Respecting the Children

Here is Ephesians 6:4 in the Amplified version: "Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger—do not exasperate them to resentment—but rear them tenderly in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord," or, as the Living Bible states this last phrase, "Bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord Himself approves."

Children, as well as parents, require the utmost respect. The basic ingredient of respect is the placing of great value on another person. In this case, respect causes the child to be greatly esteemed, cared for, cherished, and nurtured as a thing of incalculable value. Respecting the child does not mean that parents should move over and let the child do everything he likes to do. Because children are of such infinite value, respecting a child means that the parent must do everything that is in the best interests of the child, even if the child or the parent does not like to do it.

As the King James Version states, children must be brought up "in the nurture...of the Lord," i.e., the nurture that the Lord Himself has. These scriptures mandate that children be loved and nurtured just as if the Lord Himself were nurturing them. This supercedes the parents’ own standards of nurturing a child; they must discover and fulfill the Lord’s standards of nurturing a child. This loving, Christ-like nurturing is what actually wins the child to the parents and cements their relationship. This nurturing is what causes the child to love and be loyal to the parents, then love and accept the parents' values. Without this kind of nurturing, the child becomes somewhat detached from the parents and usually detaches himself from what the parents stand for.

The critical thing, however, is for the parents to get their love over to the child so that the child actually feels their love. Almost all parents love their children, but most parents do not know how to fully get that love across to their children. It must be remembered that a child is a mostly-emotional creature, not a reasoning creature. That is, a child feels love. Thus, it is more important for the parent to make the child feel loved than it is for the parent to merely say, "I love you," although those words should be said at least once every day. A child really receives love, not by hearing nice words, but by the feelings and emotions the parent creates with non-verbal messages.

Dr. Ross Campbell, in How To Really Love Your Child, says that every child has a ‘love tank’ inside of them that needs to be filled regularly. Parents fill this internal love tank by doing four things: (1) Touching him, (2) Giving him focused attention and eye contact, (3) Spending time with him, and (4) Disciplining him with love. This is the way parents can actually get their love and respect over to their children:

Touch them

Human beings were made to be touched by other human beings. Many studies have conclusively proven that children who do not receive enough physical contact from loving caretakers suffer illness, emotional instability, and even death at a much higher rate than children who are touched regularly. Another study sought to explain why the infant mortality rate was higher in New York City than in Mexico City, seeing that the babies in New York hospitals had a cleaner, more sterile environment and were privileged to better medical care than the babies in Mexico. The conclusion reached was that the Mexican babies were physically handled much more than the New York babies and this caused the Mexican babies to have a higher survival rate.

A few years ago, a Reader's Digest article once mentioned another study in which it was shown that the human skin actually hungers for the touch of others. Their tests interestingly noted that the skin of twelve-year-old boys especially was virtually starved for human touch. (That is around the usual age for parents to quit hugging and kissing their sons. Obviously, they still need it!)  In all of these studies the conclusion was that physical touch produced a special mental and emotional strength that enhanced physical well-being.

What this all says is that children need to be touched—a whole lot. This is one of the most important ways in which they feel and receive love. In other words, "Have you hugged your child today?" is more than a cute little bumper sticker. It carries a vital secret critical to human existence. Parents should regularly hug, kiss, hold, and otherwise touch their children—girls and boys—from the time they arrive here through adulthood. (Please keep in mind that we are not talking about incestuous, improper touching.)  A hug is a reaffirmation of unconditional love and acceptance. A hug radiates warmth and security. A hug is something that a child can feel, and is thus a critical method of truly expressing a parent's love. These same messages of love and affirmation are given by other forms of touching such as love taps, horse play, placing a hand on a child's shoulder, etc.

Some parents shy away from physical contact with their children because they did not receive many hugs when they themselves were children. They excuse themselves from touching their children and being physically expressive with phrases like, "I'm just not a huggy kind of person" or "My mother or father never hugged me." Whatever the excuse may be, it is critical that parents learn how to get past their natural makeups or prior experiences and start practicing physical contact with their children. Children feel love through touch, and if you do not touch them, they will not feel your love.

