Are You Letting Your Kids Walk All Over You?

Are You LETTING Your Kids Walk All Over You? // jessconnell.com

I sometimes hear moms almost bragging about it… “it’s been ages since I’ve used the restroom alone.” “She’s persnickety & suddenly won’t eat anything I make!!”  As if being a Mommy Martyr makes you a good mommy.

There is a HUGE difference between what the average mom puts up with today, and what would have been allowed 30, 60, 100 years ago. Interestingly, in our post-feminist era, with women determined more than ever to not let *anyone* “walk all over them,” there are a whole lot of toddlers, kids, and teens out there doing just that.

Whether it is:

  • correcting you as if they know better,
  • being snide in the way they talk to you,
  • rudeness about a meal you’ve made,
  • interrupting your conversations,
  • walking in on you as you go to the restroom,
  • thoughtless comment about your post-partum belly,
  • or some other actions, attitudes, or words,

YOU, mama, are the one teaching them how to treat others.

You might think, “oh that kind of thing doesn’t matter to me. I’m his mom. The thing I most want him to know is that I LOVE him. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill.” And here is what I would say in response: the way to truly LOVE your child is to keep his long-term good in mind.

The thing that is best for his heart and character, long-term, is for him to learn to treat other people with kindness and respect. 

And, please recognize:

YOU are an “other” in your child’s life. 

This means: Mama, YOU have to stick up for YOU. The respect your child shows for you is ultimately a sign of respect toward God for sovereignly making you their mother. And it’s a foundational part of how your child will learn to treat others.

  • Correcting you as if they know better is not OK. Yes, there may occasionally be times where they know better. But even those true corrections can be done with humility and a respectful tone. In my experience with our children, though, it is far more often the case that a 4-7 year old child has gotten too big for his britches and feels like his parent’s peer. His corrections often start with, “nuh-uh!” “no, it wasn’t…” and are often spoken reflexively. It becomes habit and happens both in groups and at home. This is worth nipping in the bud. Do not let your child become a person who perpetually corrects others and is wise in his own eyes.
  • Being snide is not OK. You are your child’s rightful authority. “Honor your father and your mother” is a basic biblical principle. Mutual joking is one thing; rude snarkiness toward you is something different. You can usually FEEL the difference, and if you can’t, your husband or someone else who is wise and knows the situation may be able to help you think it through and rightly assess what’s appropriate and what’s not.
  • Being rude and ungrateful about a meal is not OK. We want to raise children to be thankful for things done for them, and who realize that having someone else cook for them is a gift. So yes, this means, you may need to be the one to tell them they should say “thank you” for dinner, TO YOU. It may seem counterintuitive, or like fishing for a compliment for your cooking, but no– those are self-defeating lies. You are teaching your child gratitude, kindness, and the value of work.
  • Interrupting is not OK. You can teach your child to place their hand on your arm, or to wait for a pause/break in the conversation, but you really can (and should) teach this to your child. Learning to patiently wait is an excellent skill. You are also teaching them to value the time and relationships of others, even if they have no interest in a particular conversation.
  • Ignoring someone else’s privacy is not OK. Please don’t ever walk in on someone going to the bathroom. Unless your hair is on fire, you can wait a moment while I finish going potty, and then ask me your question when I come out.”
  • Making (even truthful) comments about pregnant body changes is not OK. A thoughtless comment about your post-partum belly is not intentionally hurtful, but it IS hurtful, and could be extremely hurtful if your child doesn’t learn from you not to say that, and they go and say that to another woman. So tell them. Not in an ugly way, but tell them. Let them know, “I know you’re just saying that, and you’re right, mom’s tummy is smushy right now, but you are never to say that to a woman who has just had a baby. It is hard work having a baby, and the woman’s body goes through a lot of changes. It’s much better to talk about how cute the baby is than to ever say something like that to a new mama, OK?” (Obviously, a 2 year old isn’t going to understand this very well. But older kids can — and should!– learn this.)
  • And other things, too. You know what I’m talking about– these are the peculiarities that make your eye twitch and throat tighten. Perhaps your Mommy Radar has been going off but you’ve not been dealing with it. Eye rolls from her, heavy sighing when something is asked of him, an antagonistic tone, stomping feet… physical actions often give clear clues of what’s happening in the hearts of our children. (That’s true from about 8-10 months old all the way through our lives.)

Some moms find this hard… “Well, I don’t want to seem like I’m wanting special treatment, or like I’m simply standing up for my rights.” It can even have an unhealthy, seemingly-Christian spin on it, “well, Jesus turned the other cheek, and so I should just forgive and be a humble servant to my kids.”

Here’s the thing–

When you let your child walk all over you, you are not being a Christ-like servant. No, rather, you are not doing your job as a mom. 

WHEN YOU LET YOUR CHILD WALK ALL OVER YOU:
  • you are teaching them that it is OK for them to show disrespect and unkindness to others.
  • you are building behaviors into their character that are going to do them harm for their whole life
  • you are making it harder for them to one day (as an adult believer, which prayerfully, they may become) obey God and respect you, because the patterns of their heart will be habitually bent toward disrespect
  • you are letting them act as if they are a better sovereign over their lives than God
  • you are sowing seeds that will grow for decades and generations to come

Instead, can I encourage you to teach children how to treat YOU in the same way you would respond if they said or did those things to another human being?

This is your job.

Day in day out, you can teach your child what is normal, and acceptable, and appropriate for polite and pleasant interactions with other human beings. And the first place to start is often right under your nose… in the way they act toward you.

NOT SURE WHAT’S RIGHT OR NOT?

Perhaps you grew up in an unhealthy home, or you struggle to assess these things in daily life. If you’re not sure, consider these questions:

  • Should a woman you greatly admire and respect (don’t jump over that description– picture her!) be treated and talked to the way you just let them treat you?
  • If you were a missionary and they sat down to eat at a poor neighbor‘s table and reacted to that food the way they just reacted to the homemade meal you made, what would you do?
  • Would you let them talk to Prince William, your Pastor, the President, the bank manager, the Pope, or your husband’s boss the way they just spoke to you?
If you’re still not sure, hook up with other godly Christian families and watch.
  • Observe norms about how they allow their children to interact with adults.
  • Listen to how their children speak to them.
  • Ask questions.
  • Lean in and learn from families that get this part right.

I know it can feel weird, at first, to stick up for yourself. You can trick yourself into thinking that it is selfish or not right.

But in actuality, by teaching them how to treat you, you are teaching them much more than simply that. You are teaching them basic concepts of respect of others, and how they are to respond to authorities in their lives (which they will have, their entire lives, no matter how rich or famous or brilliant they grow to be).

You can do this!

Teach your children how to treat you, and stick up for yourself. Teach your children respect and gratitude, and you’ll be doing yourself and them a world of good.

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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52 Responses

  1. Jessica says:

    This is SO often overlooked. We should not be allowing our children to be raised RUDE because Love is NOT rude! I have had kids come over to my house and be so rude to me and I just have to think this must be accepted at their house. But really kids must learn kindness and to think of other people’s feelings. It doesn’t come naturally most of the time! 😉

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes. I’m getting less and less shocked by it, but it’s still off-putting to be treated this way by someone else’s child. It’s our responsibility and no one else’s, to see that our children learn to interact in ways that consider others.

  2. Amanda says:

    What do you recommend the mom do who has older children (teenagers) and has allowed this to happen? How do we stop this habit of disrespect with older, more difficult to train children?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Without knowing your particulars, I would say the first thing to do would be to confess to your kids, something like this: “I’ve allowed you to act toward me in ways that are rude and disrespectful. The Bible tells you to honor your father and mother. Your whole life will go better if you learn to respect the authorities God has put over you, and your life will be more difficult if you do not… the consequences for not honoring your authorities range from losing your job to going to jail to losing your life. I’ve put you at a disadvantage, and I’ve disobeyed God. I’m going to be asking you to reword your comments to me when they are rude and disrespectful. I will try to do this consistently, but I also need for you to be working on this from the inside. It’s something God’s convicted me of that I should have done when you were young, but am going to work on now, when it will be a bit more difficult and laborious for us both. When I ask you to reframe your words, I’d like for you to do it with words that show respect. This is going to take work from us both, and I don’t just want to ask you to change words on the outside; I’d like us to participate with God and ask Him to change us both to have a right view of authority from the inside.”

      I think it would take a long process of diligence on your part and theirs, but I do think it can be done.

      Thanks for the humility and honesty of your question.

      • Jess Connell says:

        Meant to include this too–

        I remember hearing this tip years ago and have begun using it with my own preteens…

        For pre-teens & teens, they’re fighting not just against their flesh, but against the peer influence and media influence around them, as well as their own hormones. Finding non-threatening but still straightforward ways to confront their rudeness can help you both. Phrases like these:

        “Wanna rephrase that?”
        “Want to try that again?”
        “You’re gonna need a re-do on how you said that.”

