Tag Archive for guidance

Rather Than Building a Bully, Try This…

None of us want our children to become a bully. That’s why I really like the study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. The researchers of that study followed 1,409 children from 7th through 9th grade to explore how parenting style impacts a teen’s ability to manage emotions such as anger. This study revealed the negative impact of a parenting style that expressed criticism, sarcasm, put-downs, and hostility toward children while using emotional and physical coercion to gain compliance from children. They called this a “derisive parenting style.”

This “derisive style” of parenting contributed to children who had poorly regulated or poorly controlled anger. In the peer interactions, poorly controlled anger led to more negative emotions, greater verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. The poorly controlled anger put teens at greater risk for bullying AND victimization AND for becoming a bully who is also victimized by other bullies.

I don’t know any parent who wants their child to becomes a bully, a victim, or a bully-victim. So, rather than using “derisive parenting style” let me suggest a kinder, more loving kind style.

  • Rather than criticism offer sincere appreciation for what’s done well, constructive appraisals around areas of potential improvement, and acceptance for differing ideas.
  • Rather than sarcasm offer playful banter, respectful limits, and loving boundaries.
  • Rather than put-downs offer much needed encouragement, admiration of positive effort, and compliments on personal growth.
  • Rather than verbal hostility offer verbal affection, loving and firm boundaries, and light-hearted opportunities for laughter.
  • Rather than physical coercion offer healthy physical affection, physical assistance, and gentle guidance.
  • Rather than emotional coercion like shame and guilt offer the emotional support, acceptance of different ideas and methods, and assurance of love.

Ironically, replacing a “derisive parenting style” with a more loving, supportive parenting style results in greater compliance as well as a more independent, confident, and self-controlled child. Step away from building a bully with “derisive parenting;” build a strong, confident child by using a kinder, more loving parenting style instead.

Driving Children or Leading Children

I read that General Eisenhower would demonstrate the art of leadership with a piece of string. After laying the string on a table, he would say, “Notice what happens when I pull the string; it goes wherever I lead it. Now watch what happens when I push the string; it goes nowhere at all—that’s assault, not leadership.” What a great quote on leadership…and parenting! Many parents drive their children rather than lead their children. Consider just three differences.


military policeProdding them or inspiring them. Parents who drive their children push them, cajole them, and prod them to produce, accomplish, and succeed. They often express dissatisfaction with a less than stellar performance. Parents who lead do so by example. Leading implies going ahead of them to show the way. A parent’s leadership will inspire children to follow in their parent’s footsteps. If you want your children to eat a healthy diet and exercise, do so yourself. If you want your children to exhibit respect, be polite yourself. Say “please” and “thank you” to them and others. Let them hear you say polite words often. If you want your children to go to church, enjoy going yourself. You get the idea. When parents drive their children, they push them into the unknown alone. A parent who leads goes before their child into that unknown. A parent who guides goes with their child into that unknown. Both leading and guiding create a sense of safety for children. Our children learn from our example, not our constant prodding and pushing. So, quit prodding and inspire them instead…take the lead.


Laying down the law or studying the book. Parents who drive their children focus on the rules. They lay down the law and demand compliance. Rules keep us on the straight and narrow, away from the evil influences around us. But, an overabundance of rules and a focus on the rules will send a message of distrust in your children, their knowledge of right behavior, their desire to behave appropriately, and their ability to do so. A focus on rules may also force children to break the rules just to establish their own independence. Parents who lead focus on relationship. Sure they have rules but they focus on a relationship with their children. They have become a student of their children. They constantly learn about their children’s interests, friends, fears, vulnerabilities, dreams, etc. Parents who lead have an unquenchable thirst to know their children. Out of that knowledge, a parent can lead, motivate, and inspire their children to be their best.


Running away or running to. Parents who drive their children establish a strong authoritarian presence. Their children often respond to the authoritarian demands and expectations in one of two ways: rebellion or withdrawal. When children have parents who drive them, they shrink away from their parents’ voice. Demands and rules cause children to shrink away in fear.  Authoritarian expectations cause children to shrink into a shell, withdrawing for fear of failure and never being good enough to meet their parents’ expectations and so please them.  Children may also rebel in the face of the excessive demands and expectations of authoritarian parents. In order to “become their own person,” they have to rebel. Parents who lead establish a strong authority based on relationship. Their children rise up to their parents’ voice. They respond with confidence to the family expectation. They feel known and valued so they act more responsibly and respectfully.


We could go on, but let me ask you: do you drive your children or lead them? Do you push them into the unknown or lead them by example? Do you focus primarily on “laying down the law” or on “building a relationship” of mutual trust and respect…or both? Does your voice and presence cause your children to shrink or grow? Pull the string, don’t push it. Take the lead!