Why pass down grandpa's inability to express love to your own children? Why make them suffer because you suffered? Parents have got to quit "passing the buck" of unexpressed love to their children. Make it your parental motto that "the buck stops here," that is, that your generation is the last one to be cheated out of its rightful share of love from its parents. Let your children actually feel your love.

Look at them

That is, establish eye contact with your children whenever you have any dealings with them. Looking at a person is actually a way of giving them undivided attention. It gives them something of value, your attention; therefore it is an expression of love that children understand and feel. Often, the only time some parents really look at their children is when they are scolding them. "Look at me!" a parent will emphatically command while he fusses at the child. But the parent's glare is so intimidating and withering that the child usually learns to avoid that kind of eye contact.

Also, when a parent wants to show disapproval, he will often refuse to look at or will turn away from the child. This is a known form of body language designed to give the message that "I'm ignoring you, I don't like what you did, I'm not even going to give you the courtesy of looking at someone as lousy as you." Withholding or merely neglecting eye contact communicates a feeling of worthlessness.

All of this goes to show that eye contact is a critical component of communication. Early on, babies learn to search for their parents' eyes. (Animals also "read" people by looking at a person's eyes.)  Eye contact is an important connection, revealing many important messages. Thus, when communicating love and respect, it is extremely necessary to establish and maintain eye contact with a child. Never talk to them without looking directly at and focusing on them.

Spend large quantities of time with them

Children need their parents' focused attention. No matter how busy life becomes, in order to express their love, parents must give copious amounts of focused attention to each of their children. There is no substitute for the time a parent spends focusing their attention on their children. Life is nothing more than time—here on earth. Time is the most precious commodity in the world. Therefore, when we give our time to our children we give them a valuable piece of our lives. When we fail to give them time, we fail to give them our lives. Children (and wives) can easily feel and measure how much we love them by the amount of time we give them.

We live in an age in which "spend some quality time" with your child is a favorite instruction of child psychologists and other "experts." The fact is, "quality time" is a big myth. What really counts is the quantity of the time, not the quality. It does not matter how many "quality" activities a parent squeezes into ten minutes; the fact remains that they spent only ten minutes with their child. A child does not feel love in terms of quality but in terms of the quantity of his parents' time. Thus, a child feels more love from having his dad spend thirty minutes with him doing little or nothing than he feels from five minutes of some special "quality" activity.

Build-in times of family togetherness, in which all the members are present. This may require great sacrifices, but the benefits are eternal. If the rat race is largely keeping either parent, but especially the father, out of the children's lives, it might even be wise for them to consider a career change, a cut in pay, or anything else that will make them free to give more time to the most important entity in life: his or her family.

In searching for opportunities to be together, one of the most natural (but in our society, one of the most difficult) times is to eat together around the kitchen table. But do it anyway; refuse to sacrifice that chance for a little togetherness.  Have daily, interactive family devotions, worship times that children can understand and participate in (i.e., real discussions, not lectures,  monologues, or arguments). Play indoor and outdoor games together often. Sit down and have family "talks." Make home the place where children would rather be, a pleasant, peaceful, safe haven where they know they are completely loved and accepted just as they are, without fear of rejection, ridicule, name-calling, or tension. 

For families with several children, here is a way to give every child some time and make each one feel special: Give each child a "special day" of the week. For example, say that Monday is Johnny's day, and Tuesday is Suzy's day. On his "special day," treat Johnny like he is a special guest of honor. Take him out for a treat, even if it is an extremely insignificant and inexpensive treat. Take him on all of your errands that day. Make sure you talk to him while he is with you, something more than the ten seconds per day that recent studies say some American parents, especially fathers, talk to their child.

Let him sit next to the parents throughout the day. In many families, that is something the children often compete over: who gets to sit next to Dad or Mom. Let him have his choice of seats in the car. This too is a source of competition where kids are concerned. Give him first choice whenever anything is being chosen, and give him the biggest plate of food or the biggest piece of dessert. Make him feel like king for a day, or at least like a little prince. If you try this, we guarantee that your children will become so attached to their "days" they will want to cling to them even after they are past their teen years! Everybody feels love when they are made to feel special.

