Motivating Good Behaviour


Have you heard yourself saying that to your child?

You’ve asked them to do something – something very simple and very reasonable. But yet again along comes that three-letter swear word. “Why?”.

Because I said so!

I’m done with explaining things. Just obey, for goodness sake!

Thankfully, neither of our boys are quite at the stage of using the “w” word yet. At least not regularly anyway. So we’re not quite reaching the end of this particular tether quite yet.

That’s not to say they don’t try our patience sometimes.

But we love our boys, just like we’re sure you love your child(ren) too. It’s because we love them that we want them to have good behaviour (it’s not only because good behaviour is far less embarrassing when we’re out and about… though it does help!).

So when children disobey, it’s good and right that parents sometimes seek to help their children to see why obedience is the right path for them. (Incidentally we think that, on occasion, “because I said so” – said in a calm way, of course – is exactly the right response. They need to learn that we have authority and obedience shouldn’t be questioned. But that’s for another blog post!)

So, how do we justify it? What should we say to our children to motivate them to obedience?

Let’s consider the options.

We could threaten the consequences of disobedience:

Sit at the table, or no pudding.
Stop teasing your sister, or you’ll have a time out.
Stop wiping your nose on the arm of the chair (we’ve been there), or I’ll chop it off (we didn’t really threaten that, though… an empty threat if you’ve ever heard one!).

Or perhaps you could promise reward for good behaviour.

If you sit well in church today, you can have a sweetie in the car.
If you go a whole morning without shouting, you can have some screen time later.
If you brush your teeth, you can have an extra story at bedtime.

What about some of the other options for trying to get our children to obey us?

Being domineering and making our children scared of us so that they obey? They won’t step out of line if they know that we’ll be really angry, because they’re scared of us.

Talking about God – how he is holy and how he demands obedience from us?

Shaming them into obedience? Do this or don’t do that, or I’ll tell your friends that you’re a baby.

Talking about how we should obey as a thankful response to what God has done for us?

Or using praise? Whenever they do something good, going overboard in letting them know how pleased we are with them. This positive reinforcement and extra attention when they do good things is, for lots of children, very effective.

All of these techniques could be used to motivate good behaviour (some would be more recommended than others!).

But today we want to suggest to you another tool for the belt.

How about helping our children to see that God is good? That he’s a kind Father, who only wants what is best for our lives. That he is the Good Shepherd, who only wants to lead us to good pastures.

You see our children, just like us, often see the rules in their lives and the way that God calls them to live as a bad thing. A kind of straitjacket – prohibitive and restricting and stopping their enjoyment of life. They see obedience as a necessary evil – what we ought to do because that’s what God has said we should do, but not good. Just necessary.

But how much better is the reality!

In church recently we were looking at John 10, where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd is just that. Good. He cares for his sheep. He loves us. He wants what is best for us. In John 10 he says this:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Pasture. Life to the full! That’s what Jesus is offering.

That’s not to say that living a life of obedience is easy. Nor is it to say that the good that Jesus chooses for our lives is the same thing that we would choose for ourselves. But when his good is different to our good, we can be sure that he knows best.

And we can say one thing for certain: the Good Shepherd went so far as to lay down his life for the sheep. He did it to bring us life to the full. Why then would he go back on that now? The life he calls us to is the best possible life, whatever it looks like.

So when we struggle with obedience, or when our children do, we could remind them of this. Obedience may be hard. It may not feel fun in the moment. But if the Good Shepherd calls us to live this way, we can be sure that it’s the best possible way to live. What a great motivator!

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