Where are You on the Parenting See-Saw?

Do you remember trying to remain balanced while standing in the middle of a see-saw? It took steady focus and constant readjustments to keep both ends of the see-saw balanced and level. In many ways, parenting can be like riding a see-saw…one minute you are up in the air, enjoying warm, loving interactions with your children and the next minute you feel yourself falling to the ground as you discipline unruly, disrespectful behavior. Up—down, enjoy the love—dish out meaningful consequences, offer warm nurturance—practice energetic control. As parents, we stand in the middle of the parenting see-saw trying to keep a steady focus on our goals and making constant readjustments to keep both ends of the see-saw level. Yes, parenting involves both ends of the see-saw. Effective parents strive to balance two equally important tasks: providing warm nurturance and practicing confident authority. If we ignore one of these tasks, parenting becomes unbalanced and you find your feet dangling in the air while you hold on for dear life. Typically, a parent is better at one of these tasks than the other. That means we all need to learn and grow in our role as parent. Let me explain these two tasks in more detail.
      1.Effective parents practice confident authority in the home. Part of the parents’ job is to establish a loving structure that includes boundaries, limits, and rules. Parents establish boundaries, limits, and rules with their children’s best interests in mind, not their own. The rules are not designed to make life easy for you as a parent, but to guide your children toward maturity and help them internalize the positive behaviors your family and society value. Parents who exhibit confidence in their authority teach their children the limits and rules by offering instruction as well as loving consequences. They accept their own discomfort around watching their children squirm and whine in response to negative consequences, knowing that negative consequences will help them learn and grow more mature. Effective parents know that establishing limits and authority actually allows their children the freedom to explore the world around them in a safe way. The parent with confident authority is not overwhelmed by their children’s anger. They emit a presence that is more powerful than their children’s anger. By upholding the limit and continuing to communicate love for their angry children, they show that they are more powerful than their children’s anger and hateful words.     Ironically, this provides children with a sense of comfort, safety, and security. Children, who may feel as though they cannot control their anger, learns that their parent can control that anger. Their parent is powerful…and loving! As a result, children experience the freedom to explore, learn and grow.

2.  Effective parents also initiate and cultivate warm, nurturing relationships with their children. They nurture their children physically and emotionally. Healthy parents nurture their children physically by providing them with food and shelter. Even more, they nurture their children with regular, generous doses of loving touch. Nurturing parents give their children loving hugs, affectionate kisses, and other forms of attentive touch. Effective parents nurture their children with words of affirmation and affection as well. They voice an understanding of their children’s disappointments and share in their excitement and joy. They use words to help their children label and express emotions. Effective parents also become a student of their children. They learn each child’s strengths and vulnerabilities so they can build on the strengths and lovingly support them in confronting their vulnerabilities.

What happens if a parent focuses on only one side of the see-saw? Well, too heavy on the authority side of the see-saw and children fall into discontent, withdrawal, and distrust. Sitting on the low side of the see-saw with their parent hovering over them actually leads the child to question their parent’s authority. Eventually, children begin to resist their parent’s attempt to direct and teach. They often become disrespectful and rebellious, stepping off the see-saw and letting their parent crash to the ground.

When parents lean too heavily on the warm, nurturing side of the see-saw, their children sit on the high side of the see-saw and tower over them. This parent expends so much effort and work to keep the ride going that their children simply “enjoy the ride.” Their children do not experience the consequences of their behavior; they only enjoy the rewards of their parents’ work. As a result, these children do not learn to be self-reliant or self-controlled. They explore less, letting their parent do all the work. As they mature, they exhibit less confidence in navigating the world independent of their parents. And, they are less likely to respect their parents as authorities. With little boundaries and little responsibility, they may simply run wild.

As you can see, balancing the parental see-saw is absolutely crucial but also rewarding. Children, who live in a house where parents balance warmth with authority, become more content and confident. They show greater confidence in navigating the world independently. They exhibit greater success at “leaving the nest” to succeed on their own. Children raised by parents who balance the roles of parenting also perceive their parents as legitimate authority and accept their parent’s input into decisions. As they become adults, they develop mutually gratifying relationships with their parents.

So, stand right in the middle of that parental see-saw and balance warmth with authority, love with limits, and grace with truth. Although challenging, the rewards are immeasurable!

