Chapter 2 -
If there are behavior problems
As we start to
think how to intervene in the bad behavior of children, we should note that the
cause of these behavioral problems is often the parents: they have not met the daily
needs of their children, or have perhaps reinforced their negative self images.
We should understand that if behavioral
disorders of children are caused by unfulfilled emotional needs, we can best
address this problem by changing ourselves and by starting to express more
positive feelings towards our children – more than before: this by itself may
eliminate many difficult behavior problems.
What about those situations where a child
feels that he or she is loved, accepted, and his or her emotional needs are
met, but the child still acts out – what should we do then? Below, we are going
to try to find answers to this question.
One way that we
can take care of behavioral problems is simply to talk with children. The
correct kind of conversation, where the children are valued, is one of the best
ways to prevent bad behavior. Conversation is also useful when behavioral
problems have already occurred. Below, we are going to study what should be
taken into account when we wish to conduct a right kind of a constructive
conversation with children.
Respect the views
of children! The first important thing is to respect the views and opinions of
children, even if they are not the same as our own or do not please us. Because
the more we are able to accept different viewpoints of children and young people,
and the more we do not over-react to them, the more they will value our own
viewpoints – they will not so easily reject our opinions if they feel that we respect
On the other hand, if we are too strict,
condemning, and blame children or criticize their friends, this will have just
the opposite effect: children may turn their backs on us and end up doing
something harmful to themselves – which is what we do not want. This happens
almost without exception if parents are too strict.
The most important objective in
conversation is for the parents to leave behind criticism and judgement of
their children, and to start appreciating them. They do not have to agree to
everything the children want, but they should try to appreciate them. If they
use this approach during conversations, and try to learn their needs, it is
likely that parents will not experience so many problems.
Allow children to
offer solutions! Parents should respect the viewpoints of their
children. They should also allow the children to offer their own alternatives
to different kinds of tasks and activities at home (housework, meals, using
the computer, caring for pets, sharing rooms, and all the other points of
dispute that can arise at home). We can consider possible solutions to all
kinds of conflicts and problems together with the children – in that way
neither the children nor the parents will be disappointed. We should try to
reach these kinds of solutions and conduct these conversations in case of
problems, because this can radically reduce conflicts at home. We might, for
example, write down various alternatives and together choose a solution
satisfactory for all.
situation is very often that parents do not enter into a full dialog with their
children; they do not listen to their children’s views. Instead, they just
issue orders, which may over time cause greater difficulties for the children.
If the relationship between parents and children is not warm and parents do not
regularly listen to their children, then children will have almost no
motivation – their willingness to cooperate can hardly be increased by an
environment in which decisions are dictated to them.
However, this situation can be reversed
immediately if the children get to offer solutions for difficult situations.
Often, if children get the opportunity to participate in planning and the
solution process, they will be much more motivated to put the decisions into
effect. They like to be trusted, they like that we give them responsibilities,
and often they will also start to pay attention to others in a whole new way.
Solutions made like this are usually longer-lasting because the children have
been involved in the decision-making process.
What does all this mean in the life of a
parent, then? We should start to have full discussions with children, pay more
attention to their opinions, and allow them to help us find solutions. They are
often very willing to change if parents only appreciate their points of view.
REACT PROPERLY TO
THE BEHAVIOR OF CHILDREN!
When the behavior
of a child disturbs us or we are not pleased with their behavior, we may react
to this in a harmful way. We may become angry, snap at the child, assign the
child a mark or a role, accuse the child, or
act in some other harmful manner. At that time, we usually do not come to think
that this is wrong and against the will of God, but the next verses indicate
that it is:
- (Eph 4:31) Let all bitterness, and
wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
- (Jam 1:20) For the wrath of man
works not the righteousness of God.
What can we do if we
want our children to change their behavior? What should we avoid and how should
we act when faced with a child’s problematic behavior? We will try to answer
these questions below.
with “you”! When we are correcting the behavior of a child, the first thing we
should do is avoid sentences containing the word “you”. When we are angry and use
“you …” sentences, we often attack the persona of the child. The impact is
negative, because we are accusing the child of something. Often, these sentences
include words or phrases that label the child, or cast the child in some
negative role. For example:
- How can you
be so nasty? Go straight to your room!
- Why are you
always so naughty, don't you ever...
- You are
- Stop that right
now, you are disturbing me!
- You are
late again, why didn’t you come home in time?
- You are
like a little child when...
- You should
- Don't you
ever learn to clean after you!
disturb me when I’m sewing!
- Be quiet,
As we can see,
relying upon “you…” sentences will not lead to anything useful. If you have
used especially negative labels, attached hurtful characteristics, or made
negative remarks about the child, those remarks will quickly dishearten the
child, and he or she will feel unappreciated. This can also lead to the child’s
acceptance of the role given by the parent, as already noted.
“You” sentences may also lead to another
consequence, almost as bad. They drive the child to rebel against our authority.
If we give our children these messages, or make accusations, or issue commands,
then the child’s motivation will certainly be lower than it would be if we were
to constructively interact with them. When we accuse a child, he or she may
fire back at us with their own accusations (Why don't you... - Well, why
won’t YOU...). Ultimately, the child will no longer want to listen to us or
will choose to act in a different way. The child will probably have very little
motivation to behave differently, especially if the parent has not cared enough
to listen to the child, or give him positive attention.
