“Okay, what are our rules for the grocery store? There are three, remember?” My children’s tiny voices responded in unison, “Stay with you, don’t touch the food, and don’t ask for junk food.” With those three little rules, I was able to manage a relatively peaceful shopping trip in which I didn’t leave feeling like I wanted to drop my kids off at my mother’s for a week. I had learned the hard way that this simple strategy significantly improved our grocery shopping experience about 95% of the time.
God uses this strategy too. He gave the Israelites the ten commandments as guidelines and wrote them on tablets. There were many more specific laws and consequences for breaking those laws, but if the Israelites just stuck with those ten, they’d be in good shape. In the New Testament, Jesus simplified those ten commandments even further. Check out Matthew 22:34-40. What does Jesus say about the two most important commandments? All the law and prophets can be kept by loving God and loving others.
When we model God’s example for providing simplified expectations, we are also following the mandate in Ephesians 6:4 not to exasperate our kids. See sometimes, we set up super complex rules and punishments which aren’t even necessary for helping them learn to love God and love others. Then, when they fail at these impossible expectations, we get angry with them and make them feel like they can never please us.
Not only do we need to set appropriate expectations for our kids, we also need to check our expectations of their ability, remembering that our kids are learning and will fail over and over again. This is precisely how God parents us, and it’s what Paul is referring to at the end of the verse when he tells us to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Our kids don’t need our criticism, they need our forgiveness, and then they need us to remind them of the expectations and train them in how to uphold them. That doesn't mean there aren't consequences, but it does mean we aren't angrily doling out punishment for every little infraction that wasn't even reasonable to begin with. This only creates a pattern of shame, fear, and failure that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Steps Toward Flourishing:
1. Set one or two SMART goals to modify unwanted behaviors and agree on consequences ahead of time (choose the most dangerous, most disruptive, or most challenging behaviors first). Starting around age five or six, kids should be involved in this part of the process. This will help them learn how to set their own expectations and motivate them to take more responsibility for their actions.
2. Examine your own expectations of your kids. Do you demand they live up to all your expectations perfectly and therefore respond in anger when they fail, or do you know that as they are learning, they will need your guidance and redirection along the way? Do your expectations and rules help your kids learn how to love God and love others, or are they rooted in tradition, social norms, or legalistic dogma that isn’t rooted in the freedom of the Gospel?
The content found on Flourishing Family Coaching’s website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding ADHD, anxiety, depression or any other medical conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.