Category Archives: Child Discipline

We All Have Bad Days


A few weeks ago, my then almost-nine-year-old daughter woke up with emotions running high.  Within ten minutes of her being awake, she was in tears. This was very unusual for her, and I just let it go. She and her brothers solved whatever issue was going on and the morning went on.  Less than an hour later, she was in tears again as she started her school work and her tone of voice to someone (I don’t remember who,) wasn’t acceptable.  In that moment, I needed to make a decision.

I could have spoken sternly to her, disciplined her in some way, talked to her about using kind words.  But I knew that this wasn’t the time.  The tears and frustration were out of character for her and my mothering instincts told me that on this day, in this moment, she needed something more that a reminder about kind words and actions. I suggested that she stop working on math and go to her bed and do her reading time.  She didn’t want to.  The tears rolled faster.  I hugged her and held her and yet she couldn’t gain control emotionally. I told her, “I’m sorry honey, but you are not in control of your emotions right now. Spend some time on your bed and calm down, and please join us when you are ready.” She’s heard this many times before—this was nothing new.

One part of raising girls that I take seriously is teaching them to deal with their emotions.  As women, our hormones run wild and our tears run fast.  We don’t always know why we are upset, nor do we always know what to do about it.  The men in our lives usually want to know what is wrong so they can fix it.  But sometimes, as women, we just don’t know and we need time.  Sometimes, we are just having a bad day.  From the time they are little, when our kids are not in control of their emotions, we have asked them to please go sit on their beds.  We make sure that they know that they are not being punished and that sometimes, people just need time alone in order to calm down.  I want to teach my girls that when the emotions are intense, one of the best things they can do is stop, think, breathe, and calm down.  Let their senses be at rest and the peace will come. They always know that when they have regained control and are ready to be part of the family again—complete with kind words and gentleness—that they are more than welcome to join us.  In fact, what we usually say is, “When you are ready, we will be excited to have you join us again!”  

And two notes for the record: 1) We do this with our boys, too, but in all the years I think they have each gone to their bed once or twice for breaking down emotionally whereas our girls visit their beds on a fairly regular basis. 2) Mama has times outs on her bed, too!

All of this to say, on this particular day, my spirit was prompted that my little girl needed more.  She needed to feel loved, not lectured.  She needed to feel valued, not disappointed in.  And so as I talked with her and asked her to sit on her bed, my heart was already in motion for a little surprise.

I got out our favorite Indian tray, made her favorite milky coffee,  opened a pack of Oreos (at 7:30 in the morning!), picked a flower from the backyard, wrote a little note, and got my Kindle so she could continue reading Heidi.  I then carried her tray into her, told her how much I loved her, and that I would see her when she was ready.

About 30 minutes later I heard the door open slowly.  My sweet girl had replaced her tears with smiles and the rest of the day went on as if nothing had happened.

Sometimes parenting is letting our spirit be prompted to do the little things that will make our children feel loved.  Little surprises.  Little acts of grace.  Little extra bits of love thrown in where we would rather throw criticism. We all have bad days, and a little bit of love goes a long way.

 

 

Hungry, Tired, and Overwhelmed

Do me a favor.  Take a good look at the photo above. That’s my sweet Katie, having just woken up from an unplanned afternoon nap.  She looks thrilled, doesn’t she? What do you think would have happened if I had said right then, “Katie, go clean your room.” Do you think she would have been thinking about our obedience lessons and promptly decided to “obey cheerfully”? Of course not. And at that moment, I never would have asked her to do much of anything.  She was just waking up, a little out of it (she doesn’t usually nap in the afternoons), hungry (she had missed lunch) and she just wanted me.  I put the camera down (that face was just too precious to not preserve!) and then I  just held her. Loved her. Talked with her.

