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So many parents fall into the trap of thinking that we have the power to change our kids. If we yell enough, escalate our threats, or discover a great bribe we can get our kids to do what we want. These tactics will likely yield only a temporary change in behavior but it won’t penetrate to the hearts of our kids. The truth is, we don’t have power at all. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t have a role to play in shaping our kids. We do. But our role isn’t about exercising our power to change our kids. It’s about pointing our kids to the one who has the power to change them.

Paul Tripp talks about three common “power” tools parents often use to try to create heart change in their kids.

[Related: Your Perspective Matters in Parenting]

Power Tool #1: Fear

This tool is all about trying to motivate our kids through our tone of voice or through threats of punishment. The hope is that if our kids are scared enough of our wrath or of the consequences, they will change. For example, “You better clean your room or I’ll come up there and take everything I see on the floor and donate it to Goodwill.” Or, “If you do that again, you’re grounded for six months.”

This tactic may work to intimidate our kids and make them fear our angry response, but that’s not what’s going to make a lasting change. Teaching our kids to do whatever it takes to avoid our wrath isn’t getting to the heart of the matter. So, it’s likely that once the consequence is over, our kids will go right back to the same behaviors again.

Power Tool #2: Reward

This tool is all about trying to manipulate our kids into doing what we want by offering enticing rewards. The hope is that our kids will be motivated to change because they want the reward we offer. For example, “If you treat your sister nicely for a month, I’ll buy you a new video game.” Or, “If you’re good at the store, I will buy you a toy.”

Here’s the problem. Once the reward is given, our kids are no longer motivated to act the way we want them to act. They’ll go back to old behaviors again. It’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t reward our kids for good behavior, but we aren’t encouraging true heart change if we just train our kids to do what we want them to do so they get something out of it. True change comes from a heart that wants to honor God.

Power Tool #3: Shame/Guilt

This tool is all about trying to make our kids feel guilty for their bad behavior and shaming them into doing what is right. For example, “I can’t believe you would embarrass me that way.” Or, “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get!” This is especially dangerous because it’s preying on our kids’ God-given desire to please us and make us proud.

This tactic may yield temporary change in the short-term, but it has devastating effects in the long run. At some point, our kids will grow tired of our guilt trips and will start avoiding having relationship with us. If all we do is shame our kids, they won’t trust that we have their best interest in mind and will shut us out.

God Hasn’t Burdened You with the Power to Produce Change

As parents, let’s stop pretending that we have the power to change our kids. Instead, let’s turn our kids over to the one who has the power to change our kids. Let’s stop trying to control our kids by using our own broken tools and point them to God.

Ephesians 6:1-4Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord,for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

[Related: Parenting With God’s Design in Mind]

[Related: Intentional Parenting]

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Describe your parenting style. Would you say your current strategies come from a place of trying to control your kids’ behaviors? Explain.
  4. Is there a difference between trying to influence your kids and trying to control them? Explain.
  5. Which of the three power tools do you tend to use most? Why has that been your “go to” tactic? In your opinion, how has or hasn’t it been effective?
  6. In your own words, describe the difference between temporary, momentary change and true heart change. Why is heart change the best kind of change?
  7. Read Ephesians 6:1-4. What does this passage say to kids? What does it say to parents? In what ways do you need to adjust your parenting style to point your kids to God and his best for their lives?
  8. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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