Help to upbringing








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Jesus is the way,
 the truth, and the life




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 their opinions.

   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.

   The 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.




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.


Avoid sentences 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 just impossible!

- 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 be ashamed...

- Don't you ever learn to clean after you!

- Never disturb me when I’m sewing!

- Be quiet, or else...


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 up.

- 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 warm.


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. (12)




Parents can 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 man.


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 again. (13)


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. (14)


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 all times.

   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.




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 behavior.

   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 following:


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 before.

   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 child. (16)


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 naughty.”

   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. (17)




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 we give.


- 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 without help.

- 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."


When parents 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 criticizing.”

   "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)




Continuing with 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:


The logical 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 suitable punishment.


- 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 calm.


- 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 money.

   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.


Love and 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:


  • Do not spank children under the age of one or, generally, children over the age of ten.
  • The punishment should be given as soon after the offence as possible.
  • The backside is the only good place to spank.
  • Do not cause physical damage, but inflict a little pain so the punishment will stick to the child.


For example, Arvo Ylppö, an esteemed Finnish archiatre and 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 a little.

   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 disciplined her.”

   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)


Even though 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.


Neglecting parents


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.


Accidents, 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 the Lord.


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 in advance.


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 themselves.


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.




Jari Iivanainen

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