I expect obedience from my children. When I ask them to do something, I expect them to do it.  We don’t argue about it, I don’t beg them to do what I want, I don’t bribe them. I give a command and then they do it.  That’s the expectation and we are continually working on making it happen (without grumpy faces and dragging feet). It has taken a lot of time and intentional effort but the work has been more than worth it.  Not only is our home a more peaceful place, but also, our kids are being prepared for the rest of their lives when they have to follow the expectations of others (professors, bosses, spouses, government, and God Himself) even when they don’t want to. Teaching this skill is one of the most important things I can do for my kids.

Because I expect obedience from my children, I have to do my part in the process as well. I can’t just stand there like a militant drill sergeant, barking out orders, unaware of the physical and emotional limitations of my children.

My second point about child discipline was this:

We must have realistic expectations for our children, based on their age, ability, level of tiredness, and level of hunger.

If I expect my kids to obey a command I give them (or expect them to fulfill known expectations) then I have to be careful that they are able—at the present moment—to fulfill them.  This means that I have to take a number of factors into account.  I have to quickly assess the situation:

Is this expectation age-appropriate?

Have they ever done this before? Do I think they can do it without me first teaching them?

How tired are they? Are they fully functioning or are they too tired to make good decisions?

Are they hungry? Could their lack of food (or drink) interfere with them being able to obey?

Are they sad, scared, or overwhelmed?

You see, I want to set my kids up for success.  I try very hard to give only commands that they are able* to fulfill. I want them  to be able to obey so that they can feel the joy of rising to the level of expectation.  If I give them a command that they are not able to meet, they will feel defeated, frustrated and even ashamed. That is the opposite of what I want them to feel. I want them to feel empowered, capable and proud. I don’t want to have my expectations higher than their ability level—a level that can and will vary from child-to-child, day-to-day, and even moment-to-moment.  It takes a watchful and discerning eye and heart to assess the physical and emotional state of our children at any given time.

*As an aside, notice that I didn’t say, “I try very hard to give only commands they want to fulfill.” That is a very different statement. I expect a lot of things out of my kids that they don’t want to do. That isn’t the issue.  The concern here is that I only set expectations that they are able to fulfill.

So what does this look like in our home?

  • I try to work  through some of the harder expectations in the morning, when they are fresh and full.  This includes school.  If I make the mistake of leaving school (especially the harder subjects) until after lunch, it is very hard for them to concentrate, do their work without complaint, and to sit still during times when I need them to be attentive.
  • For those expectations that have to be met at night when they are very tired, I try to make it part of a regular routine.  People are habit-driven.  When something happens in the same way every day, it is much easier to do. Because of this, our bedtime  expectations are consistent.  The kids get their jammies on. The older ones brush their teeth and Katie comes to us for help. They go to bed at the same time every night with few exceptions. Routine makes it easy for them to obey—they know what to expect.  If they never knew what time bedtime was coming, it would be hard to hear, “It’s time to get your jammies on” if they were in the middle of something. But because we are consistent, they usually just say, “Oh, is it almost seven already?”
  • Routine works at other times as well.  For instance, our kids know that two kids help set the table and the other two kids help dad clear the table.  It is rarely an issue because they expect it. On the other hand, if I threw out a brand new expectation—”Kids, you need to wash, dry, and put away all the dishes!”—I am sure I would meet bewildered eyes and probably even a few tears! We build up expectation slowly.
  • If a child is overly tired and/or hungry, I lower my expectations.  This doesn’t mean they can be sassy to me or say unkind words to a sibling. It just means that I am not going to give commands that I know they are emotionally/physically unprepared to meet.  I would never tell them to clean their entire room right before bed.  If I did, I know that with at least two of my kids we would have total melt-downs! I am sensitive to who they are and what they are feeling.
  • If I know my kids are tired or hungry, I extend a lot more grace when the kids don’t obey. I usually voice the issue and then repeat my expectation: “Katie, I know it is nighttime and I know that you are tired, but you still need to do what Mommy asked.”
  • I am more likely to help my kids obey.  I work alongside them.  If they need to do something (like clear a Lego path to the door!), I say, “Come on Levi, let’s get these Legos out of the way so you don’t trip on your way to the bathroom.”  And then we work together.
  • I set my expectations according to age and ability.  Asking Katie (age 3) to clear the table and asking Alaina (age 8 ) to clear the table are two very different things. I know that I will have to come in after Katie cleans and redo it properly.  I still give her the job, though, so that she can practice obeying, practice being part of the family team, and practice working in the kitchen.
  • I pray very hard for wisdom and discernment so that when I am in a situation I can rightly assess if disobedience is a willful choice or if it is out of physical/emotional overload.
  • If a child breaks down crying and we are in a “battle of the wills,” I work to de-escalate the situation.  Rather than giving discipline right then and there, I most often will pull the child up next to me or on my lap, hug and cuddle them, talk them down, and then decide what to do. After I have sensed they have calmed down and are secure in my love and affection, I will say something like, “Are you feeling better? Do you think you are ready to obey? You are? Great! I’ll help you!” I keep my expectation (in this case cleaning up the mess that was made), but I let it be fulfilled in way that they are emotionally able (after some calming down time next to me and then often with my help).

