“NO!!!!” And with that declaration, 3-year-old Grace stomped her tiny foot with all the strength she could muster. She left me in no doubt about her wishes. This scenario was not an isolated event…I remember well those days of small, stomping feet and strong expressed sentiments. As the fifth of eight children, Grace was in a constant battle for recognition and attention. And her early years provided me a wonderful opportunity to learn and understand why children refuse to obey us or do outrageous things to be noticed. This then illuminated some insights that helped me to parent her better, and ensure a level of peace and respect in our home.
Grace figured out early on that dramatic actions garnered more attention. When she was only 9 months old, as we were celebrating her dad’s birthday, she grabbed 9-year-old Jonathan’s hair. And she would not let go. In fact, she started laughing. The more Jon cried out, the harder she pulled. We literally had to pry her little hands out of his hair. Bernie explained she needed to repent, and to be sorry, for hurting Jonathan. As soon as she heard her daddy’s explanation, Grace crossed her arms, and stubbornly looked away. Bernie told her she needed to ask Jonathan to forgive her. While Bernie was talking, Grace looked at him, but as soon as he finished, she crossed her arms and looked away again. When your little child does something like this, please control the impulse to laugh. Yes, they are adorable, but you will just make your life more miserable when baby realizes that unruly behavior gets laughs. So, instead of laughing, or getting angry, Bernie peacefully packed her up, left the party, and took her back to our house. He was calmly teaching her the expectations of our family. Good parents are willingly inconvenienced for the sake of their child’s heart, even on their birthday.
Back at the house, Bernie took Grace up to her bedroom, put her in her crib, and explained again what was expected of her. He prayed with her that she needed to change her heart about pulling Jonathan’s hair. He explained he would be back to check on her in 3 minutes. Once more, she crossed her arms and looked away. He went back after 3 minutes and asked Grace if she was ready to ask forgiveness. You guessed it. She crossed her arms and looked away. He prayed with her again and left the room. This pattern continued for about 2 hours, when Bernie finally heard Grace calling for him. When he went back in she was standing in the crib clearly interested in hugging him. He picked her up and she hugged and kissed him. She displayed every indication her heart had changed so Bernie brought her back to the party. As soon as she saw Jonathan she hugged and kissed him. And, to my knowledge, she never pulled his hair again. Bernie stayed with her until she chose to change her heart. Getting to the root, the heart, of an issue is the only way to really change it. And that takes time. To be a good parent takes time.
Our family places value on asking forgiveness when we have injured someone. Saying I am sorry is a start but asking someone to forgive you carries the understanding that I know I have wronged them. As parents, our interest is to help our children learn to care for others beyond themselves, and to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. And we start when the children are babies.
In Grace’s case, her position in the family contributed greatly to her outbursts. To be more precise, my lack of response to her need for attention, because I was constantly bombarded by the needs of my other children, often brought her to the breaking point. You’ve heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”? Grace apparently needed more attention than I was giving her. She tried and tried to get my attention and eventually acted out. Once I realized this, I spent more time with her and gradually her eruptions decreased. As parents, our goal is give our best attention to each child before they need it. We need to intentionally disciple them, so we have less need to discipline them.
Both discipling and disciplining are connected to behavior. Several definitions might be helpful here, to make sure we are all on the same page. Nearly everyone has heard of Jesus and his disciples. A disciple is someone who follows another and desires to be taught by them. To disciple means to teach through observation of behavior in a close relationship. This is the definition I think of when I work with my children. They are my disciples because they are my children. I want to be someone worth following and emulating.
By contrast, discipline means to train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience. Discipline works on behavior through application by teaching the rules and using punishment if those rules are broken. I want to use discipline or punishment only when necessary. I use this corrective form of teaching when a child knows the rules of our desired behavior and yet willfully disobeys. Personally, I dislike punishments, and so I communicate with my children well in advance of all activities, so they know what to expect from us as parents, and what is expected of them.
Ideally, as parents, our goal is to consider our relationship with our child as paramount, so focusing on teaching them as a disciple is clearly preferred. But we need to discipline them by meting out a sanction when they have willfully broken a rule. Disciplining your child can include time-out, which is essentially putting the child away from the activities going on in the house; being grounded, which is not allowing your older child to hang out with their friends; or removing a treasured activity or item, like their cell phone or the privilege of watching TV. Some parents choose to spank, while others prefer not to use any form of physical punishment. Whatever methods you employ, always be sure you are calm, in control of yourself, even grieved by their behavior, before you engage your child.
I much prefer to disciple my kids and work to reduce the need to discipline them.
By discipling our children, explaining what is expected from them, and letting them know beforehand what they can expect to happen, we will begin to develop trust. And trust is the cornerstone of all healthy relationships.
How do you engage your children? What do you do to gain access to their heart? How do you build trust? Please post your thoughts and comments below.
Article by Ruth Grunstra
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Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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