This is our third and final post in a three part series on the categories of behavior that children most often display. Ignorant behaviors stem from a limited knowledge of how the world works while selfish behaviors stem from a heart that is focused on self. Intentional misbehaviors are a result of a hardened heart. We have spoken many times before about the importance of looking beyond surface behavior into the heart of the child in order for Christian parents to intervene effectively. Intentional misbehaviors require special consideration.
What Are Intentional Misbehaviors?
Intentional misbehaviors are those actions that reflect a hardened heart and a choice-filled desire to step outside or remain outside of the circle of blessing. Children who are intentionally misbehaving have an “I don’t care!” attitude. Typically, when a child is in this state, you will not be able to rationalize or reason with him. He will not want to hear what you have to say and will likely tell you as much. Here are some examples:
- Hitting a sibling
- Breaking something out of anger or on purpose
- Saying “no”
- Ignoring a parental instruction
- Refusing to turn off the T.V.
What Intentional Misbehaviors Say About the Heart
These behaviors reflect a hardened heart – a heart that is (temporarily) closed off to the softening of the Spirit or the acceptance of the truth of God. It can be tempting as a parent to see the behaviors listed above on a continuum, with some being “really bad” and others being “not so bad.” While ignoring a parental instruction is not as overtly offensive as a child shouting “no!”, both need to be handled in the same way because the underlying heart condition is the same. We need to take a hard heart seriously because hard hearts have serious consequences. The Bible has a lot to say about this topic. Here are a few verses:
- Zechariah 7:12 – “They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.”NIV
- Ephesians 4:18 – “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”NIV
- Proverbs 28:14 – “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” ESV
- Romans 2:5 – “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” ESV
How to Address Intentional Misbehaviors
Go with the flow. Some children rapidly cycle throughout the day between hard-hearted behaviors and repentance. While it can feel like a roller coaster for Mom and Dad, we need to forgive and not hold on to feelings of anger and resentment in the face of true repentance. A child with a truly repentant heart will not be resistant to making things right. However, if you find that your child is unwilling to make amends for what he did wrong or is making excuses or blaming others, a hard heart is still at work.
Special considerations for teenagers. Teens often demonstrate a higher incidence of intentional misbehaviors. This stage in your child’s development is not an easy one. He or she is trying to separate and individuate. Unfortunately, the way teens go about doing so can reflect a hard heart. The key here is to work on your relationship with your teen.
Don’t be hard in return. It can be tempting for parents to want to handle a hard heart with hardness in return. We may think that we need to chisel our way past the stone exterior. Some may even use the word of God to “blast” their way in. These parents resort to yelling, threats, harsh punishments, verbally tearing down or manipulation (using God’s word in an attempt to shame into compliance). In my opinion, these tactics will only serve to further harden a hard heart. If our child’s heart is hard, we need to be soft, not hard in response. We need to be soft in our manner, voice and attitude but firm in our parenting (consistent, swift, confident and clear). We need to convey a spirit of gentleness and empathy while holding them accountable. We need to model the disposition we would like our child to adopt.
Here are some quick tips for dealing with intentional misbehaviors.
- Do not engage in “he said, she said” power struggles.
- Do not yell.
- Hold the child accountable for the misbehavior with firm consequences presented with softness.
- Have the child make amends (you do NOT need to wait for his heart to be soft –acts of kindness may be the very “softening agent” your child needs).
- Use the circle of blessing terminology and let him know where he stands (“You have stepped outside the circle of blessing”).
- Avoid confrontational body language (hands on hips, cocked head, glaring eyes).
- Take time to calm your emotions before you respond.
- Do not reward misbehavior – a child outside the circle will not enjoy the blessings given to those inside.
- Forgive – accept true repentance with no “strings attached” when you see it.
All parenting interventions need to be underscored with prayer. This is especially true when dealing with intentional misbehaviors because they can stir up anger, resentment and hurt. Take time to ask the Lord to soften your child’s heart as well as your own as you address these issues.
A Note of Caution
If your child is demonstrating intentional behaviors regularly and is unresponsive to the suggested methods above, you may want to consider seeking godly counsel. This can be in the form of family or individual counseling or simply talking it over with someone you trust. Sometimes a chronically hard heart is the result of deep and painful wounds. The heart may have sealed off in an attempt to protect itself. We can help our children heal by seeking to address the root cause of those wounds.