As parents we have every reason to expect obedience out of our children (both obedience to direct commands and also to understood expectations). However, we have to be loving and gracious and meet them where they are—even if where they are is tired, hungry, and overwhelmed!

For another great article on this subject, see SimpleMom’s Applying the HALT Method: A Checklist for Proactive Parenting. One of the issues that the guest writer mentions is kids being lonely. That really struck a chord with me as my little Levi’s love language is quality time and I can always see a quantifiable difference in his behavior if I haven’t been spending enough time with him.

Can you think of times in your home where discipline was an issue because of the physical and/or emotional state of the children? Is there something that you can do to prevent it in the future?

Kids Are Kids

Back in August I shared some thoughts on child discipline and child affirmation.  I have been meaning to get back to those, to flesh them out a little more with our own experiences and practices.  This isn’t to say, “This is how you must do it,” but rather, to share a little of what those thoughts have looked like in our life and in our family.  If you haven’t read those posts yet, I encourage you to do so: Thoughts on Child Discipline and Thoughts on Affirming our Children.



Guess who didn’t want to clean up the mess she made?

 

Katie is our “wild card.”

Our first three children were  fairly easy.  Sure, each of them had their issues and difficult stages, but for the most part the stages were simple, straightforward, and short-lived. I never went through a time of “I have no idea what to do with this child!” and for the most part, obedience came calmly, evenly, and just as we expected. The kids learned from a very young age that mom and dad are in charge and that it is their job to obey. We taught them and trained them with love, patience and grace and basically, everything went smoothly.  Perfect, no. Smoothly, yes.

And then we had Katie. She is strong-willed, feisty, mischievous, sneaky, and doesn’t like to do things she is told. Starting at around the age of two, we realized that parenting her was going to be a whole new ballgame. We would give her directions such as, “Go get your jammies on” and she would reply, “But I don’t want to.” “Katie, why did you go potty on the floor?”  “Because I wanted to.”  “Hey Katie, look, it’s raining!”  “No it’s not!” Ad infinitum.

Katie tested every parenting theory and practice we had.  We have had to worker harder to gain her obedience than the first three (combined!) and we have had to extend grace and patience in levels that could only come from the Lord. We never tolerated sassiness, back-talking, or willful disobedience (all were met with loving and gracious discipline), but the road to her submission to us has been long. We had to adjust things as we went, we had to try new techniques, and we had to just wait. We had to wait for her will to break without her spirit being broken in the process. I would never want to break that spirit—I am sure God has BIG plans for that BIG personality!

And that’s where my first point about child discipline comes in:

Kids are kids. “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a fact. Time, maturity, and diligent parent training are the cure…not our angry words.

