Preventing and Regaining the Rebellious Heart
By Craig and Barbara Smith
Craig and I were married in 1979. We have 8 children and 4 grandchildren. We have home educated for 30 years (24 with an exemption) and still have at least 11 years to go.
We began home educating our children at a time when:
- Hardly anyone else was doing it — no older veterans
- No curriculum except ACE and state school text books
- No older women around
- No family around
- Both of us from non-Christian backgrounds — so had a lot to learn still
So looking back over the last 30 years of parenthood, we see that we have made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot. We began schooling our children at home and progressed to educating them at home with an emphasis on training them to think and concentrating a bit more on their character. Now we see the need to be building strong relationships with each child and also immersing our children in the Scriptures as it is the Scriptures that will thoroughly equip them for every good work (II Timothy 3:17).
We were greatly influenced by a Parents Centre leader back in 1980 when she said that “Your children will grow up in spite of you.” We knew there was something fishy about this statement, for it hit us both in the wrong place. We came to realise that this statement represents a non-Christian worldview where you take what comes and hope for the best. No, we wanted to be involved a great deal more than that in the training of our children, something more like the idea in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” One of our life verses is Psalm 112:1-2: “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments! His descendants will be mighty in the land.” We are further challenged by Malachi 4:6 and Luke 1:17 which express the key concept that we must turn our hearts to our children if we want them turning their hearts to us.
Why Do We See Rebellion in Our Children?
*The nature of the child: Proverbs 22:15 — “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child.” As Andrew Peduwa said when he was in New Zealand, any correction needs to hurt — especially for boys. When we visited with Jonathan Lindvall (of Bold Christian Living), we talked about this verse. My children have their own set of foolishness, your children have their own set of foolishness. When a group of children get together like on the school play grounds, Church fellowship times or just meeting together in the street with other children, the quantity of foolishness multiplies and soon overflows into sinful behaviour. This even happens in our own back yards when the parents get together to chat and fellowship inside while the children play unsupervised outside. Always try to be aware of the conversations in your back yard as well as in your driveway. Our children are rarely allowed to ride their bikes and play in the street before 9am, after 3pm, in the weekends or on holidays when they’re likely to strike up conversations with random schoolkids passing by. In fact, I try to spend a lot more time with our children during those times (as a strong preference, not as a non-negotiable). All because of the foolishness that dwells in every child and because my children’s hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
This verse and the one following it scare me because God promises to give to us according to our ways, according to the fruit of our doings. I don’t want God giving to me or my children according to my deceitful and desperately wicked heart. So I encourage myself, my children and you and your children to delight in the Lord, for then He will give us the sanctified desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). We now also try to do everything as a family, father/child or mother/child activity. So wherever we go, we try to take a child/ren with us … we try, but don’t always succeed. When it comes to celebrations like birthdays, we will either invite one or two families around or have a parent/child activity. Our sons love to have a father/son party playing soccer, then the food, then a softball game to finish up. Our daughters like a mother/daughter high tea in fancy dresses, gloves and hats with fancy food set out in three-tier plates with bone china, etc.
*Education: Since 1877, the State Schools have taken over the lion’s share of raising children — parents look for other things to do, children pick up disrespectful, arrogant attitudes and worse from the multiplied foolishness of children massed together in institutionalised schools.
*Legislation now criminalises parents who would correct children: -Section 59 of the Crimes Act was re-written to say that while reasonable force may be used to control children, the correction (discipline, training) of children by the use of any degree of force is a criminal act, not to be justified under any circumstances.
*We parents are undisciplined & inconsistent: Lou Priolo says in The Heart of Anger, “What is the first rule for disciplining children? You must have more discipline than the child.” It all begins with us parents: if we are not consistent in correcting our children, we provoke them to anger (Ephesians 6:4), then we loose their hearts. Do any of you have children who just flare up? Well, we do. And Genesis 4:3-7 has really helped us in this. It says that sin lies at our door and its desire is for us. But we must rule over it (RSV says master it). Cain didn’t as you will read in the next verse. We need to rule over or master sin in our own lives, then help our children to rule over or master the sin in their lives.
I took an unusual step to do this in Jeremiah’s life when he was younger. On the first day of the month, I told him he had to master his sin of flaring up, exploding in anger for whatever reason, by the first of next month. After that I would give him a smack for doing so (this was before Section 59 was amended). I privately determined that this was the most important thing for that month. It didn’t matter what studies did or didn’t get done during that month: I wanted to help Jeremiah to master his sin. So I gave him extra jobs and other children’s jobs 1) to give myself more opportunities to become consistent in pointing out this sin, which I would do by reading / quoting Genesis 4:3-7 to him; and 2) to give Jeremiah more opportunities to master this sin on his own. I would remind him as the month went on that we were getting closer and closer to the first of next month, and he was still not mastering his sin of flaring up. The first of the month arrived. Jeremiah flared up. Mum smacked Jeremiah, and it hurt. This happened for several days. By the end of the week, however, I realised that I had stopped smacking Jeremiah. Jeremiah couldn’t master this on his own, but those few consistent smacks were very effective in helping him to master the sin of flaring up.
