Disciplining Five Boys

Posted by  | Monday, September 21, 2009  at 12:00 AM  
This week we are discussing discipline. I wanted to start off the week with a post by a guest author who is an amazing, godly mother to five BOYS (with another boy on the way in just a couple weeks!). She lives overseas and her children are well-behaved, well-adjusted, and a joy to be around. Here is what she had to say. . .

"When we have kids, we'll NEVER do...." These were the conversations we had early in our marriage, before we had any kids. It's not that we thought we had all the right answers, we just observed our friends and family and tried to learn. We'd come home from an evening with friends and talk about our friends' parenting style and their children, especially if the kids were unruly or just plain bad!

We realized there were some people's kids we actually enjoyed being around and others' whose kids kind of stressed us out or ruined the evening because of their horrible behavior. Their parents were often embarrassed or sometimes indifferent! "Kids are kids! What can you do?" We soon started taking mental notes about which kids were well behaved and what their parents did to achieve that goal. We started asking questions: What books do you recommend? How do you get your kids to do such and such? What do you do when xyz happens?

Our philosophy of parenting started to take shape well before our first baby was on the way.

We enjoy our children, but do others?
One of the first things we realized was that we wanted to have our friends spend an evening with us and return home to talk about how polite, well-behaved, obedient and fun our kids were. We knew that if we had conversations about the children's behavior and parenting style of others, surely others would be talking about our children, too. Naturally, we wanted to enjoy our children, but we also wanted others to enjoy them, too. From our own experiences and observations we knew this would mean more work for us.

Training vs. discipline
When we were expecting our first baby, some friends recommended a book by the Ezzos called Preparation for Parenting. (It's also published secularly as BabyWise.) It seems to be a book people either love or hate. Our friends said following the principles were worth it if only to get your baby to sleep through the night sooner than later. An added benefit was that the "eat, play, sleep" routine recommended for newborns helped Mom and Dad, too. You could plan your days and nights to accomplish a few more tasks than just babycare. I'm a big fan of a good night's sleep, so it sounded good to me... and these friends had some of those well behaved children we enjoyed being around, so we listened.

Well, several things stood out to us in reading about those principles for sleeping through the night earlier.

1. Zachariah, our first, was "a welcome member of the family, but not the center of it." To some extent, your lives do tend to revolve around a newborn baby because of the amount of care they need, but life doesn't need to stay that way. When I became a mom I didn't stop being a wife, friend, co-worker, daughter, sister, etc. I still kept those identities when I became a mom.

2. Our baby was like a blank slate. We could "write" whatever way we wanted and it could affect him for good or bad all his life. "Train Up a Child" means in every way - spiritual, physical, mental, etc.. We realized we could train Zach to eat a certain way (routinely) and eventually even train him to like nutritious foods over junk, memorize verses, keep his toys neat, you name it.

3. "All have sinned." Yes, even our precious, sweet tiny baby has a selfish, rebellious sin nature. Training helps combat this sin nature before he understands what sin is. Discipline is correction when understanding already exists.

When Zach was about one year old, some other friends with very well-behaved children recommended another book by Michael and Debbie Pearl called "To Train Up a Child." (NoGreaterJoy.com) It has now become such a favorite of ours that we buy extra copies to give away. We are about to welcome the sixth boy into our family and we still review it frequently. It contains lots of helpful hints, some of which have shaped our thinking and parenting ideas I've listed below.

Consistent, Loving and Firm
Consistent! Sigh. It's so important and often so hard. But, the saying goes, "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile." If I want one of the boys to learn not to do something, I can't let them get away with it even once or they'll keep testing me to see if this time they can get away with it. A friend of mine once caught her young son trying to touch the stove top. Though it wasn't hot at the time, for his own safety, she wanted him to learn not to touch it. In the end, she told him no and flicked his little hand 36 times before he gave up trying to touch the burner. He learned it was truly a "no no". (Remember that rebellious sin nature I mentioned?!)

Loving... I often have to examine my motives and refrain from anger. A small child doesn't disobey to get back at me. He disobeys because it's his nature. I can become angry when I know he understands that his action is wrong but chooses to disobey me anyway. If I am loving in training and discipline, I don't take it personally, but lovingly correct and correct and correct and correct, as many times as it takes. If I had a nickel for all the times I've said... (you fill in the blank.)

Firm means I am the parent and the authority. Young children don't need to be reasoned with. They need to learn to obey first whether they understand why or not. Understanding and reasoning will come later as they mature and develop a conscience.

