In the ever-expanding list of disorderly behaviors identified by psychologists, what should a Christian parent believe? Do we change the basic Biblical child-training beliefs we have been taught? A brief look at several disorders, and a call to raise families according to the truths of the Bible.
Oppositional defiant disorder. This is a newly diagnosed disorder, defined by experts in psychology as existing among children. It is characterized by negative, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward adults and authority figures. It is not to be confused with CD, or conduct disorder. Conduct disorder is recognized when a child violates the basic rights of others and expresses “antisocial behaviors.”
ADHD, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, is a slightly older defined child disorder. A child with this disorder cannot be calmed down and made to listen. Then there is RAD, reactive attachment disorder. This disorder is observed when children haven’t formed strong social bonds with their caregivers. DAD, disinhibited attachment disorder, is when children are plagued with attention seeking and indiscriminate friendliness.
More and more children in our culture are being diagnosed with disorders, i.e., a condition that is not normal or healthy. Disorders call for therapies. Therapies are special treatment of diagnosis, counseling, and/or medications. Disorders require experts to analyze or evaluate what is the cause and what is the cure. In the professional world, there is a rising concern that the base of normal children is shrinking.
What should the Christian do with this flood of philosophies? What should we believe about raising children with diverse personalities? Since the experts believe children’s behavior is from a genetic, organic, or environmental base, should we change our basic child training beliefs? Are children victims of forces outside their control?
Might a diagnosis influence a parent to stop believing his child is responsible for his behavior? What if the child himself begins to believe he has no ability to take responsibility for his actions, or that he cannot choose to be something different from his lower nature?
The following principles are a summary of the timeless truths of the Bible. We need to affirm these principles in our hearts and practice them in our families.
Each child in the ultimate sense is created in the image of God. We believe the Biblical account of creation. God created Adam and Eve in His own likeness and image. Genesis 1:26-27. Adam’s sons were born in his own likeness and image. Genesis 5:3. The human spirit and personality is a replication of God Himself. We are not the result of random evolution, mutations, and chance. Moreover, when each child is created in the womb, God personally oversees His creation and has infinite thoughts for each one. Psalm 139:13-19. The product of this divine creation is that each child is incredibly complex, resilient, and gifted. There are receptors in each soul that are capable of connecting the child with teaching about God and forming a personal relationship with Him.
Each child is hopelessly corrupted and bears the image of Adam’s fallen nature. Romans 5:12 informs us that “by one man sin entered into the world” and that “death passed upon all men.” The psalmist himself acknowledged that he was “shapen in iniquity” and that the wicked speak lies “as soon as they be born.” In Ephesians 2:3 we are informed that “we … were by nature children of wrath, even as others.” From infancy children are incredibly selfish. They cry even when nothing is wrong. In toddlerhood the fallen human nature comes out with all its ugly expressions. Post-modernism has introduced and interjected many legal and political terms in place of traditional terms such as selfishness, meanness, violence, dishonesty, deceitfulness, etc. Giving traits subjective terms as issues or disorders, does not change the behavior source. We shouldn’t be surprised at and/or sensationalize human behavior; we expect children to be bad!
The solution for raising all children is a balance of love and discipline. Parents need to enter parenthood with unconditional love and acceptance of the child/children God chooses to send them. God knows how much children need parents, and perhaps even more how much parents need children. (This is not to place a negative view of barrenness and reaching out for children in adoption. This pattern too speaks of larger-than-life principles of how each one of us is adopted into God’s family.) In the season of life in young adulthood, God has planned for this investment into a future generation.
Each child (even a handicapped child) should be treasured and given a baseline of love and acceptance. His needs should be met and love poured into his life. Along with this, as much as God blesses, children should be raised among siblings. Children receive infinite corrections to their human selfishness by living with each other. They learn socialization skills without knowing they are learning them.
In early toddlerhood, when the human nature traits of selfishness begin to emerge, parents will need to choose to confront each and every child’s nature. The Bible gives us the God-ordained pattern of using the rod. Discipline should be for the child’s needs and consistent with the disobedience. A spanking should not be considered a big deal. Spanking half a dozen times in the same day for the same issue is not necessarily abnormal. It’s just a normal process for some personalities, personalities God has gifted for a purpose He alone understands.
The goal is to train each child to hearken to wisdom outside of his inner self. The Bible makes it clear that if a child is left to hearken to his inner wisdom, he will come to destruction. Children who learn to hearken to the voice of wisdom that “crieth without” and learn to listen to parents, other authorities, and even each other, can come to enjoy a pleasant existence in earth life.
Sometimes parents raise questions about the exceptional child. “We have normal children,” they say, “but here is one that clearly is the exception. How shall we treat this child?” The fact is, exceptional children are normal too! It may be their high maintenance requires greater doses of love and discipline. The worst stigma a parent can place upon a child is the idea that he has conditions/traits that are unmanageable.
Mothers and fathers, please do your child a favor. Let him know you love him with all your heart, but let him know that you will not accept it when he does not hearken to your voice. You simply will not cease discipline until he submissively and happily obeys your directions.
If you missed this foundational platform when your child was young and succumbed to the idea that “my child needed to be treated differently than normal,” you can always go back and admit this to him. He will benefit in any stage of life if you acknowledge you regret you failed to bring his will into submission. Since he is created in the image of God, he can still choose the way of submitting his will to God’s, even though it will be more difficult than if you would have taken your stand in those early days.
Ultimately, being converted, being born again, and receiving the new nature is the only hope for each and every human being. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides a miracle of transformation in the human heart. Good training lays a platform, but it can never replace the new birth. Poor training with obvious needs may actually drive a person to see his need of conversion more completely. The fact remains, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]” (2Co 5:17). This is not a once and done experience. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1Pe 1:23). This is a day by day miracle as we walk with God through His Word and life of daily repentance.
Renaming and redefining human nature doesn’t change the human will or nature. All the disorders experts and professionals see today can be recognized in the human record of the Bible. They can be identified in the familiar accounts of Cain, Joseph’s brothers, King Saul, Absalom, Judas, and others. The positives can be recognized in the accounts of Noah, Daniel, the Hebrew boys, Nehemiah, Peter, Paul, and many others. ODD and ADHD are indeed novel terms, but the old needs have always been here with us.
Thank God for the Bible, our only unadulterated guide through the changing philosophies of life.