Where to Find Good Parenting Advice
Sibling Conflict and Cures
Goal Incentives, Rewards and Bribes
Children and Childhood Fears
The Nature of Toddler Conflict
Temper Tantrums Versus Frustration Tantrums
Parenting Your Childs's Emotions
Punishment Versus Correction
Childishness Versus Foolishness
Three Laws of Correction
Where do your parenting ideas and beliefs come from? How do you forge your convictions? These days there is plenty of information available to help raise children. The Internet, books, classes and support groups — there’s something for everyone and everyone has an opinion. Some of it is good and trustworthy, but so much of it is not, and that is where problems come in. Opinions vary! If you have a tendency to listen to everyone and everything, then there is a greater chance that you will end up believing anything. As a result, rather than feeling more confident, you probably will feel confused and overwhelmed. We would not desire that for any of our parents. Here is some advice that has, over the years, proven reliable. The best way to sift through different parenting views, philosophies and advice is to look at the fruit produced by the various opinions. Look at families further along in their parenting than you. When seeing character qualities and virtues that you admire in other children or order in a home that you may not have yet achieved, inquire of the parents how they achieved that which you are seeking. From a parenting perspective, and especially for moms, following after a good example is much wiser and safer than following after someone’s ‘good opinion’ or the latest parenting fad. With a good example, at least you know what you’re getting. And isn’t this the point Apostle Paul made in 1 Timothy 6:11 when he encouraged Timothy to follow after the examples and traits that he saw in a righteous life — a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness and courtesy? Anyone can offer a compelling opinion on parenting, but nothing is more persuasive to a mother than compelling behavior. That is why good and respected families are one of the safest places to get advice to help you in your journey of motherhood.
When we consider the various brothers and sisters mentioned in the corridors of history, we might draw the conclusion that conflict between siblings is legitimate. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers are a few examples of sibling problems covered in the Bible. From the earliest days of human history, siblings have squabbled, endangering one of life’s most precious relationships.
Sibling conflict is different from sibling rivalry. Rivalry takes place when a child perceives he is not loved, or loved as much, or in danger of losing parental love. First, he may act out to gain his parents’ attention. If that does not work, he will act up against his parents.
Sibling conflict is not simply a phase that children go through. It is a moral problem that desperately needs correcting. Although sibling conflict is frustrating for any parent to observe, it is possible to carry out the “golden rule” between siblings, but it will take consistent hard work. Here are a few suggestions to help you on the path to a more harmonious family.
Do not be satisfied with siblings who just tolerate each other. Instead, aim for the higher standard of sacrificial love. We have found that the way a child treats his siblings is often the way he will treat his future spouse and children. Do not curse your future grandchildren by not encouraging sufficient love between brothers and sisters now. Teach your children how to resolve their own conflicts. Your children will learned very early that sometimes, peaceably resolving their own conflicts is better than having Dad or Mom come and resolve them. Usually neither side gets what it wanted.
Enforce the family rule: No tattling. There is an old proverb that reminds us: The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.
Children bring reports to their parents about siblings for many reasons; some are legitimate, and others are not. The legitimate reasons include health and safety concerns or the honest desire for parental intervention and justice. With the latter, the child has learned that sometimes it’s better to consult a neutral mediator rather than escalate the conflict (by striking back at a sibling). Actual tattling is when a brother or sister snitches for the sole purpose of getting another sibling in trouble. This is malice; the desire to see others receive pain. In the hierarchy of childhood crimes, this may be one of the worst offenses. Often, it is done in hopes of gaining both parental approval and assistance—approval for not being the one doing wrong, and assistance in gaining the upper hand on his sibling by bringing the matter to his parents’ attention. The tattler should receive the consequence they had hoped would fall on the sibling.
At the same time teach your children the difference between coming to you with a legitimate concern and coming to get a sibling in trouble. Humility and concern, not malice, was what prompted one sibling to report on another. Even then they could not come unless they had first tried to get their sibling to stop whatever he or she was doing wrong before coming to us. It works well.
Require verbal and physical kindness between siblings. Teach verbal and physical self-control. Give your children guidance in relation to their treatment of siblings and friends. These boundaries include restrictions on hitting, pushing, talking back, and a general lack of self-control. Take advantage of family times (such as at the dinner table or driving in the car) to model this. Take turns sharing what each one appreciates about another member of the family.
Teach your children to look for the "door of escape." One commonsense rule is for children to keep their hands to themselves. If a sibling gets hit, rather than striking back, he must have the confidence to know that his parents will bring justice. Seeking out Mom or Dad becomes the child's "door of escape". Going to a parent is not retaliation, but seeking the one who can bring justice, whether it be mom at home or a teacher on the playground. Justice comes from rightly exercised authority.
Insist that your children speak life to each other. You have heard it said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Your children should never speak rudely to each other. Evil intended remarks such as, “I don’t love you,” “You’re ugly,” or threats like, “I’m going to tell,” are unacceptable. Keep watch! Training children to restrain their unkind speech is one of the most overlooked areas in parenting.