        Giving them a chance to self-correct can give them a “way out” that still helps them to stop and think and reframe what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

      • Amanda says:

        Thank you Jess :) That speaks to me for sure! <3

  3. Michelle says:

    So my question is: how do you discipline for attitude? We’ve finally moved past the direct disobedience (most of the time) stage and are into the attitude stage, and I just don’t know how to discipline for it. Is a spanking appropriate for a snarky comment or an eye roll and huge sigh? Most of the time I make her sit on her bed until she decides to have a happy heart and a glad attitude, but I don’t feel like that’s discipline, per se. We work on memory verses and I make her quote them to me, “Do everything without complaining or arguing,” but she’s not old enough to have to write them 100 times or anything. Suggestions? She does get spankings for lying or direct disobedience. A drop of vinegar on the tongue for hateful words or spitting, sticking it out, etc. And what on EARTH do you do when things happen in public (she remarked to me a week or two ago when we were in a taxi: “Well I’m tired of you telling me what to do!” and we were on our way to a public bus station to then take a 6-hour bus ride…)?

    I do at least feel like three years of hard work on the food front and she will at least try almost anything and will usually eat new things without complaining, maybe an “it’s not my favorite” comment but we chose to fight food battles when they’re small and it’s paying off. Our middle child is still a challenge here but we’re still working on it…she is only 3.5 after all. =)

    • Jess Connell says:

      You’ve gotta nip public stuff in the bud FAST. Pull in a private corner/alleyway, step into a restroom, or bend down and privately whisper instructions in the ear. The key to public stuff is this: private, consistent training in the home. Then, when they try to act up/mouth off in public, it will take a word/warning from you, and they’ll realize that the private norm is also the public norm and that they can’t “get away with it” just because people are around.

      As far as what to do when disciplining for attitude, you do the same thing you do for anything else: whatever is “painful” (Hebrews 12 discipline passage) and fruitful for that child. What you shouldn’t do is ignore it. Because the attitudes in your child are the root of everything else.

      Inherent in this question is the idea that some things are “behavior” and some things are “attitude” but the truth is that all things– habitual behavior, actions, words– all start with attitude. Attitude affects everything else our children do. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that disciplining for attitude is somehow different from what you’ve been doing all along.

      As you discipline for anything– habits, actions, words, or attitude– you want to be parenting their HEART. You want to be looking for what root beliefs are underneath their actions/words and correct those. As the mom, it is very likely that as you watch your children, you can identify what they’re thinking.

      When you see your sulky child, you can coach both externals and internals to help them adjust not just their outside behavior (which would be pharisaical “cleaning the outside of the cup”) but also their inside attitudes.

      For example (sulky child) :
      *slumps to floor because you just asked her to pick up her blocks*

      You: “Nope. stand up and obey mama.”

      *stays slumped and arches back/stomps feet/starts crying/says no/does something else that indicates a disobedient/defiant attitude

      You: (do whatever you do for discipline– for you, this would be perhaps to spank) “Momma said stand up and obey.”

      ****You are going to park here on this step until she does it.****

      She: stands up, grumpily.

      You: “Now, stop grumping and pick up the blocks like mama said.”

      *stands there, sulking*

      (Repeat discipline– perhaps a firm swat on the bottom) “No, you don’t just stand there. You obey mama. Start picking up blocks.”

      Etc. (A child new-to-discipline may need multiple rounds of this kind of stopping-everything-until-obedience-happens sort of training. A well-disciplined child– even at 2/3 years old– will usually hop to it by this point.)

      At this point, you can start coaching the heart as you coach the behavior.

      “That’s right. Instead of thinking ‘I DON’T WANT TO,’ I want you to think, ‘I’m going to obey mama and pick up my blocks.'” When mama asks you to do something, you must obey. We pick up our blocks before we do something else. Great job! ”

      (You could add in other things, if you see residual attitude things– “instead of thinking, “________(whatever it is you believe they are thinking… this can change in different situations and with different children)____” you need to be thinking, “______________”)

      For example, if a 10-year-old suddenly starts grumping about doing the dishes, I’ll move to the heart level and probe a little bit about what he’s thinking/feeling. At that point, I can help him correct his thinking. “Instead of thinking, ‘I hate having to do dishes. This is boring. I always have to do this.,’ You should be thinking, ‘I’m glad I can help my family. It’s good that we’ll have clean dishes to eat on for dinner tonight. Mama did this job for 10 years when I was too little to do it, and now I’m big enough to help do things that bless our family.’ If you’re bored, you can sing a song, or ask mama to put on a podcast you enjoy.” Etc.

      (p.s. my 10 year old loved listening to “Stuff You Missed In History Class” while doing the dishes.)

      (p.p.s. I do not require for them to do chores “with a happy heart” or “with a smile” or anything like that. I don’t always do chores with a completely smiley attitude. But I can do them faithfully, diligently, and with a right attitude. I can find ways to “enjoy it,” but even that takes effort. For my kiddos, where we’ve fallen is that they don’t have to be doing things with a rainbow-like perfect heart attitude, but these things can be done with a non-complaining, non-argumentative heart that is thinking rightly about doing chores as a means of obedience and blessing others.)

      These are things you can continue to do WHENEVER you see a wrong attitude — ugly to sibling, defiant to dad, overly dejected about a change in plans (beyond normal disappointment), anxiety/worry/stress about something, frustrated about not getting something they want, etc., etc., etc.,– one of our main jobs as mamas is to discern the attitudes going on in our child’s heart and help them to counsel themselves with truth from the Bible and from wisdom.

      As you see negative heart attitudes– any negative heart attitudes, whether they come out in specific behaviors or words or not– you can begin lovingly coaching your children so that they think rightly about the world and have a jumpstart on biblically counseling their own hearts as they grow into adults. Hope this helps.

      • Michelle says:

        Ok. So in the example above if I told her to pick up her blocks and she didn’t want to she would likely do it, but complaining and whining the whole time. Or when we leave a friend’s house and she (of course) doesn’t want to go, she complains and huffs and puffs for awhile. Or we go to the park and let her ride two rides but she isn’t satisfied with two, she wanted to ride two more, so she complains about not getting what she wants. Is this the point where we just talk to her (which we’re already doing: talking about attitude and being thankful for what we got to do, naming things we’re thankful for that day instead of complaining, quoting scripture she’s memorized, talking to her about thinking about other people and what they would want, etc.) or is there something more that needs to happen? I mean, I feel like I can talk until I’m blue in the face, you know?

        If I ask her to pick up her toys and she can’t do it without whining and complaining and huffing and puffing, this is when I usually make her go sit on her bed until she’s ready to obey without the grumping. I agree: she shouldn’t have to be “happy” about what I asked her to do, but she does need to not whine and complain the whole time. She’s technically obeying by doing what I asked her to do, but her attitude stinks. I guess I’m just torn as to what to do in this situation…I don’t feel that a spanking or something like that is appropriate, but I don’t feel like me just talking to her (coaching her attitude) is enough.

        • Jess Connell says:

          You said: “she would likely do it, but complaining and whining the whole time.” and “she complains and huffs and puffs for awhile.”

          Do you see how you are letting her get entrenched in sinful attitudes that will affect her for her whole life? You are allowing bitterness, complaints, and misery to overtake her and control her for lengthy amounts of time. These patterns will continue for her whole life unless you teach her a different way (or, perhaps, in adulthood, she seeks professional help and learns to biblically counsel her own heart– which will take WAY MORE time & effort than it would currently take you to deal with)… but you have the opportunity, right there in your home, to help her begin to undo some of her fleshly tendencies and learn to submit her thinking to wisdom rather than foolishness, starting right now in these early years under your care.

          This is where the specific “you are thinking x; you need to change what you are focused on to be Q” coaching is particularly helpful. We coach body and soul, body and soul, body and soul, helping them to wholly adjust their attitude and greet life with a pleasant, cheerful demeanor (AND matching heart attitude), rather than simply settling for, “well, she did what I said, so that’s good enough.”

          What it sounds like you’re settling for is actually behavioralism. You’re requiring the behavior (and, from above, it sounds like occasionally having her sit on her bed to figure out on her own how she might change her attitude, which I’m betting comes not from a change in thinking but in 1- distraction by something else she wants more or can suddenly be happy about, or 2- the passing of time and simply forgetting the pain of whatever it was that she wanted so badly) but not helping her understand how her attitude really gets changed. 3 year olds don’t know how to biblically change their own attitude… even my nearly-13-year-old (who has the help of the Holy Spirit) still sometimes struggles on his own. He needs our help to start thinking rightly, and believing rightly, so he can do rightly.

          Our sinful hearts still do the same thing as adults, if we’re not biblically counseling them. The thing you want to do is to figure out what’s playing on her internal “track”– “woe is me, I’m so miserable, I never get to do anything fun?” or “mama’s so mean, she never lets me do anything fun” or “I wanted to stay LONGER! Mama’s my mortal ENEMY right now! This makes me ANGRY!!!” or… (there could be other things too but typically it’s close to one of these things). Once you find out which it is, you begin to counsel with Scripture and also with the expectation of obedience. Both/and.

          Your child CAN control her attitude– she proves it to you in a number of settings in a year’s time. When, suddenly, without warning, ice cream’s on the agenda, I bet she can stop fussing fairly quickly (unless she’s over-tired from not having a nap/some other physical need… at which point, your focus should become seeing to it that her physical needs are met more regularly, and with less gaps/opportunities for things like this).

