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Bad Attitude

December 15, 1995

In one of our recent seminars, a mother complained to Debi, “The children frustrate me so much. I tell them to do their school work, and they just piddle around. I tell them to clean up their rooms, and they fuss over who is to clean up what. They are always irritating one another. It frustrates me so much, trying to cause them to maintain a good attitude. They are always complaining and whining about something. I get frustrated and spank them, but it seems to do no good. They just don’t seem to care. They pick on each other continuously. I get so frustrated…” Debi interrupted her mournful complaints to answer, “Yes, it is an attitude problem.” The weary mother hastily agreed, “That’s it! They have bad attitudes.” Debi responded, “No, it’s you that has the bad attitude.” The mother’s widening eyes and gaping mouth expressed her dismay as she stood waiting for the forthcoming explanation.

Are you a frustrated parent? Is your brow drawn tight as if pulled by draw strings? If parenting is not enjoyable, be assured, you have a bad attitude. When your children look into your face what do they see? They are not fooled. They know what you feel toward them. Your face is a graph of approval or rejection. Verbal “positive affirmation” is not enough; in fact, it is worse than nothing if there is not genuine delight in your heart. Children can see through a parent who is made of muddy water. If they see disappointment and criticism they will answer in kind. Discontented parents breed discontented children. Your attitude is the root of the family attitude tree. A bitter root cannot produce sweet fruit.

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Parental attitudes are highly contagious, and the children usually come down with a worse case. “More is caught than taught.” And children seem more highly susceptible to catching a bad attitude than of being taught to have a good one. They can catch the disease of bad attitude while being passive. On the other hand, they must exert themselves to have a good attitude.

Your children are playing follow-the-leader. They are deaf to your words, but they “hear” your attitude loud and clear. Example has always been more effective than theory. Where parents are constantly modeling the bad attitude; a good attitude is just a theoretical concept to the child. Try as they may, they can’t quite fathom the meaning of a good attitude—it has been so long since they have seen one. If you dress your children in tight pinching shoes, don’t blame them for having sore feet.

The bad news is that you are responsible for the condition of your children. The good news is that you don’t have to be frustrated over attempting to change them. You only need to change yourself. Since their attitudes are reflections of your own, you need only change your attitude, and the reflections will change.

I know you are only expressing your displeasure over their foolishness. You are using your disapproving scowl as a threat to induce them to shame. They are supposed to so crave your approval that they make great sacrifices to win your smile. It is not working is it? Actually, you are working against the very thing you desire to achieve.

strong in spirit

There is a natural principle you must understand: Children living under condemnation are not motivated to good works. None of us seek to please someone who is condemning us. You have trained your face to display a nearly constant look of disapproval, disappointment, and frustration. You may nag or gripe them into relenting to your will, but you can never bad-attitude them into a good attitude. Children cannot be intimidated into positive character. To stand off and criticize their performance will not induce them to a rectifying shame. No one has ever been motivated to climb out from under a pile of disapproval to win the praise and affections of his or her accuser.

The law of human nature is such that condemnation and shame cause an alienation that only produces more disobedience. Paul said, “The motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Romans 7:5). “Because the law worketh wrath…” (Romans 4:15).

But if you become so disappointed with their failure that you assume an air of judicial condemnation, they will unwillingly accept the blame, but THEY WILL NOT HAVE THE MORAL COURAGE TO CHANGE. Law and condemnation never produce righteousness. If you are always ready to show them what is wrong, but do not constantly exemplify what is right, they will cower under your judgments while continuing to grow into the likeness of your graceless bitterness.

living virtuously

The parental spirit of displeasure holds the child in “death.” A new spirit in the parent will allow the child to serve from a joyous spirit and not from the strengthless bondage of legal depression. In our relationship to God, it is called “newness of spirit.” “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:5-6).

Mother, if every time you looked at your husband you saw dissatisfaction and disappointment, if he sighed with defeat over what a lousy wife you are, would you feel inspired to make improvements? Absolutely not! You would withdraw. If your are spunky in spirit, you might fight back and give him further reason for rejection, but if your are broken in spirit you would quietly withdraw. You would then seek friendship and approval elsewhere.

Your children will begin to develop positive character only in an atmosphere of forgiveness and acceptance. The first step to recovery and the ground on which it continues is the parent’s smile. In our book, To Train Up A Child, we have a chapter called “Tying Strings.” Parent, you need to tie strings of fellowship through your smiles, strings of trust through a display of trust, strings of respect through mutual respect, strings of kindness, grace, and forgiveness. You can not disapprove your children into heart compliance, but you can example them in, smile them in, care them in, patience them in, and woo them in with a heart that exemplifies Christ-like character.

