In 1986 I began working in a children’s group home for Forsyth-Stokes Mental Health near Winston-Salem North Carolina. My primary task was twofold; develop behavior plans for the aggressive and assaultive children living in the home, and to also help the staff with the implementation of these plans. Working directly for the state of North Carolina I was led to believe the Christian model of psychology couldn’t be used for these particular children. Being limited to the use of only secular models and philosophies in developing these behavior plans prove to be frustrating for me. After a few months I found most of the staff, (which were all trained at secular universities), having a greater influence upon me than I did upon them. The descriptive phrase, “young and dumb” fit me perfectly, and it wouldn’t be until several years later that I realized Christian principles and practice need not be limited to only religious settings.
What I discovered was that the Christian model of psychology, counseling, and coaching can work just as well in a secular setting because of the sure foundation upon which it is built. Scriptural principles always work because they’re God directed no matter what a person does or doesn’t believe. Human beings are limited but God is not. I’ve worked with many couples and families through the years that might well be considered “Christian” in name only, yet many of the strategies and techniques used with traditional Christian families often works for them too. Once again the reasons these tactics work is because they’re fixed in the truth of Scripture.
This brings me to my main point in regards to behaviors and Christian principles. Although the behaviors during VBS were much milder than those I saw in the group home setting in 1986 they’re still rooted in the same soil. Children are egocentric and naturally sinful. This isn’t meant to be a derogatory statement but a statement of fact. That cute little child that makes you laugh and smile with the little things they do and say can turn on you in a heartbeat. As I’ve said many times before, “No parent has ever had to teach his or her child how to be bad.” We are born with a predisposition to sin, and what we need is for someone or something to teach us how to be good.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard adults make this statement about an unruly child, “he or she just needs to be loved.” I agree every child needs to be loved, but that love needs to be demonstrated with discipline and consistency. These two aspects or characteristics of love fall under the broader idea of commitment. As parents we need to exhibit the type of love and commitment to our children that God has demonstrated toward us. It isn’t our words which display this commitment but our actions.
Hebrews 12:7-11 (ESV) It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
First, we made a covenant commitment that we would love each other no matter what the other said or did, and that divorce would never be an option. We thought it important that our sons see us live out this covenant commitment especially when times were tough. Second, we made a commitment that our children would be raised in a Christian home and in the Church. It was important to both of us that our children see us pray and study the Word of God, as well as carrying out ministries through the local church. Our thought was, “How can we expect our children to live committed lives of discipline and consistency if we didn’t?” Now to be frank with you there were times we failed, but fortunately when one faltered the other remained strong with God’s help.
As for the writer of Hebrews, the discipline he speaks of took on various forms. God’s discipline is always as a loving Father based upon the covenant relationship He has entered into with His people. No matter the type of punishment God carries out, it’s always to restore our broken relationship with Him, and is in conjunction with the covenant established by Christ through the cross. The passage above indicates that when discipline is carried out correctly it results in changed behavior and respect for the one who disciplines.
This brings me to my second point and the use of covenants. Our God is a covenant God, meaning He has entered into a relationship with each believer built upon a promise that cannot be broken. The word covenant means “testament,” and in essence is a sealed treaty or agreement between two parties that can only be terminated by death. The Scriptures are ripe with covenant agreements especially in the Old Testament. God entered into covenant agreements with Abraham, Noah, and David just to name a few. The relationship He has with Israel is spoken of in covenantal terms just as the relationship Christ has with His Church. Every marriage is a covenant relationship, and I believe every family has a covenant relationship whether they acknowledged it or not.
With each covenant there are certain promises we make to one another. As parents there are certain promises and agreements we make to our children simply by the act of becoming a parent. As Christians we believe God has entrusted children to us as stewards with the idea that we will nurture and raise them in accordance with His commands.
To make a long story short, while working on my Master’s degree it occurred to me that as Christians we need to help every family be as strong as they can possibly be in order to survive the rigors of this life. I thought why not take the approach God did with Israel and the Church since He is the Originator of covenant relationships. What if we could aid moms and dads who have children with behavior issues by helping them create and write their own family covenant? This would be a tangible way of demonstrating our commitment to one another in the home, and providing new and innovative ways to deal with the problems that often arise.
Below is a picture of an actual Family Covenant that you are free to use. Every family covenant should have certain “nonnegotiables” based upon core values, and a statement on “Plans of Action.” These plans deal directly with certain problematic behaviors and change as the child ages.
If you’d like to know more on how to develop a Family Covenant of your own, or “Plans of Action” for your child/children please don’t hesitate to contact me.