When You Have a Child Who Can But Won't

My younger daughter has decided the rules of grammar don't apply to her. Capitalization and punctuation are unnecessary conventions as far as she is concerned. "But why do I have to capitalize and use periods?" is often her cry. She has had to redo numerous papers because of this refusal to follow the rules of grammar.

It's not that she can't capitalize and punctuate. It's not that she doesn't know the rules for capitalizing and punctuating. It's that she doesn't want to follow them. She chooses not to make the effort.

And it frustrates me to no end. Watching her lose points on papers that I know she should get is irritating to this grammar-loving mother. It's people like my daughter that make sure I have a job as an editor.

It's not just the grammar. It's the underlying issue of choosing not to do what she's perfectly capable of doing that really causes frustration for me. I'm a mom. I want my kids to live up to their potential. I want them to choose to do the right thing, whether it's putting a period at the end of a sentence, biting their tongues instead of hurting someone with their words, or standing up for what's right even when it's difficult.

James 4:17 says "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." Now, not capitalizing and punctuating a sentence isn't a sin (although this editor mother sometimes thinks it should be). In our house, it's simply an example of a larger problem -- one of choosing not to do the things you know you should. We have this issue in other areas, like controlling our tongues and being respectful to others.

So, what do you do when you have a child who deliberately chooses to do the wrong thing? One who knows the right thing to do but won't do it? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. I wish I could tell you we've conquered this problem and there are three simple rules to follow, but I can't. What I can tell you is that we can't fix it on our own. It's a heart problem, and God is the only one in the business of changing hearts. So, if you have a child who can make good choices but won't, there are a few things you can do to let God work.

Pray. There is nothing more powerful in changing our children's attitudes and behaviors than prayer. James 5:16 says "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." Ask God to change your child's heart so that it seeks after God's ways.

Be consistent. If there's a behavior you want to change in your child, be consistent in requiring it. Every time my daughter brings home papers on which she loses points for capitalization and punctuation, she has to redo them -- whether her teacher requires it or not. By being consistent, we're letting our daughter know that there are consequences for making the wrong choices.

Let natural consequences happen. Don't remove the natural consequences of your child's choices. Let your child get in trouble, get a bad grade or have to apologize to a friend. Natural consequences are a great teacher. When we shield our kids from those consequences, we take away the immediate pain but we also take away the lesson they can learn.

Pray some more. God is in the heart change business. Actions and words come from the heart. If our kids are choosing to make poor decisions, then it's a heart issue. And we have to leave the heart changing up to God.

Having a child who chooses to consistently do the wrong thing is frustrating and saddening. It's the hard part of being a parent, but remember all kids struggle in some area. All adults struggle to make the right choices, too. With lots of prayer and consistency, we can let God do the heart work of changing our child's behavior and attitude.

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.