Here is a special word to ministers: When the minister has little or no time for his family because the work of God keeps him (or her) so busy, this shows a lack of respect. Spending time with his wife and children is just as much the minister's God-given duty as is working his hardest to save the lost. Neglecting to do this, even if it seems to be for a worthy cause (the work of God), makes the minister's family feel like they are unimportant and unappreciated. It does not communicate love to them. It does not command their respect. It does not make them feel valued, and remember, that is the main ingredient of respect. Many preachers have fallen into this busyness trap and have literally lost their wives and children. It just doesn't make sense for the preacher to save the whole world but lose his own family. If he can do so, the minister should include his family in his ministry as much as possible. This way, he is not completely taken away from them.

Lovingly discipline them

Children must be given boundaries that are lovingly and consistently enforced. A child without boundaries and correction is a child without love. The Bible makes this clear: "For the Lord corrects and disciplines every one whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges, every son whom He accepts and welcomes to His heart and cherishes...Now if you are exempt from correction and left without discipline...then you are illegitimate offspring and not true sons" (Heb. 12:6, 8 Amplified).

A child that is never disciplined or disciplined inconsistently soon gets the message that his parents don't care about him. They must not care about what he does nor how it will affect him, because they never correct him. Whether parents realize it or not, that is the message a child receives when they fail to discipline their child. This is very ironic, because many parents are afraid to discipline their child because they do not want the child to dislike them, but that is exactly what a failure to discipline will cause.

Thus, discipline is something done for the child, not to the child. It should not be viewed merely as punishment or payback for some wrong done. Discipline should be viewed as the method to correct the child for his or her own good, teaching him the better and correct behavior. It must be a learning and rehabilitative experience, prodding and guiding the child into the way he should go, and for this reason it cannot merely be punishment. Discipline can take many forms: verbal discipline (e.g., scolding and rebuke), physical discipline (e.g., spanking, hand slapping of two-year-olds, etc.), social discipline (e.g., grounding, banishment to room, loss of privileges, etc.), and many other creative forms.

The secret is to start early in the child's life, usually even when they are babies. The warning sign is when the child first begins to make deliberate actions to rebel, to have his own selfish way, or to control the parent in any other manner. Whatever the child's age, a parent must "get his or her bluff in" early, so that at no time is the parent under the control of the child. Remember the parent is controlling the entire child: not only his physical behavior (what he does or says), but also his mental and emotional attitudes (what he thinks and feels).

Physical discipline is reserved for rebellion, disobedience, and neglect or refusal to go along with the parents' clearly-understood instructions, because physical discipline is the only way to bring a child’s will under subjection. Verbal and social discipline will never do that. They are most effective after the child’s will is already brought under submission to the parents’ will. Childish mistakes are not rebellion, e.g., spilled milk is not cause for a spanking. However, if the milk was spilled because the child refused to quit playing at the breakfast table, then any physical correction given is not for spilling the milk but for disobeying orders to quit playing. This distinction should be explicitly explained to the child. If the parents gain control early and consistently apply equal amounts of discipline and other expressions of love, they will remain in control until the child is grown and gone. And the frequency and need for physical discipline will greatly decrease.

Here are two important considerations regarding discipline: (1) the parental attitude in which it is done and (2) the consistency with which it is done. First of all, no discipline, verbal, physical or otherwise, should ever be done in anger, because the parent is doing it for the child, not to satisfy himself and his own selfish displeasure. It should take place calmly and deliberately, even if the violation is truly disturbing to the parent. If a parent ever gets mad and hits or screams at his child, that is not biblical discipline. The parent should apologize and then discipline the child in the proper manner after the parent has completely calmed down.