*Our culture: Individualism reigns supreme; everyone does what is right in his own eyes. And some parents even so thoroughly expect their children to rebel against household rules, that they see it as normal and not an issue for discipline.
*Immunisations/food allergies, antibiotics, etc: A very good book on this is Good New for the Alphabet Kids by Michael Sichel, DO, ND, PhD. He says autism is curable, and if the profound disease of autism is curable, then its near relatives — Aspergers, ADHD, ADD, ODD, PDD, RS, SMS, OCD, NOS should also be curable. And they are! His book is about how to reverse learning and behavioural disorders without drugs.
*Parents spending too much time with their business/ministry, newspaper, TV, DVDs, sports, their friends, etc., without their children being involved with them: At one conference, a couple came up to me and said that their son had been misbehaving. Their punishment was to forbid him to go on a week-long tramping/hunting trip with his father and his friends. After hearing us talk they wondered if the punishment was the wrong one. I said that it certainly was. Often our children are naughty because they are wanting to get our attention. They are desperate to spend some time with us. They know when they misbehave that they will get our attention (even bad attention is better than no attention). This father needed to find a different punishment for his son. This father needed to take his son on the trip for some desperately needed father-son time. Never make a punishment, or correction as we prefer to say, that deprives your child of time with you.
We do not like using time-out as a way of correcting our children. We need to find something that will not deprive our children of any time with us. You would think that when we home educate our children, they would be getting plenty of time with us. But no, our children always want more. At one time our 7-year-old said he wanted more time with Craig … even though he was getting several hours a day already. He suggested making things in the garage. So for the next year, Craig and one of the children (soon they all wanted part of the action) would get up early to spend some time in the workshop making things out of wood before breakfast. The children loved it. Now Craig has a truck run each morning, so a different child loves to get up at 5am and go on this run with him each morning.
*Parents have lost the heart of their child: This issue we will address more fully below.
So What Can We Do to Regain and Keep Our Children’s Hearts?
*Train our children in love: Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:1-9
*Do not let ANYONE else steal your child’s heart:
The opposite of letting someone else steal your child’s heart is to make sure you keep it. Do things with them all the time. Whenever you do anything, think “Can I include a child in this?” Find ways to spend time with your children. We love to read to them when they are doing their jobs around our home — the dishes; hanging out, bringing in and sorting the washing; tidying their bedrooms; cleaning the bathroom and other rooms; massaging our feet; brushing my hair; etc. Listen to your children, even if you have heard everything they have to say from their six older siblings over the years. We need to listen to their ideas and plans in detail. Listen as they tell us all about the book they are reading or the outing they have been on. Jeremiah has a thousand new ideas a minute (well it feels like that). I got to the stage where I would say, “That wouldn’t work,” after his second sentence. This really frustrated him. I had to learn to listen to all his ideas and comment at the end. I won his heart back by listening to his ideas. Talk to your children about what you are doing. As you go about doing things in your home, garden and in the garage, talk about it. Explain why you do things certain ways and not other ways. Get them helping you whenever and wherever. I know it is hard to always be doing this over and over again with each child. I know it takes longer, and the job is not done quite so well. But the end result is worth it. Eventually your child will be able to do it well, and you will still have the heart of your child.
Those who know Craig really well know that the very last thing that he would ever allow his children to have was a cat or more particularly a dog. Craig grew up with dogs and knows how much work they are. When one of our children begged her Dad for a kitten, he relented and said yes to the kitten, “But never ask for a dog.” Well recently Craig was struggling with keeping the heart of Jeremiah. And when Jeremiah actually asked for a dog, he only hesitated a little to say “Yes” because he knew it would send a huge message to him that he loved him enough to have this huge dog in our back yard, leaving its calling card everywhere, digging up plants, scratching the back door, etc.
Clubs/classes/teams, etc., can be a great place for our children to learn new things and gain new skills. The trouble, however, is when friendships developed there are extended beyond the activity. Let your children be friends with others at choir / horse jumping / night classes / highland dancing / ballet / sports clubs / woodworking / music, etc. But most of the time you will want to let these friendships stay there. We have heard of too many parents who have trouble with a child who has formed a heart relationship with someone (their age or a teacher) at an away-from-home activity. The parents have lost the child’s heart and ask, “What can we do now?” So try to keep those friendships there at the activity. Generally, have no after-activity contact unless it is with the whole families. If your child particularly wants to have another (same age or teacher) come to your home, then invite the whole family and make it a family gathering, not just for the two people.
