Disciplining A Little Fireball With Love


Sun Feb 01 2015 01_12_18 GMT 0800

My fifth child, Catalina, was my first child to display her relentlessness and fighting spirit so early on in her life. At times I wondered if this was due to her traumatic entrance into this world. Having been hospitalized twice in her first month of life, she had numerous needle insertions into her veins for IVs and antibiotics. Plus, she was separated from me physically when she was first confined. Even if I was allowed to see her to feed her, she didn’t experience the immediate bonding that I had with my other kids.

Her very large and loud personality became apparent when she turned six months old and escalated to include undesirable behaviors when she turned one. As a one year old, who was talkative and expressive, she not only vocalized her frustrations, she antagonized her siblings and others when she had the opportunity to do so.

I still remember our one month stay in the U.S. in December, when she discovered that carpeted floors provided the perfect surface for throwing a tantrum. She would hurl herself onto the floor (sometimes face down) and shake her legs madly when she didn’t get her way. For emphasis, she would also roll from one location to another.

I would watch this display of her temper, half amused that she thought this would make a difference, and half horrified that she expressed her anger this way. In all my experience of parenting five children, she was the first to unravel herself in this manner.

As I observed her reactions to situations that she deemed unfavorable, I wondered what she was thinking. Did she really believe that her actions would result in me picking her up or responding to her demands?

Had she been my first child, I might have been less calm. But having seen the positive effects of discipline on my four other children, I was hopeful that she too could be trained to obey and process her emotions with greater restraint. However, I also knew that it would be challenging. The very traits I mentioned at the beginning of this post, which are admirable to have in a person who has learned to control them, are not easy to channel appropriately by a one year old.

Clearly, her outbursts were unacceptable. The question was, how would Edric and I lovingly address the necessity of discipline in our little fireball of a daughter? How were we going to introduce obedience and self-control when she was barely over a year old?

Our U.S. trip provided the fitting time to begin our training. Edric and I were with Catalina 24/7. We studied her carefully and we watched her constantly.

One of her favorite things to do when playing with her younger cousin, Joshua, was hit him on the head. She had no regard for the fact that he was a helpless eight month old baby who could not run away from her tyranny. Almost every time she passed by him or stood near him, she managed to include a bop on his head that made him wail in pain. Furthermore, she found his unusually large and adorable eyeballs fascinating, and she wanted to poke them out of curiosity.



(This is cousin, Joshua)

Obviously, none of these behaviors could continue. I praise God for my gracious sister and brother in law. But I know they were afraid for his very life! So were Edric and me!

Since setting her aside and talking to her were ineffective and she defied us when we told her, “No, don’t hit,” our next recourse was to introduce spanking. We were very clear in our instruction. “Catalina don’t hit. You obey.” She would acknowledge and then minutes later, she would raise her hand or a toy and strike her cousin on the head with it!

A parent knows when her child is being defiant and when that same child is acting in innocence and ignorance. This wasn’t a case of innocence or ignorance. We saw the intent to disobey on her face as she smacked her cousin numerous times then looked at us or her panicking siblings who would report, “Catalina hit Joshua again!”

Since Edric and I had never hit Catalina and the ladies who worked for us hadn’t done so either (or are kids), we were perplexed as to how Catalina developed this bully-ish attitude. And even though we did not understand what kind of pleasure she got out of tormenting her cousin, it was decided that she would receive her first official spanking for disobedience. During a moment when I caught her in the act of hitting, I took her to the bathroom with a wooden spoon in my hand.

In the bathroom, I held her close and reminded her that we told her not to hit her cousin. I also told her that she did not obey so I was going to spank her. Then I gave her a good swat across the bum, enough to sting but not wound the skin. She cried and I embraced her tightly, waiting for her to calm down. Then I looked her in the eyes and said, “I love you. But mommy spanked you because you did not obey. Do not hit Joshua. Obey.” I repeated this several times until she filled in the blanks. Catalina will “OBEY”.

I know she understood me because she said, “No hip (she couldn’t quite say the word hit). Obey.” In fact she would say this when she was near Joshua, as a kind of mantra to suppress her urge to antagonize him.

Over the course of our stay in the U.S. she did test us and attempt to hit again a number of times. So we spanked her in the same manner. By the end of our trip, however, we could leave her alone with Joshua and she stopped her bullying.

Several weeks after we arrived in the Philippines and we had our wonderful househelp to assist me, they told me she was easier to take care of and that she had changed. Furthermore, everytime Catalina passed by the drawer where our own wooden spoon was kept, she remarked “Obey. Good girl. Obey. No hit. Spanking.” She connected that spanking was for her disobedience.

Our disciplining is hardly over. While the spankings are now fewer and far between, we continue to train her to wait and exercise self control, to be attentive, and to accept our commands without throwing a fit or tantrum. She is also learning how to say sorry and hug her siblings when she is unkind towards them.

Our present hurdle is teaching her to manage her temper when she doesn’t get her way. For example, if she wants to look at my Iphone and her siblings pull it away from her because we want to limit her exposure to gadgets, she will cry out to express her irritation and sometimes, she may even slap them back! It’s no longer about hitting to bully a younger child, it’s about fighting back when she feels wronged.

First, we tell her siblings not to grab toys or objects from her because this causes her to go into “survival mode,” where she antagonizes them in return. Second, I try to use the distraction technique, where I present an optional activity to divert her attention. Third, if she does get upset because she is denied what she wants, I take her aside so I can talk to her about her inappropriate responses. I also give her the opportunity to apologize to her siblings.

