Drawing a Line in the Sand

Joey and Carla Link

May 31, 2023

Parents who have rules they have explained to their kids paint a line in red where their kids can easily see it. Kids in these homes have a clear choice. They do what their parents tell them to do, or they will get into trouble. Now, the red lines for these parents are whatever they tell their child to do. These parents can often be categorized as legalistic. A legalistic parent exhibits “strict adherence to rules which are often of their own making”.

Now, parents who don’t like rules and think their kids should be free to “be kids”, have lines that are like the sand. It changes constantly whether by water on a beach or the wind in a desert. They rarely look the same from moment to moment. Their kids never know what or where the line is so they do what they want until they are told not to. Even then, they do what they want as they are rarely given a consequence for anything they do. A name for these parents is permissive. A permissive parent allows “excessive freedom of behavior, and behavior is optional, often depending on the parent’s feelings.”

Being a legalistic or permissive parent is not fair to your kidsThere is another, balanced way. Being an authoritative parent. Notice we said “authoritative” not “authoritarian”. “Authoritarian” is another word for “legalism”. An authoritative parent is “confident rather than arrogant, in control, and expects to be respected and obeyed”. Notice it says “expects to be respected and obeyed” rather than demands to be respected and obeyed.”

It has often been said that kids will raise or lower their behavior to the expectations of the one in authority. Legalistic parents typically are not very emotional or affectionate, and are critical of their children if they fail to meet their expectations. Permissive parents want their kids to like them and be their friend, and as far as obedience their expectations are very low.

When you expect to be obeyed, you do have to have firm red lines. So what’s the difference between being “authoritative” and “authoritarian”? If your 6 yr. old son hits his 4 yr. old brother because he took his toy, instead of yelling at him for hitting him again when you have told him countless times not to, take him aside and ask him what the rule is when he is with his siblings, and he will most likely say he needs to always be kind. Then ask him if hitting his brother was kind. When he tells you it isn’t, ask him what he could have done in that instance that would have been kind, and a great response to that would be to come and get you and let you deal with his brother.

What was the firm red line? There was to be no hitting their siblings. What if a sibling hit first, would the one who got hit get away with hitting his sibling back? We had a saying in our home our kids got used to hearing. It went like this:

God and your parents don’t hold you accountable for what someone does to you. 

God and your parents hold you accountable for what you do to them.”

When we think of a firm red line, we think of inflexibility.  Is there ever a time your kids can hit one another? That rule is inflexible. Please make sure your red lines are only about such things. 

So, if you are working on being authoritative by asking questions instead of lecturing or yelling at your kids, will the conversation above be enough for them to change their behavior? No, it won’t. Your kids have to work through the Repentance, asking for Forgiveness, and Restoration (making their wrong right) process with both you and the sibling (in the case above) and then a consequence is needed. In this example we would take away the freedom of playing with his brother until the next meal.

We encourage you to think about how you can balance your expectations for your kids with fairness and consistency.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up 

in the discipline and instruction of the Lord

Ephesians 6:4

Moms Notes LogoPreventing Your Kids from Getting Into Trouble
When you want to do something you know you shouldn’t do, how do you talk yourself out of it? How do you expect your kids to talk themselves out of doing the same? In this NEW Mom’s Notes presentation, we share ways to help your kids before they get in trouble figure out how to do the right thing. Little kids can do this to. In the story about the boy hitting his brother we shared a way he could stop himself from hitting his brother when he gets mad at him. What was it? He could have gotten his mom or dad to deal with his brother instead. Learn lots more about working with your kids, preschool – teen years to find a way to escape trouble in this presentation! “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)  Available on MP3 & PDF at parentingmadepractical.com!
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