*Do not let ANYTHING else steal your child’s heart: Read my article “Training Our Children to Use Technology” (see link 8 below, at end of article). Don’t let your children get into some technology too early and don’t be afraid to take things away from your rebellious child. Sometimes our children will land a job in unhealthy places. Check out their work environment, especially if it is an all-male workshop or such like: there can be unhealthy calendars or posters on the walls. Some workmates may be a bad influence on your child. Be quick to consider getting your child to change jobs if this is the case.
If anyone or anything has stolen your child’s heart away from you, then these things need to be removed from the child as soon as possible. You may think that you will loose your child’s heart if you take away things like their job, friends, music teacher, sporting coach, cell phone or internet, etc. But if you are already thinking like that, then you probably have lost their heart already. In taking these things away, you may regain your child’s heart. But it is not just about taking these things away from your child. It is about replacing these things with you (your child desperately wants more time with you, doing things with you). Listen to SM Davis on “Changing the Heart of a Rebel” at link 2 below.
Now All This Takes Work
*Strive for holiness and purity in yourself first and then your children: We have to be what we are calling our children to be. Deuteronomy 6:1-9 talks about us as parents first, then it talks about how we are to train up our children.
Living life above this “sin” line means striving for Biblical holiness, righteousness and purity.
Living below this “sin” line is characterised by worldliness: unholiness, unrighteousness and impurity.
In the diagram above, we have an illustration of two paddocks here on earth, two spheres of existence, the one above inhabited by the sheep redeemed by their Lord, and the lower one inhabited by the goats. The problem with us today is that we are continually crowding the fenceline, trying to see how close we can get without going over instead of exploring the uncharted, virgin territory above characterised by the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:23 says there is no law against these, no fenceline on the other side! Yet some of us actually stand on the fenceline below in such a way, we can’t see the line anymore between right and wrong, good and bad, wise and unwise. Our children need us leading them away from this fenceline of worldliness and into the light and freedom of righteous obedient living above.
*Talk to your children from early days about problems and temptations they face: A wonderful time for this is once your children are in bed after the lights are out. Somehow the intimate nature of the darkness and you being close by often prompts your young children to talk about things that wouldn’t normally come up. Keep doing this as your child grows older, and they will keep talking to you — you will not loose their hearts.
*Work at keeping the hearts of our children: Proverbs 23:26 — “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” Be gentle with your children, like a nursing mother taking care of her children, (1Thessalonians 2:7). Be careful not to loose your children with rash words that are like sword thrusts but use your tongue wisely to bring healing to them, (Proverbs 12:18). Things to watch out for: unjust criticism; not listening; teasing excessively; insulting them; speaking harshly; not being available / approachable; being glued to TV / video /DVD / newspaper / computer, etc; expressing hatred.
*As mothers, we need to be building our homes up, not tearing them down: — Proverbs 14:1.
*As fathers, we need to have a vision for our family and a vision for each member of the family … and we need to communicate it effectively and reinforce it often: There is so much to say on these last two that I think Craig and I each need to write an article on them — so more on this later.
*Insulate your children within: See link 6 below.
*Youth groups, etc: These groups are a great place for the cauldrons of foolishness to overflow as they are generally far less well-supervised than you would accept if it was in your home. Since they are often “evangelistic” in orientation, bringing in unbelievers who are also unchurched, and since not all church youth are regenerate, the unbelievers can easily outnumber the believers. And even when they don’t, many studies show that it is the unbelievers that are more effectively evangelising the believers away from the Faith in such peer-oriented environments. Yes, they might be OK for a while, and some children can handle it better than others. But the risks are many that they’ll develop a taste for the worldly ways of those unregenerate, who are treated with such deference and friendliness by the youth leaders and who are often secretly admired by all for their spontaneous fearlessness in performing so many outrageous high jinx to liven up the youth group activities. By the time you find out that your child is the one who can’t handle it, your work is cut out for you to win your child back. As already mentioned, we like to do things as a family — together we need to provide exciting, challenging, edifying, purposeful alternatives to youth groups, alternatives that build healthy relationships and reinforce — not subvert — your family’s values.
*Be diligent: teaching your children as in Deuteronomy 6:1-9 all the time so that when they are older, they will keep your commandments and teachings all the time as in Proverbs 6:20-22.
*You may need to apologize and radically adjust your home education programme, job or location: Be quick to apologise to your children if you decide you need to change course and suddenly forbid or curtail things you used to allow without a thought. Make whatever drastic changes are needed to keep your children’s hearts. We know of families who have moved town to break up unhelpful relationships their children had formed. Change your job if it keeps you from investing the time you want to with your children. Some children are frustrated by the home education materials they are using: you may need to consider changing that too.
