From time to time parents ask me how to discipline a child who is misbehaving. They want to know if spanking is the solution. Some wonder about time-outs. Others propose dialoguing with their child and reasoning with them.
I really am no expert. My kids are still a work in progress but I do want to share a truth that has helped Edric and I to understand the why behind disciplining our kids. All children have a fundamental problem. It’s called sin.
No matter how cute or angelic they may seem as little babies, children will disobey or misbehave at some point. Some are more obvious in their defiance, others may be subtle and quiet about it. As parents, we have to realize that our children were born with fallen natures — a propensity for rebellion against God and his ordained authorities (for example, mom and dad.) According to the book of Proverbs, folly is bound up in the heart of a child.
John Rosemond, most well-read parenting expert in America, says that the earlier a parent realizes that their sweet darling is born with the capacity for wrong and evil, the better they will understand their role as parents in shaping the character of their children and disciplining them. I have softened the language a bit because he outrightly says that kids were born bad. His point, however, is that children need discipline and training. There is no shortcut to raising well-behaved children.
Although a psychologist himself, Rosemond threw away the mumbo-jumbo theories that surfaced in the 1960s which revolutionized the way parents began to raise their children. He calls it “the big wet blanket of psychobabble that has smothered parenting common sense.” He believes that disregarding the traditional approaches to raising children was a big mistake and we are seeing the detrimental affects today.
According to Rosemond, “Fifty years ago, it was unheard of for a child who had reached aged three to hit his parents; today, it is not unusual to find children five and six years of age who are hitting their parents (usually their northers) on a regular basis. Biting is another example of culture wide disciplinary decay…Fifty years ago, children were mischievous, but the rare child was belligerently defiant; today, the once-rare insolent child is everywhere. Fifty years ago, tantrums had stopped by age three. Today, it’s not at all unusual for children still to be having major emotional meltdowns well into their elementary school years.”
Over the weekend, I was asked to counsel a 10 year old child who hardly looked at me in the eye. I couldn’t get through to her. She remained hard and cold towards me. A 10 year old! I couldn’t help her because she refused to be helped. She rejected my attempts at reaching out to her. I actually found it very disrespectful and insolent. But a part of me also felt very sad. How do children get to that point? The best I could do was pray for her. According to the woman who was with her it was a wonder that she didn’t kick me while I was praying.
Personally, I believe that when parents move away from biblical parenting, we tend to get lost in all the popular theories that are circulating in the world today and become ineffective at raising our children. We don’t have a clear goal or a clear roadmap.
Two years ago, I struggled with parenting my third son, Titus. He was a very curious child but at times this curiosity would make him dismantle toys, tear up his books, break household items, write on walls and objects that he shouldn’t write on, and get himself into predicaments that were precarious.
There were many occasions when this deeply aggravated me and it put a strain on our relationship, but these things were not really the challenging part. It was his attitude. He was determined to get his way and would defy authority figures when he was told “No.”
Edric and I had to assess our parenting style, our methods and our goals because it was getting a bit overwhelming trying to deal with Titus. To keep it simple, we went back to a few core things. First, we established our authority. We didn’t let Titus manipulate us and we didn’t give in to his whining or sulking when he was between the ages of 2 and 3 — the height of it. So he stopped using that tactic. Second, we focused on instilling obedience. We were clear about rules and we disciplined him for breaking them. Third, Edric shared the gospel with Titus so he could begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. This brought about a transformation of his heart. A spiritual tenderness began to develop in him so that obedience became more about pleasing God instead of mere compliance. Fourth, we continue to disciple him, discipline him, and address his heart issues. We pay close attention to areas of weakness and strength. Fifth, we communicate unconditional love and acceptance. Sixth, we do no shout, compare, or belittle him when he does frustrating things because this will negate our training and teaching efforts. Seventh, we affirm him and build him up. We have chosen to appreciate the way God made him and celebrate his uniqueness. He truly is special (just like all our kids). When I see him make right choices, I commend him for it and call it out.
He is only 4 years old, but I can honestly say that his tendency is more towards obedience than it is towards misbehaving. And the reason is we have followed biblical parenting. God’s word keeps parenting simple for us. We set the goal of teaching our kids to love God and we disciple them accordingly.
Last night, during our family devotion, Edric taught the kids 1 Peter 5:7 “Be on the alert! Your enemy, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion…”
Each of the kids shared their insights on the verse and it was the cutest thing when Titus was explaining what the verse meant to him. He said, “I will be aware if there is candy and I should not eat a lot of it.”
Of all my kids, he likes candy the most. And it’s hard for him to resist the urge to put another piece of candy into his mouth when it’s in front of him. This is his temptation. He told us during the devotion, that he would not give in to the devil when he wants to eat more if mommy says thats enough.
Before bedtime, I was reading to the kids when Titus disappeared for a bit then reappeared with a bag of chocolate chips. He asked me if he could eat them and I said, “No.” He asked me why and I told him it was too late to eat sweets and he could have some the next morning. He responded with, “Okay, mom.” Out of curiosity, I asked Elijah to spy on Titus after he left the room. Elijah came back and reported to me that Titus walked right back to the kitchen and returned the bag of chips without taking anything from it. This incident delighted me because it was an example of how God is at work in Titus’ heart.
One of the spiritual fruits we want to see in our children is that they fall deep in love with Jesus and choose to keep loving him. If they love him, they will obey. So when we get overwhelmed or confused by the parenting mumbo jumbo that is out there, we look towards that goal and ask ourselves, are our children headed in that direction? If they are, then praise God. If not, what should we change?
A few days ago, as I was leaving the house to do an errand, Titus called out to me, “Bye, mom! I love you, mom! I love you a lot but I love Jesus more!” It was the sweetest thing.
My prayer is that Edric and I can keep encouraging his love for the Lord. He still misbehaves once in a while despite his profession of love for God. But that is why we have to keep discipling him. I really believe that the real antidote to misbehaving children is not so much a question of how do I discipline but how do I disciple my child so that they will love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
If you have a child who is misbehaving or seemingly uncontrollable, perhaps you and your spouse can ask the following questions: What is the goal of our parenting? What is the game plan going to be as we parent our child towards that goal? What are his areas of weakness and strength? Are we aligned about our role as parents, that we are his authority and need to establish that? Are we clear about our rules and following through with discipline when these rules are broken? Do we need to spend more time with him so he knows, beyond a doubt, that we love him and enjoy being with him? Do we need to stop wrong behavior or attitudes that he may be copying in us? Are we focusing on character in our parenting? Are we praying regularly for him? Does he know Jesus? If he does, is there evidence of spiritual fruit because of his relationship with Jesus?