Ask for help! Messages
including the word “you” can be harmful. There is a better way to communicate
with children and intercede in their behavior. Instead of personally attacking
the child, we can share our concerns and explain our point of view. We can simply
tell them how we feel as a result of their disturbing behavior and explain
why we feel what we feel. (Of course, we must have a good reason for our
concerns – the child will want to know why the behavior troubles us.) We
are, in a way, asking the child to help, telling the child how we feel (tired,
busy, afraid, worried, disturbed, irritated, etc.) about their behavior.
These messages should include the words “I” and “me”. Thus, they are different
from the “you” messages:
- I’m scared
that you will knock over the pot when you run so near it.
- I’m scared that
you will muck up the carpet when you use those watercolors.
- I was awfully
frightened and worried when you came home so late.
- I'm afraid of
driving the car when I can’t concentrate because of the noise.
- I’m just so
irritated when you always bring sand in your shoes and I have to clean it
- I’m scared
that the baby will be hurt when you carry him on your back.
- I can't
kick the ball now, because I’m tired.
- I can’t
play with you right now because I must make dinner.
- I can’t sew
if someone interrupts me all the time.
- I can’t sleep
if I hear loud noises.
- It’s really
irritating for me to always have to pick up your toys from the kitchen
floor, but I have to pick them up because otherwise I can’t get any work done.
- I’m always
nervous in the market when you don't keep still. I can’t do my shopping.
- It absolutely
bugs me when nobody comes to eat dinner on time, when the food is still
The benefits from using these “me” messages are many: they do not draw
as much opposition as the “you” messages and accusations, because when we only
speak about how we feel and present it to the child as a request for help, the
child will not consider the message to be threatening. Often – not necessarily
always – the child will even be willing to change his or her behavior,
especially if they see that their behavior harms others and they see how others
feel because of it:
One evening I was very tired and Kaija was acting up. She didn’t want to
go to sleep, only cried and didn’t even lie down. Finally, she was almost
hysterical. I went through my entire repertoire of
persuading-asking-commanding. I started by saying, “Kaija darling, it’s
bedtime, so go to sleep. Lie down and close your eyes and you will fall to
sleep.” She only cried and I started to become really angry. “Okay, you’ll go
to bed now, no more fooling around!” I raised my voice and at last slapped her
on the buttocks and said, “You go to bed now – I’ve had enough!” It
didn’t help. She was still crying, I was in despair, and wondered what to do
next. Then a thought came to me: Let’s try the “me” messages. I went back to
the nursery, hugged Kaija but didn’t take her from the bed. I said, “Daddy and
I don’t have much time alone. I’m with you all day long. I’d like to spend some
time with daddy alone. In the evenings, we’d like to rest and talk. Sometimes, we
like to go to bed early. But we can’t sleep if you cry.” Kaija said, “Mommy, I
won’t cry anymore.” This felt unbelievable. Ever since that evening, she has
never cried or raged even if she could not go to sleep immediately after having
gone to bed. (11)
One evening you said that dinner is ready, but nobody came. You offered
an excellent “me” message: “Now I’m really frustrated. I have cooked us a very
tasty dinner, and it took me more than an hour, and now I’m scared that it will
get cold and be spoiled.” That message was understood. I think it sounded
somehow so sincere that the kids were immediately coming at a run – to me, it
was interesting to see how it affected the children. They noticed that your
anxiety really made sense, and they came. I remember hoping that I was capable
of similar “me” messages. You use them more often than you notice yourself.
DO NOT CONFIRM BAD
BEHAVIOR BY THE CHILDREN!
communicate with their children in harmful ways, but they can also reinforce
bad behavior by the children. This most often happens without the parent even
realizing it. Most often, it occurs in situations where a child pesters the
parent for something and the parent does not keep to his or her original
decision, but gives in to the child, or when the parent only notices the child
when he or she is acting up – for example, talking too loudly or having a
tantrum – and this behavior is then confirmed.
Let’s study this in the light of some
examples, and try to find a way out of these harmful modes of action:
A child begging
for something. One occasion during which a parent can easily reinforce the bad
behavior of a child is when the child begs for something. Typically, a child
asks for something the parent refuses, the child resorts to crying and
continues to beg, then the parent caves in. This may occur simply because the
parent can’t stand hearing the child crying, or can’t suffer the begging. For whatever reason, the parents give in to
the child’s emotional demands.
Such parental inconsistency only promotes
bad behavior in a child. If a child gets his or her way by continuous begging
or crying, it is likely that he or she will repeat the action in the future.
The child sees that “no” from the parent actually means “maybe,” and that is
why he or she will continue to beg if we do not change our behavior.
There is one simple way to deal with this:
keep our initial resolve. “Yes” means yes, and “No” means no. Sometimes young
people ask for something quite realistic. Whether you say “yes” or “no”, hold
firm. If we stick to our original decision, the child’s begging and crying may
at first increase (and it will quite probably increase), but at some
point we will see an improvement. The child will no longer beg and plead
because he or she sees that it is no use to try to change our decision.
