The Difficult Child – Part 1

“I just stopped school to come in here to write you. I don’t know what to do, and I am at this awful place with one of my children that a mom definitely doesn’t want to be. I have five boys ranging in age from nine months to nine years. Four of my children are sweet, obedient, in love with the Lord, wanting to sing praises to Him, and wanting to please my husband and me. Then there is my six year old. He is the most difficult child, and I don’t know what to do with him. I have had him memorize Scriptures on obedience. He has more Scriptures memorized than I do—he is really smart. But he is a huge handful. He has no control over his emotions and will strike out at anyone who crosses him.

“Recently he has started back talking me. I’ll tell him to do something, and that is followed by whines and reasons why he doesn’t want to obey. My other kids would NEVER do this. At first I was shocked and talked to him about his attitude and his need to obey me. Then I tried consequences and talked more. He isn’t responding. I love him so much and don’t want to be around him—all at the same time. Am I a terrible mom?”
In Christ,
A struggling mom

This mom’s problem is typical in many homes regarding at least one of their children. Regularly I read or hear a description of a child like this from someone. Immediately, I think of one of our children. When this child introduces himself at our music session, he says, “Hello, my name is John. I am nineteen, and I play the banjo. I wasn’t what you would call a model child growing up. As a matter of fact, because of how difficult I was, I think my mom was able to write that book, Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit. I expect if I had been put into a public school, they would have labeled me with a learning disability. However, the reality was that I was simply lazy.”

John has now graduated from our homeschool, and the message I want to share with this mom, and others like her, is a message of hope and encouragement. Today John isn’t what he was when he was a little boy. He is a winsome, young man whom every one seems to love. He invested his out-of-school time for two years building our house with his brother and dad— a project he and his brother volunteered to do. He learned to study as a result of his homeschooling years and has been tackling some difficult after-graduation study assignments of his own choosing as he prepares for a vocation in construction and also to obtain his commercial driver’s license.

I have graduated five children from homeschool, but John was the first to say to me, “Mom, for my graduation I want to take you out to eat at the nicest restaurant you can think of to go to.” He then spent the evening telling me of his gratitude for my investment in his homeschooling. John read and approved these articles because his heart is to help other families who might be facing some of the same issues that our family faced with John.

I am delighted that I can share such good news about this son with you. As John was growing up, every year we saw improvement in his attitudes and behavior. At nine, he wasn’t like he was at six. At twelve, he had made great progress from when he was nine. It got better for him day by day. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Perhaps what we did with John and where he is today will be an encouragement to you and give you some ideas for your situation.

John caused Steve and me to pray more. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). There is something about increased need that drives us to a greater frequency and fervency of prayer. We knew that we were dependent on the Lord’s working in this child’s life for his growth and maturity both emotional and spiritual.

Steve and I found that we had to encourage ourselves greatly about our difficult child. We knew the importance of loving and accepting him, but his behavior caused us to sometimes have negative feelings toward him. He could be unkind to his siblings, plus he regularly had bad attitudes toward us. As Steve and I talked about and prayed for John, we would remind each other of what this son needed and what the Lord would have us do. Seeing that we were both struggling helped us realize that our feelings were normal even though they weren’t ones we wanted to allow to fester. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

We discovered we needed to deal with John very quietly and in a matter of fact manner. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Because of the ongoing nature of the problems, it was extremely easy to have an irritated tone in our voices almost before the first word was out. We knew that anger, impatience, and frustration were not the vehicles to loving our son and helping him. Therefore, his behavior was our training ground as well—a training ground for our own growth in self-control.

In families, it is common to have a child who struggles more with his behavior than the other children. Steve and I know how easy it is for parents to become discouraged over this child. However, we also have seen the Lord work through the years of our child’s life, achieving incredible changes that have been almost unbelievable considering his early childhood behavior. What we did with and for John were things that were valuable for all our children. Therefore, we know that our parenting improved because of John. May we encourage those of you with a difficult child to continue doing what you need to do. Love this child abundantly even when he is not loveable. Look for ways to help him grow and mature. Pray for this child, knowing that the Lord is as interested in him overcoming wrong behavior as you are. Next month we will continue with more of what we did in parenting John and what we learned.

Bible Time for Children

I’ve been asked a number of times about whether parents should require their children to have a time of reading the Bible each morning after waking up. They explain that they are concerned that their children might react to being required to read.