Teach your children how to respect each other. The following areas of training are often overlooked:
* listening attentively to a brother or a sister;
* responding with the basic courtesies and greetings such as, "Please, Thank you, Goodnight, I'm sorry or Will you forgive me?";
* interrupting properly, with only one person speaking at a time;
*sharing property that is reasonable to share;
* being genuinely happy when something good happens to a sibling.
Encourage your children to be happy for their sibling. If a sibling receives an award, wins at a board game, or has an opportunity that another sibling does not have, discourage the "why no me" attitude and encourage the joy for the brother or sisters good fortune. Your constant encouragement in this area can make the difference between ongoing bickering between siblings and a peaceful home.
Honor each child's birthday as their own. Everyone gets their own birthday, a day set aside for them. You do not need to buy a gift for each sibling or friend attending the child’s party. That only robs the birthday child of his or her special day. It teaches the siblings to selfishly look forward to a day of gifts rather than a day of giving, celebrating the birth of a brother or sister. Mothers will often say, “I don’t want anyone to feel bad because he didn’t get a gift.” But they will all receive a gift—each one on his own birthday. And if someone feels bad that he didn’t get a gift, that only tells you where that child needs some work—the virtue of contentment.
Provide an environment that will encourage service to others. Take household chores, for example. Researchers from Toronto, Canada, and from Macquarie University in Australia studied children from families who were given daily chores and those who were not. Their research pointed toward some interesting conclusions. Children who performed household chores showed more compassion for their siblings and other family members than children who did not share in family responsibility.
Even more interesting was the fact that not all chores were considered equal. The kids who did family-care chores, like setting the table, feeding the cat, or bringing in firewood, showed more concern for the welfare of others than children who had only self-care responsibilities, such as making their own bed and hanging up their own clothes. Whenever children participate in the care of others, they grow sensitive to human need. Include your children in helping to secure the welfare of your family. That may mean bringing in firewood every day after school, helping out with weeding the garden, or setting or clearing the table. Whatever it may look like in your home, include your children in the experience of daily serving others. Their joy in doing so may surprise you.
If a parent employs these basic sibling courtesies, they will drastically cut down on sibling conflict.
Goal incentives can be a great encouragement for a child who needs a little “oomph” to get over a hurdle of doubt about his or her ability to accomplish a task, or to increase a child’s desire to pursue a new level of achievement.
Parents use goal incentives to help train a child to ride a bike, color a picture, improve a grade, or learn a life skill. For example, the Ezzos lived near a lake when their children were preschoolers. Because of the proximity of the water they wanted their kids to be water safe. When their eldest was four years old, they offered a goal incentive. “Amy, if you learn to swim this week from our dock to the yellow buoy, we’ll buy you the snorkel set you saw in the store.”
Learning to swim was a priority for Amy that week. Her motivation was heightened by the incentive. She stuck with it, and her accomplishment was rewarded with a bright yellow snorkel set. If she had not met her goal, she would have received praise for trying, but not the snorkel set.
Goal incentives, however, have a limit. Be careful not to use goal incentives to a child’s discouragement. That happens when a parent expects more from the child than is reasonable for his or her age. At four, Amy learned to swim an appropriate distance, but she was not yet ready to swim the length of the lake. She would have failed to achieve the goal and the incentive. This would’ve crushed her desire to attempt difficult things.
Goal incentives differ from rewards and bribes. Goal incentives should be used to motivate non-moral activities, such as training a child to ride a bike, color a picture within the lines, or improve a grade, where rewards and bribes are tied to behaviors that are moral, that is right and wrong. While it might sound like a matter of semantics, there is a discernible difference between the three. Parents use goal incentives to motivate actions associated with skills, talents, and intellectual challenges, but not to change or modify behavior, as is the case with rewards.
Goal incentives are presented to a child before a task, rewards are used to confirm and reinforce proper behavior. For example, “Ryan, because you behaved so well in the store today, Mom wants to demonstrate her appreciation by letting you pick out a special treat.” This is an example of rewarding a child. Mom called attention to his good conduct and showed her appreciation for it. It came after the fact—which is what separates a reward from a bribe.
You might wonder, “Okay, but what’s the difference between a bribe and a goal incentive?” Bribing takes place when you offer something up front in exchange for good behavior. “Jonathan, if you’re good in the store today, Mommy will buy you a special treat. But you have to be good.” That’s a bribe. A parent may get the desired behavior (this time), but at what expense? The child’s right behavior did not come out of a desire to do good, but a desire for a temporary gratification.
This is why the Bible says “bribes corrupt.” (Prov. 17:23) Bribes corrupt all sense of motivation driven by virtue. Children will respond to a bribe, but the changed behavior will last only as long as the bribe has influence. Grandma Bee always bribes little Johnny with a piece of candy just to get him to sit in his chair. But she could never understand why he would not do so on his own. Little Johnny had figured it out. You see, once the pleasure of a bribe is consumed, you are left with a behavioral vacuum.