This is not always so easy to do in
practice, so we should consider some additional tips. The following practical
tips may help when a young person demands something:
Ask for extra time
to consider the question! First of all, a little more time is never a bad
thing. If the child asks for permission to go somewhere or get something new,
we do not always need to answer “yes” or “no” immediately. Instead, tell the
child we need some extra time (a minute, an hour, a day, a week) to think about
their request. We can also discuss it with another adult – such as our spouse.
Among other benefits, this keeps us from
making hasty decisions, and when we make up our mind it will be much easier to
stick with our decision. It also gives the young person time to think the
request through again and maybe reach a reasonable conclusion on their own.
Do not be drawn
into an argument! The second issue to take into account when a child
pesters us for something is that we should not start arguing. Very often when a
child accuses a parent or throws a tantrum, the parent becomes irritated and
starts making excuses (“No, I wasn’t”)
or accusing the child ("You ungrateful rascal"). The parent may also
raise his or her voice in anger.
A better alternative is speaking to the
child like we would speak to our best friend: not with harsh tones or shouting,
but calmly. We might, if necessary, lower our voice to a whisper if the child
begins yelling. If we speak calmly at first and then lower our voice further
and further, we can have a dramatic impact on the child:
- (Pro 16:24) Pleasant words are as an
honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.
- (Col 4:6) Let your speech be always
with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every
Try to understand
the child! We should keep in mind that if a child is not granted a request, the
child’s tantrums may only worsen. They will always increase for some time,
until the child sees that he or she will not get anywhere by acting up.
As for these outbursts of feeling, we
should keep in mind that they are a normal part of the growth process and will
continue for a while. There is no point in trying to suppress or stop them, and
responding with anger just causes pain. Such negative reactions are not easily
forgotten by children.
Instead, we should try to
understand how bad the child feels when he or she does not get what she wants.
We should try to step into the shoes of the child in order to better understand
their negative feelings and anger. Often when a child feels they are being
understood, the largest portion of his or her negative feelings disappears:
- It must be hard
to have strict parents who do not allow you to go to the concert.
- It must surely
be awful for you that your parents are so poor they can not afford to buy you
that new dress.
Begging by using
an abnormal voice. Continuing with how one can reinforce the bad
behavior of a child, we should also consider behavior such as whining,
squealing, shouting or using other extreme vocalizations. These negative
behaviors were probably taught to the child by the parents: parents do not
answer requests given in a normal tone of voice but do respond to requests
given in vocal extremes.
There is a simple way to correct this: the
parent should only “hear” requests that are made in normal tones of voice. This
usually requires the cooperation of parents and others, because if someone
continues to react to the negative way of speaking, the bad behavior will
probably continue. We might say, for example, “It’s difficult for me to hear
requests given with that tone of voice, you must speak normally,” and then not
react further until the child speaks in an acceptable fashion. Then we should
immediately indicate that we have heard and reply these requests.
The quote below describes how these bad
behaviors can disappear if no attention is given to them. The example refers to
unclear speech -- not a physical defect, but a self-learned habit:
Many years ago, we took into our home a ten-year-old girl who had been
placed in an institution for the mentally deficient. Her behavior included some
typical features of the mentally handicapped (trotting, pushing the chin close
to the neck, somewhat unclear speech). We worked with her speech for two months
by using the “extinguishing method”. We said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear what
you are saying, Maria.” and then paid no attention to her whatsoever. When we
stopped craning over to hear what she was saying – as others had done – she
started to speak in a normal and clear voice. My wife had to have gallbladder
surgery, and my mother came to the house when she was in the hospital. I was
away from home a lot because of my work and visiting the hospital, and
therefore, I failed to notice what Maria did to my well-meaning mother. One
evening I saw how my mother leaned over to Maria to hear her. I explained the
situation to her after Maria had left the room. After that, my mother stopped
reacting to Maria’s whispering, and Maria started to speak in a normal voice
A tantrum of a
small child is a little like talking in a raised voice: it can be caused by parents
not paying enough attention to good behavior and only noticing the bad
behavior. A child may have a fit and throw himself or herself flat on the floor
just to draw a reaction. If the child is alone where nobody can see the
tantrum, it is likely that nothing will happen.
This behavior can be changed. The most
common way of doing it is overlooking the child’s tantrums and leaving the
child alone. (Another alternative can be the parents throwing themselves on
the floor too! Or the parents can ask the child to repeat what he or she said,
or to act even more outrageously. This will usually provide the child with a
new perspective and remove the reward from the tantrum. The child may lose his
or her interest when seeing that his tantrums no longer get the required
attention.) If the parents and everyone else are completely impassive and
indifferent to the child’s tantrums, the child will quickly lose his or her
interest in acting up. At first, the child may shout even louder and have more
tantrums than before, but if everyone ignores the child, this kind of behavior
will generally end after having run its course. This may also be encouraged by
rewarding the child when he or she is behaving well. This can motivate the
child to behaving better and better:
Sometimes extinguishing takes place by accident, such as in the case of
a four-year-old, Markus. His parents were worried about his irritating
outbursts of anger. He had a habit of acting up at the times the parents most
feared, such as when they had guests at home. The explosion was apt to occur at
bedtime if not earlier. (...)
