When Your Child Acts Like A Wild Horse, Train Him Like One
Dr. Lew Sterrett loves Jesus…and horses. He runs an organization called Leaders By H.E.A.R.T. where he teaches leadership and coaching skills by literally training an unruly horse while he makes his presentation.
I saw Dr. Lew in action recently and was amazed by how he took a rambunctious horse named Chewy, and over the course of an hour, calmed Chewy down to where he could saddle him up and ride him, all the while he was teaching us.
Seven principles stood out in Dr. Lew’s talk which made me immediately think of parenting. If your little terrors have been acting like wild horses lately, try training them by implementing these tips:
1. If you want to train your child, you must reach their heart.
“Horses have their own mission statement,” said Lew. “How can I get the most oats for the least amount of work?” That’s the same for our kids (and probably us too!)
So to reach our little animals, we must connect with their hearts, where they will learn to trust that we truly have their best interests in mind. This takes time though. I watched as Chewy first heard Lew’s voice, then began to respond to his voice, then in time chose to commit to his instructions. This is the journey of love a parent needs to take their child on.
2. Learn the difference between punishment and discipline.
Ninety percent of coaches ruin their athletes on their very first day, said Lew, because they don’t recognize this principle. Too many parents don’t either.
How are they different? Punishment is about the past, but discipline is about the future. Punishment can only rein us in, but can’t heal us. Only discipline can heal us. Punishment is about releasing anger; discipline is about releasing the potential of your child or athlete. “You only use spurs on your best athletes,” said Lew.
Punishment is about the past, but discipline is about the future.
3. The first order of business is to provide a fence.
“There is something in us that believes that freedom is found on the other side of the fence,” Lew said, and sure enough, as soon as Chewy was brought inside the ring with him, he headed straight to the fence where he kept running.
Though Chewy didn’t fully appreciate it, the fence represented safety, and a pathway to real freedom. But first he had to come to realize that everyone of Lew’s “No’s!” were meant to bring him to something better. Parents who are loathe to say no to their child are profoundly injuring them in ways that could not be imagined.
4. We change our children 1% at a time.
“We move a mountain (i.e. our child’s misbehavior) with a small shovel,” Lew reminded us, and over the course of his hour with Chewy, it wasn’t that Chewy suddenly blossomed into noble Shadowfax. But we did see with our own eyes as Chewy calmed and mellowed.
We won’t win the war of character transformation with one battle, but as we direct our child’s unruliness, one correction at a time, these small wins can lead to monumental and lasting shifts in character. And honestly…isn’t this how God is with us?
5. Our child’s behavior is ultimately a reflection of our relationship with them.
Chewy needed to come to accept Lew’s authority, or “headship”, over him. But this didn’t come through Lew abusing his authority or pulling rank with his power. He won Chewy, not through his position or title, but through love.
Like any child with their parent, or athlete with their coach, Chewy needed to know that he was not a “project”, and that Lew would remain there with him and not run off. “He won’t give more than I invest,” Lew said, and the same is true between a parent and child.
We win our child not through power or through position, but through love.
6. Make adjustments when necessary.
Because it was a “live” demonstration, Lew had to alter his interaction with Chewy based on how Chewy behaved. “The trainee determines the course of the training,” Lew said. “You must never lower your standards, but be willing to lower your expectations for the individual lesson.”
You don’t have to feel patience to show patience.
Obviously, this requires great patience for a parent or coach. For which Lew offered this nugget which every parent must master: You don’t have to feel patience to show patience. I wish I had heard that one when I was a young parent.
7. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
Over and over again, Dr. Lew called out to the horse, “Good boy, Chewy, good boy.” Though it wasn’t obvious to us horse novices, Chewy kept licking around his mouth, which meant he was seeking Lew’s approval. And so Lew poured out his praise in bucketfuls.
This wasn’t an “everybody wins a trophy” kind of thing, but just gentle, constant reassurance that reminded Chewy that he was loved and valued. It’s the sort of thing all of us need to hear more often, and generously give out to others as well.
So the next time your child acts like a wild horse, don’t fret. Treat them like one, by training them.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon. His new book, “Living Under The Cross” will be released in March.