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My Little Knuckle-Head

November 15, 1998

A little knuckle-head came to visit me the other day. I call him knuckle-head because he is the type that makes people want to give him a rap on the head with their knuckles. He hadn’t been in the house two minutes when he spied my glasses lying on the table. Now I admit I should not have left my glasses lying around, but it turned out to be a great “Garden of Eden” test for the little rascal. He immediately picked up a small rod and started lightly whacking the glasses. I loved it.

His daddy is a fine man that got saved while incarcerated in the prison where Mike ministers. His daddy has become well founded in the Word. Now that he is out of prison, he has had to get to know his son all over again and learn to be a parent.

I could see right off that Knuckle-head needed a cheerful training session (and the Daddy as well). First I looked in the daddy's eyes and asked, “May I play mama for a few minutes?” Since he had no clue what to do, he gave me the go ahead. I miss having little ones and take every chance I get. I then went to the little rascal and, smiling, I leaned across the table and took the whacking stick from him. He gave me a full-toothed grin with the only remaining front tooth. He is six years old, you understand.

I couldn’t help but adore the little guy; no doubt he depended upon that. But my brains are bigger than my heart, so I whacked him once across the offending hand with his whacking stick, while telling him in a pleasant voice not to bother the glasses. Never losing eye contact, I could tell he seemed to think he had run into a knuckle-head bigger and more interesting than he. I laid the whacker back down beside my glasses and with one last smile walked toward the kitchen. I only got a few steps when he again whacked my glasses. “Haw, haw,” I said with a twinkle in my eye, “You are not supposed to touch my glasses.” Before he had time to lay the offending tool aside, I had grabbed it up and delivered my next (much less gentle this time) whack.

Now, if the whack had been delivered in a stressful attitude he would have been emotionally and physically wounded. If he had been dragged from the room and given time to become hysterical, all training would have been obscured by the trauma. His little brain can only decipher so much info at one time, and the emotional trauma of being taken into a strange room by a stern adult would make anyone’s brain short circuit. Instead, he remained at the scene of his offense, getting smacked by the very implement he had used to commit the offense—and this without any anger or emotional rejection. I could clearly see it was a new experience in the little rascal’s life.

When I laid the whacker down by the glasses, he first stared at it for ten seconds then at me a few moments before jumping up to see what else there was to explore. For the next hour he checked out everything, but when in doubt he would look over to me for the go-ahead. If I smiled, he charged on; if I shook my head, he smiled and backed off. I know his next visit will bring another chance to reaffirm my position as head-honcho, but after a few such encounters he will know what I expect of him, and he will have a keen appreciation for my methods. You would think the little fellow would be so glad to be free of the house where the whacking lady rules, but not so. On his way out the door he was begging his dad to bring him back real soon.

Most parents rear their children by some such method as: “Pretend to not see; it doesn’t matter; I can take this kind of behavior; remove the thing that tempts the kids; give the children what they desire, etc.” But when the parents reach sufficient frustration they begin loathing the child and their attitude becomes one of “I can't stand it any longer!” Then the default method clicks in—it’s called ANGER. “This kid is a brat; he has done the unthinkable, and I’m going to teach him he can’t get away with it!” If you start off ignoring the problem, the only thing that will go away is your patience.

Now, most parents seeing a six-year-old destroying a pair of glasses will immediately be angry and respond to the child something like: "What do you think you’re doing?" or, "Don’t touch those glasses!" Parents then put the glasses in a safe place, and the kid goes on to find some other way of testing adult resolve. When a further transgression manages to elicit a similar response from the big guys, the child looks somewhat crestfallen before going on to the next test of parental attention. By this time, Mrs. Mom or Mr. Dad is sufficiently stressed to begin showing extreme displeasure in the child. In this way, mom and dad cut strings of fellowship rather than build camaraderie. So the 'mistraining' process goes around again and again.

