the same ones we made. I’ve tried to be a better parent over the years and pray that somehow the Lord has healed the emotional wounds from their childhood. The Lord’s forgiveness abounds but the memories linger.

  • Bill,
    Thank you for reaching up to that dusty shelf and its 60 books and children and parenting.
    I receive this blog via a good friend, have not personally subscribed but it is excellent. warwick@dads4kids.ccsend.com

  • Bill sorry to be diverting from the subject, but I have some very deep concerns in regards to our Prime Minister Scott Morrison who we all believe to be are Christian, and I would like to hear what you have to say on this. Over the past months SM has had very little to say in regards to the way Victorians have been treated by DA. In fact it was only Jeff Kennett who showed his righteous indignation on are Channel Nine Show. This is something I would have expected from our Christian Prime Minister. Yesterday Remembrance Day Pauline tried to pass are motion through the Senate opposing the Great Reset here in Australia. Only two voted against the Great Reset and some 27 voted for it. That included both Labor (which is expected), the Nationals and the Liberal. On the same day SM was laying are Wreath and making are speech about “those who died for our freedoms”, freedoms that he just allowed to be signed away to the Globalists. Ironic don’t you think, the same day we celebrate our freedoms, we are losing our freedoms. Then to top it all off SM was one of the first to congratulate Biden on an election that he has not actually won yet. Then today I find out that he actually rang Biden and again reinforced what are great friend Biden is and has some ideas about the Covid virus. Interesting enough not even the top two most powerful nations in the world Russia and China have congratulated Biden yet because they know the election is not set in stone yet, as it can still change. What are you thoughts on this, because right now our Christian Prime Minister has become very very small in my eyes. Since Biden supposedly got in everything seems to be escalating over here in Australia. Even in NSW they managed to go through our waste matter to see if the virus is there, of course it was, so now they have are reason to test thousands. All this now seems to be happening since they believe they got Trump out of the way. Makes you think doesn’t it?

  • I think it is telling that the first two comments in this thread are that children need more discipline and that we aren’t yelling at them enough or punishing them enough for their transgressions.

    Kids are awash in negative reinforcement. From parents, from grandparents, from teachers. Every time they do something wrong they get yelled at scolded and lectured, and they very rarely are praised for what they do right.

    I was engaged to a very kind lady. I am going to share some of my experiences with her. She had very low self esteem and body issues from her mother who resorted to physical punishment in an effort to make her a different person than she is. We dealt with those issues time and time again. She decided that the only way she could survive is by not trusting anyone, family, friends. She believed that everyone close to her would betray her in the end and that trust was just a way to hurt people.

    I wish I could go to her mother and explain to her how she was crippling her daughter and her daughter’s ability to form a relationship. We are not now together because of her inability to trust – seeing enemies everywhere, including me who was willing to push past this crap and give my life for her.

    I still love her very much and I miss her. In my own life, my mother did the same thing many parents do, assume we are deaf and spoke to a great degree about the flaws that she had and how much happier she was with my youngest brother.

    Please, parents. Stop with it. Tell your kid how special they are and how much they mean to you. Spend some time with them. Tonight. Not tomorrow.

    Yet another kid that got yelled at everyday.

  • Thanks Anon. Although my rules state that I need full names, I will let you in this time. As I said, kids need both love and boundaries. Millions of kids – including the gal you mention – seem to have had no or little love and affirmation, but plenty of discipline and perhaps at least verbal abuse. They will often be scarred and damaged for life.

    But at the other extreme are those millions of kids who never had boundaries or discipline. They were pampered and doted on by their parents who made a big deal of their self-esteem, etc. Sadly many of them grew up to be spoiled brats – often those who are easily offended snowflakes, or those think they are owed everything, or those who are seen rioting on the streets, etc.

    To repeat, kids do best when they are fully loved and affirmed by their parents AND when they are given boundaries and loving discipline.

  • Pushing the boundaries is not naughtiness in children – it is the normal, natural way of exploring and learning about your environment.

    One thing I learned (and both my kids grew up to be normal and successful in their careers) is that kids (and dogs as well) are actually much happier when they know exactly where the boundaries are. Not having boundaries actually causes anxiety. Knowing that Dad cares enough to set the boundaries helps to produces a clear feeling of security.

  • To this day, I still quote the title to James Dobson’s book: Parenting Isn’t for Cowards. Great book.

  • One problem is we often seem to be a either or society which would mean discipline or praise. We can’t seem to understand it is both. Big problem we face now is a generation that grew up with constant praise for every little thing they did and now they are not only narcissists but expect praise for everything as adults. Praise should be earned and genuine not handed out like Oprah hands out cars. Otherwise you end up with entitled brats who think you are a Nazi because you don’t think some meaningless thing they did was special!

    Another point so many grow up either without fathers or with not good ones and crave positive attention for a man but men aren’t welcome in elementary Ed where they could form bond with students needing a male role model. Having volunteered at a elementary school and at one time wanting to be a elementary school teacher males are looked at as pervs. Why would a man want to be around little kids??? Everything you do is scrutinized a hug is suspicious even though a female teacher giving a hug is no problem. It isn’t parents that have the problem it is the female teachers. If you are loving and caring a natural father they hate you. Yet it is the kids who suffer.

    I feel for boys who have father’s like that. One thing mine did was I had to apologize first even when he was wrong. Maybe he would but was always a I’ll apologize too so you don’t feel so bad type of apology never a sincere one.

  • Dear Bill, great article to make every parent think. One of my favourite sayings quoted to all ages comes from a man you would have heard of: Ian (Watto) Watson, “I’ve never seen anyone go backwards with encouragement”
    A wonderful believer who lived his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is now with Him in paradise.
    Cheers Mark Bryant

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