A Parent Guides

Josh McDowell said it well–“rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” Although I completely agree with that formula, we need to add an additional formula as well: “relationships without rules leads to running wild.” Parents must provide relationships and rules, love and limits, truth and grace. Parents as family shepherds will guide their children toward maturity. Guiding your child toward maturity involves leading by example and discipline. Family shepherds model the values and limits they want their children to internalize. Of course, children will respond more readily to those parents who have a strong, loving relationship with them. Children also imitate those adults they view as competent and powerful. Family shepherds will combine all this. They set a consistent example of love that guides their children toward maturity through warm, responsive parenting.

Family shepherds also use discipline to guide their children toward maturity. Discipline involves teaching… teaching the values of mature, healthy living. Discipline begins early in life and focuses on four important lessons:
     1.How to behave. Successful parenting discourages negative behavior and teaches positive behavior. Family shepherds help point out how children should behave. Rather than simply saying, “Stop that” or “Don’t do that” family shepherds say, “Stop that and do this instead.” They point out the negative behavior while describing the positive behavior they want to see instead.

2.The impact of behavior on others. Family shepherds help their children learn how their behavior impacts those around them. If your child’s loud behavior bothers others in the restaurant, let them know. If their bossy behavior makes their sister upset, make sure your child knows. Don’t do this in a harsh, demeaning way. Lovingly point out how others respond to their behavior. Gently point out if their behavior made their sister cry or others in the restaurant feel uncomfortable. This allows them to develop empathy and actually see the nonverbal cues other people present to them about their behavior. Of course, family shepherds also point out when their children’s behavior has a positive effect on others and themselves. They let their child know when their behavior makes their sister smile and when other restaurant customers admire their behavior.

3.The pain of misbehavior. Guidance through discipline also means allowing children to suffer hardships, struggle with decisions, and experience the pain of natural consequences. Unfortunately, family shepherds hurt right along with their children. Parents hate to see their children struggle. When they see their child in pain, they feel the pain too. Some parents, in an effort to protect their child from pain and to limit their own pain, prematurely save their child from some consequence. This interferes with their growth and maturity. So, even though it’s hard at times, let ’em suffer now and again…it’s good for us all.

4.The benefits of good behavior. Parents discuss the long-term consequences of behavior as well as the short term consequences, the benefits as well as the detriments of behavior. Family shepherds will help their children learn how behavior impacts reputation, opportunity, personal esteem, contentment, and achievement.

The Good Sheperd Rule of Parenting

David wrote an ancient poem describing his Heavenly Father in terms of a Shepherd. I recently read this psalm and I noticed the action words that David attributed to his Shepherd Father. The Shepherd in this psalm “makes” His sheep rest in nurturing places. He “leads” them in safe places, “restores” them, and “guides” them in ways that bring honor to the family name and reputation. The Shepherd “is with” His sheep, “comforting” them, “preparing” their environment for optimal growth, and “protecting” them from pests and parasites that might burrow into their head. This Shepherd actively pursues the benefit of His sheep. He takes a lot of positive steps to assure His sheep are safe and healthy.
David does include two negatives in this psalm–both describe the sheep’s life, not the Shepherd’s actions. Specifically, the sheep will have “no want.” They will lack nothing because of the provisions made by the Shepherd for their emotional, physical, and mental health. And, the sheep will “fear no evil.” They do not have to fear the dangers, anxieties, and sufferings of the world because the Shepherd lovingly protects, provides, and disciplines them.
Perhaps we, as family shepherds (parents), can learn a lesson from the Shepherd Father described by David. Parenting is a fast-paced job that demands endless effort. We can easily get caught up in constantly telling our children “no,” “not now,” “stay away from…” or “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” We simply want to protect our children from the dangers “out there.” However, the constant focus on “no” and what “not to do” without offering positive alternatives invites rebellion. Constantly giving passive commands to “stop” that without actively become involved in teaching alternative behaviors leaves children with little to no knowledge of how to change…no knowledge of the positive behaviors we desire. Their minds get stuck on what they cannot have and then ruminate on ways to get it.
Instead, parents can practice “The Good Shepherd Rule.” “The Good Shepherd Rule” demands action. It invites us to actively pursue our children’s benefit and take positive steps to assure our children’s safety and health. This rule focuses on the action words found in David’s description of his Shepherd Father. Specifically, “The Good Shepherd Rule” begins when we “make” our family identify and “rest in” the positive, nurturing behaviors we desire. Then, we “lead” them toward the desired behaviors, “guide” them in the desired behaviors, and “prepare” the environment to promote the desired behaviors. We may even engage in the positive behavior “with them” for a time, helping them learn how to do it well. “The Good Shepherd Rule” also states that we discipline misbehavior to provide “protection” and, afterwards, quickly “restore” our relationship with them to provide them the “comfort” of knowing we love and accept them unconditionally. 

