I recently received an email from a cyber-friend who I “met” through this blog. I feel like I know her personally as a dear, sweet lady. She was seeking some advice about child-training, and her email was very timely, because I need to get back on track myself! Blame it on “tired,” but I’ve gotten a little lazy about discipline lately. Sitting down to compose an answer forced me to think it all through, reminding me of what I need to do, and strengthening my resolve to do it. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He?
I asked this gal’s permission to share a slightly edited version of our exchange, in the hopes that others might gain some ideas as well. She agreed, so here are some segments of our conversation.
My oldest son is 4 1/2. (will be 5 in August) I’m starting to think he likes negative attention. He is constantly doing things and always getting into trouble. Mostly its out of being very high energetic. He bullies his little sister a lot. Don’t get me wrong he is protective of her and is a GREAT brother to her as well, BUT let me list a few things that he does daily and it drives me crazy. By the way she is 2 1/2.
- When walking up the slide he will jump in front of her so he can go first and “win”. (always wants to be the winner).
- Steals her tinkerbell blanket while watching cartoons and it makes her yell and cry. This seems so minor, but the fighting drives me crazy. I end up yelling at them both to go to their rooms to sit on ther bed.
- In the backyard swingset he will use BOTH swings to be selfish instead of sharing.
- He will take things right out of her hands so he can look at it too. And of course she screams “Thats mine!”. Very annoying to mommy. :)
Like I said, these are VERY Minor 4 yr old things, but the selfishness and bullying are driving me crazy. He has TONS of energy, but instead of staying in the backyard to burn it off on the trampoline, swingset, fort, sandbox, toys, etc. He will come to the back door to see what mommy is doing, get a drink, go potty, etc. etc. He would rather me be with him. He wants to be with people.
Now that I’ve told you a little bit about the behavior here is my question….
It seems like making him sit on his bed is NOT doing a THING! He goes straight to his room very easily, no arguing and he’ll sit there for 20 mins sometimes. No big deal. You wanna share your consequences with me? ;-)
I also want to find some good character training material, but I’m at a loss on where to begin. My husband and I went to our first “Homeschool bookfair” yesterday and I was overwhelmed by all the choices out there. I’d like to do devotions as a family and go over character stuff to teach kids about self control, selfishness, etc etc. Have you found any that you like and use for small kids?
Anyways, I know you are a super busy mom so don’t feel like you have to answer me anytime soon. Just whenever it works best for your time schedule. I would love to hear any advice you have to say. And don’t worry, you will NOT offend me at all. Just be yourself and be real. Thats what I like about ya!
Before I give any advice about discipline/training, I have to preface it all with a reminder that I am no expert. I have similar issues with some of my children, so I don’t have it “all together.” We’re all works in progress. :-) But with that in mind, here are some things that came to mind as I read your email.
I completely agree with you about Dad’s involvement. One thing that my husband and I do is that when he is home, he handles all discipline issues. While he’s at work, or unavailable, I handle it in whatever way my husband and I agreed to, but he is the main authority figure in the home, so when he’s home, he takes that responsibility. It means the world to me that he does this, partly because it is a great burden lifted from me, but also because it has had a huge (positive) impact on our children and how they respond to discipline. I believe that children (especially boys) are just hard-wired by God to take it so much more seriously when Dad is involved. Even when I am the one who has to implement it while my husband is away, they take it more seriously just knowing that I’m following through with what their Dad said. It also sends a huge message to the children that Dad and Mom are a team, on the same side, and are “one.”
It could very well be that your son needs some extra attention. Recently at a homeschool convention, I heard a wonderful speaker talk about how, when children aren’t getting enough positive attention, then negative attention will suffice. I saw a lot of truth to that in my own children… When I get so focused, busy or distracted that I’m not paying much attention to them, they do tend to act out a lot more. I’d suggest you “catch him” being good, and really play it up, frequently. To help him to feel that he’s not lacking “you,” take little breaks often throughout the day, to read him a story or do something that you both like to do. Let him hang out with you whenever he wants (when possible) while you are doing your things (cooking/cleaning/etc.) He might just feel that he needs more of mommy, and that might be all it takes.
Consequences… I’d be really careful not to punish him unless you are sure that he’s deliberately misbehaving. If it’s just childish immaturity, it’s going to take talking to him to make sure he knows what’s expected of him, why, and what he can expect if he does it again. Then, if he does the same thing again, you’ll just follow through on what you told him would happen.
Another thought that’s coming to mind about consequences… I often have to remind myself that there is no “once and for all” consequence/punishment that will fix my children’s behavior forever. I used to frustrate myself and the kids, thinking that I just needed to be tougher with them – to impact them enough that they would never do that again. Well, it might have that effect, but at a hard cost – I could have lost a loving relationship with my children. I realized that getting angry and more harsh were not what they needed. It’s the consistency, day-in, day-out, many talks, prayers, consequences, again, and again, and again, that shape them over time. Think Deuteronomy 6 – when you rise up, when you lie down, as you walk along the way… That’s consistency in teaching them what God desires of them. The misbehaviors are times that pop up “as you walk along the way,” and they are great teachable moments. It’s exhausting, and it won’t work overnight, but they bear the fruit gradually.
I’d be glad to share a few of our consequences. Keep in mind though, that these are just the decisions that my husband and I agreed on. I would really advise you to make sure that your husband is 100% on board with the consequences you choose. Also bear in mind that consequences alone will not shape and mold a child’s heart. We want to gently steer them in a Godly direction, and we need their hearts to be on board for this to happen. During a misbehavior, we do a lot more than just apply the consequences. There’s a whole process involved, which you can read more about here: An Action Plan for Discipline. It’s also important to make sure that when we discipline, our hearts are right, calm and not angry. I wrote more about this here: The No Yelling Zone.
So with all that in mind, we really try to make the consequences “fit the crime,” so to speak. Here are a few examples.
Teasing/Causing Trouble/etc – Hand over Mouth or Stand in Corner. (It depends on the situation. If they are misbehaving with their words, then they lose the privilege of using their words for a few minutes. They place their hand over their mouth for a few minutes and aren’t allowed to speak during that time. If they were causing trouble with their body, then they stand in the corner for a few minutes, not allowed to use their body during that time. For either of these I set a timer for a time depending on the child’s age – 4 minutes for a 4 year old, 6 minutes for a 6 year old, etc.)
Stealing – Double restitution and extra work. (Note: We define stealing as grabbing a toy/book/etc when they knew someone else was using it. The double restitution is to show that they need to try to make amends with the offended person. They give them 2 of their own toys/books – special ones – for one week. The extra work is because of the scripture used – Ephesians 4:28 – “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.“)
Bad/Mean Words/etc. – Hand over mouth. (Note - some parents might be thinking of curse words. I think our children don’t really know any of those, and would not think to use them. If that ever happened – deliberately and not just innocently rhyming or repeating an unknown word – it would be more serious than hand over mouth! In this instance we’re thinking more along the lines of general unkindness or ungraciousness in their words.)
Disrespect/etc – Hand over mouth or Stand in Corner (Depends on whether the disrespect was with words or body – pushing, etc)
Some good devotional books/character training for young children:
Child’s Book of Character Building: Growing Up in God’s World – At Home, at School, at Play, Book 1 by Ron and Rebecca Coriell
Child’s Book of Character Building: Growing Up in God’s World – At Home, at School, at Play, Book 2 by Ron and Rebecca Coriell
Stepping Stones to Bigger Faith for Little People by Joyce Herzog