I remember clearly the first time I “got” what this verse meant. I was dorm parenting teenagers and some of the things they said were so outlandish that I would stand there stunned. One day I was especially frustrated with the blatant selfishness of a student and God clearly spoke the words of Proverbs 22 into my heart and mind: “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child.” I realized right then that to expect a child (even a teen) to act like an adult is like wishing for snow in July.  It just isn’t going to happen (at least not in the Northern Hemisphere!) Foolishness is bound—tied tight—to a child’s heart. It is a fact. They act like immature kids because they are immature kids. The mess up, do silly things, have accidents, make bad decisions, and test the boundaries.  It’s because they are kids.

Angry words are not going to solve this (though I admit to having some angry words with my Katie!) Becoming angry with a child and raising your voice is not the way to steer a child back on course.  The only thing angry and loud words achieve is your child becoming afraid of you. Instead, as parents we need to understand and accept the fact that this foolishness that is bound to their hearts is only going to be loosened by time (and thus patience), maturity, and diligent parent training.

Diligence: Careful and persistent work or effort.

As we train our children, we have to offer them unconditional love and grace while we make every effort to put them back on the path of obedience every time they step off. There isn’t room for inconsistency in our discipline. Inconsistency tells our kids that the issue isn’t always important—it’s only important when we are annoyed enough to deal with it instead of just “letting it go.”

And so it has been with our Katie. Her foolishness is bound a little tighter than the other kids’. But with persistence, loving and gracious training, and consisten discipline we are seeing the gentle bending of her will (with her spirit still intact!) By us understanding that her behavior couldn’t be “yelled out of her” and that instead, her foolishness is part of her natural, sinful nature, we were able to step back, breathe deep, and prepare ourselves for the long haul of diligent training.

Is she now—at age three and a half—a perfectly obedience child?  Ha! No, not at all.  We joke that Katie is a little sugar and whole lotta spice! But you know what? The diligence is paying off. She’s watching her steps.  She’s trying to obey. She comes to us when she has a problem. She is making better choices. She is learning to obey with a cheerful attitude. We have a long road of ahead of us, but we are prepared to give her (and the other kids) all the time, patience, love, grace, and guidance that she needs.


That way, when she finds her baby sister’s diaper rash cream and decides to give herself a facial, we can lovingly take a picture and then explain to her that she needs to ask mommy and daddy before she puts anything on her body.

Thoughts on Child Discipline

Dealing with the behavior of children is a tricky thing. It is complex. It is ongoing. It is crucial. It differs for every family and with every child. No two children can ever be treated exactly the same and therefore both discipline and affirmation will look different when applied to different kids. That said, I believe there are some key points to remember with both. This topic is far too deep (and far too important) to try to summarize in one post and therefore it will be a topic I return to regularly.

However, even with the enormity of this subject, I challenged myself to be succinct with what I believe are the main “to remember” points. I pray that these will be brought to my mind on a daily basis.

When disciplining a child, always remember:

  1. Kids are kids. “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a fact. Time, maturity, and diligent parent training are the cure…not our angry words.

  2. We must have realistic expectations for our children, based on their age, ability, level of tiredness, and level of hunger.

  3. Child training doesn’t take place in a moment. It takes place over hours and days and weeks and months and years. Don’t be surprised to hear yourself saying the same things over and over again. How many times does God have to tell you something?

  4. Discipline must not just be reactionary (they do the behavior, we react). Scripture tells us that there are four types of discipline: teaching, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Two of these are proactive. Two of these are reactive. You must make sure both kinds are taking place in your home.

  5. Discipline and training must be consistent. There is no excuse to ever simply ignore bad behavior.

  6. That said, often a gentle reminder or a quick compassionate glance can be enough to remind the child. There are many ways to discipline and we need to pray for wisdom and discernment for which is the best method at a particular moment.

  7. There is a big difference between disciplining for inappropriate behavior (behavior that goes against Scripture, including the command to obey mother and father) and disciplining because we are annoyed and/or inconvenienced. One is crucial. One is selfish.