          But children ARE able to exercise self-control, even when emotionally charged. When a child meets with something they WANT, or someone they FEAR (a policeman/bad guy), or something they did not expect, even the most defiant/willful child will stop and reassess the situation, pausing between sobs/screams to check things out, swallowing, looking around, etc.. It may or may not stop the fussing altogether, but it often pauses/diminishes the fussing.

          It is at that point that you have the opportunity to coach. The Bible says for us to raise our children “in discipline and the instruction of the Lord.” That means the disciplinary measure you take AND coaching. Once they are to that place of (even minor) self-control, you are able to speak to their mind and heart in a way that currently, it sounds like, doesn’t happen very often. By allowing her to continue sulking/grumping/slumping/fussing, you are allowing her to persist in attitudes that are ruining her character but also putting her in a more difficult state of mind to even *hear* your counsel and instruction.

          What I would encourage you to do is to (for a season, until this becomes habit and normative for you both) stay home and focus on training her. By that I mean, enjoy pleasant days at home. Play, snuggle, laugh, enjoy each other. Be at home. Have her help you unload the dishwasher. Make cookies. Read books together on the couch. Have her help you when you go to tidy your bedroom or work on a sewing project, or whatever it is you have on your agenda for the day. Color at the table before tidying it up and getting dinner fixed. Etc. I just want to spell this out because some people can picture a day “staying at home and training” as misery. No! These are normal days. But you’re keeping her close and bringing her alongside you… watching, watching, watching.

          Because then, when you see the attitude pop out (and it may be subtler than it is when it’s leaving a friend’s house, but it’s the same attitude there under her skin), everything stops. When you ask her to pack up her crayons so you can move to the kitchen together, her combative attitude may not be the full-assault tantrum she threw when leaving a friend’s house, but it’s the same basic defiant heart. So yes, you discipline for it. You stay at this point until her attitude changes to be softened to and ready to hear and heed your instruction.

          Then, you instruct with Scripture and with wisdom.

          It is good to interact at this point: “God tells us to _______, but what did you do?”

          Wait for her to answer. If her answer needs to be reshaped (i.e., “you said we had to pack up but we’d only been coloring for a few minutes, and I didn’t finish my picture and… .”), you coach her to own the whole truth. “Mama said we have to pick up. God put Mama over you, to take care of you and help you know what to do. Do you understand?” (Wait for the affirmative answer.) “Instead of thinking, ‘I don’t want to pick up my crayons, what should you be thinking?'” (Pause to see if she comes up with any kind of close-to-right answer… affirm if she does… but otherwise supply the answer.) “You should be thinking, ‘Mama says we need to pick up crayons. And we’re going to move to the kitchen now so she can make dinner.’ So what should you be thinking?” (Wait for her to rephrase that in her own mind… you’ll likely have to repeat it for her.)

          At this point, once we’ve gotten past the sin/attitude, and past the coaching and everything once again appears to be copacetic (again, you are stopping too soon if you allow her to go on sulking/whining/internally grumping after discipline), I generally “test” the good attitude with an instruction of some kind.

          After she’s picked up the blocks, I’d ask, “Now, I want you to go pick up the shoes by the door and line them up and make them look nice.” OR “Will you take this to the sink for me?” OR something else that is something they did not plan/know to do that allows me to see if their heart is truly softened, and if they are willing to pleasantly go along with what mom says.

          THEN, assuming that part goes well, the day goes on with smiles and enjoyment. This is not grumpyville for me, either. I try to let my tone match the offense (shock/sadness if they slapped one another, sadness if they choose to keep disobeying, indignant and sorrowful if they take on a rebellious/defiant attitude, etc.), and I give instruction with a sober tone and face, but then once discipline and instruction has happened, we move on. It does not need to cloud the day or change the atmosphere of the home.

          This may seem burdensome, but it doesn’t actually take that long, and you can do it while you’re moving through your day. This is what happens all day long, throughout each day in our home. It’s intensive and more frequent with toddlers/preschoolers… but by the time they are 5-7, it’s less frequent, and tends to be more focused on a particular character issue that comes out (i.e., distractedness, a newly-cropping-up habit of correcting mom, wallowing in self-pity about something, etc.). And by the time they are 9-12, it tends to be less-frequent and deeper coaching through characteristic patterns of thinking, rather than spread all over the place.

          Anyway, this is what happens all through every day.

          My suspicion is, based on what you’re telling me, that you’re stopping too soon. You’re settling for too little. Instead of coaching her whole person– body and soul, you’re being satisfied with inwardly-sulky obedience, and I’d encourage you to see that as every bit as worthy of your attention as the not-picking-up-blocks, or whatever the actual physical offense was.

          We don’t want to encourage or train our children toward angry, sulky, whiny, argumentative, defiant-hearted obedience. That is actually training them toward pharaseeism. Instead, we want to train the WHOLE child… helping them not just to DO the thing (pick up blocks, for example), but to do it with the right attitude.

          And the right attitude is not something that comes on its own. A 3 year old (and sometimes a 12 year old!) doesn’t just come up with the right heart attitude and things to think about on her own. She needs you to be continually giving her context… and be teaching her throughout life…

          These are the sorts of principles that will help her counsel herself rightly in that moment when she doesn’t want to leave the friend’s house. “Mommy loves me. Mommy brought me to my friend’s house. She knows everything we have to do today and decided we need to go home now. I’m sad to have to leave my friend, but really thankful we got to come. Mommy has a plan and I need to obey her.” Etc. These are the sorts of things you can coach her with, but these are also the things that, increasingly, she can grow to think WHILE she’s cleaning up blocks before leaving the friend’s house. You really can help her to frame her momentary disappointment in the context of a whole day.

          In addition to requiring obedience of her (which you should do… she should obey you), you are giving her the skills she’ll need to obey with a truly right heart attitude. I feel a bit concerned using that phrase because some in the child-discipline world have co-opted “heart attitude” to mean “teach your child to fake it.” And that is not what I mean. I mean that change comes for all human beings by the renewing of our minds. When we think differently about things, our behavior changes and our feelings change. By coaching her beyond her behavior, you are giving your daughter the skills she’ll need to change her thinking, feeling, AND behaviors through her whole life. And by counseling her with the Word and with wisdom, you are tuning her heart toward biblical thinking.

          By the way, you said, “I don’t think spanking is appropriate” and I would then ask– what other sort of painful discipline are you using that immediately tells your daughter “I mean business” and that stings so that she feels the pain of poor choices and comes to a frame of mind where she’ll listen and heed what you’re saying? What is it that works to sober her up in a moment of foolishness and does so with expediency and without entrenching her in minutes and hours of wrong thinking/feeling? (i.e., some disciplinary measures only serve to give the child even LONGER to stew/grump/fuss/whine/feel sorry for themselves, etc.)

          • Jess Connell says:

            Oh, and after you have done this at home, consistently, for a good few weeks or month or more, then trips out will be much less stressful. Once your child is used to stopping their own out-of-control behavior and out-of-control thinking, and choosing to obey and think rightly, then your coaching while out and about will be much more effective.

            It will look more and more like this:

            “Time to go now….”
            fuss/fuss/”oh mom… do we really have to…” etc.
            “You say, ‘yes mama.'”
            “Yes, mama.”
            “Now, it’s time to pick up blocks. We had a full day yesterday and mama wants to get home to make sure little sister gets her full nap today.”
            “Ok, mom” (picks up blocks while talking with her friend, and then comes over to you to get her shoes on)

            The goal is not just behavior change, but a change in thinking/feeling too. And once you start helping them think rightly about the world and their place in it, it will translate over to your other disciplinary interactions.

          • Michelle says:

            Ok. A few things.

            1) I’m talking about my 5.5 year old, not my 3-year old.

            2) By your response I feel extremely judged. You have made multiple assumptions about how I parent and have built your response around them. Usually I read your posts and comments and replies and feel that you do a great job of being kind, but here…I feel completely judged. You don’t know me well, you don’t know my kids at all, and you don’t seem to understand that I am NOT being weak and stopping too soon (as you have said before about other issues with my kids, which now, 2-3 years after your saying that the first time, I’m still inclined to say that I’ve got a more strong-willed child than any you must have, although of course that’s purely assumption). I’m honestly asking for input about when to DISCIPLINE and when to TALK, because they are not the same. I’m just being honest here, and I’m going to try to frame my response in a way that does not lash out at you, like my flesh wants to right now.

            3)You have assumed that in the example you gave in which I said her response would be to obey but to do so with complaining, that I would allow her to do that, to sulk and whine and complain. In none of your examples did you indicate what would be appropriate if a child immediately obeyed but with grumping! Do you discipline them for their attitude? Do YOU spank (or whatever is PAINFUL discipline) YOUR almost-5-year old before you talk to him, before you “coach” him? Or, since he is doing what you told him to do but with a bad attitude, do you just talk to him about his attitude and how it’s not pleasing to the Lord or respectful to you while he’s doing what you asked him to? I’m asking if, when they obey in action but not in attitude, do you DISCIPLINE them AND talk to them, or do you just talk to them? You said yourself that if your 10-year old is grumping about doing the dishes that you’ll move to the heart level and probe a bit, help him correct his thinking, etc. Do you ground him first because his attitude was bad? You said you don’t expect your kids to do things with a “rainbow-like perfect heart attitude,” so do you do anything OTHER THAN talk to them about that less-than rainbow-perfect heart attitude? Do you see the difference here in what I’m asking?

