How to Keep Children Under Control

With God's help, we can have self-control as we shepherd our children's hearts. Here are five ways we keep our children under control.

How to Keep Children Under Control
Photo by Allen Taylor / Unsplash

I heard a loud scream. The wailing began a few seconds later. Today, it was my four year old son who decided to abruptly wake up the entire family. I reluctantly slid out of bed and walk to his bedroom to make sure there was no emergency.

I see my son standing next to his bed looking at his security blanket. I asked him sternly, “What do you want?” He pouted, “I cannot fold my blanket, dad.”

Instead of lashing out in anger like I sometimes do, I decided to take a deep breath and pause to think. “Why do my children routinely complain and grumble like this throughout the day?”

The answer was clear. My son like the rest of my family suffer from the same condition. We have a heart problem. Our heart problem is that we do not keep our desires under control.

What Is Contentment?

About a year ago, my wife and I purchased some material to help us teach our children virtues taught from the Bible. Called “We Choose Virtues,” this curriculum was designed to help parents teach their children biblical virtues.

One of the virtues that is taught is contentment. We have a large poster that reads,

“I am content; I have my WANTER under control.”

The statement is simple. Even my three year old daughter understands this. To be content is to keep our desires, our WANTER under control.

So how can my wife and I help our children keep their “wanter” under control? How can you keep your child’s desires under control?

1. Repent when your desires are not under control.

Before we start thinking about how we can help train our children, we need to start with ourselves. Every time my wife and I get into an argument, we know that our desires are not in control.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2a)

I believe that most of my desires are quite good. I want my children to be obedient. I want my household to be peaceful, free of yelling and screaming. I want my wife to be loving and supportive of me as I lead my family. These are good desires to have.

When my desires are too strong, and when they become ultimate, I get angry. I quarrel with my wife. I raise my voice in anger with my children. I get angry with my gracious God.

When I get angry because I don’t get what I want, I need to repent and turn from my sinful cravings and unbelief. I need to confess my sins and ask God for forgiveness. I need to believe the gospel and ask God for grace and power to trust in God’s character, that He is all-powerful, infinitely wise, and perfectly good.

By reminding myself that God is powerful, wise, and good, I can rest in contentment that God’s ways are higher than my ways. His purposes are perfect. I don’t need what I don’t have. God has already given me everything that I need for life and godliness.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3)

2. Remember the riches Christ has given you.

It’s not effective to just try to diminish our desires and wants. When I don’t get what I want, I need to remind myself what I have already been given by God. So what has God done for you through Jesus Christ?

God has chosen you.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4)

God has adopted you.

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)

God has redeemed you and forgiven you.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” (Ephesians 1:7a)

God has lavished riches upon you.

“According to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.” (Ephesians 1:7b-8a)

God has granted you wisdom and revelation.

“in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:8b-10)

God has given you an eternal inheritance.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)

God has sealed you with the Holy Spirit, a guarantee that all your promised blessings are assured.

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

By meditating on all of God’s present and future blessing, I can trust God and truly know that I lack nothing. I am full. My cup overflows. I am ok when I don’t get what I want. I already have everything.

3. Realize that only God can change your child’s hearts.

My wife and I never intentionally teach our children to complain and live selfishly. As parents of young children, we learned quickly that the hearts of our children are innately sinful. From the moment our children were born, all parents engage in a war to change our sinful children for the better.

When I falsely believe that it is my job and responsibility to change the hearts of my children, I get frustrated. I get frustrated because I find myself constantly failing to change my children. I can sometimes coerce my child’s external behavior, but I am completely helpless in changing my child’s heart.

When my child’s “wanter” is out of control, it is a heart problem. But if I am not the solution to my children’s heart problem, who is?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

It is only through the finished work of Christ that my child’s hearts can change. My child needs to be saved by Christ and united with Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Even if my wife and I could become perfect parents, we cannot save our children. The salvation of our children through saving faith can only be granted by God Himself.

“For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So my only course of action is to fall on my knees and pray that God will save my children. Hence, I pray that God will save my children from the penalty and power of sin. I pray that God will show them mercy and saving grace.

4. Resolve to preach the gospel to your child.

God has given each parent one important task. As parents to our three children, I have the unique privilege and opportunity to daily preach the gospel to our children.

I can share the gospel with our children every day. I can read the Bible and explain the truths that are essential to understanding the gospel: the attributes of God, the doctrine of the trinity, the person and works of Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of salvation.

Even though the work of salvation is God’s work, we have the responsibility to share the gospel.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)

We need to teach our children they need to be saved. They cannot change themselves. They need their Sovereign Creator to change them. But how can they call on God when they have not heard about God. The most important thing our children can do is cry out to God to save them from their sin. We need to tell them this truth.

5. Reassure your child that God will answer their prayer.

My son had woken up the entire family with his screaming. He wanted his blanket folded. He wanted it so badly he was willing to scream. He was willing to cry incessantly until mom or dad came to his room. All he cared at the moment was himself. His “wanter” was ultimate.

I looked at my son in desperation. My son needs God’s help to change his heart. Sin has corrupted him. He is helpless. I cannot expect him to change himself. So this is what I told him this morning.

“Son, you are having trouble keeping your “wanter” in control, aren’t you? You wanted your blanket folded so badly that you were willing to complain and scream until you got what you wanted. God created you, and God gets to make the rules. You have broken God’s rule. The only way you will ever keep your “wanter” under control is to ask God for help. God loves us and He alone can help us. We know this because God sent Jesus who lived a perfect life and died on the cross for sin. And if you sincerely ask God to help you and save you, He will answer your prayer.”

Sometimes my son will say he does not want God’s help. Today, he did. He prayed and asked God to help him change. He didn’t want his “wanter” to be out of control, and he confessed to God that he needed help.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Final Thoughts

Tomorrow, when one of my children abruptly interrupts my sleep with a vehement scream, I will recognize it as another golden opportunity to do five things.

  • Repent when my “wanter” is out of control.
  • Remember all the blessings God has given me.
  • Realize that it is God’s job to change my children, not mine.
  • Resolve to preach the gospel to my children.
  • Reassure my children that God will help them if they would only ask.

With God’s help, let’s keep our desires under control as we shepherd our children to do the same.