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by Brian Flewelling on August 30, 2022
There’s no doubt about it, raising young children can be stressful at times. But constantly elevating your voice can unnecessarily add tension to your home and create negativity in your relationships. If your children are out of control then all the more reason you need to be in control. Always resorting to shouting does not communicate confidence, authority, or love. It communicates desperation, lack of respect, and anger. So how do you get through to them when you’ve asked them eleven times to: Come to the dinner table; Brush your teeth; Clean up your toys; Don’t hit your sister; Do your homework?
Here are a few simple steps to help you remove shouting as your default setting.
1. First Get Their Attention.
Our middle child was extremely focused. It wasn't enough to yell across the room-Ok, it’s bed time. Start cleaning up your toys. Maybe she heard us. Maybe she really didn’t. What she needed is for one of us to walk over, lay a hand on her shoulder and interrupt her creative world. Isn’t that what God does for us, he gets our attention. “Hear oh Israel!” That’s the parent’s responsibility—get their attention. Sometimes even calling their name before you start talking to a child, or asking them nicely—"can you look at me for a moment?" can get their attention so that we know they hear what we are about to communicate.
2. Give Them Warnings and Prep Time.
It’s only fair to communicate your plans to your children with as much advanced warning as is appropriate. This gives them time to by-in to the decision and to own it for themselves. If we are planning on going away for the entire day, we communicate that with our children the day before. If it’s time for dinner, we usually give a five minute warning so they know they will need to stop playing with their toys. Imagine how you’d feel if your boss regularly interrupted your day by dropping in and demanding—"I need you to stop immediately and go help Nancy in the conference room." You’d get frustrated by the lack of control and lack of communication. Even a simple, "hey in five minutes Fred is going to need some help in the conference room," changes the dynamics of the situation. That gives you time to embrace the reality for yourself.
3. Clearly Communicate What You Want, When You Want It.
If you tell your child to—"Stop that." Do they know exactly what THAT is? Or can you be more precise? Do you want them to stop the loud banging; stop using Barbie doll as a hammer; or stop using the antique table as the anvil? Which is it?
And children are master procrastinators. When they don’t want to do something they will drag their feet. That’s when you give them a deadline. In our house we often count to three. We will tell them—"You’ve got three seconds to stop whining or you can go sit in a time-out chair." Or in some instances I’ll even set my phone timer and say—"I’ve asked you three times to get in the shower. If you’re not in the shower in two minutes you’ll loose your bedtime story." If at that point I see that they are making an honest effort, I’m not too strict with the timing.
4. Speak Softly. Provide Consequences.
Ok let’s be honest. There are times our children simple defy us, or drag their feet to the point that it’s disrespectful, inappropriate, or disobedient. Ok. More than a few times. Often. Like every ten minutes. Point is, they need to know that’s not acceptable.
When this happens we give our children a choice. They can either listen to what we are asking, or if they continue not to listen there will be a consequence. That’s it. No screaming. Just a firm decision placed in front of them. As a parent, the consequence you create is your leverage. And what works as leverage is different for every child.
That leverage may be revoking a privilege like watching TV. It might be a negative consequence like a time out, or additional chores. And yes, in the most extreme circumstances, temporary physical pain in the rear-end can help persuade them to stop their behavior. The motivation should be love. The short term goal is a change in behavior. But the long term goal is a change of heart. We want to point them towards what is good so that they can love what is good for themselves. You have to find what is most effective and most appropriate for the scenario.
5. Implement the Consequence.
It’s not enough to threaten your children. You can threaten all day long, but if you don’t put teeth to your bite, the child will know you’re all empty threats. They will grow up to learn that they can manipulate you and anyone else, they just have to push your buttons, or put up with your verbal tirade, but nothing will change.
But when you reinforce that there are causes-and-effects in the world you set them up to take responsibility for their choices. Undesirable behavior or attitudes lead to undesirable effects. Remember, you are doing this because you love them. You love them too much to let them continue acting the way they are. Listen to this wisdom from Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
6. Listen to Their Hearts
Defiance is difference from making a mistake. Knocking a glass of water over at the dinner table is a mistake. We all make them. You don’t need to shout angrily, or call them names. Those are great instructional moments when we can respond with grace, but teach the child that they also need to take responsibility for their mistakes and help clean up. But that doesn’t have to be emotional.
A young child might never have been told not to put their shoes in the dishwasher. That is not a time to yell at them. That is a time to instruct them (and maybe even laugh at their creativity). Only after a behavior is clearly forbidden can it be clearly reinforced with consequences.
A child who is trying to help you usually has good motivations. Ask questions that unearth their motivation—What were you hoping to do with that honey? Reward positive motivations with affirmation and praise. If they are slowing you down or making a mess don’t crush their tender hearts by shouting at them. Don’t make your children feel like an inconvenience to your life. Discern when you need to slow down for them, and when you need to explain that you’re in a hurry.
7. Anger in Moderation
I do not believe anger is a sin. God clearly exhibited anger towards his disobedient children. And anger is a legitimate emotion God has placed within people. As parents we have to learn when it’s appropriate to express the anger we feel and what degree of expression is helpful and not hurtful. But we should always be in control of our anger.
A parent’s anger, within moderation, can lend the full weight of authority to discipline. Most of the time this should be reserved for the corrections to core values. In our home we do not tolerate physical violence to another child. We do not tolerate rebellion. We do not tolerate disrespect towards parents or siblings. Even ingratitude can be very demoralizing. We have a zero-tolerance policy.
8. Connect To Their Heart
When we discipline our children we usually make it a point to have a heart to heart talk with them after the punishment. We reinforce that we love them. But the way that they are acting is not acceptable. We try to explain how their actions or attitudes hurt other people. On occasion we’ve had to apologize to our children because of the way we’ve handled a situation. In those cases I might say—"I’m sorry that I embarrassed you in front of your friends. I shouldn’t have done that. I love you very much. (pause) I also need you to understand that when you did…(fill-in-the-blank)…that was not acceptable either."
The heart to heart conversation deepens the bond between parent and child, because it reiterates that your love is not conditional. The fact that you will love them, even when they are at their worst, shows the child that their actions will never disqualify them from being loved by you. Your relationship with them is not based on performance but identity.
The more we can establish expectations and boundaries for our children, the less personal and emotional our reactions and discipline needs to feel. Remember the ultimate goal is to raise a healthy person, not to always control them. If we can practice these, our children will hopefully grow to respect authority, take responsibility for themselves, love what is good, and have deeper and long lasting relationships with their friends and family. And those are the kind of adult children we all desire to have.
Tags: parenting, discipline, listening, heart, motives, anger, communicate, consequences
Brian serves as the Equipping Pastor at Petra. Brian also serves as part of the Sunday morning teaching team. You may also hear him teaching in various other ministry settings, using his Bible study and teaching gifts to bless others.
Before coming on staff at Petra in 2010, Brian and his wife Kristina served as missionaries for four years with Eagles’ Wings Ministry in Clarence, NY. Brian has a BA in Biblical Studies and studied at Jerusalem University College in Israel for a semester.
The Flewellings are thrilled with their three children: Ariana, Sophia, and Elliot. When not involved in ministry or family life, Brian enjoys hiking, reading, and relaxing with friends.
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