Finally, the parents were
desperate. They had no more tricks up their sleeve. At that point, the parents
were one evening reading the newspaper in the living room. They said something
that made the boy angry, and as usual, Markus threw himself on the floor in
rage. He screamed and smacked his head on the carpet, kicking and waving his
little hands. The parents were at their wit’s end, and thus they did nothing.
They only continued to read the newspaper.
This was a reaction sulky
Markus was not expecting. He got up, looked at his father and threw himself on
the floor for the next show. The parents continued to ignore him. Suddenly, the
boy stopped screaming. He went to his mother, shook her hand and started the
third show. The parents did not flinch, did not blink an eye. It seems that the
boy felt so foolish lying on the floor that he never had a tantrum after that.
Child not allowing
parents to leave. One problem that goes in the same category as those
discussed above is a small child demanding that the parents to stay right
beside him or her all the time without leaving even for a second. This might be
accompanied by excessive crying and the child being afraid the second the
parents attempt to leave the room or when the child should be leaving for the
daycare, for example.
This kind of a behavior is also learned,
usually, because parents have given in to the child. Frequently the child is
not as deeply afraid as he or she seems: weeping and fearful expressions are
only ways to affect the parents, the means used to keep the parents nearby at
The best way to end this problem is to
resist the child’s complaints – don’t let them make such a huge impact on us.
If the child starts crying and yelling when we leave the room or do not go to
the child immediately, we can simply affirm our love for the child by saying,
“I’m busy right now, and if you scream, I won’t answer.” This might at first
lead only to more yelling and weeping, but when we are expecting this, we will
not be confused by it. Usually, the child will at some stage find out that
weeping and crying are of no use, and the tantrums may stop there.
IS IT WISE TO
When we want to
change the behavior of a child into a more positive direction, we can use
various approaches. Several of these techniques start with the parents: we can
change or improve our way of communicating, and that may change the child’s
On the other hand, there may
be occasions when we are better off not intervening at all. Sometimes too much
strictness, too much attention, too much interference from parents only makes
matters worse, or at least fails to improve them. These may include the
Less important matters. We should firstly
keep from making a mountain out of a molehill. If we are too strict about the
clothes a youth wears, his or her hairstyle, their preference in music, the
friends they keep, or the state of their room – matters that do not directly impact
us or others – we are not being sensible. It is not worthwhile to make a great
fuss about these kinds of issues, especially since many parents are motivated
by an underlying fear of what will others think, which is quite a bad motive.
Many of these are temporary – they change as the child grows.
If we do react strongly to these issues,
strongly disapprove of them or are too strict or bossy, we create exactly the
response we do not want: the child turns his or her back on us and gets
involved in something worse. This almost always happens when a parent is too
strict and fallible. If parents could instead just stay calm, the relationship
will likely be much better, and many problems of puberty will more easily pass.
Bad habits. As for many bad
habits – children sucking their thumb, biting their nails, wetting the bed and
their pants, exaggerating, or other troublesome habits – where parents demand
the child to change, many of these habits can be eliminated simply by not
paying any attention to them. Several of these behaviors are reinforced by the
attention of the parents. When parents pay attention to these activities and
are worried about them, the child enjoys this attention and continues to act as
Therefore, when we start to break these
habits, often the best approach is to do nothing. We must give the child an
opportunity to take care of his or her problems, and not intervene. Many
problems may just go away by themselves without any actions needed:
I cannot help but be amazed
time and time again how many problems of children can be eliminated merely by
not paying attention to them. Common issues practiced by children that can be
efficiently solved by using the extinguishing method include, for example,
tantrums, begging for new things at the store, exaggerating, continuous
pestering after the mother or father has already said no, not letting go of the
parents for a second, whining, shrieking “I will never do that”, and
interrupting other people’s discussions. These are all habits that are
maintained by the attention the child gets from the parents. (15)
School attendance. One matter
parents should consider before intervening is the schooling of their children.
Very often, parents may take on unnecessary pressures with their school chores
and feel that it is their responsibility to take care that the children succeed
and do their homework diligently. They may strongly wish for the children to
succeed and feel like they have failed if the children do not do well. The
parents may try to improve the performance of their children in school by
nagging and pressing them. Sometimes, when children have not done their
homework in time, the parents are tempted to intervene and do the homework for
the children: they try to rescue the children from the trouble in which they
have gotten themselves.
If you are acting like this, you should
understand that you are not being reasonable. As to the schooling and homework
of your child, it is the responsibility of the child, not your responsibility,
because you cannot go to school for your child. You must only take care that
the child has the proper prerequisites for doing his or her homework at home –
this is where your responsibility ends. The child must take care that he or she
gets to school in time and does all of the homework assigned; if the child
fails, it is an issue to be resolved between the child and the teacher. If this
is not done, confusion will be inevitable.
Furthermore, if we pay too much attention
to the schooling of our child, we may only make things worse. Often, a child
who does not get enough positive attention at home or who has been compared to
“more clever” children and found “less able” can try to pay for this neglect by
not succeeding in school. The child may think that it is better to get
attention even this way than to get no attention at all. The child may continue
to neglect his schoolwork, unless the parents change their attitude.