The Punishment Must Fit the Crime
In our house, we use a switch for correction. It's a small dowel rod we bought at a do-it-yourself store. We know that it stings - we have tried it on ourselves! If a punishment is to be an effective deterrent of wrong behavior, it must be memorable. We chose to use a switch because it is memorable and it is not as big as a hand or belt or paddle and less likely to bruise or injure the spine, etc. Pain works when understanding and reasoning don't.


When the boys were very young, we would flick their hand with our finger and tell them no as punishment. When that became ineffective, we would switch the back of their hand once. As they progressed in their understanding and willful disobedience was evident, they would get a swat on the thigh, then perhaps two or three swats, depending on the amount of disobedience and how many times before they had disobeyed in the same matter.

Let me just say here, too, that a repentant heart also comes into play, but more on that later.

Switching is not, however, the only form of discipline we use. With our older boys (7, 9 and 11) it is often more effective to take away a privilege or give extra work or both. If our boys are whining and complaining about chores or doing homework, we often will reduce or take away Wii time, which is already limited to non-school nights. We also reward them for good behavior and good attitudes... a special treat like ice cream or staying up a little later than normally allowed.


Remember their age
I touched on this a little bit above, but discipline does vary by age. Our two year old does not deserve the same reaction as our nine year old if he spits food out onto the kitchen floor. The two year old gets training not to do that, and the nine year old gets discipline and correction. Clearly, he knows better than to do something like that.

Willful Disobedience and Rebellion
There is a difference in how we discipline and correct and train our children when they disobey for the first time and when it is clearly an act of willful disobedience and rebellion. The first time our two year old flopped himself down on the floor because he didn't want to come to me when I called, I simply got up, went over to him, took his hand and helped him stand up. I calmly told him, "No, don't flop on the floor. Come to mommy when I call you," and then I led him to where I had been seated, showing him what I expected. After a few more times of this same training process, I knew he understood what I meant when I said, "Come to Mommy." From then on, whenever he flopped on the floor or refused to come, he got a swat on the leg accompanying the same instructions. Now if he sees that I have a switch in my hand, he comes immediately when I call. Soon, my words alone will be enough.

Inspect What You Expect
Children can live up to our expectations if we follow through. For example, we expect our children to sit in their seats during a meal without getting up and running around. If they want to get up from the table, they must ask permission unless it is to go to the bathroom. (We don't want any accidents if for some reason they are trying to wait for an appropriate pause in the conversation to ask to go.) We expect them to ask to be excused when the meal is over. We begin this training process when they are still in a high chair with two words "Excuse please." Eventually, this becomes a whole sentence; "May I be excused please?" When they first make the transition from high chair to regular chair, we are constantly reminding them to stay in their seats. (We can't leave the table either!) Once they understand we expect them to stay seated, they are disciplined if they don't obey. Now, if I happen to leave the table during a meal, inevitably, one of the boys will come find me to ask if he may be excused!

Grace and Mercy
Our boys know the definitions of grace and mercy from personal experience. Grace is receiving a gift you don't deserve. Mercy is not getting the punishment you do deserve. As parents, we do have mercy and we do give grace sometimes. I do actually pray for wisdom, at times even while in the act of correcting and disciplining one of the boys (and sometimes all of them at the same time). If I see evidence of a repentant heart, I can sometimes choose to be merciful if I feel they have learned their lesson. Sometimes the boys will ask, "Could you please have mercy this time?"

Once when I was about seven, I was left at home for a few hours with my 13-year-old brother as babysitter. He was trying to make me eat my vegetables and I absolutely refused. As he was chasing me around the table, I grabbed a fork and jabbed the wooden top twice, leaving 8 very neat, very deep tine marks. My brother forgot all about the veggies and for the next hour and a half took great delight telling me how much trouble I was in and how I was going to get it when Mom and Dad returned home. I was scared stiff. The moment they walked in the door, before my brother could even say a word, I burst into tears and confessed. My parents, of course, were disappointed and even angry, but they had mercy. In that wilfully disobedient and rebellious incident, I learned more through their mercy than I think I would have otherwise.

4 comments:

MacLeans said...

Is it possible to email the guest author directly? I am a mom of three boys living overseas (Mali, Africa) and would love to talk with her more if it is possible. thanks!

KC said...

haha! this was my exact question. i would love an open discussion with this lady if possible to make sure i am on the right track!

Krista said...

Send me your email addresses and I'll connect you guys. . .

Aarmel said...

This is a great post! I would like to hear how the author deals with discipline while out in public. Thanks!

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