In my newest book, Homeschooling for the Rest of Us (Bethany House, 2010), I talk about outward versus inward obedience. When parents write to ask me questions, one of the most common questions I receive is exactly HOW to train your child to have inward obedience with a cheerful heart versus the outward appearance of obedience when there really is no compliance there.
This is probably the most difficult thing to understand and to enforce as a parent, I think, because we cannot SEE our children's hearts. I will tell you, though, that I do believe this is one of the best reasons to homeschool - you know your children better. I positively KNOW when my children are trying to be deceptive. We haven't ever had an issue with blatant lying, but from time to time they will not tell the whole story (which, yes, we still consider a lie, but they know this and are appropriately punished.) They don't do this very often either, but that's because we've emphasized time and again how bad lying is. I think it's the foundation of sin actually... Satan lied to Adam and Eve. They lied to themselves about the consequences, etc. It's just always best to be truthful.
For younger children, you just have to start NOW in training the child to have inward obedience. As a mom, for the most part, it's very easy to tell when younger children are lying. They might say they didn't take the cookie, but they have chocolate all over their faces. LOL If that happens, you not only have to punish the child, but you also have to discuss with him / her the dangers of lying. What sort of punishment am I talking about? For lying, I think with little children you have to make sure they know what lie is. Certainly by the age of three I think they do. At that point, I would spank a child if he/she lied to me. We do NOT spank for a lot of transgressions, but blatant disobedience or lying will always get you a spanking. And at the same time, I think it's important to encourage them NOT to lie. If our children do something and they tell the TRUTH, they receive an alternate punishment, NOT a spanking - ever. We never want to punish truthfulness. They still have to be punished for the thing they did wrong. Let's say they took that cookie on the counter that you told them not to touch. Well, their punishment might be that they don't get any dessert at dinner when everyone else IS having dessert. Kids even as young as two WILL accept this punishment and they WILL associate it with their own "crime," so to speak. If they told the truth, I think that's sufficient punishment. If they lied, however, and they understand what a lie is, then I think a spanking is in order and still they lose their dessert.
One thing to remember is that good behavior CAN be modeled. Be honest with your children. Of course when they're as young as your children, you can't tell them everything, but as they get older, expose your OWN heart to them. If you yell at them one day for no reason other than you felt bad, take the time to apologize for that. This is something a lot of Christian "leaders" will tell you not to do - don't EVER expose yourself to your child. Don't EVER let them think you're anything but perfect. While I do respect their viewpoint and certainly they have the right to think this, I totally disagree. Only one person who walked this earth was ever perfect and it certainly wasn't me. Children will eventually figure this out anyway and if you have LIED to them by making them think you are perfect, well... this actually creates the exact situation you wanted to avoid, which is that they then think it's ok to deceive people. Once deception starts, it's easier to convince yourself that everything is ok - from your right to HAVE an item (stealing) to your right to listen to bad music, do drugs, have sex, etc.
- Be truthful WITH your children.
- Expect truth FROM your children.
- Punish your children if they lie.
- Punish your child's sin if they tell the truth, but I recommend not using spanking. Take away privileges for the fact that they did something wrong, but reserve spanking only for lies. If they tell the truth, be willing to give a little.
- Read stories of people who do bad things and suffer bad consequences, who make good choices in various situations, who model GOOD behavior (character building stories). - Point out examples of bad behavior when you can. If you see a child at the supermarket screaming and kicking because he WANTS THAT TOY!!!!, point the behavior out to your children. Ask them what's wrong with the picture. Let THEM learn to see these things for themselves rather than YOU telling them - don't yell and kick at the supermarket (or anywhere else). They might say something like, "That boy is being loud and rude." Then you can say, "That's right. Why shouldn't he do that?" ... It's disturbing other customers. He is disrespecting his mom / dad. He is yelling for a toy, but it will probably break in a week anyway and it certainly is NOT worth getting that upset over. : ) You get the idea. Let THEM come up with ideas and then add in some that they might miss. - PRAISE your children for good choices.
- Model good behavior. You probably don't smoke, but some parents do. Their children are very likely to smoke. The "do as I say and not as I do" doesn't work well with kids. Do as you would like for them to do.
- Serve others and allow your children time to serve others as well. Allow older siblings to help with younger ones, but certainly do NOT expect them to be your little babysitters. (I say this because I've seen parents do this and it seems to create animosity. I am NOT talking about the buddy system. That's a great way to encourage relationships and also to have older children and teens develop the ability to help with younger children so that they will be better prepared for their own families. I'm talking about when parents just constantly expect the older sibling to occupy the younger one so that mom/dad can be on the computer, cell phone, etc. THAT creates animosity toward the younger sibling and the parent.)
- Encourage your children to play together and play WITH them. This gives you an opportunity to point out behaviors as they happen, not later, through second-hand tattling. Of course you can't always be right there, but definitely I think parents should be with young children as much as possible. If you can instill the values while they are little, then your life will be MUCH easier when they are bigger. - Read GOOD books to your children. Watch GOOD quality movies w/ your children. Make sure your children have access to friends, but friends with parents who have similar values to yours. If they let their child run around and hit other kids in the head during the whole play date, it's likely that your child will go home and bonk a younger sibling in the head.
While most of these practical tips may sound like discipline issues rather than "heart" issues, it all ties very closely together. If you focus on discipline and obedience when your children are younger, then it's much easier to KNOW your child and also to redirect him/her as the child grows older. This in itself will help you and your child have the kind of relationship where you can redirect his/her heart. If your child knows he can trust you, for example, to be fair, then he is more likely to tell the truth. If your child does not trust you, he is a lot more likely to try to hide the truth, get away with sneaky behavior, allow his friends (or the tv or computer or whatever) to become his main source of advice, etc. All of those things can cause huge problems and certainly they're focused on outward behavior. So the single best thing you can do to encourage inward obedience with a cheerful attitude is to KNOW your child. Encourage him when he makes good choices and punish him appropriately (not unfairly or overly so) when he makes bad choices (knowingly). I would never punish a child simply for childish behavior or "mistakes," such as spilling a glass of milk on the floor. Now if he threw it across the room, that would be different, but I think too many parents yell at their children when they have accidents and this only serves to tear down the relationship so that the child no longer trusts that adult.
You must also focus on LOVE. When I talk about developing a relationship with your child, I'm not only talking about spending time with that child, but you are showing the child that you can be trusted, that you LOVE him, that you are there for him. Too many parents are just ... well, just not "present" today. They're too busy with their own activities, their own concerns, their worries, their games, their chat rooms, etc. I believe everyone sees time as love to an extent, but certainly children do. If you do not take the TIME to show them you LOVE them, then you will lose this in your relationship. The best way to develop trust and thus have the authority to direct their hearts when they're having a difficult time and making tough choices is by establishing a firm foundation in the relationship.
As for resources, the best resource I know that actually addresses this particular issue is Educating the WholeHearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson. I found it early in my homeschooling journey and I'm so thankful for that.
So to summarize how to encourage inward obedience, spend the first few years of your child's life focusing on discipline and obedience - "slow obedience is NOT obedience." Praise your child for good choices and talk with him or her in areas where the child is struggling. Be honest with your child. LOVE your child. Spend time with your child. Expose your child to positive FRIENDSHIPS and others whom you trust to also help your child develop the values you want to instill in your child.
If you have questions, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're interested in the book, it's available through local bookstores and online at places like Amazon.