Where goal incentives help establish lifelong skills, a bribe is a temporary appeasement with no positive lingering effects. Once a child learns to swim, tie a shoelace, ride a bike, or play the piano, it becomes part of her life. Here is a handy rule of thumb: Children should be rewarded for their obedience, not obedient for a reward.
How old were you when you first saw the ghoulish monkeys dispatched by the wicked witch of the west to pick up Dorothy and her dog, Toto? Do you remember the scene of winged monkeys spreading the gentle Scarecrow “here, there, and everywhere”? These scenes from the movie, The Wizard of Oz, when observed by this writer, were some of the most frightening scenes that a twelve-inch black-and-white screen could project to the pounding heart of an eight-year-old boy.
Fear! It is part of the overall human experience and not simply a childhood phenomenon. Some childhood fears might appear irrational, even silly, to parents because they do not arise from any real external danger, but they are very real to your child and should be respected as such. Although the cause of fears may not always be discovered, we know there are general categories of fear that children experience. Knowing the origin of fears may not always eliminate them, but it may lead parents to better management and reduction of fearful stimuli. Consider these sources:
Natural Fears—In spite of the fact that fears vary from child to child, there is evidence that certain fears are characteristically found at specific ages. These are referred to as “typical fears.” Many fears are learned from direct association of experiences with fearful stimuli. The most frequently displayed fears for children come from animals such as dogs, snakes, and rats. These are followed by the fear of strange people, being left alone, and dark or high places.
Fear of the Unfamiliar—Among the primary fears of young children is the fear of the strange and unfamiliar (strange from the point of view that something stands apart from the child’s previous experience). It could be a person, event, situation, or activity. This type of fear takes place because young children do not have cognitive tools to adequately measure the legitimacy of their fear and thus lack the ability to understand the cause and effect associated with fearful situations. For example, a child with an ice-cream cone may not understand that it was the food that attracted the neighbor’s puppy and not a wolflike desire to devour the child. Yet the fear, although misplaced, is still very real in the mind of the child.
Developing Imagination—Imagination can also create fearful expectations, especially when the imagination develops faster than the child’s reasoning abilities. Imaginary fears include ghosts, skeletons, bogeymen, or any combination of the above.
False Beliefs—Some fear is the result of bad experiences, such as the fear of the dentist or the hospital or a visit to the doctor’s office. The frightening experience becomes an expected reality and thus apprehensiveness occurs. Your child will even react with fear to a new situation that in and of itself, normally would not arouse fear. Other fears are passed on to children by the false beliefs of their parents, siblings, and friends.
Parental Anxiety—Parents sometimes unwittingly arouse fears in their children and introduce attitudes of apprehension by their own overprotective anxiety. Constant warnings of restraint such as “Be careful, you’re going to fall down,” “Don’t pet the dog or he will bite,” “Don’t climb in the tree or you will fall and break your leg,” or “Don’t go by the road you might get hit by a car” might keep a child in an atmosphere of fear and continuous dread. Note the operative word above is constant. Of course there will be times in which you might say all of the above. This is not the same as constant warnings of danger that place a child in a perpetual state of anxiety about his own welfare.
Helping Children Manage and Overcome Fear
Some fears need to be managed, while other fears can be overcome with time and education. Here are some facts and suggestions to consider while working with your child’s fears.
Fear itself is not a cure for fear—Forcing a fearful child to “face his fears” is not the best way to help him overcome them, nor is ridiculing a child for being afraid or commanding him to ignore his fears. This approach goes against the very thing the child needs—that being the full confidence that his burden of fear is being shared with Mom and Dad or big brother or sister. Ridiculing and name-calling are antagonistic forces to companionship and trusting relationships.
Education—Methods that promote self-confidence are the best ways to help children overcome their fears, and this can be done in part through education. Children are less likely to be fearful if they have some understanding of the object of fear. When the child learns that the puppy’s actions are playful not threatening, and that the snake is behind the glass and cannot get out, or that thunder has an explanation, he will better be able to manage potential fear with the assurance brought by such knowledge. Educating a child about his natural fears is one of the best ways to reduce fear that parents can use with their child.
Getting acquainted—Giving your child opportunity to get acquainted with the fearful object or situation is another form of education. This may take time since the child’s confidence in the knowledge of what is safe must grow stronger than the fearful experience of the past. Gradually introducing your child to the object of dread through role-playing, actual encounter with the object, or parental example helps alleviate his fears. When your child sees that Mom is not afraid to play with the puppy, he will join in the fun and in time overcome his fear. In contrast, if Mom overreacts to the excited puppy by hopping on a chair, the child will not be far behind her.