It’s not easy to discipline a little child. The word discipline has, at its root, the word disciple which means a follower. And we want all our children to follow Jesus Christ. However, Catalina is just a year and seven months old. So her capacity to grasp spiritual truth is still immature. While she sees us praying to Jesus and she observes that we talk about him, she is not yet able to understand what it means to have a fallen nature that needs to be redeemed by Christ. But she is manifesting this nature!

Until the age when we can explain God’s redemptive plan for her life (which usually happens around three years old for our kids), we have to remain consistent about training and teaching her to obey. Even if she is a very strong-willed girl, it is our responsibility to help her develop the will to obey and respond positively to our authority.


I am looking forward to the day when Catalina will embrace obedience because she knows it is God’s good will for her life and it leads to blessing. Until then, this is going to be a journey as we get to know her better and learn to best address the areas where she needs to grow and mature.

Every child has a strong-will. But how they manifest this will and when it erupts as a counterforce to parental authority is different for each child. Our duty, as parents, is not to be intimidated by it or give up trying to train our children to submit to our authority. We are to discipline our children for their greater good and protection, prayerfully considering what kinds of disciplinary actions work best, and always in the context of a healthy, loving relationship with them.

Focus on the Family suggests that parents need to be authoritative versus passive, permissive, or authoritarian. Authoritative parents “provide the best combination of love and discipline…not overbearing, but compassionate yet firm with their authority. They have clear boundaries but are also very loving. Everyone knows who the boss is, but there’s also a connection between parents and child, a consideration that respects and honors who the child is while not compromising his or her disciplinary needs. The result is a child high in self-esteem and equipped with good coping skills. This secular sociological study (by sociologist Reuben Hill) found that the parent who balances love and discipline, without compromising either, produces well-adjusted kids who maintain a positive relationship with Mom and Dad. This research, the best available today, affirms parents who express love well and maintain a high degree of control in their home.” (source: Focus on the Family – Effective Child Discipline)

Hebrews 12:11 “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Proverbs 13:13 “He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded.”

14 thoughts on “Disciplining A Little Fireball With Love

  1. I understand where you are coming from, My take is that since she is the youngest and still a baby and taking into consideration that she was a sickly baby having to be confined in a hospital would somehow clear the hazy picture as to why she is acting as a spoiled,whiny,bully little tod. It could be the amount of affection and love you as parents and the rest of the family have showered her because of what happened to her. Her vulnerability have been filled with too much love and care which the baby have felt and picked up and became some sort of a way to getting what she wants growing up to her age now. But it will all change now that she had to taste discipline out of love for her. Verbal emotional assurances and deprivation of her whims and fancies will help too. You’re doing great Joy. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this inspirational post. I have a lovely fireball myself, my third daughter Bryce. God bless you, Catalina, and your whole family.

  3. I am always encouraged by your blog entries. My husband and I still don’t have children, but I learn so much from what you share — this blog entry included. You are a blessing to all of us, Joy. Thank you. God bless you and your beautiful family always.

  4. Thaaaank you!This is very helpful!I have a four year old kid who always hit and bites her older sister and I’ve been helplessly trying to find ways on how to discpline her without emotionally damaging her.

  5. Omy! This is my current situation.. Like, did you wrote this for me?! I was about to skip reading this, because I’m about to sleep now. But there is this voice inside my head saying “Read it, it will only take less than 5mins of your time”.. And so I did. And voilà.. My Son, almost 2yrs of age, is having this manner to also fight back when his cousin takes everything that he holds. Getting stuff and throw it to her, or slap her. (Her cousin too knows how to piss him off). I’m a full time mom to him. Thank you, I was reminded to be firm in disciplining him and to be loving at the same time. I just don’t know what to do with his cousin. (I sometimes feel that she is a bad influence.. sigh)

  6. Joy,
    Thank you!
    This post is just what my table of young mamas have been needing – direction, guidance and best of all, assurance. I have shared with them several of your parents’ parenting principles from their seminars. This post of yours makes the principles come alive and shows them how to apply them. Best of all, it assures the ladies that they do work and that they they can be done in love. How they (as I do) battle with the lies of the enemy and the victorious truths of our God!
    Time and again, Henry and I realize how grateful we are to God for empowering your parents with this parenting study that has armed us with the biblical principles of parenting and the means by which to apply them. Time and again, we find ourselves being asked by others how our children (young adults now) are the way they are. We share with them the same principles we ourselves learned. Above all, we get to tell them it’s what Jesus can do.
    Praise and glory to Him. May He continue to bless you and your family richly. I will be praying for you and Edric; for Catalina, who has already been marked out as a fireball after God’s own heart. Just wait and see, world!!

  7. Thank you for sharing this, I have a little fireball of a toddler son as well, I always feel guilty when I have to pull him in the bathroom or a room to discipline him with spanking. I know it will all be for his own benefit and he will have to learn to obey. I hope he outgrows it soon enough.

  8. Thank you for sharing teacher Joy. Different styles of discipline according to child’s behavior/needs. Will share it to my friends and clients! God bless your heart!

  9. Hi Joy. I have been blessed by your reflections and learnings. Thank you for being so gracious to share them with us. 🙂

    I resonate your experience with Catalina. I struggle with my own daughter but praise God for His faithfulness to fill in my “gaps and lacks” and to keep realigning me to how He wants me to parent her.

    Sharing with you this favorite Christian blog writer of mine whose entry is very much connected to what you wrote about. It spoke so much to me and encouraged me. Hope you can read. May it bless you as well! 🙂

    Thank you again! Blessings!


  10. Thank you so much for this post! This has really blessed me and my husband (i shared sections of your post esp. the steps you took in disciplining catalina). Your posts always encourage us to really be intentional parents to our daughter.

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