If “the joy of the Lord is our strength” surely the joy of the parents is the strength of a child. If fellowship with God provokes His children to holiness, what will be the result of a child’s fellowship with his parents? The best training is done under the supervision of a smile. There is a time for discipline, rebuke, spanking, and even controlled anger, but such should be temporary signposts on a path of communion that you walk with your children. If they see your delight and appreciation, they will have the courage to try to maintain that sweetness.

Parent, relax. Lay back. Slow down. Enjoy the trip. If you can’t train your children to meet your high standards, lower the standards until they can reach them. We are not talking about the law of God. We are talking about muddy feet, carrying out the garbage, picking up dirty clothes, doing school work, etc.. Put the bar low enough so that with the effort they are willing to give, they can clear the hurtle and finish each day a winner. Raise the bar a little at a time so they can improve, but will always be a winner. If you set the standard, not beyond their abilities, but beyond their willing efforts, you will cause them to cease trying. They will be like the kid in public school who is already behind two years. He cares so much, to keep from being further hurt, he pretends not to care at all. He is just killing time until he gets old enough to quit.

Find a place to confess your sins, and then go smile at your children.

Leave a Reply

28 comments on “Bad Attitude”

  1. Thank you for being so honest in sharing your godly wisdom with those of us out here who want to train up our children to become godly men and women. It is so easy to get frustrated, but you’re so right about the source of that problem. It’s hard to swallow, but I believe it to be the truth.

  2. Amen to that! I keep needing reminders that my attitude needs change too! It’s so nice to find that encouragement to keep trying to do what I need to do instead of just new techniques for how to manipulate my kids into doing what I want!

  3. It is such a blessing this article! I am working on it. But I find a problem when trying to lower the line in areas where I have been too exigent. My two year old daughter will then try those areas and realize I no longer want that much from her in those, and repeat the action I once told her not to do over and over. I fear it is some sort of defiance, but to deal back with it would mean to install the too-exigent set of rules again. Some suggestions?

  4. This was just the reminder I needed as we start fresh this year! Especially the part about lowering expectations. My oldest is 2 and I know that at times I expect too much and thus frustration for both her and I. I actually have To Train Up a Child and I think maybe I need to re-read it again.

  5. Debi that is just what I needed to hear. I have followed many ways of child training that you and your husband have presented. Ive been wondering, how do I get rid of their bad attitude. It hit me while I read this article, I do have a bad attitude when they dissobey. Now I know it’s time to get on my knees and pray about my attitude. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

  6. Thank you! I read this this afternoon, and it has TRANSFORMED my relationship with my 2 year old son. I think I have read it before, but old patterns and habits have slowly crept in. I can’t thank you enough, so I’ll let God handle that!

  7. Why do you seem to put down children in public school. I have two of your books that I have read, just because a woman/mother doesnt home school her children and cant afford private school doesnt mean their children are neglected, bad horrible, kids. You sound so prjudice.

  8. I feel the same on the last comment. I just don’t know if i’m capable to home- school my children. Our oldest went to private school last year, but we are unable to send him this coming year. I really don’t care for public school, but don’t know what else to do. I have 2 young ones at home for few yrs. yet. I thought of home-schooling them, but i’m not a very good teacher, & am working on patience. I could really use help in many areas of parenting. Thank you for your ministry, Ellen

  9. I’m not sure what to type. I’ve been such a bad example of a Graceful mother. I want my sons to know that I live and breathe each day to serve them and their father. I feel sometimes like I’m closed in…like I can’t breathe. These are the times that are the hardest to deal with my husband and children. The crying or breaking of toys etc, can become overwhelming. I’m giving it up to God. I know that by changing my mindset, changing my heart to become my husband’s help meet and smile at my children more, I will become a better person. After all, why wouldn’t I smile at my children? They are my every joy.

  10. Thankyou is not a big enough word! I SO appreciate your wisdom and honesty and your willingness to share it with the world! Happy Thanksgiving Pearl Family. I am SO THANKFUL for you. I’ve told everyone I can about Created To Be His HelpMeet and To Train Up A Child. Next to my Bible, those are the most honest, practical (with actual steps I can implement) books that that I have ever read! Their helping tremendously to make ME a better person. THANKYOU!

  11. I know that every single word of this article is true. And not only that, it is VERY true in our home! I gripe about wanting more peace and harmony, love & acceptance in our home…. But it’s my dissatisfied attitude that is holding us back. I have a serious problem with being content. Nothing is ever to my liking. Wow, I am such a wretch! My poor kids, no wonder they can’t get ahead.