Removing fearful stimuli—Remove all inappropriate fearful stimuli from your child’s life. The Wizard of Oz is not a movie for preschool-age child to watch. Even the movie Dumbo can create apprehension. Poor little Dumbo, separated from his Mom and forced to work the circus scene as an oddity, is way beyond the context of your child’s sense of security. Take note of what your child is watching on television, including cartoons. Given the state of the world, even the nightly news can be fear-provoking to children (and adults).
Substitution, not just suppression—Universal in application, this particular suggestion should not be limited to the single category of fear, but applied to any circumstance that employs moral and virtuous opposites. For example, the Ezzos were once approached by a father asking how to deal with his son’s obsessive jealousy. That question leads to a broader one—how do you deal not only with jealousy, but all attitudes of the heart and emotions, including fear? Children of all ages are better served by substitution than by suppression. The father mentioned above was frustrated by his efforts to suppress his son’s jealousy. No matter how hard he tried to keep the lid on it, jealousy continued to leak out.
The problem here and for many parents is not simply the presence of a vice or a weakness, but the absence of a virtue and strength. Suppression of wrong behavior is often achieved by encouraging the opposite virtue. If you want to suppress jealousy, give equal time to elevating the opposite virtue, which in this case is contentment. If you have a child struggling with envy, teach charity. For anger, teach self-control. For revenge, teach forgiveness. Substitution will make all the difference in the world. This same principle applies to childhood fears. Often the problem is not the presence of fear but rather the absence of courage. Parents, by the language they use, tend to focus primarily on the fear (the negative) and not on courage (the positive). Instead of saying, “Don’t be afraid,” parents should consider saying instead, “Be brave” or “Be courageous.” This type of encouragement is not meant to satisfy a moment of fear, but to establish a pattern of belief for a lifetime.
Prevention—Most of the suggestions above that can help overcome fears can also be employed to prevent many fears. Giving a child a heads-up about the neighbor’s dog or how loud the fireworks will sound makes good sense. When dealing with young children, some form of pre-activity warning is better than the shock of discovery.
The fears associated with early childhood are significantly different than those of older children and adults. For that reason, parents must demonstrate a liberal amount of patience, empathy and understanding. They should never view their child’s fears as ‘silly’, attempt to de-legitimize them, or insist their child “toughen up” or “just get over it.” Rather, they should become a calming and reassuring voice. After all, the last thing you want to create is a condition in which your child fears telling you about his fears.
Let’s face it. There is no end to a toddler’s creative expression, from munching on crayons to striking a Superman pose while standing on the grocery cart seat when your head is turned toward the vegetable bin. A toddler’s day covers a gamut of challenges, including a meltdown because his applesauce is touching his scrambled egg, to a small tantrum because you casually mentioned the word “nap”.
It is a daily fact: The nature of young children usually runs contrary to Mom and Dad’s wishes and often a toddler’s impulsive outbreaks make no sense at all. But, this is what you’re working with. You say, “Sit still”, and their body says, “wiggle”. You say, “Come here” and little legs carry them any place but here.
As a parent, have you ever experienced something like this? One moment all is going well between you and your toddler and then you try to put a jacket on him and suddenly your efforts are met with a stern “No! Me do it!” Or, you instruct your two-year-old not to jump on the couch and he does it anyway with an impish grin that communicates, “I am the master of my universe!” Unlike conflict in the adult world, conflict with a toddler is driven by the self-pleasing impulses: “Because I want to” or “Because I don’t want to”. Toddler conflict flows from deep within his nature — a nature that has “me, myself, and I” as the principle force of life. The frustrating challenge that most parents will face is not knowing when this impulse of “I will”, or “I will not” might emerge during the day driven by “Me, myself, and I”.
“Me, myself, and I” that is how a young toddler is wired. But over time this view of self must give way to an expanded view of family, community, and the world of cooperating with others. It is during the toddler transition that a world of ‘otherness’ understanding begins to invade his life and collides with the world of ‘self’. That sets the stage for conflict.
This is one reason we believe the period between eighteen and thirty-six months is the greatest period of conflict in the life of every human being. So much of what a toddler is learning runs contrary to his nature. Think about all that is directed his way. He is now told to share, talk nice, get in line, stay seated, be good, stop moving, be kind, and for goodness sake, leave the poor cat alone. While he may learn a new rule, he is not old enough to appreciate the benefits of the rule, or why Mom and Dad get upset when he breaks the rule. Not only is he learning new rules at home, but everywhere else his little feet land. And to add more confusion, he is also observing how other children follow the rules or don’t!
Conflict does play a shaping role in the process of child training. Used here, the term conflict does not denote bad, wrong, disagreeable or poor performance. Rather, it descriptively denotes new awakenings, as your child begins to shed his old infantile view that it is ‘all about me’ and begins moving into a world that is all about ‘we’.
What might the next eighteen months look like in your home? Well, it will be filled with peaks and valleys. For two weeks you battle over an unwelcome behavior, and then suddenly, victory! Everything is calm for a week and you begin to think, “This isn’t so bad”. But before you call for the city parade, beware that your next challenge is at your doorstep. Up and down, peaks and valleys. Welcome to the roller-coaster ride of the toddler years.