            You are implying that I just let her whine and complain the whole time while she obeys me in action. I do not allow her to obey only in action, all the while making me miserable because I’m making her obey. I know that’s not working on her HEART, and it’s not OK. When she huffs and puffs and stomps off to do what I’ve asked her to I’m fully aware that that is not the goal! But after I’ve talked to her about why she needs to do what I’ve asked, about why her attitude is wrong, about how she’s not showing love to anyone by acting the way she is, if she still has a wrong attitude, I don’t feel like spanking her is going to help her. It’s not a matter of obedience, it’s not something she can necessarily just choose to turn around (although yes, sometimes she can, but sometimes even I as a 35-year old woman can’t just turn off my emotions and decide to have a good attitude about something). It’s a matter of her heart, and until she decides to show love by obeying me WITHOUT the attitude, I feel like she can sit on her bed and decide to stop, in essence, pitching a fit (the bad attitude) and decide to do what I’ve asked her to without complaining. I don’t know if boys are the same as girls but sometimes we just need time to cool down and gather ourselves…if I need this as an adult, how much more might my child need it sometimes? We DO talk to her about actions, about how God put us over her, about being thankful for things and focusing on what we have instead of what we don’t have, and so on. WE ARE TALKING to her about her heart.

            4) You have also assumed that most every outing we have is full of temper tantrums and fits and bad attitudes. When my daughter made the “Well I don’t like you telling me what to do all the time” comment it came after 24 hours of her being drug around airports, taxis, embassies, banks, and bus stations, on the way to another bus station for a 7-hour trip to what had been our “home” for the past six weeks. Her physical needs had been put on hold for the time being and OF COURSE she was bored and over-tired. She promptly got a talking-to about not disrespecting me like that, that I am her mother and God put me over her, that it’s my JOB to tell her what to do a lot of the time, and so on. But I could not discipline her in a way that would not either a) make people think I was actually abusing her, since she was already over-tired, over-bored, and a little out-of-control, or b) make everyone else around us (like on the bus) completely miserable. I have no illusions that remarks like that are ok or that I should let them slide, but how do you have GRACE when circumstances are not favorable to a decent disposition, and yet be FIRM in teaching?

            I’m a good mom, Jessica. I have one VERY strong-willed little girl (ask anyone who interacts with us regularly), one VERY emotional little girl (who hasn’t given us nearly as many battles-of-the-wills as her older sister), and one whose verdict is still out, but so far is less like the strong-willed one and more like the emotional one. My strong-willed one is just the way God made her and one of my jobs is to teach her when to be strong and stand up and fight, and when to submit. When you add in the emotions that God created females with to this mix it makes for some very difficult and draining days. I’m not letting her win and giving up too soon, but I am not wanting to discipline her for things that strictly require training, and I’m just asking where that line is, in your experience.

          • Jess Connell says:

            1) First, I apologize for the age misunderstanding, your last paragraph in the first comment made me think we were talking about your middle daughter, not L.

            2) Second, I’m used to discussing parenting at this level on a parenting forum where we call each other out on attitudes and are very straightforward. So I think I’m used to being able to say very straightforward things and not have it be taken personally, but rather, gleaned for insight. Obviously, over the internet, we are limited in what we see, and can only go off of the details shared. My intention is to help you identify perhaps some areas (from a different perspective) that maybe you’re not thinking of, or areas where perhaps there’s a breakdown between intention and action, not to criticize or make you feel judged. Please forgive me for hurting your feelings and making you feel judged.

            That said, perhaps you should ask our mutual friend M about whether or not I’ve ever had a strong-willed child. She saw one of our children at the height of his strong will and physical lashings out. Regardless of whether you ask her, I’ll just say, we’ve had some doozies. I’ve had some very sensitive children, one extremely smart and precocious child, a couple who were very emotional, one who was very physically violent in his tantrums, and some who have been sneaky. And yes, 2… maybe 3… who were extremely strong-willed. We’ve had them all across the board, with a variety of sinful behaviors and besetting attitudes… there is no “cakewalk” in parenting 7 children.

            My sense that you are stopping too soon is because you say the attitude is continuing. And I shut down anything and everything until the attitude comes up to pleasant/amenable. Yes, even their “obedience” is shut down until they change their attitude. It doesn’t have to be hunky-dory-sunshine-flowers, but in general, I expect for everyone to be amenable. Which, yes, in the strong-willed kiddos, takes longer (initially) to get to… but it really can happen. I don’t want to train them to muscle through in their own strength and obey with an ugly heart attitude. Does that make it more clear?

            You’re right that I don’t know you well, and so that’s why I didn’t think you’d take this personally (because I *don’t* know your 3 kiddos), but perhaps as a “consider this different perspective on what you’re seeing” sort of message. Sometimes we can get so in our own heads as mothers that it is helpful for us to get the perspective from someone else who has raised more children than we have and for longer. I know that has been true for me, being coached and talked to very directly by Elizabeth Krueger, the author of Raising Godly Tomatoes. Because it feels harsh, I apologize to you for that. I did mean to speak soberly, and firmly, but not to wound.

            OK, I’m going to try to answer your questions, but I fear you may not like my tone now anymore than you have before. Nonetheless, I will offer my thoughts.

            In response to 3– Yes. That is what I was trying to communicate. You should discipline for attitude. If they do not, with counsel and within a couple minutes, resolve their attitude, then yes.

            But it’s important to be discerning. For example, you just gave the whole crossing-time-zones-jet-lag-travel reason that really CAN affect their attitudes. So in those cases, my top priority was just to see to naps, see to regular meals, and muddle through until we got to a new normal. That CONTEXT is so important. In those examples, it is not defiance coming through (although it’s still not OK to hit, not OK to be snide toward mom… but I would let fussy/tiredness/slightly-more-grumpy attitudes slide), but tiredness.

            The difference for me is the level of the infraction. If it’s, for example, and ugly facial expression or slamming the cups down into the dishwasher (not necessarily words/snideness toward me) that’s exhibiting the bad attitude, then we might just talk. “Hey bud, how about changing the attitude you’re doing that with? I appreciate the way you contribute to our family by doing that. Can you change your attitude and not be a grump while doing it? What could you be thinking about?” Etc.

            But if it’s ugliness toward me, slamming cabinets, cruelty toward a sibling because he’s mad, saying bitter things toward me, etc., then there would be discipline + talking/instruction.

            I think part of our difference here is in what you said here:

            “sometimes even I as a 35-year old woman can’t just turn off my emotions and decide to have a good attitude about something”

            I believe we can decide to have a good attitude about something. I don’t advocate for “turning off my emotions” but I do believe we ought to filter our emotions through Scripture and assess whether our feelings and emotions are lying to us and controlling us, or feeling right sadness/sorrow, grief/shame, etc., from sin/hurt/etc. Our hearts lie to us all the time. Our children’s hearts lie to them all the time. I think by counseling our hearts rightly (with God’s Word, with truth, with wisdom), we really can feel differently and have a different attitude about something. The more I learn about biblical counseling, and the more I apply it to my own heart, and our children, the more firmly I believe this.

            So some of this may be just a philosophical difference between you and I but I do believe that what we think about, believe, and meditate on, directly impacts our feelings and behaviors. And so, when I’m talking with my kids, we talk UNTIL. We outlast. Here’s a site I’ve found helpful on this idea of feelings & emotions: http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/ch09.php

            What you’ve described as “cooling down and gathering ourselves” is definitely something I do, but not in the sense of endless raging or continual grumping. Once we’ve talked it through and I can tell that the child is willing to bend and come around to my way of thinking about things/doing things, then I’ll allow them to go have a moment of quiet or, more often, to go wash their face with cool water, and do whatever it is that needs doing. Then I might encourage a quiet afternoon of reading on the bed, or whatever, to allow them time to unwind, etc., but again, even in that, I’m watching for the flaring back up of that attitude and helping them to adjust their attitude throughout the afternoon of reading, so that they don’t end up off by themselves stewing and growing bitter. Does that make sense? I’m trying to help them wholly adjust their attitude… and pointing them to their need for the heart renovation Jesus can provide.

            I do think we need time to collect ourselves, to pray, to reorder our thoughts toward God’s way of seeing the world and ourselves, but sitting around stewing or focusing inwardly doesn’t do any good and almost always makes things worse. Introspection with the purpose of sorting out our thoughts and feelings and bringing them before the Lord in order to understand what is sinful, what is good, what needs addressing, what needs to be forgiven, etc, IS beneficial… and so that sort of purposeful sorting out may be helpful in an older child, especially if that child shows maturity and has professed belief. But more often, I think they need us to help them work through that “sorting out” process which is exactly what I’m talking about when I bring up the “put off/put on” or “stop thinking about X/start thinking about Q” process.

            #4- I definitely don’t assume that most every outing you have is full of temper tantrums and fits and bad attitudes. Certainly not! :) That would be torturous.