This issue can be solved simply by the
parents not interfering with the schoolwork of their children. They must
understand the limits of their responsibility and stop interfering in something
that is not their responsibility – they must relax. The parents should also try
to pay more positive attention to a child having problems with school – giving
the child time, concentrating, listening. This is important because often the
lack of positive attention is causing these problems.
Harri was fourteen, and for years his grades had been adequate only. His
parents nagged and warned him that he would not get to any college and succeed
in his life. They tried to scare him into performing better and to bribe him
for better grades – all in vain. When they realized that their responsibility
only goes so far and that it’s best to let the natural consequences run their
course, they decided to leave Harri in peace. They said to the boy, "Sorry
that we nagged so much about your bad grades. School is your responsibility. If
you want to do better, fine, but if you’d rather continue like this, it’s your
choice.” In the next report card, all of Harri’s grades were “satisfactory”!
What had happened? Harri had unknowingly punished his parents by getting bad
grades. When the parents got rid of their feelings of guilt and refused to be
hurt because of their son’s bad grades, Harri had no reason to do badly. As a
matter of fact, he felt bad because of his failure, since he actually needed
the acceptance of his buddies and the teacher. Until the change of mind of his
parents, Harri had been, however, ready to bear the consequences of bad grades
because he knew that they hurt his parents!
Parents carry the
responsibility of a child because of feelings of guilt. This way, the parents
prevent the child from growing up. The consequences can be destructive for
mental health of the parents and undermine their entire work in raising the
When a small child
refuses to eat. One issue often worrying parents is their small child refusing to eat (this
does not refer to eating disorders of the young, such as anorexia, that are
often caused by something totally different). They may be worried when the
child does not eat enough and may try to solve this problem by nagging and
demanding. They may think that it is their task to get the child to eat
properly, and if they do not succeed, they may feel guilty. They may also think
that if the child does not eat properly, he or she may fall ill.
A child refusing to eat is, however,
similar to a child neglecting school: this kind of behavior is also often
maintained by the attention given by parents and their anxiety, and this is
also an issue that is the responsibility of the child, not that of the parent.
Therefore, when we try to get rid of this problem, we should first stop
interfering: just let the child be. It is our responsibility as parents to
offer children something to eat at each mealtime, but the children are
responsible for eating. If the child does not always eat his or her meal (you
should keep in mind that a healthy person can go up to dozens of days without eating),
we should not make a great fuss: just clear the table and do not give any food
until the next meal – if we give extra food to the child between meals because
the child refused to eat his or her last meal “out of pity,” the child may not
learn anything from the experience. Usually, at some point, when the child is
hungry enough, he or she will eat: after all, we all have a built-in reminder,
hunger, that will make us eat sooner or later.
The quarrelling of
siblings. Another activity in which the intervening of parents is not especially
productive is the quarrelling and bickering of siblings. If the relationship
between children is healthy – if their relationship has not been destroyed by
constant parental comparisons that favor one child over another -- then the
quarrels are usually occurring because they are not getting enough attention. If their relationship is not healthy because
their parents have shown one more affection than the others, then parents must
stop favoring one over the other.
The fact is that the quarrelling of
children is usually reinforced by attention from the parents. These disputes
mostly occur because of the attention they gain, and that is why one of the children
– usually the apparently weaker one – might tease the others so that he or she
gets the parents to intervene. However, if the parents are not there when the
children are spending time together, they may play quite peacefully and in
harmony without any disputes; this shows that the quarrels arise only from
pursuing of attention when the parents are there.
The best way to settle disputes is to stay
out of them. Do not intervene. If the children come to the parents complaining
about each other, the parents must, naturally, listen to their viewpoints, but
they should advise their children to take care of their disputes between
themselves. It is their problem. Often, even very small children can settle
their own disputes.
On the other hand, if the situation is
becoming violent, the parents can command their children to go to their rooms
or order both of them some punishment, but the parents still should not act as
the judge or ask who started the quarrel and who was guilty, because this leads
nowhere. The only way to solve this matter is the parents keeping completely
out of disputes and advising their children to resolve quarrels by themselves,
even though they came to complain about each other:
When you intervene, you are relying on two false assumptions. Firstly,
you think that one of the children is innocent. The child that seems quiet,
weak and innocent has usually cunningly irritated the other. In a seminar for
parents, the mother of a 13-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl asked whether I supposed
that her son tried to attract attention by always teasing his sister. ”Of
course,” I said. ”I wonder what your daughter does, then, to make your son so
angry?” "Nothing," the mother answered. ”Kati is like an angel.” It
is difficult for me to believe that a 10-year-old is an angel, and this is why
I replied, “Now please, I’m sure she’s not that perfect!” “Yes, she is,” said
the mother, “she sits with me on the sofa and Vesa comes and hits her for no
reason whatsoever.” Because I had already noticed that ‘innocent’ Kati was
trying to get attention, I replied, “Why is your daughter sitting there with
you?” The mother answered, “Because our relationship is just so good.”
