What to Do When It Gets Ugly

There comes a stage or age in every child’s life when they will use whining and fussiness to get their way. After having four children, I have come to realize that no matter how cute they are as little babies, they eventually exhibit their self-centered perspective and it gets ugly. This perspective makes them believe that everything and everyone must cater to their whims and demands. Some are less vocal and demonstrative, or may not show it till later, but be sure that they will definitely act like the world revolves around them – their feelings, their wants and desires. It is at this point of exhibition that parents must cooperatively decide to make a stand against their child’s will, for their greater good.

I’ve had three boys go through this ugly period sometime between 10 months to 3 years. Each one responded to our correction, training, and discipline differently. And each one had their own way of expressing self-centeredness. They would do things like sit on the floor and get angry, sulk their way around the house, whine and cry, run to their yaya or nanny, or use force to get their way. Edric and I knew that these behaviors were not acceptable, but more so the mindset behind them. If we allowed any one of our children to remain this way, it would be to their own detriment. So we did our best to train them and weed out the ugly.

Here are some ideas that were beneficially applied in our household that I hope might help you, too:

1. Be clear about the “no fussing” rule. When a child doesn’t get his way and starts to whine, sulk, pout, cry, yell, or get physical, take him aside (carry him, if necessary, to a place where you can talk to him privately), look him square in the eye (go to their eye-level) and say in a calm but stern voice, “You are being fussy. Fussiness is not allowed in our family. You cannot act that way. If you do that again, I will spank you. You need to obey.”

As miraculous as it may seem, children are able to control their emotions, especially the wrong ones. I’ve seen my kids go from crying and wailing to absolute silence when they know they are in trouble. One of the keys is to make sure that children understand that there is a rule about having a bad attitude.

John Rosemond, America’s most widely read parenting expert, says, “The fewer words a parent uses when giving instructions or conveying expectations, the more likely it is that the child will obey.” He calls it the “Alpha Speech,” explaining that “the fewer words a parent uses, the more authoritative the parent sounds. The fewer words a parent uses, the more clear the instruction.”[1]

Alot of times, when we are instructing our children, we add “Okay” at the end of our sentence. “I want you to obey, okay?” This gives our children the impression that they have the option not to. I’m guilty of this at times. But as much as possible, Edric and I make it very clear to our children that obedience is imperative.

2. If you have explained your rule about no fussing and your child does it again, follow through with disciplinary action. Don’t say, “Okay, if you do it again, I really will spank you.” But remember to spank with the following guidelines:

  • You have a good relationship with your child, you’ve spent alot of quality time with him so that his emotional tank is full and he feels confidently loved by you.
  • Both you and your spouse are like-minded about spanking. There is no “good cop, bad cop” dynamic going on with your kids.   
  • You explained the rule clearly to begin with. Your child acknowledged you when you were explaining the boundary to him.
  • You will not spank in anger or irritation.
  • You will take him to a private place (We use the toilet or study room) so that he is not humiliated in public.
  • You explain what he did wrong and let him recognize what he did wrong.
  • You will use a flat wooden rod or belt that will not break the skin.
  • You give one to two significantly hard and painful swats on the rear end and not other parts of the body where you could break bones or cut skin. (We usually give one very hard one unless they fight back and we increase the number if they do.) If it is not painful, it will not be an effective consequence.
  • You hug him immediately after and tell him that you love him, that you only spank him when he disobeys because you are teaching him to obey.
  • You give him the opportunity to say sorry for what he did.
  • You repeat the rule again looking at him in the eye.
  • Your spouse reinforces the same rule as consistently as you do.

I need to add that we spank our children for only a few important things, mostly connected to disobedience and disrespect. For example, with Elijah, our eldest who is turning 9, we can count the number of times he was spanked on two hands.  By the age of 6 he didn’t really need spankings anymore. We use other forms of discipline, like withdrawal of privileges or natural logical consequences. Our second son, Edan, who is almost 6 had his share of spankings but seldom receives them now. Our third son, Titus, was spanked the most number of times and still gets spanked from time to time, but because he has learned to obey, spankings are also rare for him. The point is that Edric and I don’t carry a spanking rod around with us everywhere we go or have to use it all the time. But, we have very clear rules that we teach our children to obey and if they break them, they are disciplined for doing so.