Parents convince themselves that the longer they can tolerate the child's misbehavior, the more they express love. Parents fear themselves. They have discovered from past experiences that their tempers are detrimental to the children. Parents waiting until anger provokes them to rebuke the children have seen only ill effects from rebuke and chastisement. They have come to accept the concept that rebuke and chastening is a negative event that must be avoided as long as possible. Parents are aware that their frustrated, and sometimes angry, correction does not work good in the temperament of their children. Confrontation brings hostility on the part of the children as well as the parents. Therefore, parents feel that the more they can tolerate and the longer they can ignore it, the better.

Parents influenced by modern psychology (that is anyone in America exposed to any media or education, including most that is called Christian) take pride in their ability to absorb a vast amount of frustration without letting it boil over into overt hostility. They think they demonstrate their emotional maturity and their love and kindness by sublimating their anger and letting the “little darlings express themselves.”

Face the fact: your child’s goal is to be self-indulging without regard to the rule of law or the needs of others. Children are good psychologists. They quickly learn how to manipulate their parents into permissiveness. They learn that if they can make the act of discipline sufficiently unpleasant on parents, and give the appearance of it being even more unpleasant on them, then parents will back off. For they know two things: One, parents do not want to experience the unpleasantness of conflict; Two, parents do not want to make life unpleasant for their children. Knowing this, they see to it that discipline becomes painful for everyone. Furthermore, knowing that your goal in discipline is to make them cheerfully obedient, all they have to do is make your efforts a failure, and for practical reasons you will cease your interference and seek a more conciliatory approach—one in which there is compromise—allowing the child equal say in his own expressions.

Parents get so involved in their own feelings, whether of anger or compassion, that they forget the good of the children. Then some parents are so short-sighted that they can see no further than the moment. They settle for immediate peace, and the children set the terms for peace. What you must understand is that your children need something very badly that they do not want and will not learn unless you train it into them—self-denial. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame (Prov. 29:15).” Children allowed free expression turn out worse than a cat allowed free expression in the house.

Going back to our example, Knuckle-head had been allowed self-expression; he had not been taught self-denial. A child proficient at exerting his own will is not ready to yield his autonomy without a fight. He will push you beyond your limit to maintain control of his own life. It is not you personally, nor is it the thing over which there is a contest (in this case the glasses); it is the issue of independence, freedom to live without law—capriciously, selfishly. Only when you have allowed a dispensation wherein you have become subservient to the child’s will do you as an adult, a parent, become angry and testy. When you know that you ought to have control, but don’t, and you do not know what to do to remedy the situation, the frustration will lead to anger and hostility. Parent, know that from that perspective you will never win. The child will remain in control and never respect your authority until you respect yourself and your position enough to act forcefully and consistently without anger or vacillation.

Children will fight authority, but once you force it upon them, they will be happier than they have ever been. Great peace and security comes to a child who is put under benevolent authority. They very quickly love the adult that forces them into compliance with their own conscience. Like Paul in Romans chapter 7, children will impulsively do what they know they should not do, all the while fighting to maintain their rebellion, yet crying out for deliverance. As the law and the cross applied in love subdues the sinner so the rod and reproof administered in love will give wisdom to the child (Prov. 29:15).

- Michael Pearl

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2 comments on “My Little Knuckle-Head”

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I read To Train Up A Child a year ago and it changed our lives. We now have a peaceful, consistent routine with happy munchkins. Lately, with pressures from school and work (my husband is a full-time student and Engineer as well as attending church 3x per week),the Holidays, and other temporary changes to our routine, we have begun to face some of those same challenges as our attention has slipped to other things. Our little man tries to see if he can get under the radar, as he has learned that we are distracted and busy, and usually does his offenses with a smile, seeing how far he can take it. I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and couldn't see my next step clearly. I believe the Lord directed me to this article to remind me that allowing my child to test the limits will only cause impatience, resentment and anger to set it. I can see how my anger affects my child emotionally and I do not want to go there! I am so thankful to have a resource like this! God Bless you!

  2. I agree with so much you say; consistent caring fair straightforward boundaries, but feel I reach these same results and I've never so much as smacked my child's hand.