Suddenly, the mother understood. Dead silence fell in the room. Finally, she
said, “Now I see. Vesa feels left out and yearns for attention. Kati gets the
attention by being nice, and that is why Vesa tries to get his share by being
The mother started to see
through her daughter’s "innocent" behavior. When Vesa made his mother
angry, Kati said, “Leave mom alone, don’t disturb her. You are stupid! You
always bug mom!” Later on, the mother told me, "The girl bluffed, because
in every situation she was on my side. I always thought that she is a very kind
child, and such a pity that Vesa doesn’t have the same good manners. Now I see
that she did just the thing that infuriates a 13-year-old. Who would like to
hear from his 10-year-old sister what is appropriate and what is not?”
This family quarrel indicates
how difficult it is to find the guilty: pot calling the kettle black. If one of
the children really were innocent, there would very seldom be any quarrels.
ALSO REACT TO
POSITIVE BEHAVIOR AND PROGRESS!
When we want a
child to start acting in a different way, we normally interfere with bad
behavior and give negative feedback for it. In other words, we only react when
something negative has happened, when the child has been difficult and behaved
badly. When this happens, we immediately notice the child, pay attention to him
or her and perhaps say that he or she is being difficult and disobedient.
There is, however, a better way to try to
have an impact on a child: reducing the amount of unnecessary criticism and
reacting to the positive behavior and progress, offering positive feedback for
good behavior. There are many situations when parents can react and thank their
child. Especially if the child has done something positive and shows some
progress, we should occasionally pay attention to this: “I’m so glad that you…”At
the same time, we should reduce the amount of negative feedback we give.
The activities below, for example, are
those to which we should react. It is good if the child gets positive feedback
for them. (The feedback does not necessarily have to be verbal: it can be a
surprise gift, the permission to stay up one hour longer, a nice dessert or
some other pleasant thing to the child. These can also be used as positive
feedback.) This way, we will also reduce the amount of negative criticism
- If we see
progress or even small changes.
- If the child has
behaved fairly towards another or has acted as he or she should.
- If the child has
come home in time, to dinner, for example.
- If we see that
the child’s room has been cleaned up.
- When the child
learns new behavior and we see progress; for example, dressing and eating
- Valuing the
efforts of the child, participation and the fact that the child is trying.
- Issues we, the
parents, value: “I like it when you are able to play by yourself."
increase the amount of positive feedback and reduce that of negative feedback,
it usually improves the self-esteem of the child more than criticism, and it
will also promote positive behavior. The following quote is a good example of
what positive feedback can bring about at its best:
Maybe Jane had to get into huge trouble at school so that she could test
us. When she noticed that we loved her no matter what and that we are ready to
support her, she relaxed and her behavioral problems stopped. In spite of that,
I noticed that her harshness and her trying to avoid the housework made me so
angry that I didn’t even want to pray for her. When I told the Lord about this,
he said, "Then pray no longer for her, only praise me to her.” At first,
it was nothing but easy, I can assure you that, but when it started to get
easier, God showed to me that my negative attitude towards her and my criticism
was destroying our relationship.
"But Lord", I said,
"there is always something to which can react only negatively or by
"You can thank me, so
thank her as well," he answered. Well, it was even more difficult, but
when I exaggerated my thanks and practically suffocated her with my attention whenever
she did something helpful, she became much more receptive. Other children
looked like quite hurt because of all the unusual fuss around her, reminding me
of the older brother of the Prodigal Son. In the meantime, Jane flourished
because of this encouragement, and she has become an absolutely magnificent
cook and real helper and a pleasure to us, and our relationship is now more
close than ever. (18)
how we can affect the life of our children and their behavior, we should
mention dictating different kinds of negative consequences for bad behavior. If
a child is not acting as he or she should, we can let the child experience some
negative consequences because of that – this will reduce the child’s desire to
behave in the same way in the future. Usually, this is done in the form of
so-called logical consequences and punishment. Let’s study these separately:
consequences. When a child is behaving badly and breaking the rules, one possible
alternative is for the parent to order some negative consequence for breaking
the rules: something the child does not like, that is unpleasant to the child,
and that has some logical connection with the bad behavior of which the child
is guilty. We can order a consequence for any kind of negative behavior, a
consequence that is somehow connected to the bad behavior and is not
unreasonable towards the child.
This method is based on the common belief
that the behavior of a person is mostly determined by the consequences of his
or her actions; if the consequences are positive, the tendency to continue that
mode of action usually increases, but if the consequences are unpleasant, we
usually do not want to do the same again. On the contrary, we try to avoid
repeating that behavior because nothing positive came out of it.
When we apply this general approach to
raising children, we must simply take care that we occasionally allow the
children to bear the negative consequences of their actions, when they have
deliberately broken rules set out for them. We should think up some unpleasant
logical consequence resulting from an intentionally committed wrong action.
Usually, this means taking away some privilege or comfort, or offering the
child something unpleasant. However, the consequence should be logically
connected with the offence.
This logical method is most commonly used
in the following situations, for example:
- If the child is
too provoking, too loud or refuses to stop his or her aggravating behavior, it
is logical to send him or her “to the penalty bench,” to let him sit in a
corner for a while. If the offence takes place at home, outdoors or in a store
the child can be sent to another room or inside or not allow him or her to come
with us to the store next time we are going. We should, however, always give
the child the possibility to stay: “You can stay if you are quiet."