            When there is over-tired, over-bored, etc., especially in our years abroad, I always tried to be well-prepared in advance (snacks/toys/always a pen & paper on hand), tried to find things to point out around us and be fascinated by the world itself– “oh look at those sheep”… oh interesting, look up at that sign, it says they’re having a ceramics fair next month (which, who the heck cares about that but it’s there and it’s something to talk about and take our minds off how bored and tired we all are, etc.). I tried to really be fierce about naps and food and snacks so that they weren’t at a terrible disadvantage. And then I tried to make our consistent times at home VERY consistent so that when we had to flex, they were crystal-clear about what the expectations are (never talk down to mom, EVER, even if we’re in transition), and so those times when we had to train in less-than-ideal circumstances (like you describe, not being able to pull away and spank, or whatever) became less tumultuous because they knew what our family norms were.

            I do think those times require shrewdness and grace… and sooooooo much wisdom. In that you most certainly have my compassion because I’ve been there and know how hard it is.

            And I will say, too… the emotional layers of girls are complex to sort out and I found that difficult as well.

            But my bias, going into parenting, and I think you know this by now because we’ve had a number of these same interactions, is that parents nowadays are making entirely too many excuses for their children. This one’s “gifted,” that one’s “spirited,” this one’s “emotional,” this one’s “ultra sensitive,” this one’s too smart, that one’s not smart enough, he “doesn’t really understand,” “I think she didn’t hear me,” “she’s just so assertive,” “he’s just so tired,” … and every mom is giving these as reasons why her child can’t obey consistently.

            But then I see moms with 6, 10, 12, 8, 5 children– in real life– whose children all (with varying degrees of intelligence, sensitivity, strong-willed-ness, neediness, boy/girl mixes, etc) are able to obey and reason and listen to and respect their moms, and I honestly think the natural “bent” of a lot of moms (perhaps not you, only you and those who know you in real life can assess this) is to excuse disobedience and defiance and disrespect and call it something different. In contrast, my natural bent is to assume that my children are capable of obeying me, and ought to.

            If my offerings don’t apply to you (which is why I tried to write with language like “my suspicion is”), then you can skip this advice and decide that it doesn’t apply to you.

            I’m not there in person; I can’t assess whether or not she’s doing what I would call “walking all over you” or “disrespecting you” or “being too big for her britches.” Our mutual friend M would be one that I would trust to make that sort of assessment and offer feedback. She’s got an excellent sense of what kids are and aren’t capable of and is very wise, doesn’t put up with any nonsense, and has raised 3 very different daughters and yet they were respectful and loving and had a great relationship. So she would be one I would trust, that is able to give you face-to-face feedback about what you’re seeing and doing and will give you wise biblical counsel about how to address it.

            I hope this helps and perhaps gives some indication of my heart. I DO want to help you, but there’s only so much I can do via the internet, and if I’m going to offer input, it might as well be very direct and specific. Also, I can only go off of what is written and don’t have the other details (i.e., she’d been going for 6 weeks in a temporary “home” and been on a 7-hour trip, etc.). If it doesn’t apply, or you have a piece of significant context that I don’t have, feel free to discard, but I don’t want to offer non-specific, non-straightforward “advice.” That wouldn’t do you any good and would be a waste of both of our time.

            I hope this has helped provide more nuance. If not, I apologize. I do wish you well, and I hope you don’t continue to feel judged. I have no idea what your children are like except what you’ve written, but I DO understand the difficulty of parenting amidst great transition (our lives have been almost nothing but transition) and do feel that you have to be “wiser than the average bear” in order to do it well, because there is so much complexity and challenge associated with those constant transitions.

            My very best wishes to you, Michelle.

          • Amanda says:

            Again this also helps so much! Even with my older children. I can see where I really need to retrain/remold their hearts and apply some old teachings. I can see how we need to stay at home more often and me diligently lead them in day to day tasks and play for a time to regroup. Thank you Jess!

          • Michelle says:

            I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. We’ve had guests for the last week and been very busy and I didn’t want to rush a response.

            Thank you for your apology. You are, of course, forgiven. =) I think that it just felt like you were jumping to conclusions based on this question and on my questions from 2.5ish years ago, and lumping them together and assuming that because I struggled with something then, and now I was asking about attitude that things were still the same. Does that make sense?

            I do value others’ opinions (I won’t be talking to M because I really don’t feel it’s necessary, and we haven’t really been around them since before L turned three) and as a mom of seven kids, I appreciate what you have to say. I hope to learn from it. I just didn’t feel like you answered my question the first time but instead jumped to conclusions and attacked my parenting. I know it wasn’t your intention, but it’s how it felt. There we go again with feelings vs. knowledge. =)

            L is VERY stubborn but we have come through the worst of it. It was ROUGH for a couple of years. She is one of those who you can’t MAKE do anything. To this day I cannot MAKE her obey me. She used to refuse to obey and suffer the consequences for HOURS while we “made” her obey, I think just to prove that we couldn’t make her do anything. I was the same way when I was little. And such is a truly strong-willed child. Now that she is older and has experienced four years of strict discipline (from about 18 months on), she usually does obey. And when she doesn’t and she is disciplined she usually gets over herself pretty quickly and obeys. But when she was three and we had been spanking her every. single. night of her life for over a year, for nearly an hour every night (for getting out of bed)…you can’t say she wore us down! She was just that stubborn.

            Anyways. Thank you for finally answering my question! =) I think that we actually do pretty close to what you do. For example, if the words, “I hate you” were to ever come out of her mouth you better believe there would be some discipline coming before talking. But for grumping about having to leave a friend’s house it’s more talking about needing to have a grateful heart for the time we had, that it’s bedtime at their house too, that mommy and daddy know what’s best and that they’re tired and need some sleep, etc. And if it continues then there would be discipline of some kind, or time to sit quietly (depending on the time of day) to gather oneself and stop complaining. That’s what we have been doing. I was just wondering if that was also what you would do.

            I also believe that I can decide to have a good attitude about something. But it usually doesn’t happen right away, ESPECIALLY if as a woman my feelings have been hurt or have become involved somehow. My feelings were hurt yesterday and I didn’t sit and stew in my mess, but it did take me maybe 20-30 minutes to “talk myself out of my funk.” Does that make sense? I know that hearts lie to us (uhh, Jeremiah, anyone?) and are not to be trusted. But I also know that if I, as an adult, cannot almost immediately make myself have a good attitude about something that has wrapped itself up in my emotions, my children certainly cannot do it yet.

            I also think that with girls there is level of emotions that wraps itself up in discipline and it makes it very tricky, especially for highly emotional kids. While L would go back and do the same thing over and over and over again and get a spanking every time until we felt like we were abusing her, N would burst into tears at the first sign of disapproval. It makes teaching and discipline tricky when emotional responses cause reactions to things that are not the initial things they’re being disciplined for (e.g. is she crying because she got a spanking, or is it because she thinks I disapprove of her, or is it because we’ve been doing this for 30 minutes and her head hurts because she’s been crying/screaming/pitching a fit the whole time, etc.). So I’m planning on reading that link you gave me, when I have a few minutes. I don’t think there’s excuse for not being able to handle oneself (I pray for N every single day that she will be able to control her emotions and not let them control her), but I do think it takes time and teaching to be able to do it.

            And even if we talk and talk and talk, I cannot MAKE my child have a good attitude about something. I can encourage it, I can show them wisdom and truth, but I cannot make their hearts trust me and have a good attitude. That is something that they will, I believe, learn over time as they experience life and consequences (like L finally learning that it is always best to obey, hopefully she will one day learn that it is always best to not sit and wallow in self-pity or anger). My kids are still quite young, and I *think* they’re normal, even in the amount of grumping they do.

            Anyhow, this was really long. These paragraphs look normal in Word but I’m sure they’ll look huge in the comments section. Thanks for the discussion, and for good advice (even if I don’t always agree with all of it, ha!). I welcome continued discussion if you still feel we’re at odds! =)

  4. shannon bradbury says:

    This is so important, to teach our kids to honor others! I am learning this and it is a challenge because in the past I did not like myself and didn’t teach them to honor me. My husband and I have talked about how important it is for the kids to honor me and to train. To train Them in a culture of honor. Thank you for sharing your heart on this!

  5. Jamie Butts says:

    Great post, Jess! I passed it on today to a friend – we’ve been dialoging about this type of thing.

  6. Jamie Butts says:

    And this was a great point – “There is a HUGE difference between what the average mom puts up with today, and what would have been allowed 30, 60, 100 years ago. Interestingly, in our post-feminist era, with women determined more than ever to not let *anyone* “walk all over them,” there are a whole lot of toddlers, kids, and teens out there doing just that.”

    • Jess Connell says:

      It drips with irony, doesn’t it?

      Shocking how much more terribly women are treated in this day & age, vs. the respect we had 40+ years ago… our homes are a mess, our marriages are a mess, our parenting is a mess, our health as a nation is going down (i.e., obesity rates, allergies on the rise, etc.) even while our cures/pharmacological skills are going up… but we’re all supposed to be delighted because now we can CHOOSE to have a series of sexual escapades and abortions, alongside our education and career.

      Oops. I stumbled onto one of my anti-feminism rants. Better reel myself back in. :)

  7. Kathryn says:

    Hi Jess,

    Thanks for your post and once again pouring this good advice into words. I have enjoyed your posts because they are full of God’s wisdom and truth, but don’t leave you feeling so condemned that you might as well give up. I agree with your answers regarding things children do in public places, but I just wanted to add a thought. In my experience there is an exception, when a child might have some of the personality traits that someone on the autism spectrum may have, a lack of understanding tact for example. Over the years I have had multiple “embarrassing” situations in public from one of my children in particular, (brought up the same way as all my others), and I put it down partly to this.
    Love from Kathryn.

