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