- If a teen fails
to come home by the agreed time, grounding him or her for a week can be a
- If the child
throws snowballs at the wall of a house, even though it has been forbidden
because the windows might break, a good alternative may be that the child will
not be allowed to play outdoors for a couple of days.
- If the child
does not come to dinner at the agreed time, a logical punishment may be for him
or her not be allowed to eat until the next mealtime.
- If the child
refuses to eat his or her meal, we should not allow the child to have any
snacks or sweets until the next mealtime.
- If the child has
not washed his or her hands before dinner, we might not allow him or her to the
table with us.
- If the child
does not wash his or her teeth, a reasonable consequence is to stop offering
the child any sweets because sugar destroys the teeth.
- If the child is
being noisy in the car, we can stop the car and stay there until the child is
- If the child
leaves his or her things where they do not belong and does not pick them up, we
can pick up the things and put them in a locked box only to give them back
after the child has, for example, helped in the chores for fifteen minutes.
- If the child
neglects to do the tasks assigned to him or her, a reasonable punishment could
be taking away some privileges, such as eating (cf. 2 Thess 3:10,11) or going
out to play until the chore has been done. If the child does not keep his or
her room tidy or neglects to take the garbage out, we can, for example, refuse
to take him in the dinner table with us.
- If the child
refuses to go to school because of laziness, we can forbid him or her to use
the computer or watch TV, and not give him or her any food.
- If other
offences are committed, we can place limits or take away the child’s privileges
in the area where the offence has taken place.
- If one child in
a group behaves in a disturbing manner, we can sometimes order a logical
punishment for the entire group. If there are disagreements or quarrels, for
example, we can order the whole group of children to leave at once or order the
same punishment for them all. Treating the children as a group will eliminate
attempts to get personal attention and competition between the children.
Disturbing behavior can often be rooted out this way.
- The logical
consequences can also be applied to the weekly pocket money of a child and to
chores the child has to do at home. If the parents together make a list for
their children – we should allow children to participate in planning the list –
of the chores they must do (we can post this on the wall, for example),
we can also agree that a certain sum will always be deducted from their pocket
money if they neglect to do their chores. However, if a child neglects to do
his or her chores several times a week, we can refuse to give him or her any
There are certainly several chores that
children can do. For example, a child of three or four years of age can already
pick up toys and things. Children who are a little older can clean their room,
make their bed, set the table, take the garbage out. In addition to these,
other tasks that can be assigned to children over the years include washing up,
cooking, vacuuming, cleaning, doing the laundry, minding their younger
siblings, gardening, washing the car, and many similar chores. In case the
child is assigned to do something that is not a part of their normal chores, we
can, of course, pay a little extra.
discipline. Another possible mode of utilizing the consequences of the actions of a
child is using the twig. It is true that physical punishment does not always
have a logical connection with the offence, but it is still based on the
principle described above: there are bad consequences from disobedience and
intentionally breaking rules. The consequences are designed to prevent the
child from repeating the behavior.
Unfortunately, this method has a bad
reputation in the Western countries, because it is often associated with child
abuse. But it has nothing to do with abuse. People may have contrasted love and
discipline without understanding that they are two sides of the same emotional
reinforcement and complement each other. Often, a child can feel that if nobody
is supervising him or her and nobody cares what he or she does, then nobody cares
for him or her. A child can feel this is a form of rejection.
In some situations, physical punishment can
be a good method (it is not always needed; some children never need it).
When we keep in mind the limitations to spanking a child spanking can stop bad
behavior. We should keep in mind these guidelines:
not spank children under the age of one or, generally, children over the
age of ten.
punishment should be given as soon after the offence as possible.
backside is the only good place to spank.
not cause physical damage, but inflict a little pain so the punishment
will stick to the child.
For example, Arvo
Ylppö, an esteemed Finnish archiatreand a pioneer of
child care in Finland, stated:
In the upbringing of children, some level of strictness is also needed.
There are children who must have some fear of and respect for their educator.
It does not need to be anything special, just the average motorist’s fear of
the police. When a child is punished a couple of times, they will learn to fear
I suppose that there is no
psychologist or child psychiatrist in Finland who dares to say that parents
must sometimes spank their children a little. I dare to say that.
What I mean is that if a child
frequently and deliberately acts up even though he or she has been instructed
not to do so, the parents must be strict in their speech, even sometimes
slightly slap the child. Even though this is deemed totally unsuitable
nowadays, I believe that I know children enough to say that this method is
sometimes needed. (19)
The next example
also shows what this method can lead to at its best, if the other prerequisites
for a healthy relationship between the parents and the child are met. It can
quickly reduce bad behavior or even completely eliminate it:
Anne was their nine-year-old
daughter. She had been very difficult for a little over a year. They had tried
everything possible to calm her down, but nothing helped.
"When you started to
speak about physical punishment, we didn’t know what to think. We have never
used it. But when nothing else helped, we decided to try it.”
"First, we told them what
it was all about,” noted Priscilla.
"We told them that as
their parents, we had not been acting as we should and that from now on, we
would be doing what the Bible says. We explained to them what we expected of
them and that if they rebelled or refused to obey, a thrashing would ensue.”
