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Child Training

Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

Hi Helen,

I just got a rare 45 minutes alone while half the house is napping and my brother is playing with my little boys. I looked at my laundry, thought about balancing my checkbook, and decided I wanted to read your annual update! Good decision on my part I enjoyed it so much.

I cant believe how grown up all the kids look and how beautiful.

How wonderful that you got to see Jennifers new baby!

Im soooo happy to hear that Gerald is doing so well. I know the treatments are difficult, but how wonderful to have treatments that let him live fully again.

I would appreciate prayers for my son Rob. He is so strong-willed and has such a hot temper. I get so discouraged with feeling like I have to discipline him so much. I am always afraid of crushing his spirit or making him feel like he is the bad boy compared to my older son Nathan who virtually never gets in trouble. I have tried so many things from reward charts to spankings to heart-to-heart talks, to praying with him, etc. I keep asking God for wisdom, patience and help. I try to affirm him over and over again, telling him how much I love him and all the good things I can tell him about himself to offset the amount of spankings, time-outs and loss of privileges he receives. Part of him is tender, but most of him is very quick to anger and disobedient. I would welcome any suggestions.

Thanks for the annual update. It reminded me to slow down and cherish the ones I love the most.

I appreciate you.


Dear Tina,

Could you give me an example or two of what he does that is bad? How old is he?


Dear Helen,

Thanks for replying.

Rob is 5 . Here are some examples of his behavior:

Virtually everything I ask him to do will meet with resistance i.e. Rob, 5 minutes until dinner time. Then 5 minutes later, O.K. Rob, dinners ready, come to the table. Hell say, Not now, Mom. Im playing. Ill say, Rob, please come now because its ready. Then he starts yelling, Im not hungry! I dont want to eat! Im not coming! Ill say, Rob, you need to come now or you will be spanked. Hell say, What are we having? I hate that. Im not eating that. Im never eating that again! etc.

Or, Rob, its cold today, please wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants." Inevitably hell then come out of his room with shorts and a short sleeved shirt. Ill say, Rob, I told you that you need to wear a long sleeved shirt. Please go change. Hell yell, Im hot! Im not wearing long sleeves! Youre so mean!!

Or hell repeatedly provoke the baby Seth to be upset and yell by putting his arm over Seth while hes in his car seat, etc. Ill say, Rob, please dont purposely make him upset. He doesnt want your arm on him. Please move it and dont put it on him again. Then hell put just his hand on the edge of the car seat to make Seth scream, etc.

Or, at bedtime or naptime well give him a ten minute advance notice that nap time will be in 10 minutes and he will need to go down to bed without fussing or not get any dessert tonight. Ten minutes later when we say its nap time, hell start yelling, I dont want to take a nap! Please, please, please dont make me take a nap! When we say that he has to take one he starts crying and yelling about how mean we are and how hes never going to come out of his room again and how hell never play with us again, etc.

He is always very good at other peoples houses and at church, etc. He has always been more challenging than the others, but lately it has escalated to a new level. I have tried to give him more one-on-one time, which he seems to crave, but as soon as the one-on-one time is over, he starts being difficult right away. He definitely seems to be trying to provoke me, as he will say stuff like, I think I smiled when Seth got his finger caught in the door. Or tonight he said, I think I was going to pray, Dear God, I dont like you. Amen. But I didnt pray it.

I dont want to make you think hes terrible, as he has a very sweet and generous side too. He loves Seth and plays with him a lot, etc. But he immediately loses his temper whenever he doesnt get his way. Instantly he is so angry and his face gets so hard and he starts saying mean things. That is not something he sees in our home as Nate and I are not like that, so it seems to be coming from within him. I worry that he is going to grow up to be a man with a very hot temper. We try to reason with him, remind him, praise him when he is patient, etc., but it seems to be getting worse.

Im sorry to take so much time, but I would greatly appreciate your insights. I dont know if I need to really crack down and discipline him more firmly, or if I am missing something that he is feeling and I need to give him grace, etc. He is in time-out many times a day, gets spankings several times a week, and loses dessert or privileges often.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

Dear Tina,

Nathan is passive, Rob is strong-willed. The strong-willed ones give you a run for your money to be sure. Matthew was just like Rob. I remember Gerald telling me one day if I didn't get him under control he would end up a criminal! I know it is very hard to handle these kind of kids. I get women writing to me all the time about their children that fit that category. These children need a balance of lots of love and when necessary, firm discipline. They do need consistent discipline and when necessary, firm spankings. The discipline should not be done in anger. The spankings should not be excessive, most certainly not in the catagory of beatings, or abusive. Most parents know the difference. Charts, time outs, etc. etc. etc., never work with the strong-willed ones. You're wasting your time. It isn't enough to keep them behaving because the disobedience is more fun then the punishment.

Have you read Richard Fugate's book, "What The Bible Says About Child Training"? It is the only book I can truly recommend on discipline. (You can borrow mine if you want but I would recommend buying it eventually.) I use a wooden spoon or thin dowel for spanking; it is painful. Kind of stings like a tree switch our parents used on us. The discipline must be more painful than the joy of getting what they want when they disobey. Most moms go wrong in that the spanking isn't hard enough. If you just give a tiny little swat, it will only make them angry and not bring them to want to change their behavior. I give a few hard swats and I tell them that if they disobey again it will be harder and more swats. It really hurts and they are crying; sometimes I am too. If he just laughs at you, you are doing more damage then good.