  8. Melinda says:

    Thanks so much Jess. Godly wisdom. I was just thinking to myself last night that my kids were doing this to me (& i had been letting them lately). Your post confirmed to me that i need to respectfully take a stand; and they have received consequences today. Amazingly I had an apology from 1 of them. Praise God. We have a way to go yet, but it is a good start. Thank you.

    • Jess Connell says:

      You know, it’s funny you say that– I’ve found with my kids, too, that they are often very soft toward me and quick to confess when I call them out for their attitude toward me. It’s interesting because I think we can expect it to be so bad, but then, in this too, they respond and are actually (in the long run) GLAD to be disciplined away from the things that will ruin their hearts.

  9. Jess Connell says:

    OH MAN I just shared this in a comment above, but this is way too good not to highlight–

    For those who are curious about how to parent emotions, go read here, lickety-split! It’s so so good.—–> http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/ch09.php

    Wise words from a godly mom of 10 that I know.

  10. Kondwani says:

    Love it – I like the level of dialogue and really trying to get to the very heart of issues (even if it does sometimes cause a bit of difficulty).

    I noticed in one of your comments that you said you had a child who could become violent at times. My 5.5 old is going through quite a violent phase – the other day he bit me twice, kicked me, dug his nails into my hands (I was holding his hand rather than letting him run free becuase of disobedience) enough to draw blood and scratched me again drawing blood. My difficulty here is that we do normally spank for disobedient actions and sinful attitudes (as much as we notice them and they are persistent) but I don’t feel it is appropriate to spank for this because it might just be misinterpreted as violence for violence. I think there is something a bit deeper going on and he is a bit unsettled at the moment, and so am trying to be firm, but supportive and gentle through it all.

    Can I know a bit more about what you experienced, and how you resolved it?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Sure. It happened from… about age 3.5 to 4.5? Maybe until he was 5 or so. But the most violent time was then.

      He would go into a rage when he was mad/confused/scared about something, he had high sensitivities for things like the way certain fabrics felt, the temperature of food, how loud a place was, etc. He did not like his privacy being invaded (which is when my friend “M” that I mentioned above lovingly was watching our kids for us one night and he would NOT let her put on his diaper for bedtime). I don’t remember why he was there overnight… maybe it was just that we were out for a date or something? I honestly can’t remember. Anyway, she needed to put the diaper on cause he wasn’t night trained, and he kicked her in the face, put on a full-scale fight and was horrible about it.

      He would also get the sense that he was being left out of something or somehow get his feelings hurt, and it would cause disproportionate sadness (loud wailing/weeping) and those feelings could also trigger disproportionate anger. Essentially, he was a little boy without self-control and without the ability to communicate his thoughts and feelings well.

      The main things that helped initially were different than in the long run–
      Initially, when he got violent, we would have to stronghold him… basically wrap him up in our arms/sometimes our legs to help him calm down until he exercised self-control. AFTER he reached a quieted demeanor, then we could discipline– in a measured and deliberate way– and he would receive it in a way that seemed impossible before his out-of-control raging fits. He never had a problem receiving discipline as discipline when it was done in a measured way. The key, though, was getting him to exercise self-control.

      I remember some times of holding him for long bouts, wondering when he would stop. We would pray out loud, ask God to help him quiet his spirit, sometimes we would sing, sometimes I would try to soothe him when it seemed that his sensors were on overload… so I might try shhhh-shhhh-shhhhhhhhhhhing in rhythm, rubbing his back or hair, blowing cool air on his face while I held him tight, etc.

      Many many many many times when he would rage, telling us to let go, I remember us telling him, “you can exercise self-control from the inside, or we will exercise it on you from the outside.” He eventually realized that we meant business and began choosing to control himself, and has grown to be quite self-controlled and self-aware.

      Now I believe that anyone who knows him would be honestly shocked that he was once that way because he’s an incredibly friendly & pleasant person to be around. But he had a very difficult stage that we had to be very consistent and stubborn with.

      Doug & I took the approach, which might not work for everyone but it did work for us and for this child, that he was going to have to learn to operate in the real world… so we did not cut out scratchy shirt tags or change every shirt to be a silky basketball-type shirt (which is what he would have liked at the time, LOL). We did not leave every loud room or stop eating hot foods. We just coached him through these things, “yup, I feel my tags too. Everyone in the world does. We all have tags. Just keep living with it and you’ll eventually stop noticing it and it won’t bug you so badly. If there’s one that’s particularly scratchy, I’ll cut it out; otherwise, just try to ignore it and enjoy life.”

      We also found motivation by projecting his behavior forward. What sort of man would he become if he developed a habit of angry raging whenever things don’t go his way? What sort of teenager would he be 10 years forward if we allowed that to continue? What kind of father would he make if he was allowed to behave that way as a child and those self-focused, comfort-driven fits were indulged?

      So for us, long-term thinking was very beneficial in helping us keep our eye on the prize in terms of what we were shooting for: a young man who could exercise self-control in increasing amounts and with increasing consistency of success, a young man who would not be inward-focused, a young man who cared about others and did not see them as someone he could trample… etc.

      Does any of this help?

      Thanks for asking the question; I hadn’t thought about those experiences in a long time and this was a good reminder of those years and how firm and fierce we had to be in the war for his little soul. I do feel like we’ve clearly come out on the other side of it, and I’m so thankful for the person he’s becoming. There IS hope.

      • Kondwani says:

        Thanks Jess – that is actually very helpful – perhaps the most helpful part is how you reflect that you barely remember it now. Sometimes at the time something can seem insurmountable, and one day you just realise it has gone. I do a lot of holding – it gives him the security that he needs that we are not going to let him go. It’s a kind of loving firmness I suppose. (It is my adopted boy, and even though he was only six weeks old when he was abandoned, you sometimes just don’t know how much of an impact things have. And the day I described was just before I flew away for a couple of days – so it could be related).

        I think he needs to learn to express himself. My six year old is much more articulate now – sometimes has a meltdown, but more often can tell us a bit about what is going on and how he feels. He is very musical and loves to sing and dance, and so I am trying to help him find different ways of expressing himself.

        I am with you on not pandering – we had the same discussion about blackout curtains in the bedroom for summer. It is a short term solution but doesn’t really build the life skills you want them to acquire.

        Thanks for responding!

        • Jess Connell says:

          K- I DO think the ability to express thoughts and feelings is something that did NOT come naturally to this particular kid, and is something we had to purposefully coach him toward.

          So, I would help him identify which thing was bugging him and then say, “Instead of screaming/biting/kicking/fussing because you don’t like how hot it is in here, what COULD you do?”

          And then we would list out as many options as were good options:
          * ask to go to the bathroom and wash my face with cold water
          * ask to step outside onto the porch in the cool breeze
          * ask to take a bath with cold water in it
          * ask mommy what else I could do cause I’m so hot
          * go get a glass of water and drink it
          * ask if it’s OK to change into a tank top & shorts since I put on pants this morning when it was colder
          * etc
          * etc
          *etc

          Basically in any frustrating situations I have (and still do this) tried to help him understand all the varieties of ways he could deal with it, and that there are many MANY acceptable ways to solve problems, but that fussing/fighting/not communicating about it was not an option.

          Just thought of that & wanted to share. Because I DO think a big part of this is helping them to analyze & express more than they are so that they don’t just get parked at “THIS IS UNCOMFORTABLE. I DON’T LIKE THIS. THIS STINKS!!!!!” but instead can step outside of their discomfort and consider what solutions there may be if they just ask mom for help or express their discomfort to someone.

          AND…. haha!

          We’ve used blackout curtains at various points. I didn’t consider it as pandering, but I can see what you mean. In Istanbul, it would get light so early that it would wake them up before they’d gotten a full night, so we used them in order to help everyone sleep a full night… but now I can see what you mean & never thought of it that way. :) I guess it is a little bit. :)

          Thanks for commenting; I always enjoy discussing things with you.

      • Stephanie says:

        Very encouraging to hear that others have had children like our son, so few people understood what we were going through and I even thought I was failing as a parent (but I asked advise from our pastor’s wife who has raised 9 wonderful children and she assured me that I was doing what I needed to do). One thing that helped is when we held him, we would wrap him in a blanket (even at 4 or 5). It made it easier to hold him and helped him feel comforted. We also found out that he was having horrible nightmares that were keeping him from sleeping so once we worked through that he did a lot better. Thank you for being willing to share your experience.

  11. Katie S says:

    I don’t always chime in to the discussion – with the frequency of your posts, there’s usually something new up by the time I finish chewing on the last one, and I never get back to comment. I wanted to say, though, that I am thankful for the challenges you present to us and the encouragement that comes with.

  12. Ashley says:

    I used to follow you years ago at your first blog while you were still overseas … I thought you were amazing then, but you’ve grown so much in the years that have passed! Glad I ran across your new blog, this article is perfectly timed for me. I’ve got five kids (9, 7.5, 6, 4.5 and 3) and it’s gotten ugly in this house in the last two years. I can see all the areas I’ve grown weary and how my own woe-is-me attitude had hurt our children. Thank you! Your thoughtful comments were just as amazing as the post itself.

