In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs His disciples to be people of their word. He teaches that our “yes” and “no” should be words of integrity. He instructs us to do what we say we will do so that our words carry unquestionable credibility.
This is a foundational concept for Christian parents. We want our children to trust our words. Cultivating that trust begins at an early age and requires intentionality and effort. Most parents recognize the importance of letting their “yes” be “yes.” If we promise a reward for an accomplishment or good behavior, the reward must be given. Following through on that “yes” teaches our child that we deliver what we promise.
But in letting our “no” be “no,” our credibility may suffer. Who hasn’t seen the young mom at a park repeating a series of “no” statements to her child, only to be met with either no acknowledgment or outward defiance? It is critical for parents to understand the subtext of these scenarios; they are battles for parental credibility.
When we issue a “no” command and our child does not obey, the child is asking an important question: “Are you a person of your word?” How we respond answers that question. If we repeat the command or allow the disobedience to go uncorrected, we communicate that our word is not our bond. If we follow through with correction, we communicate that our word can be trusted.
Why don’t we follow through? Usually because we casually give commands that we don’t care about enforcing or because we don’t want to administer correction. Parents whose word is their bond say what they mean and mean what they say. They only command what they expect to be done, and they follow through with correction even if it requires effort. They care more about consistency than comfort. They care more about integrity than convenience.
As parents, we should repeat ourselves as many times as we want our child to actively disobey. When we tell ourselves, “Oh, he just didn’t hear me,” or, “Oh, she’s too young to understand,” we disrespectfully imply that our children are either deaf or stupid. They are not. If they are old enough to hear and respond immediately to, “Come get a cookie,” they are old enough to hear and respond immediately to, “Pick up your toys.” The issue is not about hearing or intelligence, but about will.
So what about grace? Don’t we model God when we give grace instead of correction? Yes, by giving it like He does: freely, to one who does not expect it. A child who ignores a command is telling you that they expect to be given grace, and often what we call grace is conflict avoidance.
When we give a command, our unspoken implication should be, “I mean it.” When our child ignores it, their implication is, “No, you don’t.” Repeating the command reveals our lack of resolve and compromises our child's ability to believe we are a parent of our word.
Be a parent whose word is your bond. Only give commands that you expect to be obeyed. Only give them once. Consistently follow through with affirmation for obedience and correction for disobedience. Your child will flourish under the assurance that your word can be trusted, a credibility you can draw on when the hard questions of adolescence arrive.
Still better, your trustworthy speech and actions will model the character of God. By being a parent of your word, you mirror our heavenly Parent, whose “yes” and “no” are firm, for His glory and our good.