"Well, as comes to Anne,
our words went in one ear and out the other. We had tried with her as many as
forty-nine approaches, and to her, this was just number fifty."
"Until Jerry said that
she must help her sister wash up after dinner,” Priscilla said.
"That’s right. I ordered
her to do the chore, and when it was only halfway finished, she left and went
out to play with her friend. I brought her back, took her to her room and
Priscilla’s eyes sparkled when
she remembered this. “You know, reverend, these six past days there has been
more love between us and Anne than in the previous six months combined. It is
hard to believe. She is like a whole new girl.” (20)
physical punishment can be a good method to use in raising children, there are
other points that we should take into account in addition to the limitations
mentioned above. If we neglect to pay attention to these issues, such as those
listed below, we cannot succeed in physical punishment.
As we noted above,
it is not always easy to understand the behavior of children. Sometimes, their
bad behavior or tantrums can be a symptom of something else; perhaps we, the
parents, in some way have been neglecting the child. If we have not had enough
time to our children and have not been interested in them or have been
otherwise busy and indifferent, this may have caused the bad behavior.
We should keep in mind that this kind of a
situation cannot be resolved by increasing discipline. In this situation, it
will not help and can even make things worse. Instead, a much better --
actually the only way to respond in this kind of a situation -- is to change
how we act and make up for our neglectful attitude. We should try to pay more
attention to children, give them time and attention and try to listen to them.
If we do this, several problems in behavior may go away almost immediately, and
other methods are no longer needed.
childishness, or genuine sorrow
The second issue
to be taken into account with disciplining children is that physical punishment
should not be used when something occurred by accident, or was a result of
natural child behavior, or if the child expresses genuine regret or sorrow. If
we punish the child in these cases or unfairly as a rule, give a punishment
that does not fit the crime or keep too-strict discipline in general, we will
only cause damage, dishearten the child, and make him or her angry and
rebellious. Sometimes, parents may actually first agitate the child into anger
and then punish him or her for honestly expressing anger! This can happen if a
parent acts unfairly or otherwise neglects the children:
- (Col 3:21) Fathers, provoke not
your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
- (Eph 6:4) And, you fathers, provoke
not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of
Parents letting out their anger
Another bad way of
disciplining children is venting our anger and acting out our anger. If we act
like this, we are wreaking vengeance on our child – “I’ll show him for sure” –
and we will only do damage. This does not lead to anything positive, because
our anger will just raise similar negative feelings in the children – feelings
that generally only add bad behavior and maintain the bad behavior.
The only correct way to act in this kind of
a situation is for us to rid ourselves of anger. Discipline must never be
determined by our emotional feelings, such as when bad behavior of the child
makes us feel angry. If we base our disciplining actions on this principle, we
will discipline our children only in the right way. Always separate the child –
whom we always love – from his or her actions:
Parents must be freed from false feelings of guilt as comes to
disciplining their children. The atmosphere in our family changed in an instant
when we understood something: God requires for you to spank your children when
they rebel or are disobedient. I clearly understood that when I had spanked my
children, I had tried to bend them to my will. This is why I was inconsistent
and resentful, and I had used physical disciplining as the last resort. When I
understood that the word of God – not my own anger – defines when physical
disciplining is needed, I learned to approach the issue in quite a different
way. The important issue was no longer my getting angry with the children but
obedience to God. The whole atmosphere changed in an instant, and the children
immediately realized this. Spankings were surer, firmer, and rarer. (…) This
led way to a new feeling of love that did not concern only obedience and
discipline but spread to each nook of the life of our family. (21)
When bad behavior
occurs parents have several methods to cause change, and physical punishment is
just one alternative. Let’s look at the most common responses available to a
parent trying to confront bad behavior. Some of these are more preventive;
others can be used only just after the child has acted up. Some are more
suitable for special challenges. Always consider which is the best alternative
in each case:
1. If a mere look
or conversation with the child is enough, disciplining is not needed. Often,
this is all that is needed in case of bad behavior.
2. In some
situations – when bad behavior is intended to attract our attention -- it may
be better to do nothing.
3. If the parents
have neglected their children, showing approval and making positive comments
can eliminate bad behavior. This is often the best way to prevent bad behavior
4. Some situations
can be solved by our telling our children how we feel: using the “me” messages
instead of “you” messages and accusations. In this way we do not attack the
person and behavior of the child but only address the inappropriate behavior
from our point of view – “I’m annoyed now because…” – and only express why we
are feeling what we are feeling.
5. If a child has
powerful feelings – anger (towards the parents), weeping, sulking, strong fear
etc. – one alternative is for the parent to allow the child to express these
feelings. The parent can try to understand the child. This is just what
children need: for someone to understand how they feel at that very moment. If
the parent can in this way understand the child – “Is this how you feel, did I
get it right?” – then these negative feelings will often disappear by
6. Reacting to
positive behavior and sometimes rewarding it may eliminate bad behavior.
Rewarding can be done verbally or sometimes by giving an unexpected gift.
7. Providing the
logical alternative – setting up some negative consequence for bad behavior --
should generally have a clear and logical connection to the offence.
8. Physical punishment can be a good alternative in some cases.