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Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
In the infographic, I am using the word structure for discipline and the word support for instruction. The numbers running along the bottom represent the typical number of years a parent has to disciple a child into independence. I have added a few other synonyms to discipline and instruction to help explain my intent with clarity.
This collection of words, working together, helps to forge a parenting model that incorporates a solid and practical view of biblical child-rearing. These concepts help a parent to cooperate with God in the shaping of their children. The end goal, of course, is to send them into His world as adults while joyfully living under His authority. Once they are no longer under a parent’s direct parental authority, the parents want them to know and love God while humbly serving Him.
As children practice submission and obedience within the family, they will be willing to do them in the diverse authoritative structures in their adult lives. Whether it is a spouse, employer, college, civil authorities, or the local church, the hope is they will not only know how to honor and respect these authorities but be influencers within those contexts and hierarchies.
The first half-dozen years of a child’s life require more discipline than instruction. While this season should not be devoid of teaching, there is a limitation with what you can do because the child does not have the vocabulary, concepts, or theological foundation for you to speak with nuance and depth into their lives. But the young child must learn about structure, authority, admonition, and correction, which is of first importance because it sets the foundation and framework for you to come alongside them later.
Your child will respect your discipline because he respects loving strength and intentional protective care. He will intuitively learn of your boundless affection because of your corrective shepherding of his soul.
Conversely, if you do not discipline your child by providing appropriate structures for them to function, they will grow to disrespect you. They will perceive your weakness. In time, they will lose respect for you. I’m not speaking of heavy-handed authoritarian anger but fatherly corrective care that calibrates the soul in a nurturing environment (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Nickel and diming a child is not wise. For example, when our children were young, we picked a couple of nonnegotiables that they could not transgress under any circumstance: not putting their fingers in an electrical outlet and pulling books off the bottom of the bookshelves.
While putting something in an electrical outlet was a legitimate problem with dangerous consequences, pulling books off the shelf was not as consequential. It was not so much about removing the books as it was about teaching them to obey. God wants our hearts before He tells us how to live.
If you don’t follow this process, you’ll be on the fast track to legalism: behavioristic teaching that is devoid of the right heart attitude. The early years are simple: trust and obey for there is no other way. If you do this well, you will prepare the soil of their hearts to listen and learn from you after they grow older.
This formative training provides security within a structure. You will find perfect and optimal freedom within clearly understood systems. A train will run at its most incredible efficiency when working within the structure of the tracks. Remove the rails, and its potential power devolves into impotence.
A child working within a consistent system will find their greatest freedom and the ability to perform to their fullest capacity. Without a consistent, careful, and compassionate structure, they will grow into dysfunction. Though you do not neglect a teaching moment, you want to make sure you are teaching obedient hearts.
As your child grows theologically and psychologically, you begin to increase your life application truths—your teaching, instruction, and support. This next season is a time-consuming responsibility. While it can be quick and easy to discipline a child, it is rarely quick or easy to teach them.
Your aim is to train your children so that they do not need your constant surveillance. You want to release them to their unique agency in God’s world. While you may be able to control every action in their little lives, you will never be able to manage them as they grow older. You want to release them to God’s authority, which can happen with gladness, joy, and humility if you intentionally train while incrementally releasing them to practice the training.
Though they will fail at times, these moments will be tremendous opportunities for you to instruct and encourage them through their situational and challenging difficulties. To receive a fuller understanding of the structure and support parenting model, please watch this short ten-minute equipping video.
The video also presents some of the more common and ill-advised versions of the structure and support parenting model, which are radically different from the model I have presented. Here are four awful parenting models that harm the process of structure and support.
Legalistic parents have a skewed view of worldliness. They come from a Gnostic perspective, teaching how the world is terrible and you must stay away from it. Therefore, they teach their kids an excessive amount of rules. E.g., movies are wrong, certain clothing styles are bad, certain music is terrible, certain people are evil, etc.
It is a negative-centered, fear-motivated parenting model. They place their children under a yoke of rules and do not teach them how to interact, intersect, or engage the real world. This kind of top-down authoritarian model frustrates children as they become teenagers.
Too often, these kids become angry adults who do not know how to live in God’s world. Typically, they will jump from the ditch of legalism into the ditch of licentiousness. The bondage of rules they lived under had a pressing down and controlling effect that eventually launched them into the world as though someone shot them out of a canon.
These are the spoiled rotten kids. The parents cater to them by never saying “no” to them. It’s the counting mom: “Don’t make me count to three.” The kid knows it’s just a thing she says that has no meaning other than she is mad. He endures her anger and eventually gets what he wants. Oddly enough, many of these parents come from a legalistic parenting model.
They resent how their parents reared them, but rather than parenting a child biblically, they acquiesce by giving in to the sinful hearts of their children. Most of the time, the dad has his head buried in the sand or is preoccupied with other things—if he is in the home at all. The heavy lifting of parenting is on the mom, and she can’t spin all of the plates. The child knows she has no support and eventually will cave.
The mother knows it’s not worth dying on every hill, so she incrementally gives more ground until the child is thoroughly spoiled and in control. Ironically, this spoiled child ends up in the same lousy environment as the angry, legalistic kid. The spoiled kid has always been selfish and indulgent, while the legalist has no clue how to live in the world and feels somewhat entitled to splurge in indulgence.
These are the legalistic parents who overcorrect because they realized that their heavy-handed rules were a mistake. This midstream change in parenting typically happens when a legalist begins to understand the doctrines of grace. They have a moment of clarity and realize how rigid rules debilitated a child’s life. Thus, the parent knee-jerks. Rather than making a sober and slow course correction, they give in too much. They turn grace into an “anything-goes worldview.”
It is not unusual for these parents to go through guilt-motivation because of all the rigid rules and harsh bondage they placed on their kids. Rather than parenting them biblically, they feel that it would somehow make up for their mistakes if they go the extra mile by catering to them.
There is another kind of knee-jerk response when the licentious parents realize they have been spoiling their child. Rather than responding biblically, they crack down on the rules, and the kids react in anger. These children were flying high and wide. Now rule-bondage is pressing them into a harsh yoke, which fosters anger toward the parents and resentment toward God. Overcorrection from legalism to licentiousness or from licentiousness to legalism exasperates children. Both children rebel.
These are the parents who are totally into themselves. They parent from a matter of convenience, preference, and selfishness. To say it another way, they do not want to be inconvenienced or have to do hard things. If they are in a good mood, they may give the child whatever he wants. If they are in a bad mood, the child will be vulnerable to their indiscriminate punishments.
The child never knows what he is going to get on any given day. He sees his parents as idiots who don’t have a clue and don’t care about him. He soon returns the favor by dismissing them for more reliable, loving, but morally wrong friends (1 Corinthians 15:33).
God is not like these parents (Hebrews 13:8). His immutability is one of the many reasons we love Him so much. All the ill-advised models motivate children to find security through other means. They support and structure and will accept some of the worst versions of it if the parents do not provide the biblical version.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).