Second, all discipline must be applied consistently. A parent must follow up every act of disobedience and every instance of the child getting out of control. This is especially true at the beginning, when the parent is establishing who is going to be the boss—the parent or the child. When a parent allows the child to get by with behavior violations part of the time, this confuses the child and gives him the message that the rules and boundaries can actually be ignored, and therefore the rules must not be that important.

It also tells them that the parents are not serious about the rules, thus indicating that the parents' word means little or nothing. It gives the child mixed, unclear messages, which is unfair to the child: yesterday they violated the rules but got no correction, but today they got a vigorous spanking for the same violation. Really, they wonder, what is the policy? Is it because yesterday I was at home, but today I’m at church and Mom is embarrassed? Instead of learning to follow the rules of the house, the children soon learn how to manipulate their parents. If parents follow these two principles, their children will be much more accepting of and benefited by their discipline.

When it comes to any type of discipline, great care should be given to a child's attitude. Remember, discipline is an important way for a parent to get his love over to the child. Therefore, the child cannot be allowed to view it or the parent in a negative way. As stated earlier, a parent's job is not finished just because the correction is finished. In order to prevent or eliminate negative attitudes, the parent should pray with the child, re-explain the situation to the child, hug the child (but not apologize for spanking or rebuking them), let him know the offense is forgiven, reaffirm his unconditional love and acceptance to the child, and do whatever else is necessary to get the child to agree that the correction was necessary, fair, and the best and only choice that could have been made under the circumstances.

Afterward, it is important that the child be able to express love to the parent without any resentment, anger, or rebellious attitudes. If the child cannot do this, then he still harbors a negative and rebellious attitude toward the parent, and the correction has not been successful. Further discipline is then required. 

In checking a child's attitude, it is necessary to set a standard on what kind of verbal response will be allowed. Sometimes children can answer the parent with such venom in their voices that it is obvious that they have a bad attitude. Children should never be allowed to speak even the right words in the wrong tone of voice. For this reason, we recommend that children be required to respond respectfully with "Yes, sir, no, sir" and "Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am" instead of "yeah," "nope," "uh huh," just nodding their heads, or the like.

Many parents may think this is too humiliating, largely because they felt humiliated when they were required to say "Yes, ma'am" when they themselves were children. But here is the advantage of requiring "Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am:"  "Yes, ma'am" prevents the expression of sharp, mean, sarcastic, rebellious attitudes by softening a child's tone of voice. It is hard and nearly impossible to sarcastically scream, sneer, or shout the words "Yes, ma'am." It forces the child to answer softly and more submissively, and this is exactly how they should answer—submissively.

Indeed, all verbal responses to parents should be softened. For example, the parent asks, "Where is Johnny?" and the child answers, "I don't know!" This is usually said in a pretty sharp voice, with a tone of grouchiness and the unspoken message of "Why are you asking me? Why don't you ask somebody else or find him yourself?" The parent should therefore require the softened, more respectful response: "I don't know, Daddy" or "I don't know, Mommy," with the added terms of endearment thus making it difficult for the response to be harsh or grouchy.  


We have tried the above biblical principles of wisdom with our seven children and found that they actually work. Hopefully, these suggestions are helpful to others because too many parents, even Christians and ministers, love their children but simply don't know how to express that love. The "nurturing" that Paul talked about is not easy because it is not always natural—it must be taught and learned. Thus, many parents are too detached and inhibited. There is little or no touching in the family. They give their children little time and attention. They do not properly and consistently discipline and correct their children. To their children, it all adds up to feelings of neglect, insecurity, and rejection, instead of feelings of emotional fulfillment, self-respect, positive self-esteem, and acceptance.

This lack of felt love creates low self-esteem, anger, alienation, and other forms of fear and insecurity in children, causing young men to seek for acceptance from their friends through at-risk, self-destructive behavior and causing young women to throw themselves away seeking for male attention. Something has seriously gone wrong when our Christian sons are victimized by drugs and other social diseases and our Christian daughters are addicted to destructive romantic relationships and are out looking for love in all the wrong places, just like all the rest of the poor, neglected, misguided girls of the world. May God help all Christian parents to give their children the love that will help them to avoid all of these evils.