  13. Amanda says:

    Another quick question for your thoughts on this. My son (13 almost 14) often has a scowl on his face for no reason. I assume he is grump mode. I could be talking, reading scripture, or just driving with him. I ask “What’s wrong?” or say “Why are you having attitude?” Then he lashes out “Uh! MOM!….” I am likely to blame here for assuming. I know I an have a furrowed brow when in deep thought. I feel like I am overreaching his attitude, trying too hard to “fix” and direct him at times. But then I am not sure. Another issue is the tone in which he speaks to me. The same goes for my 12.5 twin girls. I feel they sound disrespectful but when I call them on it, they are quite astonished that I felt that way at all. I have been telling them “Look, if I feel you are, then you are. You need to realize that how others perceive your tone and words are important and you need to adjust accordingly.” At the moment, I am working on my own heart as well, to not be as hyper-sensitive emotionally, etc. I am also working on my tone. Likely they received a lot of that from me! Any suggestions? Shoot from the hip here or at the heart. I am looking for strong truth. Thank you Jess…

    • Jess Connell says:

      When there’s a tone issue, sometimes our children don’t hear it. But tone IS one of those subjective things, where what the hearer HEARS, matters. So I would probe for what they were meaning, and then coach for this.

      “You can say the same words two different ways but have it come out completely different each way. When you say XYZXYZ like this: (imitate the tone the way you’re hearing it) — it sounds like you are scolding me or angry (or sounds like you are grumpy/fussy, or sounds like you are thinking “I AM SO BORED AND SO SICK OF BEING HERE I COULD DIIIIIIIIIIIIIE” or whatever). But then if you say it like this: XYZXYZ (say it the way you’d like to hear it), it sounds the way you said you meant it. Would you try saying it that way please?”

      And then wait for them to say it, and then prompt them to say it one or two more times, (more times, the younger they are, to help them get it in their heads) so that it *sticks* and makes your point.

      Since you said that you are possibly hyper-sensitive, I would definitely ask for an outside opinion on this. Is your husband around to hear these things? Or a close friend or your mom? Someone who your kids are comfortable enough around that they act the same way and you could get a more accurate “read” from an outsider (or rather, a less emotionally-biased person than you) on whether or not it sounds rude to them?

      That’s what I would suggest.

      And yeah… it definitely makes a difference to be coaching these pre-teens and teens and realizing how much I notice in them that I need to work on myself. Definitely a way that God keeps us growing & humble, eh? Best to you, Amanda! Hope this helps.

      • Amanda says:

        Totally making sense! Wow! God has gifted you. This is so good. What a great example. I can do this!! <3 :)

        I have asked those others like you have said. At times I am on the defense without reason, other times those have said I am definitely being mistreated and need to call it out.

        I am printing these comments out! lol Thank you again Jess 😀

        • Jess Connell says:

          You can do it! :)

          It’s such a delicate balance, knowing when we are being over-sensitive or when we are rightly assessing, but another thing I thought of– when you project things forward, it is helpful. Consider: would it be OK for him/her to one day respond to a boss this way? Or is this a good tone to use toward his/her spouse?

          Thinking through questions like these sometimes helps me sort out the root of whether or not something is acceptable/good or not.

          Thanks for the dialogue! I appreciate your willingness to speak up with thoughts/questions.

  14. Thank you for sharing such wise and rich advice. We are entering a stage like this now with my oldest, who is about to turn five. My husband and I often have to remind him that he is expected to speak respectfully to mommy. I definitely want to nip any bad habits in the bud as I grew up in a home where my mom was (and still is) not spoken to respectfully at all. But that’s another can of worms.

    I appreciate the distinction you make between joking together and becoming snarky. I think in his childishness, he doesn’t always realize he is crossing the line, so we are striving to be as consistent as possible to help him realize that what he is doing is not appropriate.

    I also appreciate what you said about your ten year old washing dishes and how to correct him and lead him to do it with a proper attitude, even if not cheerfully. I think it’s great advice for us all to strive to serve faithfully even in the common, everyday tasks.

    And yes, I think that you are so right that what so much of this comes down to is teaching our children how to interact with and respect other people. They are with us so much of the time, and so much interpersonal learning starts in the home with parents and siblings.

  15. Tamara says:

    Hi,
    Sorry I’m a bit behind and you have probably moved on but I have been pondering this since I first read your article.
    When do you start this kind of expectation? Obviously my 4 month old isn’t walking all over me as he just wants his needs met, however, we live with another family with a 14 month old who does do the wrong thing eg goes into cupboards he shouldn’t, tries to touch the oven etc but didn’t really understand that they are wrong. You don’t want to encourage wrong behaviour and give them attention when they do these things but you don’t want to get into a habit of letting them slide either.
    Basically that is a long winded way of asking at what age you would start discipline using the techniques in the article and the comments.
    Thanks!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Well, it definitely looks different when they are younger, but I start telling my children no and following through on it at age 9/10 months or so. Usually, at that age, it looks like redirection. They go for the plug, I tell them “no-no” firmly, and then move them to a different part of the room. Then I watch them. If they start to look at and head for the plug again, I immediately tell them no-no and redirect their attention to the blocks or whatever I have out for them to do. Etc. Etc. Etc. Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat 10 million times LOL.

      So that would apply to the cupboards, oven, etc.

      As they get closer to 18 months/2 I start teaching SOME kindness toward mom. So, for example, “say thank you, mama” after I dish up their snack or whatever. And I wait for “teh-too-ma-ma” or whatever it sounds like at their verbal level. Some sort of attempt at politeness toward mom… because I’m training them toward kindness and

      By age 2/3, there are definite push-backs, and this is when real training/correction of the heart attitude starts in earnest. They want to say “no” all the time, for example. I insist on “yes” to questions where I know that they’re actually meaning to say “yes” but just saying “no” to be argumentative or out of habit. So if I say, “ready to put on your sandals?” they say “no” but we’re headed out the door, I’ll correct, “say yes, mama” and wait for the response “yes, mama”– sometimes they say “no” at that point, so I might swat on the diapered bottom, or turn their eyes to me and say, again, “say yes, mama” etc. Until they say it.

      Yes, everything stops until this happens, then we go along pleasantly.

      Being pleasant, amenable, and receptive to mom and dad is something we should train for, and so, yes, even at these early ages, once we start seeing semblance of argumentativeness (v. receptiveness) toward mom and dad, I begin training toward receptiveness & amenability. The longer you wait, the more fierce the will grows, and the more deep the root of proud anti-authoritarianism grows, to the point where even when they are dead-wrong, and know they are, they will refuse to admit it because they have been trained (by mom who does not train for pleasant amenability) to be firm in their dissension and argumentative nature against her authority.

      So for the mom of a 4-month-old (my littlest guy, Luke, is 4-months-old), I would suggest this: be watchful and aware for when the will begins to assert itself. When it is asserted for good (i.e., “now that I’ve successfully spooned thick mashed potatoes into my mouth, I want to try yogurt.” then we applaud & encourage that. We may correct for attitude if they are fussing while asking to feed themselves yogurt, but we encourage the will & independence. That is exactly the sort of courage, independence, and assertiveness we want to grow!

      When the will is asserted out of foolishness (wanting to run in the street), or too great of risk (wanting to spoon their own yogurt in Easter Sunday clothes), or sin (“I not wear shoes!” Screaming at mommy, hitting, etc., etc.), then that is exactly the time when the child’s will needs to be submitted to the larger plan/vision/wisdom/authority. So that is the moment that you step in.

      Parenting this way is difficult at first, because you are choosing discernment and knowing your child. It is not a list of rules, where you always give a verbal warning for A, you always do time-outs for B, etc, and neither is it a lack of authority. It is the careful, watchful, discerning exercise of authority… where you are learning to know your child, to watch for their own particular sets of weakness and poorly exercised will… and you are inserting yourself appropriately and swiftly in the moments where there is an unwise or sinful assertion of the child’s will. But as you do this, your knowledge of your child will grow, and their willingness to bend to your will (because they see that you are both just and wise– and that… as the years progress… when you are either unjust or unwise, you confess that and seek their forgiveness) will also increase as they learn to trust your judgment and wisdom over their own.

      With strong willed children, the battle is much more intense, and lengthier, but the whole point from beginning to end is for them to learn to submit to an authority greater than themselves. So regardless of whether you have a weak-willed, normal-willed, strong-willed, or crazy-fierce-willed child, you are to win these early battles so that your child learns to submit to an authority who rightly should be the most loving, attentive, FOR-HIS-GOOD authority that he will encounter in life. This is the first lesson in life, that will one day transfer over to the classroom (with a teacher), the civil portions of society (toward police, judges, and the law), their faith (if God calls them & they submit themselves to God), their elders (if/when they join a church), their husband (if they become a wife), their boss (if they have a job) and any other authorities God puts in their lives.

      This first lesson, of learning to pleasantly submit themselves to a higher authority than themselves, is an important one… and it all begins in the home.

      Hope this helps.

      • Tamara says:

        Thank you!
        That was an incredibly thorough and thoughtful response!
        I’m sure I will have many opportunities to put your advice into action over the coming years!!