  12. I have 3 little boys. My oldest JUST turned 4. Yes you read that right my oldest. LOL. I am so blessed beyond words to have such amazing and beautiful children, but there are many days when I struggle with the overwhelming needs of all 3 boys. My husband supports us so that I can stay at home, but to do so works almost 60 hours a week. So it’s mostly just me and the boys. A lot of the time I struggle with keeping up the good attitude. Thank you for this article to remind me that being happy makes them happy. Today on the way to church my 4 year old decided he wanted to be in a bad mood. So the entire drive to church I kept singing loudly WHO”S GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY?!?!?! LOL! Got him smilling and giggling and yelling and singing right along with me. Cracked up my 2 year old too. Thanks for the reminder so we didn’t have to have a bad day 😉

  13. Thanks for this! I really agree with all of it and expect that it probably is me that is causing my five year old to defy me in every single thing big and small. I am afraid I don’t know how to lower the bar without sending the message that she doesn’t ever have to obey. I love my little girl, but totally feel like I’m failing as a Mother anytime I’m around her… At least this article got me thinking. Something to take up with the Lord in prayer.

  14. Thanks, I needed that! I am pregnant with #5, and it has been a hard one. I have been fighting depression and wondering why all of sudden my kids are against me. The problem is me and my lack of joy. They’re use to the happy-go-lucky mommy. I just got to get her back.

  15. Thank you! This article is beautiful and thought provoking.. As a parent of 2 small children, I constantly find my self struggling to deal with different personalities, I was actually googling to see how I could change the behaviour of my 4 year old daughter who is constantly crying, the slightest disapproval hurts her feelings and she just sobs her heart out, its not just at home, but even at school and with friends.. She’s always hiding from rejection and doesn’t know how to handle it if a child that she wants to befriend doesn’t want the same.. Perhaps its my attitude that warrants change.. I do feel at times that I am a more disapproving than I should be.. I wish God gives me the strength to change my attitude and behaviour and helps me raise happy, strong and confident children.
    Thank you again.

  16. I’ve been asking the Lord to show me what to do about my 9 yr old daughters attitude. It seems like every day things have gotten worse! I’ve been in a state of frustration and wordering even if my daughter was saved as i wasn’t seeing fruit. After I prayed one night at midnight I came out to the computer and was looking on your site for sermons to buy and I came across this article. Praise the Lord!! This is what I needed to hear. Hard to take, but I know it is the Holy Spirit convicting me. 🙂 I’m praying for a change within my heart now!! Thank you!

  17. Just read To train up a child and it is Great training for me as a mom. I never had a good up bringing on how to train up my daughters and just recently have been tried and tested with my 7 year old and her attitude. I cried last night because I am see the mistakes I did with not being consistent with her when she was younger and now the attitude is a real challenge for me. I love her and want to enjoy spending the time together but she just sometimes get’s in these moods that kills the spirit that I want to have in our home! I am venting as I write this because I know there is hope and I know God can help and mend whatever that was broken in our relationship. I am thankful for NGJ because it has helped me with my marriage and my children…… Thanks

  18. as the other mothers and wives after reading this it was a wake up call from above it as been so hard here lately in every way. and you are completly right it is the looks on my face thats all i keep thinkin no wonder its crazy in my home I WILL SIMLE MORE AND RELAX. we all have the same goal i pray for all the mothers to reach our goal of a peaceful home for everyone to enjoy may god bless everyone on the journey to becoming a better mother

  19. I am so humbled and saddened after reading this article! I think I have forgotten how to smile! No wonder my kids’ actions, or lack thereof, are driving me crazy! It’s me, isn’t it? Lord, forgive me and teach me how to smile again, how to know and display Your incomprehensible joy in my life and on my face.

  20. I’m sad to say that I didn’t find this particularly helpful. Simply smiling is not going to change the behavior of my children. Yes, a better attitude from Mom can only help, but there are very few practical suggestions in this article to be truly helpful, especially to anyone who has a challenging or strong willed child. While I love the Godliness of this article, I think we as Christians sometimes give too many platitudes and don’t offer enough actual examples. That leads those Christians who weren’t helped by this to not speak up, which is why you see so little actual criticism. I see the author headed in the right direction, but then stops short of giving us the actual meat! Please Mr. Pearl, tell us what you do in very specific instances! I believe that you have found something special, just share the rest with us!

  21. I have a 12 year old son who refuses to do anything we ask him that he doesn’t WANT to do. My husband says it’s fine if he doesn’t wanna do any chores; just don’t give him an allowance. We haven’t given him any allowance for several weeks. My husband suggested grounding him from all electronics. We have not let him play video games/computer/iPod for a month. None of this has affected him. He just shrugs. I suggested that we ground him from going outside to play AND from friend’s invitations (i.e. birthday parties) but my husband thinks that is unneccesarily cruel. My husband just figures that he’ll continue like this and as it gets closer to his 18th birthday, my husband will remind him that he’ll be leaving as soon as his 18th bday comes. I just don’t think I can do this for another 5 1/2 years.HELP!