It is not our intent to communicate a negative message about the toddler phase, because there are plenty of moments of joy. But we do not want parents to be surprised by the amount of conflict common during this time, especially if you set and enforce behavioral goals and expectations for yourself and your child. As a word of warning, if you ever hear a parent claim they have no conflict with their toddler, we wonder what type of beliefs they hold about the preciousness of others.
Most three to seven-year-olds should be beyond the temper tantrum phase. However, if that tactic has been unintentionally strengthened by parents, it may be in full force. You cannot expect that a child will achieve maturity in emotional behavior any sooner than he will achieve maturity in other areas of development. How he controls and expresses his emotions is far more important than the fact that he merely controls or expresses himself. The first is a learned state, the second is the natural state. There are right ways to express feelings and wrong ways. Throwing temper tantrums is the wrong way. The propensity for throwing temper tantrums is a normal phase of development. That is not to say temper tantrums must be. Tantrums are triggered by one thing—disappointment. A temper tantrum, whether thrown by a child or an adult, is a coping mechanism occurring because a child has not learned how to correctly manage disappointment. As future control over this emotion increases, the potential for tantrums decreases. Meanwhile, you still need to deal with it. Here are some suggestions.
1. Take note of when and where your child throws his fits. Is it only in public, just before or after a meal, or when he is tired and in need of a nap? If a pattern exists, knowing it will help you prevent tantrums before they happen.
2. As difficult as it may be, try not to talk a child out of his tantrum. Without realizing it, you are encouraging the behavior by rewarding it with attention and gentle words. To work effectively, a tantrum needs a sympathetic audience. Talking provides that audience. Speaking beseechingly to a child in a tantrum is like granting a terrorist’s demands.
3. Use isolation against temper tantrums. Deposit the child in his room or on the couch until he settles down. That may take ten minutes or longer. What about the child who will destroy his room during one of his fits? To frankly state our opinion, any child between the ages of three and seven who trashes his room during a time of correction is outwardly displaying total contempt for his parents’ right to lead and rule his little life. This can be corrected, but only in time.
4. One technique that some have found helpful in such cases is to physically hold the child. Sit down and hold that child until you feel the struggling arms and flailing legs surrender to your will. Don’t let go. When he surrenders, the tantrum is over. And you will see a more peaceful child.
5. Do not add the question “Okay?” to the end of your instructions. “Johnny, we’re going to leave the store now, okay?” This is begging for trouble. What if it is not okay with Johnny? Try it this way: “Johnny, we’re going to be leaving the store soon. I want to hear a ‘Yes, Mommy.’” A child will not say “Yes, Mommy,” and then throw a tantrum.
6. Teach delayed gratification. This must become a reality in your child’s life. He simply cannot have everything he wants when he wants it. Immediate gratification training only heightens a child’s anxiety when the pattern is not maintained.
Frustration Tantrums. Frustration tantrums are not the same as temper tantrums. A frustration tantrum happens when a child cannot make his body accomplish the task his mind can clearly understand. For example, when Martha tried to place her dolls in a circle, one kept toppling over. She knew in her mind what she wanted to do but could not physically make it happen. Frustration is the basis of these tantrums, not rebellion.
You will naturally desire to help your child when he gets frustrated. You see him in distress and rush to intervene. However, do not be too quick to jump in. You may be encouraging a short temper and a quickness to give up.
Make yourself available but first insist that the child ask for your help. A simple statement such as, “Mom will help you if you want, but you must ask me,” puts the burden of cooperative problem solving on the child. This is a virtue to develop in him, because he will need to know how to work with others to solve problems later in life. If you sense a growing frustration and there is no hope of resolving it, then consider playtime over for now.
“My two and-a-half year old son doesn’t like it when I correct his four-year-old brother. He becomes sad whenever his brother is being taken away for correction because he knows he’s losing his playmate,” a mother reported. “I think it would be better not to correct my four-year-old in order to spare my two year old feelings of sadness.”
Every child will experience both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. Hopefully, your child will know more of the first than the second. The experience of positive emotions, like joy, happiness, affection, esteem and the sense of discovery leads to feelings of security and confidence. But attempting to orchestrate positive emotions by avoiding circumstances that might lead to negative emotions is both unwise and unhealthy.
Parents err whenever they focus on the single category of emotion and not the “whole child”. The “whole child” concept is derived from a single question asked of Jesus in Mark 12:28. “What is the greatest commandment of them all?” Jesus instructed that we are to “Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength”. This response not only provides an answer to the immediate question, but also an insight into the four basic human capacities. To “Love God with all of your heart,” speaks to a child’s moral capacity. The soul represents his emotional capacity. The mind speaks to a child’s intellectual capacity and “loving God with all of your strength” represents his physical capacity. Whenever you parent the four capacities, you are parenting the “whole child”. Over-emphasizing any one of these at the expense of the others creates an unhealthy balance. In our opening example, the mom was willing to put aside needed correction for her four-year-old to secure a temporary moment of happiness for her two-year old. This is not a good exchange.