Some people argue that spanking is abusive. It can be when it is for punishment purposes only, if it is done in anger, if rules are unclear, if a parent does not have a loving relationship with their child, if it is done in public to humiliate the child, or if it is done too often and randomly.  We avoid all of the above.

3. Everyone in the house must reinforce the rule and support it. Tell your househelp to report to you when your child does not obey the rule. They are not allowed to spank your children, but they can inform you when your child does not listen to them or acts up. This prevents your househelp from feeling helpless and frustrated. And it prevents children from manipulating them. Believe me, children will try to get their way with anyone who they perceive to be a weak link! This is why it is very important to be in agreement with your spouse — that both of you will have a consistent stand about rules in the home.

4. Have a loving relationship with your child, but don’t be too “buddy-buddy” with him. There is a difference between developing a close relationship with your child and relating to them like a friend. The friend to friend relationship will naturally happen if you have good communication with your children. However, when they are still young, they must see you as their authority. A loving, authoritative parent gives their children a sense of security. I like how one of my friends put it. “When you give limits to your child, it’s like putting your arms around them and embracing them.”

My parents were strict when my siblings and I were growing up. They were not unreasonable or exasperatingly strict, but they made us very cognizant about our boundaries. We knew what lines not to cross in terms of obedience and respect. Because of this we had a healthy fear of them. And since they were always affirming about how much they loved us in word and actions, we had no doubt that they made rules and enforced them for our ultimate good.

5. Don’t be overprotective of your kids emotions, especially the boys! This used to be an issue between Edric and I because I always wanted to baby the boys when they would get hurt. If they fell down, I wanted to run to them, pick them up and console them. Edric would tell me, “Don’t pick them up. Let them get up themselves and don’t pay too much attention to them.”  I didn’t agree with this at first, but it turned out to be great advice! Of course we would only do this if it wasn’t a MAJOR injury. Edric was right. The boys learned not to make a big deal about scrapes and cuts, which somehow toughened them up emotionally, too.

How does this relate to being fussy? Sometimes, we “massage” the emotions of our children too much and too often. We are sensitive to every cry and feeling they have, putting their emotions on some kind of pedestal. But, we forget to teach them emotional fortitude. They need to learn to master their emotions and respond to them appropriately versus becoming a slave to them.

6. Watch your child’s attitude and behaviour closely. I’m not talking about being a “helicopter parent” that hovers protectively over her children or micromanages everything they do. I’m talking about addressing heart issues immediately and not letting them fester or grow destructively. Fussiness in our home is a heart issue because it reeks of self-centeredness and pride, which is the root of sin. When a child’s fussiness, ill-temper, bad attitude, or poutiness is tolerated we allow him to develop these mentalities:  “I am more important than everyone else” or “I want what I want now!” or “I can act the way I want to even if it hurts others” or “Nobody can make me do what I don’t want to do” and so on…

7. Balance discipline with character instruction. How can we expect our children to mature spiritually and emotionally if we don’t prioritize the teaching of character in our homes? We cannot keep working on removing wrong attitudes and behaviour without pointing them in the right direction. When it comes to fussiness, we teach our children what it means to wait and to have the right attitude while doing so.  We would often tell them, “Change your attitude” or “Have a good attitude.”

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18

When our second son was 2 years old, my mom caught him chanting, “Good attitude” to himself when he was about to get upset about something. She also saw him change his frown into a smile when he said it. He used to be quite negative and moody but training him made a big difference. We have told our boys that when we say, “Change your attitude,” it means they need to turn their frown or pout into a smile. Have you ever tried smiling when you are angry or upset? It does wonders to change your mood!

8. Do not give in to your child’s demands until they stop having a bad attitude. I’ve seen my mom do this with all her grandchildren. If they whine about something, she will tell them, “Stop whining first.” Or, “Wait and I will give it to you later.”  This is a good option if spanking seems to be too harsh a consequence for fussiness (it may depend on the situation and circumstance).

