How do you tell a strong-willed two-year-old no? Just like that, “NO.” When Lauren was still in her highchair, she would throw her Cheerios on the floor and then laugh watching me pick it up. She thought it was a game. How many of you know that getting mad at a clueless child is completely ineffective in creating change? If the behavior does not bring honor, respect, or peace, then I need to parent (verb) her in that area to HELP HER know what is and is not acceptable. Do I want her to go to a friend’s house and do that? Is it cute to throw food on the floor when she is four? This has little to do with food and everything to do with self-control and respect. I said in a loving, but firm tone, “Lauren, no-no throwing food on the floor.” If she did it again, I would repeat myself but squeeze her hand. It was done in an effort to get her attention, not create punishment or pain. No means no, and she is learning she does not have the freedom to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. She did it again, and I realized she needed more help. I cleaned up breakfast and then moved her booster seat to the floor and asked her to sit in it. I connected with her by laughing. I was not scolding, punishing, or upset with her. I was teaching a toddler how to be successful at the table. I put a Cheerio on her tray and role-played me picking it up and throwing it on the floor pretending to be her, but then said in a loving but firm tone, “No-no throwing food on the floor,” and I got her out of the booster and told her to pick it up. When she did, I praised her silly with a hug and positive reinforcement. The next time I sat her in the highchair, I said in a firm but loving tone, “No-no food on the floor” as a reminder and put a small amount of food on her tray. She decided to test how serious I was, so I immediately took off her tray, got her down and lovingly, but firmly told her to hand me the Cheerios. It only took two times for her to realize it is SO NOT FUN having to get down and pick them up. Before she had no concept of the reality of someone having to pick them up, but she learned and never did it again.
I wholeheartedly agree that school shootings are not a gun issue but a heart issue. Unresolved hurts turn into offenses, and offenses turn into bitterness. Bitterness is a gateway for the enemy to carry out his plan on earth to kill, steal and destroy through us. What is sad about these shootings is that the shooter is riddled with hurts that never got addressed or validated. Are you passionate about keeping our children safe? Then do YOUR part and talk to YOUR child about bullying. What is it? How does it happen? Why does it happen? Ask if they have witnessed it. Talk about how they can overcome the spirit of fear and intimidation. Talk about taking a public stand against someone who appears powerful. Show them how Jesus stood up to the powerful people of His day. Empower them. Equip them. Train them.
Here is a great resource for you as a parent (there are many, but the point is to do SOMETHING about it in your own home). Click on the link, print out the Anti-Bully Pledge card, and sign it as a family. StopBullying.gov
I know this post will shock a few of you, but I will say it anyway. WE WANT TO BREAK OUR CHILD’S WILL! Our parenting style should not reflect breaking a child’s spirit, but we should be breaking their will. Breaking one’s spirit uses tools like anger, intimidation, control, fear, dominance, rage, and projecting our wounded places onto our children. This screams at the child that who they are is not okay and teaches them they have to alter their true selves to please them and keep the peace. We have all experienced and used these tools on others. We know it by the bad fruit it produces and how it makes our hearts feel. Breaking one’s will is totally different and uses tools like empowerment, authority, discipline, being firm, encouragement, consequences, and allowing others to feel uncomfortable. This communicates to the child that they are believed in and called to a higher standard of living. It teaches them that you love and care about them enough not to leave them in their current state. It champions them into becoming all God has called them to be and gives them room to increase their capacity. I do not want to shut my child down and break their spirit. But I DO want to break their will.
I encourage you not to see the following verses through the lens of disciplining harshly but rather through the eyes of a loving Shepherd that uses His rod to train, correct, and guide his sheep to keep them safe.
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24).
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
“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” (Hebrews 12:12).
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, walk along the road, lie down, and get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
“A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother” (Proverbs 29:15).
“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire” (Proverbs 29:17).
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9).
**Do not see the word ‘rod’ as spanking or beating a child. The rod was used by a shepherd to pull in, correct, and guide their sheep. It was also used to ward off predators. The rod in this concept is loving, kind and shepherding.
The word ‘break’ is not as in beating down and destroying but in training and discipline like an athlete.
Toddlers are not socially aware of cultivating meaningful friendships, but this is a rich season where parents can go after character training so that children are set up for success with peers down the road. I would often set up a playdate with another mom with the intention of paying close attention to how my children interacted with their peers. Did they hit when they didn’t get what they wanted? Did they yank the toy out of someone’s hands? Did they wait patiently when wanting something? Did they interrupt me using the hand technique? Were they a joy to be around? Are they the type of children others would want to invite back or were happy to have us leave? Did they say “Thank you” when given something? OF COURSE, they did not ace all of these areas. They were toddlers full of fleshly desires and selfishness. My goal was never perfection but rather seeing where I needed to parent them. I would take a mental inventory of the areas they needed to grow in, and we would spend the week working on it. I would set up another playdate and test it out. Example: If I saw my child hit another child because they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. I would address it on the spot, but when we got home, I would teach them how to handle that situation differently in times of peace. We would role-play, I would tell them what I expected (no, no hit), and we would look for ways at home they could apply that teaching with their siblings. I was intentionally teaching them how to be better friends. The heart of this cannot be legalism or performance. Children are going to be foolish, act out, throw fits and be selfish. There has to be grace for their development. But I was always on the lookout for ways they could increase their capacity in an area and go after it through connection and joy. 90% of my parenting in the toddler years was going after things in the time of peace and setting them up for success instead of constantly reacting to their negative behavior. Some of the main focus points for toddlers are: learning to wait patiently for something that they want, saying “please and thank you,” understanding right/wrong, knowing sowing/reaping (consequences), using manners (kind words), and using their words (not strength), respecting the word NO, listening and obeying right away, practicing gentleness, having self-control, and being content by themselves at times.
