Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a PBS kid’s show that takes our beloved childhood memories of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and gives them the full Michael Bay treatment - If you aren’t sure what that means go watch the aboniminable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or any of the Transformers movies; Bay is basically the Terminator of sacred childhood memories. Anyways, Daniel Tiger is a pretty accurate representation of the modern day child: selfish, whiny, and needs everything explained in full detail before they’ll even consider going along with it. While this doesn’t automatically put the show on the do not watch list, its advice for how kids should deal with being told “no” does.
In one of the episodes Daniel Tiger is upset with his mom for telling him no and not letting him get his way. But instead of teaching Daniel to respect authority or that selfishness and ingratitude are vices, they sing a song about how to throw a tantrum when you don’t get your way. Their brilliant advice is simple, just stomp three times and you’ll feel better! Here’s the chorus of the song Stomp Three Times:
When you don't get what you want
Just stomp three times (stomp three times)
Then you'll feel so much better
Stomp three times and you'll feel fine
But this is not good parenting, as it’s teaching children to throw a mini-tantrum instead of a full-fledged tantrum when they don’t get their way. Instead of teaching them why they need to obey authority, why rebellion is sin, and why sin is wrong, they are being taught how to rebel in a less scene-causing manner. The focus is on the external behavior of the child instead of the condition of their heart – something Jesus spent a lot of time criticizing the religious leaders of His day for. As one of my favorite authors on parenting puts it, “A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable.”
Why does my three-year old daughter need to obey us? One popular answer is, “Because we are the parents.” But why does that matter? That argument never did much for me when I was in my rebellious teenage years. Why does having the title of parent suddenly make someone an authority figure that should be respected and obeyed? Another common one is, “because you live under our roof?” OK, that one is a little more powerful, but let’s be real here, we aren’t kicking our three-year old out onto the street no matter how rebellious she gets and neither will any other parents. So for everyone who isn’t a psychopath this is a pretty empty threat. Another one is, “Because I told you so.” Now this is just stating the obvious. “Yes mom, I have hearing and memory faculties that work. The issue is over why I should give a hoot about what you said, not whether or not I comprehended the instructions.” All of these responses fail to address the key issue - who is the authority and where does authority come from?
The only way to establish parental authority is in God’s existence - anything else relies on logical fallacies. When it comes to parenting everything we do ought to show our children who God is and what He is like. So when my three-year-old daughter complains, argues, or throws a tantrum, we look at Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” But still, why should she obey her parents and do everything without grumbling or arguing? Why not just stomp her feet three times like Daniel Tiger to let some steam off? The answer is because God is the ultimate authority and He has delegated His authority to Dad and Mom. So by rebelling against parental authority they are actually rebelling against God Himself.
Now, in an atheist home (or a Christian home that has embraced our culture's Humanistic approach to parenting) this doesn’t work. There is nothing to appeal to other than might makes right, which means that when junior is bigger than you in a few years, he will hold the might and what he declares is right. Sadly this is exactly what has happened in our culture and is why we hear so many confused parents say, “We weren’t like this when we were kids.”
Only when parental authority is grounded can we begin to teach our children why rebellion is sin and why sin is wrong - we are basically teaching our children the gospel each and every time they rebel. Now, this doesn’t need to be a seminary course that covers all Christian theology in one session, but we should be striving to weave it all in throughout our various disciplining encounters. The goal is to continually show our children God’s grace and point them to Jesus. The gospel is the fuel that runs the parenting machine. Our main job as parents isn’t to raise our kids to someday have a stellar career, be honor students, or find personal happiness; it’s to point our children to their need for God – something we can’t do if we continually placate their rebellion all for the sake of “peace.”
I am convinced that in the first few years of our children’s lives the number one lesson we must strive to teach them is, “there is such a thing as authority, and you are not it.” If we fail to teach this then they won’t see a need to obey God, their need for a savior, or a need to obey you. Despite what many parents think, this isn’t something they will grow out of either. If a child doesn’t obey at the age of three, why think they will obey at thirteen? Getting older doesn’t make us less rebellious, it just makes us smarter at it.
We have all heard that consistency is the key to parenting, and while this is true it’s the content of our consistency that matters. When our children rebel, and they will, our job is not to appease them (stomp three times), distract them (bribe them), or appeal to reason (usually manipulation), our job is to firmly and lovingly address the rebellion head on each and every single time it occurs while pointing them to God. This is why we don’t “pick our battles” when it comes to disciplining our kids. This approach is nothing more than a consequentialist approach to parenting that focuses on the natural (or external) consequences of a child’s actions. For example, a consequentialist parent will discipline for the big stuff like playing with matches, electrical outlets, or running out into the street; but they won’t regularly discipline when the child refuses to share, complains, argues, or disobeys when they are told to do basic tasks like putting their shoes on, or coming when the parent calls for them. They only discipline for the big things because those have the potential to burn the house down or lead to physical harm - discipline is for when the child has either used up the parent's patience for the day, or for preventing physical damage. But a Christian approach to parenting is entirely different. It understands that a rebellious heart is the most dangerous thing there is for our children, as it alone is enough to separate a person from God for eternity. So whether our child is refusing to pick up their toys or stop playing with matches, the focus of Christian parents is on the rebellious fire of the heart, not the natural consequences. Houses can be rebuilt; the state of child’s soul before God cannot. This is why we don’t teach our kids to “stomp three times.”