  16. Natalie says:

    Enjoyed reading this!

  17. Shawna says:

    Hi Jess,
    I’m a new reader on your website and I love all of the truth and wisdom that you share with everyone! And i love the way that you help different people in the comment section. I know this post of yours is a little old, but i’m hoping you will read what i have to say anyway. I really need some help and advice about my 5.5 year old son. He is my only child and he is extremely strongwilled. I am beyond frustrated and overwhelmed. Over the past 6 months or so, his disobedience has gotten a lot worse. When things don’t go his way, or if i say something he doesn’t like, sometimes he starts screaming or sometimes he hits, or kicks, or punches, or bites me. Every day is a battle just to get him to go potty, get dressed, and brush his teeth. Just to get ready for the day! It can take an hour or two just to get him to do these basic necessities! Pretty much everything else is a battle too though, not just getting ready for the day. He told me today that there is nothing i can do for punishment that will make him obey. I have spanked a lot, taken away lots of toys, put him in his room and held the door so he won’t come out (for 3 or 4 minutes, i guess it’s our version of time out). When i spank him (i do this without me being angry) he only gets angrier. When i take away toys he screams, and cries, and says he’s going to listen, and then he disobeys right away again. And we do this over and over and over! When i put him in his room and hold the door for 3 minutes, this seems to work the best at this moment. Although i don’t like the idea of holding him in this room. I usually have to repeat it at least a few times, though. At the end of the punishment, i try to talk to him. If he is not willing to talk to me (which is what usually happens) then i do some form of punishment again til he listens to me. I tell him things like “its wrong to disobey mommy. God put mommy in charge over you, so your job is to listen and obey. Mommy loves you and wants what is best for you. I don’t want you to be an adult who still hits and punches other people.” And whatever else i can think of to say to him. My son has put his hands on my neck and pushed, as if to choke. Today he threw an ice cream scoop and spatula at me from in the kitchen. I am just hoping he doesn’t decide to grab a knife or scissors and throw them at me! And he recently started spitting in my face! He is getting angrier and angrier and i don’t know why. He is destructive and throws things around when he doesn’t get his way. He throws his books off the shelf. He almost threw a glass jar at me the other day. He threw hundreds of cotton swabs all around the house today. But whatever mess he makes when he is mad, i make him clean up after. After punishment and a talk, i get him to say he is sorry for whatever he did and say “will you forgive me? “. And i say yes. We hug and kiss. But i have to force him to do all of this. There is no remorse or repentance on his part. He is still angry for not getting his way. I am really worried about the condition of his heart, and i don’t know how to help that. When he is saying he’s sorry, he is usually looking away or trying to play with a toy. I try to get him to look at me and concentrate. But i know he is not. And i know he doesn’t mean it, cause he goes right back to disobeying the next second. It’s like it’s a game for him. His voice sounds angry and you can tell his sorry is not genuine. And then sometimes i get emotional and start crying about the whole situation. Or i’m crying because i’m trying to get my son to stop hurting me, and i really don’t think i should have to do that! I call my husband at work crying, and of course he can’t do much over the phone. I feel like i do so much for this child, and he treats me (and my husband) horribly!! It makes me so angry. I try to contain my anger when he is being disobedient, but sometimes it’s just too much. I think i’ve gotten better at controlling my anger though. And i do apologize if i act or yell in anger towards him. So after he has done something extremely disrespectful to me, i need space. I don’t want to talk to him for awhile. I’m not sure if this is ok or not, but it’s how i feel. The problem is, he doesn’t give me that space. I’d have to sit by the door in my room with him screaming through the door. My son is not happy unless he is doing what he wants to do with someone. He doesn’t like doing things alone. He loves when someone “watches” him while he plays. He does not care that there are things that i need to do in the house during the day. He doesn’t want me to do laundry, or dishes or make supper. He wants me to do what he wants. Every day is a battle. I did a year of home school preschool this past year with him when he was 4. It went fine in the beginning, but slowly started getting harder as his attitude and disobedience got worse. I still enjoyed it though, because i liked the structure it brought to my day. And i loved getting to see him learn (if he was willing to learn that day). I really want to keep home schooling because he has a lot to learn…..how to treat people nicely just for starters. I think it’s the best thing for him, but home schooling him will also make things a lot harder for me. I can barely handle him right now, when we are not doing school during the summer months. And we only have one child! I feel completely emotionally and physically exhausted just from him everyday. We want to have more children, and soon, but i don’t know if i can handle more! I have also been struggling with severe anxiety for years. I’ve been resisting medication for a long time and just trying to rely on God’s strength to get through. It’s been so bad the past few years though, i was barely letting my husband go to work. I knew i needed to change something. So i’ve been on an antidepressant for almost a year now and it has done wonders for me. I’ve done things this past year that i haven’t done in a long time (normal things, like go for a walk, or go to the mall). Anyway, it has been a great help. But because of my anxiety, we live in my parent’s basement suite. My mom is home (and my major anxiety trigger is being alone) pretty much all the time, so i know if i need her, she is upstairs. But the problem is, she is not a very good influence on my son. She seems to encourage him to do whatever he wants to, and she gives in to him so easily. She opposes us disciplining him. She still talks to my son like a baby sometimes! It’s like i’ve had to parent 2 people when i only have one child! I can’t believe she had 4 kids. So, to have this opposition from her just adds to the stress of everything. My son loves being with her and would prefer her over me any day. If he’s not playing with me, he wants to go be with grandma. I’ve gotten better at saying no to that though. We have been trying to not spend so much time with her in hopes that it would help my son’s selfishness, but i only see a slight improvement. I know, the obvious answer would be to move. And none of this drama with my son helps with my anxiety. This is a daily battle for me too, not to go down an anxious road. I’m sorry….this is too long. But if anyone reading this has some godly wisdom and counsel for me in these situations, i would really appreciate it. Thank you for listening!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Shawna, I am so sorry. I was just re-reading comments and noticed yours. I’m not sure how I missed it, but with family camp and VBS this summer, I suppose I just forgot to reply.

      Well, I don’t know if you’ll see this now, but I’ll reply nonetheless.
      (1) You are going to have to sort out the situation with your parents. There will be no long-term solution or long-term fruit if there is no support from your parents in your authority and discipline of your son. The way I would talk this through is to ask them to come alongside you and help you by NOT intervening when there are moments of parenting that need to happen.

      Of course, the difficulty with this is that it sounds like they help you a great deal. And those who regularly help do have more of a “say” than those who do nothing to help us with our children. So the first thing I would say is that you and your husband need to have some serious talks about whether you will continue to live there, and to what extent your parents should be involved in the care and raising of your son. That will determine, to a large degree, what happens from there.

      (2) The next thing I would say is the same thing I said to a mom of disrespectful teens up above. — you need to start with confession. It sounds like you and your husband have let this go on far too long, and you both know it. So we start with confession. Here’s what I said to another commenter–

      *********
      “Without knowing your particulars, I would say the first thing to do would be to confess to your kids, something like this: “I’ve allowed you to act toward me in ways that are rude and disrespectful. The Bible tells you to honor your father and mother. Your whole life will go better if you learn to respect the authorities God has put over you, and your life will be more difficult if you do not… the consequences for not honoring your authorities range from losing your job to going to jail to losing your life. I’ve put you at a disadvantage, and I’ve disobeyed God. I’m going to be asking you to reword your comments to me when they are rude and disrespectful. I will try to do this consistently, but I also need for you to be working on this from the inside. It’s something God’s convicted me of that I should have done when you were young, but am going to work on now, when it will be a bit more difficult and laborious for us both. When I ask you to reframe your words, I’d like for you to do it with words that show respect. This is going to take work from us both, and I don’t just want to ask you to change words on the outside; I’d like us to participate with God and ask Him to change us both to have a right view of authority from the inside.”

      I think it would take a long process of diligence on your part and theirs, but I do think it can be done.

      Thanks for the humility and honesty of your question.”

      So I would say the same to you. You are going to need to be confessional in your tone initially, but then, the ball is in your court and you need to consistently correct each and every time of disrespect. You are basically retraining him toward what he SHOULD do.

      Consider a simple example of a cat who has gotten used to sleeping on the couch. But you buy a new couch. And you do not want the cat sleeping on the new couch. Then you have to be EVEN MORE DILIGENT than you would have been if you’d trained the cat to not sleep on couches to begin with, because not only are you fighting the cat’s DESIRE, but you are also fighting its HABITS.

      This is the same with your son- You will need to train him toward new habits and new inclinations. And you will need to look inward (to the heart/desires) to help coach him toward right thinking/believing/attitude about his approach to you, and then you will need to look at externals too (to behaviors/words/choices) to help him do the right things.

      And all the while, you will have to be even more FIERCE than you would have had to have been if he’d been trained not to disrespect you from the beginning. It will take a will of iron on your part, but it can be done, just the same way you REALLY COULD train that cat not to sleep on the couch if you your desire to keep the new couch free from cat hair was strong enough.

      I hope this helps, and I hope (by some miracle) you’ll see this response.
      Grace and Peace,
      Jess

  18. Susan says:

    I love you!!! Finally, someone is giving good advice! Great job!

  1. June 13, 2015

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