Children and families experience many positive results when practicing “The Good Shepherd Rule.” The Psalmist notes that the Shepherd’s sheep find that their “cup overflows.” In addition, “goodness and lovingkindness” follow them throughout their life. Even those around them can enjoy riding the wake of the goodness and lovingkindness that trails behind them as they move through the world. Those who have experienced this kind of loving nurturance will “dwell” in the house of their Shepherd forever. Isn’t that what we want for our children? We want them to mature and find that “their cup overflows” with “goodness and lovingkindness,” to find their lives filled with “goodness and lovingkindness” in such abundance that it overflows to all those they meet. We want them to remain involved in our lives so we can enjoy one another’s support, encouragement, and love; celebrate one another’s successes; and comfort one another in times of disappointment. Ultimately we want them to live a life of goodness in the world and throughout eternity. As parents, we can help make this possible by practicing “The Good Shepherd Rule”: “nurture,” “lead,” “restore,” “guide,” “go with,” “comfort,” “prepare,” and “protect” our children.

3 Attributes Every Parent Must Balance

Children want parents. Even when they yell in anger that they do not want or need a parent, deep down every child wants parents. Not just any parent either. Children want and need two things from their parents. First, they need parents who demand respect. Parents who are strong (“My dad’s bigger than your dad”). Parents who are not overwhelmed or frightened by their anger or frustration. Parents they can look up to. Second, they need parents who love them unconditionally. Parents who accept them just as they are, pimples and all. Parents they can turn to when hurt, sad, confused, or happy. Parents who are available to comfort and nurture as well as to motivate and discipline. That makes parenting quite the balancing act. You might say that effective parents balance the paradoxical needs of grace and truth, love and limits. Here are 3 specific areas every parent needs to balance in order to provide children with thing paradoxical needs of love and limits. 
  • Parents balance authority with compassion. Authority without compassion becomes harsh, critical, and judgmental. It is more concerned with the rules than the person. A child who lives under authority without compassion will likely rebel. Sooner or later, they will fight against the authority. In addition, they will think more poorly about themselves; after all, “the rules are more important than me and I can’t even keep all the rules.” Ultimately, “rules without relationships lead to rebellion.” Authority balanced with compassion teaches respect and cooperation. A compassionate authority offers meaningful explanations for the rules and emphasizes that the rules are designed for the protection and long-term benefit of the people involved. The practice of compassionate authority clearly places a loving priority on the person.
  • Parents balance protective guidance with the freedom to explore. Children need guidance. They lack the wisdom and experience necessary to make momentary life decisions without parental input. The area of the brain involved in thinking ahead and making complex decisions (the frontal lobe) is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. As a result, parents need to become “co-frontal lobes” with their children and teens, helping them talk through decisions and helping them consider all the possible consequences of that decision. Yes, parents need to offer protective guidance to their children. At the same time, children need room to explore. They need the opportunity to exercise their curiosity. That demands freedom, down time, even unsupervised times. It also means that our children may make mistakes during their exploration. Even then, they benefit from the freedom to learn from those mistakes. Protective guidance and freedom to explore, both offered by a parent to their child.
  • Parents balance belonging with individuality. We love it when our children to engage in family activities. We long for them to remain an integral part of the family. In fact, they need to know they belong, that they have a place in our family. Children grow confident when they know they “fit in” with their family. They grow strong when they know their family sees them as an integral part of the whole family. At the same time, children are their own people. They have their own interests and abilities, their own individuality. As parents, we strive to balance family time with individual time. We work to assure our children feel a sense of belonging and security within the family. We want them to know we enjoy their presence and desire a mutual, reciprocal relationship with them. At the same time, we want to grant them the freedom to become their own person, to pursue their own interests, and to develop their own life. This means “holding them loosely” and “letting them go” as they mature. Quite the balance, to create an intimate sense of belonging with our children while “holding them loosely.”

