The Treasure, The Hatchet, and The Heart

I’ve recently been reading a book entitled “Lead, for God’s Sake” written by Todd Gongwer.  The book is a leadership book, not really a parenting book.  But there is a concept found within this fictional story that I think is worth sharing.  The plot for the parable is about a coach who just can’t find the right motivation for his high school basketball team.  He is presented with a thought from a friend who says that there are only two things that motivate people.  (You probably think they are Mexican Food and Wrestling.)  Nope, one is the fear or threat of “the hatchet” and the other is the reward or “the treasure.”   Though I do agree that often these motivational forces work, at least in the short term, they will not bring consistent motivation in the long term, especially in your home.

Unfortunately, most parents have used both “the treasure” and “the hatchet” approach for years.  I know I have, and so did my parents.  Not a real hatchet of course but… well you get the idea.  Maybe you’ve used fear and reward in your home as well.  Hey, they work.  But, after a while “the hatchet” has to be more and more severe and “the treasure” has to be sweeter and sweeter.  Eventually, you have to find a better way.

Later in the story, another friend suggests that rather than motivate out of fear or reward that we learn to influence the hearts of others.  We all want to be good parents.  As a parent/leader we desire to have kids who are motivated to move in a positive direction.  I know that I struggled with using the right motivations while raising my girls.  In the midst of the battle, it’s not always easy to make the wisest choice.  It’s a challenge to think through every possible outcome when a decision must be made now.  Bottom-line, parenting is hard work.

As I think about this idea of working on the heart of a child rather than always using the hatchet or treasure approaches to get my desired results; I realize that I must give credit to God and His grace on me as a parent to have two girls that grew up well.   With that said, if I had a “do-over” with raising my girls, here are some things I would try.

Knowing now that the way we deal (or don’t deal) with our kids’ misbehavior shapes their beliefs about themselves, the world, and God: I would seek to connect with their hearts during discipline challenges – not just their minds.   I understand now, that if you train your child’s heart first, training their behavior will be much easier.

I would also try to be more consistent, more loving, more caring, and more encouraging as well as smile more.  I would seek to stay calm when the kids aren’t, pause to gather my thoughts, reply with wisdom, and look at moments of discipline as opportunities.  And, I would use creative consequences that build coping skills, values, and faith.
The Big Question now is, how do you train the heart?  I will cover that in my next blog.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)

Ric Callahan, Pastor of Families @ Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster, AL