**My eBooklet Character Counts gives you oodles of creative activities to do with young children to instill character. You do not have to do this all in one day but rather have a mental awareness that between today and the time they enter formal school, they should have the character to play well with their peers. Order your copy here: Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly
Did you have parents who cared more about discipline than connection? Who used discipline as a weapon of punishment instead of correction and connection? If so, I want to encourage you that your challenge will be to find the BALANCE between connection and discipline. So many times, parents have harsh experiences (and some emotions to process with it) and then go all the way to connection leaving the child undisciplined. The next generation has hurts because they struggle in life from the lack of discipline and then vow they will crack the whip with their child. God is looking for a generation to bring things back into His balance, not extremes. Childhood warrants discipline AND connection.
When the kids were younger and had babysitters, I would tell her that if she was unsure about something, she could ask the kids, “What would your mom say/do about that?” Instead of the children feeling like they could get away with whatever the sitter allowed, it made them stop and think about what was right. It strengthened their muscle of walking in discernment and making good choices. I am seeing the fruit of this today in their teen years. Character counts!
I felt a check in my spirit to check my son’s bag. I did and found that he ‘borrowed’ his sister’s Fitbit (the one she waited for a year to get). She was already gone for the weekend, and after he and I worked through it, he put it back immediately. The following day I sensed God telling me to have him confess it to his sister. We all knew she would be pretty upset and feel violated, rightfully so. When he told her, she handled it like a rock star and was very humble and gracious. But then, a few hours later, he had it on his wrist again. When I asked him, he said, “Oh, she realized I valued it more than she did and gave it to me.” WOW. I gently pointed out that that would not have happened had he not owned his mistakes. God’s ways just work and have a crazy way of blessing us, even when we mess up. What a powerful lesson for him to see the fruit of humility.
I was chatting with a mom the other night about her son getting out of bed 101 times. She went through the list and said, “Spanking doesn’t work,” “timeouts don’t work,” “withholding toys don’t work,” “getting mad doesn’t work,” and after the fifth example of what doesn’t work, I realized that SHE is the one who wasn’t working. I asked her why she thought it wasn’t working, and she said that her son kept doing the behavior despite her dealing with him. I asked how long she went after it, and she responded that she didn’t want to be the mean parent as she grew up with a lot of fear and intimidation. BAM! That was the key right there. She hasn’t yet fully reconciled her own experience, which was influencing her ability to parent her strong-willed son. She realized she didn’t want to use fear and intimidation, which is good, but she needed to keep going in her process. Does being firm mean intimidation? Is exercising parental authority going to induce fear over the child? If we don’t reconcile our parent’s parenting, we will swing so far to the other side, making both generations out of balance. We need to come into alignment with how God runs His family. No to fear and intimidation, yes to parental authority, and being firm.
Teaching character in the earlier years is so important because you will spend the rest of your parenting years building upon it. When your child is around 7-9ish and fails to complete a task that you asked of them, change your language from “I asked you to do _____” to “Is there something I asked of you that you have not completed yet?” It makes their mind think on their own, which is a muscle that needs to be exercised and used. I would say things like, “Oh, I don’t think you are ready to eat dinner with us,” and it would make them stop in their tracks and remember. It is amazing how quickly their minds can recall it when forced to think for themselves. This takes the pressure off of you to be their mind and eliminates the frustration of a child who is not being faithful with responsibility.
God gave frogs long tongues to catch their food. They have to be very still and intentional about how they use their tongue, or else they will scare away their dinner and go hungry. Have the kids act out being a frog – jumping around, ribbiting, and sticking out their tongue. Then explain to the children that God has given us very powerful words. The Word says our words are like a sword, and we can either help or hurt others with them. We need to be very wise in how we use our tongues so that we don’t end up hurting those around us or ourselves.
Guarding Your Tongue – Nine out of ten times, when my children come to me to complain about someone else, I discover they are at fault themselves, and they end up getting disciplined for it. It was their ‘mouth’ that revealed there was an issue, and more times than not, the issue was with them. The goal is not to hide things from Mom and Dad but to teach children to choose their words carefully, to build others up and not tear them down. In the days ahead, when your children run to you to tattle-tale on their siblings, lovingly get down on their level and ask, “Honey, do you remember the wise frog? Are you using your tongue wisely right now?”
This lesson was taken from our Character Counts SOAR parenting magazine. If you are interested in more activities, you can purchase your digital copy here: Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly
Sit with a piece of paper and ask Jesus to show you how your child is doing with each of the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Go after the areas that need some strengthening. You are sowing into character training today so that you can reap the good fruit of it tomorrow.