If happiness is the highest value to offer children, then other “good” values such as honesty, compassion, self-control, self-entertainment, obedience, submission, and patience will gradually be nudged out of your child’s life because they are not always compatible with a child’s happiness. Parenting for “happiness” sake is a poor substitute for parenting the whole child — his heart, his mind, his body, and his emotions.
Another childhood emotion parents will routinely deal with is disappointment. When it happens in your home do not be too quick to try and fix it. “Oh, Honey, are you disappointed? Will giving you some ice cream make you feel better?” Masking disappointment does not fix disappointment. In contrast when you teach your son or daughter how to properly handle disappointment, you will be giving your child a gift that will follow him throughout his entire life. If your child is discouraged, don’t lower the standard, but give him the skills to improve. If a task is proving to be too overwhelming, then remove the challenge for three to six months until your toddler has the skill to take it on.
Let’s talk about disappointment from the parent’s side of the issue. What happens when we transfer our adult-size emotions to our pint-size children? For example, as a mom, you may be disappointed to learn the Children’s Museum is closed and therefore the outing you were looking forward to was cancelled. Before rushing in to console your toddler, make sure there is a real need. Please be careful not to project your feelings of disappointment onto your child who is not experiencing them and probably doesn’t even know what the Children’s Museum is about.
The same is true when a child gets hurt. Some parents project their emotions by pushing the panic button and reacting as if every little tumble or scrape was a medical emergency, “Oh Baby, are you okay?!” To which the child learns, “I must be really hurt, look how alarmed Mom sounds.”
If parents become characterized by emotionally rushing in to rescue their child in a way that is totally disproportionate to what actually happened, the child learns to respond to the parent’s emotions and not the actual circumstance. He learns to exchange self-evaluation and self-control for out-of-control screams and excessive crying. The child is being trained to negative expectations, and that will become a way of life for him. As a parent, once you’ve evaluated the situation and it isn’t life threatening, respond with a cautious calmness, “You’re okay, you can get up.” And the child learns ninety percent of time, that in fact, he is okay.
Let’s start by defining some terms: punishment and correction. Punishment is the fitting retribution of an offense. In child training, it serves a moral purpose; it communicates to children a value of good and evil by the weight of punishment ascribed to each wrongful act. The administration of punishment is dependent upon and inseparably linked to the proper administration of authority. That means the right of punishment belongs only to those clothed with authority and who exercise such in submission to the wisdom of Scripture. Pain, loss, or restraint willfully inflicted on another person outside of the rightful administration of authority is aggression or revenge, but it is not punishment.
Punishment is one element of correction, but not all correction is tied to punishment. Correction is the act of bringing back from error or unacceptable deviation from the standard. The reason we correct our children is basic–it helps them learn. But in order to maximize the learning side of correction, we need to understand two governing principles.
The first one is this: The type of correction depends on the presence or absence of malicious intent. Parents should ask, “Was my child’s wrong action accidental or intentional?” Did he know what he was doing was wrong? The answer to those questions will help determines which type of correction will best serve the offence. This is the dividing line. Separating the unintentional from the intentional.
The second rule of correction is this: The punishment/consequences must fit the crime. Punishment sets a value on behavior. That is why over-punishing or under-punishing is dangerous; both send the wrong message. When any society establish a baseline for punishment, it is placing a value on the seriousness of a wrongful act. Punishment places a value on the action.
In parenting, a child’s sense of justice is established through punishment, not rewards. For example, if a child hits and bruises his sister with a plastic bat, and then is punished by receiving five minutes in the timeout chair, the parent established in the mind of the child that hurting other people is not a serious infraction. Over-punishments go to the other extreme. When a parent says, “You left your light on after leaving your room and for that, you can’t have any friends over for a month,” that can easily be considered over-punishing. This fosters exasperation and more conflict.
Stay mindful of these two principles again. Before an offense can be dealt with most effectively, the parent needs to ask two questions: “Was what my child did the result of an accident or was it malicious?” “Was it childishness or foolishness.” Second, “What punishment would fit the wrong and convey the right value message?
Two four-year-old cousins were striking the dwarf plum tree with sturdy sticks. Laughing and chanting a nursery rhyme, the pair used their enchanted scepters to knock from the branches the newly formed plums. Too late, grandma discovered and stopped their fairy-tale game. Previously, spring rains had wiped out all but a couple dozen plums. Now, nearly half of those lay on the ground. Were their actions childish, or foolish? What is the difference?
From time to time we all act inappropriately. Sometimes we purpose to do wrong, but there are times when we make honest mistakes or uninformed decisions. The first is intentional, the second is not. The same is true of our children of all ages.
Willful, intentional defiance and open rebellion are what the Bible calls foolishness. Proverbs 22:15 tells us that, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” The word in this verse comes from the root word folly, which means deception, trickery, disobedience, lacking in wisdom, or rebellion. Foolishness is acting without regard to consequences, or without regard to injury to self and others.