9. Don’t give up. Don’t resign. Don’t abdicate. Just because your child seems difficult to train and you are getting tired of repeating and reinforcing the same set of instructions, don’t worry…God rewards faithfulness. I love this verse for parenting: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9

10. Tell them about Jesus as soon as possible, so he can transform them from the inside-out. When I encountered the “force” of Titus, my third son, I was very discouraged. He was so strong-willed and stubborn, and I was mistakenly reactive with my impatience.  It seemed so hard to train him that I wanted to pass it on to Edric and let him be the only disciplinarian. And after dealing with two sons, I felt like slacking off with Titus. However, God reminded both Edric and I that the problem was a heart issue. We needed to share the gospel to Titus.

At 3 years old, Edric shared the gospel to him and he accepted Jesus into his heart and trusted in him as his Lord and Savior. After this, Titus changed in an amazing way. We did our part to instruct him and discipline him but it was really the Lord that made him a new person.

My mom recently told me how apparent the change was in Titus. She told me that one day she told Titus he couldn’t have something and she was pleasantly surprised by his response.  Expecting a negative reaction (which she had encountered many times before), he said instead, “Okay, grandma!” and smiled at her. I explained to her that it was the Lord’s doing and not mine or Edric’s!

As a homeschooling mom, 90% of the challenge is character training for my young children. It’s not the academics. God has given my children sound minds, but when they are not spirit-filled, getting them to learn is like pushing a big rock up a hill.In fact, getting them to do anything is like pushing a big rock up a hill! So a majority of what Edric and I focus on is instruction of the heart.

If you are a normal parent like me and get frustrated or discouraged when parenting gets tough, connect them to the Lord and let God get a hold of their hearts. God is in the business of changing lives by changing hearts. What may seem like an impossible two-year old to us is easy for God!

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26


[1] John Rosemond, The Well-Behaved Child, Discipline that Really Works. (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, Tenessee, 2009), pg. 24 – 25.

33 thoughts on “What to Do When It Gets Ugly

  1. So timely for me to read this just when my child is in the stage of needing discipline. I really look froward to reading your posts as they keep me encouraged and reminded of God’s will for us. 😉

  2. I love reading your blog. What you write is very helpful because it’s not only just some random tips but principles based on God’s Word put into action.

  3. Your blog is really such a blessing. I really do appreciate posts like this that talk about very real and everyday issues, and how to respond to them in a Christian manner. The whining is something I struggle with VERY often not only with my own kids but also with the older kids I tutor. I find that even kids as old as 9, 10 can whine a WHOLE LOT, often about the littlest things like, if the driver is taking so long to fetch them, if they don’t like their merienda or if they’re asked to lend an eraser or something. You are right, the tendency of us parents to be overprotective of their emotions and to be too child-centered builds on this sense of entitlement they have that makes them think they are licensed to whine and complain. Sometimes it is even easier to make a young child stop whining (yes, I’ve tried doing tip #1!) than to deal with a fussy, complaining, bratty older child! Anyway, thanks for this post which was such an inspiration. Please don’t stop writing!

    1. Thanks for sharing about your experience with whining kids. I hope parents will read what you wrote and be convicted to start training their kids when they are young! Please pray I can keep finding the time to write. 🙂

  4. very well put!
    although I don’t share the same sentiments about spanking (maybe because I was traumatize when I was spanked once as a child. i don’t remember for what reason, i just remember how scared i was!), i share with you the same principles on discipline. your post is such a blessing to me specially during this time when I am having doubts about my parenting style and at a time when we are strongly considering homeschooling. for about a few nights now I am having second thoughts about our decision as I feel I may not be up to it. your post somehow had given me back the motivation realizing that I may be on the right track after all!
    and btw, the “attitude” word works wonders in our household too! just a slight whisper of the word and the frown turns into a smile (though I know how hard it is for the girls to do so)!

    1. Hi Isabel! Not everyone agrees with spanking, but the important thing is to be very intentional about discipline, which you are doing. 🙂 May God give you wisdom to know what is best!

