Parenting Philosophies – Redirecting Behavior
Let’s evaluate another common idea about parenting and see if it aligns with the word of God. It is popular to redirect a child’s undesirable behavior to something acceptable, either before they engage in the wrong act, or after, but without properly addressing the wrong actions. Occasionally redirecting conduct is fine but using it as your primary means of parenting isn’t a Biblical principle, nor is it helpful to your child in the long run.
There is Biblical truth in avoiding wrong behavior and attitudes. We are instructed to flee from evil and to guard our hearts. Both of those are proactive measures intended to keep us from harm. However, those Biblical principles demonstrate someone acting on their own behalf, not someone else merely distracting us, which is what is happening when parents are only redirecting.
I’ll agree that there is also some good sense in redirecting. If my child is poised to whack another child on the head with a rock, I’m going to stop him! After I ensure the safety of the potential victim, I’ll also have a serious conversation with my child about his unacceptable actions and point him to something more suitable.
Neither of those examples is the kind of redirecting I’m concerned with here. I’m talking about this being a primary means of parenting. I’m talking about never fully addressing the original bad behavior, with consequences, if necessary, but only distracting the child with another target for his attention.
What Does the Bible say?
Here’s what we find in the Bible: God is our ultimate example for all things pertaining to life. He is our example as the first parent and does not redirect. In Genesis in the very beginning, we see that God allowed an opportunity for Adam and Eve to disobey – right in the garden of Eden! If God intended to model redirection as a primary means of parenting, he sure didn’t model it for us when he allowed Adam and Eve to freely choose to disobey and sin. Then he addressed their sin and punished them for it.
Routinely redirecting rather than correcting a child’s behavior does nothing to exercise their young ‘muscles’ of self-control. Children lack self-control because they are young and have not developed it yet. It is our responsibility as parents to use the opportunities that life presents to help our children grow in maturity.
I propose that instead of using redirection to keep your kids from behaving poorly, you view their penchant for wrongdoing as a window into their developing character. It is an opportunity for you to train their character. That’s your job! Address the issues that need attention! The goal is not merely to keep your children from doing things that are wrong. The goal is to help them mature, so they gain control over their desires.
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says, “We never find out the strength of the evil impulse within us until we try to fight it.” If we rob our children of the opportunity to deny their flesh, they will remain immature and weak.
Never forget that age alone does not bring maturity and strength. Maturity and strength of character come from daily, purposeful training and effort.
I encourage you to examine your motives in redirecting your children’s behavior as the primary means of dealing with it. Are you trying to avoid conflict, blowups, tantrums, etc., and distracting your child means you can do that? Would you rather continue with what you were doing than stop and tend to a child whose character needs attention? Do you feel that your child’s actions are just a normal part of childhood, and you’ll endure it until they grow out of it (you hope)?
Diligently watching for and acting on the opportunities to teach and train your children is time-consuming and wildly inconvenient. It is easier to simply divert their attention to something else and not address the matter, but your child learns nothing from this. Don’t choose the easy route. Give your children the gift of growing in maturity by wisely using every opportunity that presents itself!