Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt

We are all aware that as parents, we have authority and power over our children anyway, so don’t engage in a squabble that will get you nowhere but will only create a power struggle.

Dec 03, 2021

By Christine Fernandez
I left you with Ezra 10:34, “Arise! For the matter is your responsibility … as parents, you can be effective bosses who offer ‘soft choices’ verses ‘hard choices’. Your child is not your equal, therefore you need to be the boss. So, what does it mean to be a boss who offers soft choices? Well, you are the parent, and play the “limit setter” role to maintain the rules of the household with effective consequences, accountability, and boundaries. Boundaries limit destructive behaviour, and that is why both God and society have laws and consequences for those who overstep these laws (Romans 13:1-4).

Offering “soft choices versus hard choices”, means allowing your kids to have an opinion, to wear what they have picked, watch a movie of their choice, or have a certain hair length and style, as long as it is appropriate and acceptable to you. It is difficult as parents to walk this fine line between being the boss and giving your child enough independence. However, “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).

We are all aware that as parents, we have authority and power over our children anyway, so don’t engage in a squabble that will get you nowhere but will only create a power struggle. When our kids are young, we supervise, organise, make decisions, and direct their day-to-day activities. But when adolescence hits, the whole game changes. Now, the child wants to be the boss, and lacks respect for parental authority. Or so we think. However, this is the developmental stage where your child becomes an individual with his/her own identity, separate from you. A stage where children push adults away. Therefore, don’t take it personally or be hard on yourself when you have had a moment of exhaustion and shouted or been harsh with your child just to feel in control. Just remember “when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

Offer choices and encourage participation so that your child develops independence since it is natural for children to start thinking that they have a say in everything. So long as the choices that reside with you and them are clarified, and boundaries are not crossed.

One of the most common parenting traps one can fall into is “harsh punishment”. As a parent, grandparent, community worker and counsellor, I know that it is very easy to fall into this trap. However, when control is lost and the situation becomes unmanageable, it is punishment versus effective consequences.

Firstly, let us be clear about punishment and consequences. A punishment is retribution for a wrongful act, and it says to your child, “you better think like me, or else you pay”. Words and thoughts like these arise from anger and fear and do not help your child develop new ways of taking responsibility for his/her behaviour or actions. Instead, try and make a difference to your children. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:31-32, “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as God in Christ forgave you” to avoid a destructive relationship with your child.

Therefore, use effective consequences which are outcomes that result from the behaviour. Consequences are both natural and logical, and when it comes to children, both are equally important. A natural one for example, is when your child loses his/ her cool and has no idea how to comprehend. The logical behaviour outcomes are those specifically planned by parents and other adults. A simple example of this is when your child wakes up late for school and you, the parent sends them to bed earlier. Whether logical or natural, all consequences help us learn and grow in general. To put it in a nutshell, consequences equal learning.

Therefore, what would an appropriate consequence look like in a common situation such as your 13-year-old getting home hours later than expected from school without informing you and your anger subjects him to a week of grounding. Is this a consequence or punishment? First, ask yourself “what is it that I want my child to learn?” I believe that you want your child to lean responsibility, gain your trust and stay out of trouble in this messed up society. Well! Instead of a week’s grounding, the child could be taught that privileges come with responsibility and the grounding can be for two days, allowing your child an hour after school, two days a week with friends, provided you are in the loop of his/her whereabouts and the given time is adhered to. What your child is learning here is the chance to practice and demonstrate that he/she can be trusted.

However, consequences can also draw continued bad behaviour. Ultimately, your child’s behaviour is up to him/her. This is difficult for many parents to comprehend or accept. Just remember that as a parent your job is to be consistent always and hold your child accountable through effective consequences. The rest is up to your child.

Therefore, resist the temptation to give up altogether or control through anger. Try to be consistent and follow through with consequences as opposed to punishment, bearing in mind that, “if you are wise, you are wise for yourself. And if you scoff, you alone will bear it”, Proverbs 9:12.

Having said this, there are tips for creating effective consequences that work. Parents that I have worked with have found them helpful. These tips will be shared in the next article. Until then Que dios este contigo siempre — May God be with you always.

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