  5. So encouraging to know that God works even in small children’s hearts (di sya nagpapadala sa pagkacute hehe). Was wondering if you have any ideas on how to discipline a 9-month old? He knows how to throw tantrums na especially when I put him down. He just wants to be carried ALL the time. Thanks very much 🙂

    1. Hi Nina! I am not an expert but these are some thing that worked with my kids. First, we teach them to communicate early so they can articulate their wants and needs so they dont have fuss. Second, we don’t allow tantrums. If it is clearly a defiance, manipulative kind of tantrum, we dont give in to it or we spank them for it. (if they are old enough to understand the meaning of NO or obey). My eldest was very communicative so by 8 months he was disciplined for disobedience. With each child, the age to introduce spanking really dependent on whether they could clearly understand rules and obedience. Third, it’s okay for a 9 month old to be clingy. They become more independent eventually. Some moms use a sling because it really helps the child to feel bonded and secure. You don’t have to spank your child for getting upset when they are separated from you.

      Fourth, give your child manipulatives that will keep preoccupied and busy so you can have your own space too:)

  6. Hi Joy! Just started reading your blog and i am learning a lot from you. I have 3 kids, a 2yr old girl and 9mo old twin boys. Though i am already a stay at home mom, i still have a long way to go on intentional parenting. A lot of times i let the yayas do most of my motherly duties esp to the twin boys since i spend most of my time with my eldest. Im having a hard time balancing my time to the 3 of them. Praying for God’s wisdom on this.

    Re topic, my eldest fusses most of the time when she doesnt get what she wants. I actually let her fuss, assuming that its her way of communicating to me. Having read ur blog, i realized that i need to change this and discipline her whenever she fusses. So thanks Joy.

    Lately, my eldest gets rowdy when we are at church. She would talk loudly as she still doesnt know the difference between small and big voice. My question is, if she gets rowdy in a public place, do we immediately look for a private place to spank/discipline her or do we wait til we get home?

    Thanks joy! I hope you wont mind if i ask more questions as i explore and read your blogs. God bless u n ur family. Regards to Edric.

    1. Hi Grace. Sometimes you can also take her aside and just have a serious conversation with her. Like take her to the toilet and look her in the eye and say in a serious voice that she cannot do that, explaining why. If she still does, you can implement disciplinary action when you get home.

  7. hi joy..i’ve been following your blog for a couple of months already and as i read this, i learned a lot of lessons. Thank God you have been a channel of blessing to me as a parent. I have a kid she is 1yr old and 2months. I am very much interested about homeschooling. Pleas give me advice on how to do it coz I am working from 8am-6pm and my husband is a Pastor. How can we do it? Another problem is about the financial. How much does it cost to homeschool a child? Thank you so much. God bless you!

    1. Hi Karen 🙂 most people who homeschool don’t work (the moms). It’s quite a full time job. But, there are those who hire tutors to help them out. Personally, I feel that this isn’t maximizing the homeschool experience which is really about daily discipleship. However, you still get the benefit of customized learning. As for the cost, it really depends on the provider. Some are cheaper than others. Tma homeschool is on the more expensive side — 25k for the first child, 5k for the next and each child that is added. The materials, which are dependent upon what you want to use, will cost anywhere between 7k to 15k. Hope this helps!!!

  8. Hi Joy! it’s me again but with a question/query or something.WARNING: This is gonna be lengthy :-p… the first time i read this entry, my son was just around 2 years old and was makulit but he’s pretty much well behaved in public. He’s always with me so I was able to discipline him real time based on the guidelines you and your dad had shared regarding discipline and my husband establishes the same rule as well.

    However just recently (he’s already 3 yrs old) in a Bible study fellowship Children’s program, I was shocked to hear from his teachers that he bit his “classmates” and even was disrespectful to one of the volunteers (he spat at her when she was trying to let him stay in one place for their “quiet time”). The teachers have to explain a lot to that volunteer that she needs to understand because he was just a child. The biting thing happened around 3 times. When I got to be a volunteer, lo and behold he was really not the boy I usually have at home (he didn’t obey me,he bit a boy who accidentally sat on him, refused to participate, and even said “i don’t like you”) and it really broke my heart. I was not able to discipline him right away because there’s just too many people around.