Childishness on the other hand are honest mistakes or accidental occurrences, uninformed decisions that were wrong. When seven year old Ashley accidentally tripped on the lamp cord, causing it to fall on the floor and break, her actions were not intentional or premeditated. There was no willful defiance at play. She simply tripped. Here actions were childish
However, a child is not acting childishly when he is disobedient; he is acting foolishly. Parents must gear their efforts toward one common goal of taking the foolishness that is bound up in the heart of a child and replacing it with wisdom. Foolishness shows itself either directly or indirectly. Disobeying, talking back, refusing to accept correction, and rejecting any form of authority are all expressions of direct, willful defiance—they are foolish. The haughty look, pretending not to hear, pleading ignorance to the obvious after being caught in a misdeed, doing something good or cute to get out of doing what was instructed, and constantly saying, “I forgot,” are various forms of the more passive, indirect forms of defiance. (In this last situation, the problem is not only in the child’s characterization of failing to remember the instruction, but in his failure to put any effort into learning the lesson.)
Think of it this way. Childishness is a head problem, the child doesn’t know any better. Foolishness is heart problem. The child knows what is wrong but pursues it anyway. Why do parents need to know the difference? Because they should never punish a child for childishness, but they will correct for it.
One: All Correction Must Promote Learning
“Becky, don’t splash water in your baby sister’s face,” mom says, only to see Becky wander across the wading pool to her next victim. Splash. Splash. Mom is shocked and the shouting ensues. If only mom had explained the real issue behind Becky’s first playful flick of water.
If learning didn’t take place, correction didn’t happen. Correction requires explanation. Without the why of wrong there is no correction, just a random redirection of behavior. Whether a child’s actions be innocent mistakes or malicious disobedience, explanatory teaching will always be necessary. The parent’s job is to move the child from what he did this time to what he should do next time. Whatever the wrong, use it to impart knowledge. If you complete your talk and learning didn’t take place, correction didn’t happen.
Children learn by gaining knowledge but not all knowledge comes through textbooks or living room lectures. Sometimes we teach our kids what not to do by walking them through behaviors. In the Ezzos’ vegetable garden there is a series of brick walkways which children thrill in playfully weaving through. Sometimes, however, little two-year-old feet mindlessly leave the path. A toddler has no knowledge of the plants underfoot. She would not understand a discourse on the recovery rate of crushed cucumber stems. Education in this case is facilitated by hands-on learning—taking the child for a walk on the bricks, pointing out where she can step and where she cannot. Make the education you give age-appropriate. Just be sure to give it.
Children learn in a variety of ways. Sometimes the painful consequences associated with their actions become their tutors. Let’s say your child ignores your instructions to not exit the swing in midair. His beautiful brush burn on his right thigh is the natural consequence. It teaches him the why behind your prohibition.
Consider the behavioral explanation you give today to be a deposit on tomorrow’s behavior. Your goal is to transfer the impetus for right moral behavior from the external (you) to the internal (your child). That cannot happen without the why of behavior.
Two: Make the Punishment Fit the Crime
It’s natural for parents to react spontaneously to negative behavior. You see defiance and boom you jump on it. But before you jump, stop and think. You must act for the child’s good. Recklessly reacting in the heat of the moment isn’t the wisest plan.
Where should parents begin when considering correction for their children’s intentional disobedience? Disobedient behavior needs correction, but parents should not correct all disobedience the same way or with the same strength of consequence. Parents should modify their correction based on the following five factors.
1. The age of the child. Am I training a toddler who is just learning to put his world together or a second-grader approaching the middle years of childhood?
2. The frequency of the offense. Is this the first time this offense has been committed in six months or the sixth time in six minutes? Correction should be handled with reference to frequency. If the first offense was handled at correction level one (whatever that may be in your home), the second, third, and sixteenth occurrences should be treated at progressively higher correction levels.
3. The context of the moment. Context is not an excuse for disobedience, but it should be taken into consideration when determining consequences. Look back to the original inciting incident to determine context. Did your child disobey as part of the group, or was he the leader of the insurrection?
4. The overall characterization of behavior. Is this the only behavior in need of correction or is it part of a larger pattern in need of attention? Is this the kind of thing your child often does or was it some strange aberration? Is there some deeper problem that’s causing this behavior? Treating symptom does not take care of the root problem.
5. The need for balance. When considering consequences, parents should also consider that overly harsh punishment exasperates a child, while excessive leniency fails to put a correct value on the offense. You know your child. Decide what level of punitive effect is appropriate for the offense and take action that is calculated to achieve that effect.
Three: An Offense against a Person or Property Requires an Apology
This law of correction is completely incompatible with child-centered parenting. A child’s moral sensibility is intimately connected to his or her willingness to accept responsibility for wrongful actions. This awareness cannot be a silent introspection. Teach your children to admit they’re wrong when they’re wrong. It is the first step in mending wounds.
