Twelve-month-old Roseanna has one adoring mama, one adoring daddy, one adoring five-year-old sister, one adoring seven-year-old brother, and dozens of adoring friends. But Roseanna has one enemy—her flesh. Like all one-year-olds, her “wanter” is growing faster than her winning smile. Her accomplices, the adults and children around her, are disarmed by her charming ways. To supply her needs and wants, and in so doing win her gratitude, is an occupation to which most adults would blindly surrender with religious devotion. It is hard not to “worship” such innocence and beauty.
The very young and yet uncontaminated of our species turn us mature, reserved adults into silly court jesters. We drop our social guard as if we were in our own private thought life. We can be too tired to serve our spouses, and yet be suddenly filled with energy to jump up and gratify these little angels. In our servitude to the baby, we are meeting our own needs, which often results in the real needs of the child being overlooked.
Deb recounts an experience that occurred this fall when we camped out in the Rocky Mountains with several families:
“I spent a good portion of each day cooking around the camp fire. Roseanna’s brother and sister, Jubal and Beulah, were often huddled around our campfire. I enjoyed showing them all kinds of fun things, like baking potatoes under the ashes and hot coals, or making a bellows to get our fire hotter when we wanted to bend some metal. One day someone mentioned starting a fire without matches, and I remembered I had a magnifying glass with me. I allowed each child to take a turn focusing the magnified sun spot on his/her skin to feel it warm up. Roseanna , seeing everyone’s interest in the little object, decided it was worth investigating. She wiggled herself into the middle of the gang and grabbed the glass away from her sister. Beulah is a sweet child and was willing to give-in to her younger sister. But I saw that Roseanna’s flesh needed to learn self-discipline. So I took the glass away from her and gave it back to Beulah. Roseanna looked at me like I was a mean, over-sized kid. She defiantly grabbed the glass. ‘No,’ I spoke firmly, and again took the glass. Really, it did seem rather mean; after all, she was just a curious baby. I wanted her to like me, and Beulah would understand if I let the baby have it. But I persevered until Roseanna yielded to my will.”
It would have been no discomfort or inconvenience to allow Roseanna to examine the magnifying glass for a minute. But if you wait until actions become irritating before you discipline, you have allowed them to confirm selfish habits that are then hard to break. You must begin training before the need to discipline arises. There will be fifty occasions a day where you will want to train your one-year-old. An occasion for training is not determined by our concern for what the child is or isn’t doing; the issue is to make sure that the child is never allowed to gain an advantage through selfish grabbing, whining, stubborn refusal, etc. IT IS A MATTER OF ESTABLISHING AN UNDERSTANDING OF WHO IS IN CONTROL. You must look for opportunities to demonstrate that you have the last word, that your authority is to be obeyed without question. This is not done by punishing the child. If you are consistent, the assertion of your authority will be such a non-event that others looking straight at you will never know anything occurred.
For example: a child tries to slide from your lap onto the floor. On most occasions that’s just a way of letting you know where he wants to go. Fine, but there are times when you do not want him to slide to the floor. If your little fourteen-month-old makes an attempt to dismount your lap, and you indicate that you do not want him to, and he makes a protest by jerking away or whining, then by no means can you allow him to intimidate you into compliance. For, by so doing you have allowed the authority to pass to him. You would be encouraging rebellion. YOU MUST ALWAYS BE PERCEIVED TO WIN ANY CONTEST. It is all determined by what the child thinks. If there is a seed of resistance in the child, it must never be allowed to grow. Don’t allow that spirit of rebellion to become profitable.
When the child whines and makes an issue of something that to you was otherwise irrelevant, you must then follow-through, causing the child to do what he did not want to do. This is soul training – character building – sanctification of the natural spirit in your child. This won’t make him a Christian, but it will give him a better character than most Christians possess.
If, during the course of a day, no contest arises naturally, you should arrange one. Seek opportunity to thwart the child’s will, to cause him to submit to your command. If you cause him to surrender his will to you twenty times during the course of a day, he will not disappoint you with disobedience in public. Tell him to stop, sit, don’t speak for five minutes, etc. Play the half-hour “quiet time game,” the half-hour “don’t wiggle and squirm game.” Refuse him a treat when he is wanting it badly. Give it to him only when he is joyously submitted to your timetable. You mustn’t give the appearance of being blindly arbitrary, but always maintain full control. Never allow the child to dictate your actions.
Just yesterday, a little four-year-old was visiting the house. I was eating cake when he came in from playing. He asked for some, and I said, “OK.” But I delayed for a few seconds while I was finishing a bite. Before I made a move to rise, he somewhat impatiently said, “I am hungry now.” That did it! Time for training. Rather than proceed as I had planned, rising to get his cake so we could eat together, I said, “Well, you will just have to wait until I get through.”
By surrendering to his demand I would have cultivated impatience in the little fellow. It took me three times as long to eat the cake—while he sat two feet away drooling on the table. I never lectured him or rebuked him in any way. Just waiting on me was sufficient training in patience and respect for the rights of others.
The older children should be taught through example to also participate in training the younger children. When a six-year-old can responsibly train a one-year-old, it is a two edged sword. You are confirming the training of the six-year-old and also training the six-year-old to be a good parent.
If you are in the middle of raising a family, yet just now instituting proper training, you will have added struggles for awhile. If you are demonstrating your authority over the two-year-old, while the six and eight-year-old are still permissive, it will send mixed signals to the younger children. You must discuss it with them and ask for their help. They feel much as you do about a spoiled little sister. They would love to see her brought under control. If they assist you and see positive results, you have also trained them indirectly. Once a child understands the principle behind your consistent demands, he will appreciate your intentions. It then becomes much easier, because the children will cooperate rather than resist. Of course, to be effective, a cheerful, self-possessed attitude on your part is an absolute must.
What is our purpose as parents in establishing our authority? Your child’s flesh is growing faster than his soulish faculties. The understanding will mature several years behind the passions of the body. If you wait until children are old enough to see and appreciate the need to exercise self-control (as Paul said, “mortify the deeds of the body”) they are then thoroughly bound in the habits of self-indulgence. By the time they see the need to deny the flesh, the flesh has thoroughly established itself as tyrant over soul and spirit. Using Scriptural terms: our job as parents is to cultivate the “inner man” of the children and teach them to deny the “outer man.”
Last week in the church meeting I noticeed a young mother training her little girl to be indulgent and intemperate. The baby was discontent, a grouch, and the mother was taking the easiest path to purchasing some quiet. The child obviously wasn’t hungry, but the mother was using a bottle to pacify her. They were playing a game of “shove and retrieve.” Mother would alternately shove the bottle into the mouth of the demanding baby and then retrieve it when it was nearly cast away. This hour of squirming, grouching, and bottle pacifying was cultivating self-indulgence in the child.
Now you say, “But what can a mother do in a public place?” Not much, if she hasn’t prepared for it by consistently training at home.
Public places don’t make unruly kids, they just expose “untraining parents.” If you are loose at home, the kids will be loose in public. Don’t go to a public place and make a scene by carrying your child out to spank him. The impression you leave is not what you think.
I know that most of you who have problems in this area have just been unaware of the high possibilities. You are not lazy or indifferent, quite the contrary; you are ready and willing to do all that you know to do. We hope to have raised your level of expectation, to have expanded your vision.
One final warning: Our enemy is distraction, leading to neglect. Focus, and determine to concentrate on that which is most important to you, your children. Ask God to show you how to organize your own life, right down to your thoughts, so you can apply yourself to that which will reach into eternity—your child’s soul.