*Don’t be afraid to “Do Hard things”1with your children: We know a family who had to kick one of their sons (17-18) out of their home several times. They had set up their family rules. When he broke them and was unrepentant, his Dad felt he had no option but to kick him out of their home, not allowing him back until he repented and apologised. There would usually be sanctions or loss of privileges as well. The process of praying and talking it through while standing outside with Mum or Sister until he was ready to apologise and submit sometimes took hours. This is not something you would do with all your children — but for the odd one sometimes it takes drastic moves like this to keep a son at home and on track.
And sometimes, unfortunately, you have to send that rebellious unrepentant child away. You cannot have a rebellious child living at home influencing the younger children. If the child refuses to repent from his rebellion, won’t give up the cell phone or whatever other requirements you have, then you have to send the child away. This is radical and it is serious. It is similar to excommunication for unrepentant sin. We are talking about sin here — in-your-face, conscious, wilful rebellion — not just immaturity, lack of judgement, or being annoying.
Because we are so emotionally involved with our children and the problems that arise, sometimes it is good to bring in a Biblical counsellor. (But beware: there are a lot who call themselves Biblical counsellors but who are immersed in their State-credentialed arts of psycho-babble, such as the philosophies and theories of Freud, Rogers, Skinner, Pavlov, Maslow, etc. You want to get a Nouthetically trained counsellor, one fully conversant with the J E Adams counselling courses.) Children are usually not rebellious in a vacuum. There will be things on their minds that cause them to think that they are hard done by. Perhaps you have said or done something at an impressionable age in that child’s life and they are holding it against you. None of us is perfect. We have all made mistakes along the way with (or in training) our children. We and our children may need to apologise to each other and to forgive one another, and we then need to put these things behind us. Our children especially need to learn to do this while they are at home, as they will have others saying and doing things that upset them later in life as well. If they learn this lesson, of resolving their problems/sin at home, it will serve them well in later life — in their own family, in their work place, etc. Colossians 1:28 says that every person needs counselling, every person needs wise teaching so that every person comes to maturity in Christ. We are not failures when we seek out counselling in our families. This is very Biblical as we all need counselling at some stage. Counselling — helping each other grow in Christlikeness — is at the core of Christian fellowship.
You are not a failure if you have a rebellious child. Nearly everyone does. All our children sin. All our children rebel — some on the inside where it’s harder to detect and some on the outside, right there in your face. It is how we deal with our children’s sin and rebellion that makes us a failure or a success in training our children in the way that they should go.
Remember, applying verses like Proverbs 29:15 and 22:15 bring results in the training of our children: Proverbs 31:28-29.
This is all very hard work. There is no holiday from being a parent. We only get one shot at it with each child. But it is all worth it — so very worth it. When you see your children grow into Godly young persons and get married and begin to have children of their own, and then they begin training up their children in the way that they should go, it is all so very worth it. Remember, in all your training of your children to think multi-generationally. Always realise that when you are training up your own children, that this will flow over to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So the key to keeping your children’s hearts is to make sure that no-one or no-thing takes their hearts away from you. And most importantly, turn your heart to your children, and they will then turn their hearts to you (see Malachi 4:6 and Luke 1:17). Then God will no longer smite the land with a curse and the people will be ready and prepared for the Lord.
Fantastic Helpful Articles — Must Reads
1. Regaining the Trust of Our Teens: http://www. Foundationsforfreedom.net/Topics/Parenting/Par-enting11_Teens.html. Purpose: Help parents of older children who have not been well disciplined or tenderly loved to take steps in regaining the hearts of their children. A) Regaining Hope for the Family; B) Restoring the Home; C) Resolving Conflict.
2. Changing the Heart of a Rebel by Dr SM Davis: https://hef.org.nz/2008/changing-the-heart-of-a-rebel/
3. Why Satan Wants Your Firstborn by Dr. SM Davis: http://www.evangel.org.au/Perth/Downloads/Download%20Material/firstborn.pdf
4. Home Schooling the Rebel by Deborah Wuehler: http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine.com/How_To_ Homeschool/articles/homeschoolingtherebel.php
5. Help from a Former Hyperactive Kid by Israel Wayne: http://www.crosswalk.com/homeschool/ 11582342/
6. Insulate Your Children Within by Michael Pearl: http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/nc/articles/general-view/archive////insulate-your-children-within/?tx_ttnews[backPID]=162&tx_ttnews[backPid]=85
8. Training Our Children to Use Technology: https://hef.org.nz/2010/training-our-children-to-use-technology/. Ky XVI, No. 83, July 2010, p. 28.
Vol XV1 No 84 October 2010
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