Relationships work best when there is no unresolved conflict simmering within them. That is why this fourth law is so much a part of healthy families. Have you ever been offended by a friend, coworker, or family member and the person knows he’s done wrong but refuses to admit it? At best, he’ll just be unusually nice to you for a while. That’s his way of apologizing without having to admit wrong. But it’s unsatisfactory.
You may not be able to change your coworkers, friends, father or mother, or brother or sister, but you can certainly train your children in this area. Think how these relationships bother you. Don’t let it happen in your family between siblings or between your child and you.
Humility is the basis for healthy families. Seeking forgiveness for an offense and humbly admitting error in an effort to be restored with the offended party is a prerequisite for a loving and enduring relationship. This is serious heart business. Children and adults who are in the habit of asking for forgiveness take ownership of their wrong actions. They show they believe the relationship is worth the possible embarrassment often associated with admitting wrong.
In practice, what does an apology look like? What are the components? First, understand the distinction between saying “I’m sorry” and asking for forgiveness. Both are appropriate but not always in the same situations. “I’m sorry” is associated with unintentional mistakes, childishness. Apologizing expresses regret over an action that caused hurt but which was void of malice or hurtful intent. Seeking forgiveness on the other hand is appropriate when the person has willfully committed a hurtful act. There was intention to defy, injure, or destroy. This is a heart problem.
When Kenny unintentionally stepped in Mrs. Brown’s flower bed and uprooted a couple of new plants, his mom had him apologize by saying, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Brown, for stepping on your flowers.” That was an appropriate response since his actions were childish and devoid of purposeful wrongdoing. Kenny’s “I’m sorry” does not signal guilt but his acknowledgment of the innocent wrong.
Let’s change the scenario slightly and add a second dimension: instruction. We’ll say Kenny had received instructions from Mrs. Brown not to play near the flower bed. He even received a second warning from his mother. But Kenny chose to ignore both, leading to the trampling of the flowers.
In this case, Kenny’s actions just leaped from childishness to defiance. His actions can no longer be blamed on innocent immaturity. In the first instance, he did not know any better. This time around, he disregarded Mrs. Brown’s instructions and continued on a careless path. Simply put, he disobeyed.
Here a simple “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Kenny is compelled to a deeper commitment: seeking forgiveness. “Mrs. Brown, will you forgive me for playing in the flower bed even though you told me not to?” A matter of semantics? Not at all. The difference is great. To say “I’m sorry” is to acknowledge a mistake; to ask for forgiveness is to acknowledge a bad motive of the heart. This is a humble acceptance of guilt. Mea culpa! (it was my fault).
Not convinced? Try it out on your marriage. The next time you and your spouse get to that place in a dispute where you are ready to make amends, seek out your spouse and, instead of just saying, “I’m sorry,” say, “Honey, will you forgive me for losing control of my tongue?” or “Will you forgive me for being so stubborn?” Difficult? You bet. Try it a couple of times and you will realize its curbing power. You will find yourself guarding your tongue and actions more fervently. And that is exactly what happens with morally sensitive children.
Why is this forgiveness thing so powerful? Simply, it gets to the heart of the matter. Our hearts. When you say “I’m sorry,” you’re in control of that moment. You control the depth and sincerity of your sorrow. But when you seek forgiveness, the one you’re humbling yourself before is in control. You’re asking something of that person that you cannot get without his or her consent—forgiveness. It is this humbling effect that so wonderfully curbs a child’s (and a parent’s) appetite for going back and doing the same wrong thing again.
To train this into your child, guide her to the phrase, “Mom, I’m sorry,” when she makes a mistake. When there is an act of defiance, teach her to ask forgiveness. “Sister, will you forgive me?” In both cases, have her add on a confession of the specific infraction. “Sister, will you forgive me for taking your toy?” Confession, as they say, is good for the soul.
This training will help cure your child of the “It was only an accident” sob story, which goes something like this. Mom says, “Honey, you need to say you’re sorry to Mr. Franklin for knocking down all of the boxes.”
“But Mom!” Adam says, “I didn’t mean to do it. It was just an accident. I shouldn’t have to say I’m sorry.” This condition is the result of only teaching apologies with the phrase “I’m sorry” and not “Will you forgive me?” When parents limit the options, they unintentionally force a child into unnecessary self-incrimination. If “I’m sorry” is linked to both innocent mistakes and purposeful wrong, then a child struggles with accepting responsibility for his honest mistakes.
In the scene above, the son could not say “I’m sorry” because he would be admitting guilt to something he did not intentionally do. That is why separating childishness from defiance necessitates the two forms of apology. It keeps “I’m sorry” where it belongs, in the category of mistakes. A child is more willing to accept responsibility for his childish mistakes if he knows that saying “I’m sorry” will not falsely incriminate him. “I’m sorry” means one thing. Seeking forgiveness, while more difficult, means quite another.