Let’s start by investigating whether there is a need for someone to read the Bible every morning. The Holy Spirit, through Peter, gives us excellent direction on this topic. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Actually, this applies not only to our children but also to us as parents. However, for the sake of staying on track, we will focus on our children. Peter is giving us a physical reality to illustrate a spiritual truth. Most everyone understands how healthy babies want to drink milk. In fact, they will become loudly insistent on acquiring their milk if they aren’t fed. All the baby knows is that it is time to eat, and he isn’t happy unless milk is on the way to his stomach.

Peter is saying that in this same way believers are to desire the Word of God. This desire is not necessarily a thought out process just as newborns aren’t really thinking through that they haven’t eaten for three hours and are hungry. Scripture is what our children need to grow, taking them from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. If a child isn’t fed physical milk, he won’t grow. How frequently does he want to eat? I remember our newborns. At first they ate every two hours, and it seemed as though as soon as they finished nursing, it was time for them to be fed again. They needed that nourishment to grow stronger.

As we travel, we see so many children who are in spiritual danger today. The appearance is that they aren’t getting spiritually fed as much as they require. I know that no parent, who wants God’s best for his child, would purposely spiritually starve him. However, after speaking with vast numbers of parents on this subject, I’m convinced that often Dad and Mom assume that having their children in church will be enough spiritual food. What newborn would live if fed only once, twice, or three times a week? For that baby to thrive and grow in strength, he needs lots of nourishment. For our families, worship with a local assembly should not be neglected, but it takes more than simply attending church to spiritually “feed” our children.

Peter started us with the analogy of how we want to “feed” our children the milk of the Word. We can also look to a mother’s example for more details on this process. When it is time to eat, does Mom feed the child in a noisy environment? Not normally. Teri would go to a quiet, pleasant place in the house to nurse a baby because there would be no distractions for the child. With newborns, it was less of an issue, but as the weeks went by, that baby was much more interested in the world around him. If there was activity around, the baby would stop nursing to see what was going on.

In the same way, the more worldly distractions there are in the home, the less interest there will be in the pure milk of the Word. MP3 players, computer games, or TV programs will all be noise and a serious distraction, enticing a child’s heart away from desiring to spend time in God’s Word. Dads will have to be on guard against the world’s distractions that will hinder his children’s time in the Word.

Not only does Mom get away from distractions, but she also makes the baby and herself comfortable during the feeding time. A mommy who wants to encourage her baby to eat will snuggle that child and hold him securely. What if Mom decided she wanted to be real efficient with her time, and she tried to jog on a treadmill while she nursed the baby? I suppose there might be some child somewhere that would nurse well, but the majority of babies would quit long before filling his stomach and wait for things to settle down.

Therefore, it is important in a loving, gentle way to make time in the Word comfortable and away from distractions. For quite a few years, I have gathered in the living room with six of my children early each morning for our personal Bible times. Everyone has his favorite chair, and some have a blanket to keep warm with while they read. We will normally fellowship for a few minutes before we all begin reading to ourselves. It is a delightful time for all.

I understand that many children will read their Bibles in bed before getting up, and that would be a comfortable setting as well. The negative of reading in bed would be that it could be a little too comfortable and easy to fall back asleep. When we meet together in the morning in the living room, there is friendly accountability to stay awake. This is much like the mom who is keenly aware of whether her baby is taking on nourishment or has fallen asleep.

What if a child is lost and has not made a real profession of faith? Should he still be expected to read the Bible daily? My question for you is: do you encourage your child to eat food that is good for him, even if it isn’t his preference? Most parents who want their children to be healthy and to instill good, lifelong eating habits will do so. Then we should ask ourselves, what is more important—the body or the spirit? Of course, the answer is the spirit. We must do all we can to spiritually feed our children what is good for them.

It is so important that the lost child reads his Bible. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). God’s Word will not return void. It is that dry, barren soul that needs the life giving water of the Word. However, it is ever so important that we bring our children to the water of the Word with love and gentleness, and by example.

If all you ever did was command your children to eat broccoli and you never ate it, would they likely eat it willingly? Doubtfully. However, when you eat broccoli in front of them and are enjoying it, you are modeling good behavior. That is why our morning Bible time is so positive. I’m there with the children, and if one were to look at me, he would see his father in the Word right along with him. Often I will share something I learned that was a blessing to me after we finish.

We want God’s best for our children, and that means they need to learn to be in the Word personally every day. This will be the basis for their spiritual growth through their childhood and adult years. Part of the responsibility of bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) is to help them desire the milk of the Word. We set the example, give them time in the morning to read their Bibles to develop this habit, avoid distractions, and make them comfortable. May we be men who are committed to the Word and lead our children in this as well.