Adapting Your Parenting Style to the Child

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (ESV) 7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

I’m a father, a grandfather, and I’ve been a pastor for over thirty-one years. So, I’ve thought a lot about parenting and I’ve received a lot of questions about it from others throughout the years. Questions like:

  • “How and when should I discipline my child?”
  • “How old should they be for being potty trained?”
  • “When is my child old enough to confess faith in Christ?”
  • “What about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?”
  • “How can I be sure that they are saved?”
  • “What do I do about my rebellious teen?”
  • “How do address my adult child?”

In answering these questions, we have God’s Word as our guide, but we must also take into account the child’s level of maturity. Have you noticed that every child is unique? No two are the same. And as they grow, they change. So the parenting style that seemed effective when they were small, doesn’t work when they’re older. These differences require different parenting styles. 

Parenting is affected by your child’s age (maturity), ability (mental and physical) and their heart (will). As children grow to maturity, their mental understanding moves from thinking in concrete ways to more abstract thought. So, our parenting style must adapt to the child. In addition, what works with one child may not work with another. So, we must seek to understand and know them. The chart above offers a helpful way of seeing how children progress in their spiritual formation and mental development based on their age.

Looking at the way the apostle Paul ministered to the Thessalonians, that he was like a “mother” (7) and a “father” (11) to them, shows how Paul adapted his “parenting style” to fit where these new believers were in their spiritual journey. Notice the three verbs he used in verse 12 to describe how he led them. He said that he “exhorted, encouraged, and charged” them to follow after the Lord. Each verb reveals a different mentoring or parenting style that shows how to adapt your parenting style to your child.


First, the verb “exhorted” (Greek: “parakalountes“) means to beseech, to admonish, or exhort. Literally, it means “calling alongside.” In other words, it means to “show and tell.” When is this parenting style most needed? When your children are young. 

A helpful model for illustrating this is found in Ron Campbell’s book,  Situational Parenting. Look at this diagram I adapted from the book. I have added my thoughts in red. The “S1” situation, when the child is between the ages 0-6, calls for this “exhorting” style. This style is high guidance, high authority and directive. A parent’s job at this age is to show and tell them what to do and how to respond. This is not the time to be offering choices and explaining reasons. This is the time to teach obedience and for them to learn in concrete ways the rules of living under your authority.


The second verb Paul used to describe his parenting style was “encouraged” (Greek: “paramutheomai”). It means to comfort, encourage, console, or admonish. This is another “para” (“alongside”) word, so it’s very relational. But instead of a “come alongside to see and do as I say,” it is more of a “you can do it and I’m right here with you” style. This moves the parent from a directing role into a coaching role where the child is willing, but is still developing the skill-sets to do things well. 

Notice the shift from “guiding and directing” in S1 to “explaining and persuading” in S2. Children in the 7-12 age group are moving from concrete to more abstract thinking. When the parent has done a good job using the “show and tell” style in the early years, parenting the child in the “S2” ages 7-12 season can be one of the most encouraging and joyful seasons of parenting. It is also the most critical time spiritually for most children. For they are the most receptive and open to the gospel in this season of life. Most people who come to faith in Christ made the decision during this phase of life.


The third verb Paul used to describe his parenting style was “charged” (Greek: “martureō). It means to bear witness, to testify, to charge. Paul used this final style to prepare those he had discipled to go and live in a “manner worthy of God” as he had taught and modeled to them.

The “charge and send” parenting style is the one that parents should hope to use in the child’s teenage years. This is the season when the parent should be able to slowly transition from using an authoritative style to one of influence. This is the season when you’ve already taught them how to ride a bike, you’ve already gone out riding with them and taught them about safety and the rules of the road. Now it’s time to let them ride out of your sight without you riding alongside them. It’s the time to slowly give them more and more freedom, while still maintaining final authority.

Parents often make themselves and their teens miserable during this phase because they use the skill set from S1 instead of S3 here. They do this usually because they were too lax in the early years and now they try to make up for it. Ideally, this should be the years that they are releasing them. Like a countdown to a launch. 

This is the phase when I used to say to my teenage children as they were leaving on a date or going out with friends, “Remember who you are and whose you are!” 

“Yes Dad.” They’d reply.

“So, say it.” I’d answer.

“I’m a child of God. And I belong to God.” They’d say as the hurried to leave.

“And don’t you ever forget it!” I’d shout as they departed.


This is the final phase of parenting and it never really ends. If parents are faithful to raise up their children in the Lord, actively doing the hard work of fathering and mothering, then their children eventually become more like friends. And the children view their parents as mentors and honor them all the days of their life.

In this phase, the parent must learn to release their adult children to the Lord. They must withhold unsolicited advice, learning to wait for their children to ask for help. In this season, parents must learn to direct their care to the Lord in prayer and to let the Lord direct their children’s and their grandchildren’s steps. This is the season when the parent no longer leads by authority, but by influence.

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