  8. The purpose of discipline is to help the child grow in Christ-likeness, not to “get them to do what we want.” Discipline needs to be done in a way that the child knows and understands that our unconditional love for them motivates our discipline.

  9. We can never expect a child to display behavior that we don’t consistently model.

  10. There always needs to be forgiveness offered freely and easily.

Child discipline and training is not optional. It is a Scripture-mandated job of parents. It isn’t something that can be simply overlooked or passed off to teachers, principals, other parents, counselors, or Sunday School teachers. As parents, it is our job. It isn’t always easy. It definitely isn’t fun. However, one of the outcomes of diligence in this area is being able to truly enjoy our children and to be excited in knowing that they enter the world beyond our homes as a blessing to others. “Even a child is known by his actions, whether his conduct is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11).

Please, please come back on Monday when I share the other side of the coin: affirmation. We must affirm our children. We must recognize and voice the good we see in them. Discipline without praise and affirmation will lead to an obedient– but dead– soul. A dead soul cannot love. A dead soul cannot give. A dead soul cannot empathize or sympathize . A dead soul cannot feel or recognize happiness, even when it is right in front of them. A dead soul cannot grasp that there is a heavenly Father that loves and cherishes them.

And that, my friends, is a scary, scary place.

What if the Numbers Translated?

I have been reading a lot lately about recognizing our natural and God-given personality and giftings.  I think it is something that is very important. By knowing ourselves, we are better able to minister to others in effective ways. I am sure that I will, at a later date, be sharing about some of the things I have learned.  For now though, I wanted to highlight something else that caught my eye in one of the books on knowing your strengths. In the book Strengths Finder 2.0, the author was speaking of engagement in the workplace.  Years of research has shown that employees are far more likely to be actively engaged in their jobs (i.e. work hard and enjoy them) when their supervisors focus on their strengths.  The information presented looked like this:

If your manager primarily:                          The chances of your being actively disengaged are:

Ignores you                                                      40%

Focuses on your weaknesses                        20%

Focuses on your strengths                               1%

Although I am not in the working world, I found this information fascinating. And, it was easy to understand why the results looked the way they did.  Who would want to work hard in a job that they hated and with a supervisor who only mentioned to them what they needed to improve in?  I wouldn’t last.

And it got me thinking…I wonder how closely this research would translate to the home.  What if the numbers looked like this?

If your PARENT primarily:                          The chances of your being actively disengaged (from family) are:

Ignores you                                                      40%

Focuses on your weaknesses                        20%

Focuses on your strengths                               1%

I am not saying that research does say this, but I bet it wouldn’t be far off.  What child would want to live in a home with a parent who only focuses on what they do wrong?  (I am not even addressing the issue of a parent who simply ignores their child). Parents that only mention where a child falls short can’t even begin to hope that their child will actually enjoy being with them when they are older.  No one wants to be around someone who makes them feel bad about themselves all the time.

The problem is, our job as parents involves a lot of bringing attention to the negative.  We are not only mandated by Scripture to train and discipline our children, but also we are doing a service to society and to every single person our child comes into contact with if we teach them qualities like kindness and self-control.  Proverbs 22:15 tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”  As parents, we are expected to bring attention to the negative.  But how can we do this without making children feel defeated?  How can we do this without a child feeling like he or she doesn’t “measure up” to a parent’s standard? If the above research is revealing, we can see that focusing on our child’s weaknesses can easily lead to disengagement from the family. No one wants that.  Is there something that we can do to prevent it?

As I have been thinking and praying on this issue, I have been trying to focus on what a healthy balance between praise and correction looks like. I know that I need to do both and I want to do both in effective ways. I’m not interested in raising puffed-up and arrogant kids who think they can do no wrong and neither am I interested in raising kids who cannot see or understand that they were created in the image of God and that they bear a unique part of His personality in all its glorious worth.  So please bear with me over the next few posts as I “think out loud” on these issues and take stock of how I am doing as a mother.

If you have any words of wisdom for me, I’d love to hear them.