Parents as Perpetual Students

Family shepherds model their parenting style after the Shepherd described in Psalm 23. David, the author of Psalm 23, tells us that his Shepherd “makes him lie down in green pastures” and “leads” him “beside still waters.” The word used for “lead” means “to lead someone helpless and needing guidance, to lead by the hand.”   Our Shepherd knows that we, His sheep, are helpless; so, He takes us by the hand to lead us to places of nourishment, rest, and safety. The Shepherd knows the needs of His sheep and how to best provide for those needs, even when His sheep do not know or understand.
As family shepherds, we need to lead our children in a similar manner. We need to take them by the hand and lead them to places of nourishment, rest, and safety…especially when they are helpless or do not fully understand or realize what they truly need. That means we have to become students of our children’s life and world. Here are some topics worthy of our study.
      ·         Family shepherds study their children’s unique needs. Each child has unique needs in regard to rest, nourishment, alone time, and family time. Sometimes our children get so caught up in play that they forget to rest or eat. They become “cranky” with hunger or tiredness. They become irritable without time alone or lonely and moody without time with friends or family. Even as teens, our children may have a tendency to “overbook” and become overwhelmed and stressed. We need to become students of our children to learn about their limits so we can lead them in a proper balance of rest, nutrition, and activity. As they grow, they can support them in discovering how to balance those limitations more independently.
·         Family shepherds learn about their children’s day. They gain knowledge about when their children get up and when they go to bed. This may sound strange, but, nonetheless, it is necessary in today’s world. We need to know that our children actually go to sleep at bedtime rather than begin a marathon text session with friends that can last into the wee hours of the morning. I meet many teens who stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning texting friends, playing video games, or watching TV. This, then, interferes with their school performance, social interaction, and physical health. Parents (family shepherds) monitor these activities and prevent them from interfering with their child’s rest. They create environments that promote healthy sleep. This may mean removing obstacles to healthy night time rest (such as TV’s and X-Box’s) from the bedroom. It may also mean keeping cell phones and IPods in the kitchen after an agreed upon time. Learn about this technology and how it can interfere with night time rest.
·         Family shepherds learn about their child’s daily activities as well. When their children go out, they find out where they are going. They learn about the places that their children frequent. They may even visit the places their children frequent and get to know other people who go there. Family shepherds may participate in many of their child’s activities throughout the day as well. Of course, children will have activities that they engage in alone. Still, family shepherds participate in many activities with their children. They may participate by actual involvement or by simply observing their child’s participation. Either way, their children learns that their parents are part of their life and their world, likely to show up at any activity or place that they frequent.
·         Family shepherds learn about their children’s world. Parents become acquainted with their children’s friends and the parents of those friends. They get to know the teachers and coaches involved in their children’s lives. They observe what interests their children and learn about those interests so they can promote a healthy involvement and growth in areas of interest.
Family Shepherds (parents) are perpetual students. We continually invest time in learning about our children.  

Family Shepherds

I began to contemplate parenting while working with children and families in an inner city community, before I had any children of my own. Even then, I began to wonder how parents could successfully guide their children through such a dangerous maze of worldly distractions. I began to study this question even more when my wife announced that she was pregnant with our first daughter. And, I have continued my contemplation of parenting as my children have grown and matured. I’m sure I will still be trying to figure it out when they graduate from college, get married, and have children of their own. Throughout my study of parenting, I have discovered many great thinkers and writers offering amazing advice. Some of the most important lessons for me included “emotional coaching” (John Gottman), relational parenting (Sears), reality discipline (Kevin Leman), good enough parenting (Winnicott), authoritative parenting (Baumrind), shepherding a child’s heart (Tripp), natural and logical consequences, and democratic and respectful parenting (Adler). I was also challenged to “Dare to Discipline” (Dobson) and instill crucial life values into my children’s lives (Rice). Each idea provided important knowledge and excellent advice, invaluable insights and great helps.
In the final analysis I came to the conclusion that God is the Perfect Father and the greatest example of parenting. I want to father like Him, parenting in His image. As I thought about God as Father over the years, my mind kept returning to Psalm 23. In this Psalm, the writer gives a succinct model of God as a shepherd caring for his sheep, providing principles for guiding our children through the dangers of this life and into maturity. I realized that I wanted to follow those principles and become a family shepherd, parenting my children just as God shepherds His sheep.
Briefly consider a few of the principles noted in Psalm 23:
·         A shepherd meticulously and generously provides for the needs of his sheep.
·         The shepherd goes before his sheep to prepare a safe haven for them. He even works with the environment to make it as safe and nurturing as possible.
·         At the same time, a good shepherd disciplines his sheep to keep them safe. He trains them to obediently follow him. The shepherd does all of this in hopes that his sheep will someday obey naturally–not because he holds the discipline but because they have learned the benefit of obedience and the sufficiency of his love. The sheep will have internalized the shepherd’s leading in response to his love and nurturance.
Yes, parents are the family shepherds. They nurture, provide, protect, lead, train, and discipline. They become students of their children, learning how to best lead them toward maturity. Family shepherds lovingly provide for their children’s needs–physically, mentally, and spiritually. I hope you will join me as we explore practical “family shepherding” principles in upcoming blogs of the “Family Shepherd.” If there are parenting issues you would like to see addressed, be sure to suggest it in the comment area.