    Teachers and other moms consoled me that it’s a phase but I’m still looking for answers as to why it’s happening and what I can do! I cried to God about it asking Him to hold my son’s heart. and I kinda asked myself if there’s something my husband and I miss that made him like that! He’s no angel but he’s totally different at home or when he’s with his friends or familiar people!

    We don’t have TV at home (broken), he only watches documentary videos that i’ve downloaded (that he likes), and he has a play group and they pretty much get along without the biting and spitting thing. And we really try our best to establish discipline…I’m really at a loss!I can’t even answer the teachers when they asked what I do at home when he acts like that!

    In our disciplining moments my husband and i openly talk to him about “who do you want to live in your heart?Jesus or the Devil” “Jesus is in your heart, right?””would Jesus be happy when you….”. So in my mind i go crazy when he hurts somebody physically or verbally, especially other kids!

    i know you are not a John Rosemond but you have three boys!!! Any thoughts about my dilemma?

    Thanks God bless ^_^

    1. Don’t fret dearie, I think that God allowed you to see what’s going on for a reason. Praise God he is obedient at home. Maybe you can add in your training, teaching him about manners and how to treat others. When my kids do unkind things to each other, I ask them, “Is this how Jesus would want you to behave?” Or, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” Sometimes, just talking with them and helping them to understand the principle, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” helps. You are the best person to help your son. And pray for wisdom and creativity to identify and correct what he is doing. Behavior is a manifestation of something deeper. So hopefully, you can uncover the why behind his behavior. We also give our kids incentives for good character. If they are complimented for good character by strangers, teachers, others, then we affirmed them alot and we give them “character points.” 🙂

  9. yes your right, it may be something deeper. I’ll continue to pray for wisdom and so He can reveal things we still don’t see. It may be us, as parents (esp me, i tend to be aggressive at times) who need to change to model the right attitude. Thanks so much joy! 🙂 God bless!!

  10. Hi Joy, would you have any advice on disciplining a 9 year old emitional girl? I realise our discipline method in the past has not worked, and my daughter has become moody, self centered, and has tantrums even at 9 years old. I HOPe its not too late to discipline her!

  11. I love your blog…i just recently discovered it, i would have applied this earlier if only i saw this post when my child is younger. He is 4 now, is it too late to change our rules? We dont spank our child before but it is really not effective and he gets fussier the more he grows… I want to apply what you are doing to your children, i hope it not too late….

  12. Hi ms joy,
    I have always wanted to connect with ur family or Ptr. Peter about how u guys were homeschooled… I have an 18-month old son and I want to start things right for him now… my husband and I are very much interested about homeschooling. Is there any way we can get to this program? By the way, we are currently based in NY. And one more thing, if u won’t mind, just want to ask about house rules… does it has to be related to disrespect and disobedience … my mentor has some general rules: do u have that to? I would love to hear from you. Godbless your family.

  13. Thank you for this article, Joy. Your article was given to us at the best time. We have a 2-yr old daughter and we can already see some self-centeredness in her. She won’t share her toys. Kahit ako, ayaw niya na makita akong kausap ng ibang tao! She would run away or hihiga sa sahig when I am talking to other people. Frustrating at times but we know I need to find ways to help her.

    Any thoughts about sharing?

  14. Wow you blog and views on spanking and parenting in general is so concise and sensible. You break the reasoning and emotional conflicts down to their basic parts and it is amazing. I bet you kids are going to be great people!

  15. Hi Joy!
    This is a totally different parenting blog from all the ones I have read. Just wanted to point out a few things I disagree with and I was wondering if you could clarify if I’m interpreting this incorrectly?
    This style of parenting sounds very authoritarian. I strongly believe in discipline and guiding children but not in punishment. Do you think spanking or giving ultimatums will help build intrinsic motivation or will that lead to them only behaving out of fear?
    These questions are out of genuine curiosity as I have always loved a gentle and conscious way of parenting. I am strict with setting limits and removing my toddler from the situation even if it makes him cry (given that he was testing the limit or boundary) but I never punish him in anyway. We try to use natural consequences. I grew up in a very authoritative family and hate the way I was raised. Are you able to clarify a bit more so i am not misunderstanding your blog?

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