Tired of Making Behavior Rules? Try This Instead

MOPS Staff

Don’t you get tired of saying “No!” and “Stop that!” to all of your children’s crazy antics in a day? Do you ever wonder if you’re being too strict, or not strict enough? Parents have a plethora of opinions when it comes to how their children should behave. Some think lying is the ultimate transgression, and others hold hitting or disrespect as the worst offenses. Other parents can’t stand messes and insist children pick up after themselves, while others are more lenient with messy playrooms. It can be overwhelming to decide on your tolerance level and family standards. When behavior modification becomes tedious or discouraging, try inverting the pyramid and starting with the characteristics you want to see in your children! Instead of constantly communicating what your child is not allowed to do, show them the beautiful basket of behaviors we can exhibit with God’s help – the fruit of the spirit!    

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” 


For children, stress the importance of love’s daily commitment even when we don’t feel like being loving. Yes, it can be a wonderful and overwhelming emotion full of hugs and kisses, but it’s also a promise. If you love your dog, you’ll feed him even when you’re tired, and if you love your sister, you’ll be kind to her even if you feel like she doesn’t deserve it. Instead of forbidding hate or ugly words, you can reward loving actions and promote selfless behavior!  


There are many things that make children joyful, but the difficulty comes when they don’t naturally feel joy because of a trying situation, or just sheer boredom. Concentrate on enabling them to find sources of happiness in any circumstance. It’s a wonderful practice for all of us to search for delightful things instead of expecting them to come to us. Throughout the day, present a joyful attitude or positive phrase as a choice to their current behavior and reward them whenever they choose joy!  


The ability to find calm when things don’t go your way is a quality that will benefit your child for life! Children can practice self-soothing and rationalization at a young age. The quicker that children learn that staying calm and bringing peace to a situation makes everything easier, the quicker they can have better communication with parents, authorities, and friends. Find phrases that children can repeat to themselves to calm down in a situation, like, Hey ho, what do we say? A big, deep breath and I’m okay! and praise them when you hear them using peaceful words!  


Delayed gratification is something we could all learn more about. It’s particularly hard for children, and there are endless opportunities to practice. Bring this quality up when your cranky toddler is in line with you at the grocery store, or waiting for a friend to finish their turn with a toy, or for you to come tuck them in at night. Try and give heads-up warnings when you know that an opportunity for patience is coming up, and work together to wait without complaining. There’s a bonding and built-in reward when your children feel like their behavior is a joint effort!  


The quality of being warm-hearted and considerate is one of the most endearing. When your child is harsh or abrupt with you or with others, explain the value of this simple but invaluable quality and look for small places to practice, and opportunities to compliment the ways they show kindness to others. Ask them to spot the times that you are kind, too.   


“Being good” can be difficult to explain to a child without sounding too harsh. An easy way is to talk about “good choices” and “bad choices” and the natural consequences those choices bring. Another way to keep it uplifting is to find the good in the day. Challenge each other to find the good in each situation and in each person you encounter.  


To be steadfast and committed to tasks and goals can be particularly hard for young children. This is particularly important for parents to live out, as faithfulness is best learned by example. Show how we are faithful to finish our work in a day, and faithful to one another as we show helpfulness and love to our family and friends.  


Learning to approach frustrating things with a mild manner and a tender care is a wonderful life skill. Everything from petting animals softly, to speaking with a moderate tone even when experiencing anger, can help children develop a balanced disposition. Model this behavior and compliment them when you can tell they are being deliberate with their gentleness, even if they still have a ways to go.  


This is particularly tough for younger children, but the practice of self-control, or at least a bit of delayed response, will benefit your entire family, and is a practice that everyone can join in on! It’s important for children to see the longevity and importance of the behavior you have required of them, and this is something you can role play and discuss to better understand. Talk about how you feel like reacting to a certain situation and then explain what would happen if you acted on every impulse. Reward self-control any chance you get!  

Every time you introduce a new characteristic, be sure to explain to your little one how you are there to support them, and God is there to help you both, because none of us can be full of the fruit of the spirit without lots of help. Find a coloring page or fruit of the spirit themed craft to work on, and be sure to celebrate every time you add a good choice or a positive attribute to your family’s “bowl of fruit!”  

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