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 such integrity that they require no oath to back up their reliability. In short, he instructs us to do what we say we will do so that our words carry unquestioned credibility.
This is a foundational concept for Christian parents to understand. We want our children to trust our words. Cultivating that trust begins at an early age and requires intentionality. It also requires great 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 when we promise good things, we deliver. And giving a reward is a joy, so we are fairly consistent at delivering on our "yeses."
But it is in the area of letting our "no" be "no" that our credibility usually suffers. Who hasn't seen the young mom in the grocery store issuing and repeating a series of "no" statements to her young child, to be met with either no acknowledgment or outward defiance? It is critical for parents to understand the subtext of these scenarios: they are a battle for parental credibility.
When we issue a "no" command and our child does not obey, she is asking us an important question: "Are you a person of your word?" How we respond to non-compliance will tell her the answer. If we repeat the command or allow the disobedience to go uncorrected, we tell her that our word is not our bond. If we follow through with correction, we tell her that our word can be trusted.
Why don't we follow through? Usually, because we have casually given a command we don't care about enforcing or because we don't want to exert ourselves to administer a consequence. 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 follows through with a consequence even if it requires effort. They care more about consistency than comfort. They care more about integrity than inconvenience.
Consider: 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. 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 their hearing or intelligence but their will.
What About Grace?
But what about grace? Don't we model God when we give grace instead of a consequence? Yes, by giving it like he does: freely, to one who does not expect it at all. A child who ignores a command is telling you she expects 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.
So be a parent whose word is your bond. Only give commands 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 our good and his glory.