I always told my kids that it was their choice that they were getting a spanking, not my choice to give it to them. "If you disobey me, you are asking me to spank you. If you don't want a spanking, you can choose that by obeying me. It's up to you! Etc." Keep telling them that over and over, they eventually get the message that they are choosing the spanking. It also helps if you get it into your head that you are not 'doing' this to your child, making you feel like you are a bad mother. They must learn that the whole world operates on an authority structure and that they must learn to obey authority. The sooner he learns it the happier he will be. Their future teacher or boss will thank you and so will your child someday. I have raised ten children and though spankings were certainly not common place in our home, they did happen from time to time, were necessary and were done in love.

Don't worry about crushing his spirit. Just think about him in jail at 18 and you will feel much better! If he senses weakness on your part, and that you aren't sure you are doing the right thing, it just will make him more bold. Matthew got more spankings than any other of mine put together. I thought he would never stop misbehaving, but after about 4 weeks of consistent discipline, he slowly reformed. Generally the bright and very active ones are strong-willed as well. At 20 years old as of this writing, Matthew has thanked me many times over for loving him enough to do what was in his best interest. He proudly tells people he was spanked more than the other nine put together and that he deserved them all! He is a fine, well adjusted, loving young man who is very close to me. I know he will end up doing some great things with his life. He respects authority in the workplace, at university, honors his elders, is polite and one of the happiest young men I know. Everyone who has met Matthew thinks he is the wonderful! So don't worry that a few spankings carefully administered will crush him.

The spoon is used, and then it is over. I make sure they understand exactly what they are being spanked for. I have them repeat it to me. I spank them in private and leave them alone for a few minutes afterwards to calm down. And then I have them apologize and tell me what they need to do differently next time. No further discipline required like loss of special treats etc. It's over and that is the end of it. I don't even talk about it. Period. That way the child isn't provoked to wrath over and over again because he can't have the normal treats, etc. I think it is more compassionate to spank and get it done with then to drag the discipline out all day drawing attention to the bad behavior over and over again. It creates an angry volcano in the child, especially boys.

It will be tough for a few weeks on all concerned until he gets the message. If after a couple of weeks, nothing is changing, you are probably not being consistent or not spanking enough to make it hurt.

I only ask once, then I tell (with no explanations why) and then it is the spoon right away.

Make sure that your expectations are realistic and not provoking him to anger. I have women ask me all the time if such and such is a realistic expectation for a ___-year-old. I am amazed at times what mothers expect for their children. I make it as easy as possible for my children to be obedient. Very few rules. They are children after all. But when I ask, they must obey.

For example, one woman was upset because her children wanted to have 2 or 3 snacks per day in between meals. They would get so angry with her because she felt that 3 meals a day was sufficient. I personally think kids need to eat about every two hours or so. I let my younger kids (under 10 or so) eat whenever they want, fruit, granola, etc. She found that once her children had their basic need of a tummy full, they were more compliant and manageable. Her expectation of 3 meals a day was unrealistic and not fair to her young children. And why fight over such small things and make such a big deal about it? Moms must save their energies for when it is truly needed.

Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

I found that after my kids were 3 years old or so, naps were no longer needed as long as they got about 10-12 hours of sleep in, give or take an hour. If Rob is waking up very early and going to bed very late, I would think an hour or so nap may be needed, but otherwise, no. If naps are needed I lay down with them until they go to sleep. If they don't go to sleep after 20-30 minutes they just aren't tired and that is that. He may resent being put to bed if he is not tired. He may also be fearful of being alone and so hates naps. You would be surprised how scared children are to be alone in a room when they are under 12 years of age. He may also be afraid because he knows that Nathan has/had seizures when he went to bed and so associates naps/sleep with that? It always surprises what goes on in their little minds. It is possible that naps are an unrealistic expectation and they are provoking Rob to anger. The more active/rebellious ones need less sleep then the passive ones, so don't compare how much sleep Nathan needs to what Rob needs.

Don't try to make up for his bad behavior by giving him extra special attention. Just treat him like all the others or he will think he deserves special treatment somehow. It will only spoil him. It isn't fair to the others either who are being good. Try to make the day normal other than the spankings. Even though you are shaken by the spankings, don't show it. To you it is just business as usual. If he senses weakness or confusion on your part, he will try to break you down by being even worse behaved.

If and when you read the book, and if you decide to make some changes, sit down with Rob and explain to him what is going to happen from now on. Just matter of fact, not a big deal, but just so he knows what to expect. Explain that he chooses how many spankings he would like to have per day, depending on how well he obeys you.

The first time he disobeys, you are there. Spoon. Do that consistently every time and he will soon jump when you say come.

It sounds tough, but it works and I believe when balanced with love and realistic expectations, it is biblical. I've seen it work over and over again. I've seen it fail as well but usually it is because the parents give up because they think it is too harsh. It is also very harsh for the child to have his life ruined by the time he is 18, because his parents were too weak to make him obey. Not to mention heartbreaking for the parents.

The formula is simple, but not easy, as Elizabeth Elliott says.

I'll be praying for you. And do write again if you need further explanations.



To be continued........


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