I watched as a mischievous 3-year-old tried to get some attention from the stranger talking to his daddy. He stood between them, throwing his smile up to this new and interesting fellow while lightly kicking his leg. He didn’t have a bad attitude, just bad manners. He wanted to show the stranger his rocks. The boy’s father was obviously irritated by his son’s behavior, but he only gave the boy a stern look that said, “I see what you are doing, and I am not happy.” It had no effect. The child turned his grinning face back toward the stranger and increased his attention-getting kicks. The father became increasingly irritated until he lost his pretense at paying attention to the conversation. He turned his full attention to the boy and said, “Stop it!” But Little Mr. Grin kept grinning and kicking, waving his rocks around. As the boy continued his kicking, the father’s agitation grew until it was obvious he was about to erupt into parental spasms. Above a normal tone, the father said, “Stop it. Go away!” The little fellow stopped grinning and matched his dad’s angry look. Then, with a forced smile, he turned back to lightly kicking the stranger. The father then grabbed the kicker’s arm and sternly said, “Would you just go to your mother?” Angry father and angry son exchanged angry stares for what seemed like a long time. Then while keeping his eyes locked on his father’s, the rebel gently but very determinedly gave the stranger one more tiny kick—symbolic, no doubt. The little bull was challenging the big bull to a battle of the wills. The father was finally forced to deal the last hand. He jerked the boy up and carried him out of the room to give him a spanking. This kind of spanking will never work beyond the moment. The only satisfaction the father will get is the immediate release of his tension.
Why did this happen? What could have been done to avert the moment? What makes a child have this spirit of rebellion or desire to dominate? What would you have done?
The father’s first mistake was that he had never done any effective training—of either himself or the the child. His actions showed that he didn’t even understand training. The father created the escalating situation by his early reluctance to interrupt the social scene with decisive action. He allowed his son to come to rebellion in increments, going from foolishness to stubbornness to self-will to defiance and finally to all-out angry rebellion. The child didn’t start out angry or rebellious. The father created it in the child through his progressive, ineffectual displays of irritation. Early on, what the father thought was self-restraint is what brought both of them to lack of restraint.
So how could the father have turned this into an effective training session rather than a war? At the first indication the boy was out of line, and before either one of them was irritated, Father could have ceased any pretense at conversation and said to his son, “I need to talk to Mr. Jones undisturbed for a minute, so go sit down over there until I call you.” By continuing to stare at his son with unwavering but calm determination, the pressure of the father’s presence would have provoked the son to obey. When the son complied, Father could say, “That is a good boy; we will be finished in just a minute, and then you can show Mr. Jones your rocks,” The boy needed simple, decisive instructions given in a kind but commanding way.
Later, when the guest left the house, the father could have taken his boy by the hand and, walking around the yard, explained how he should act even when he is happy to have a visitor come to the house. It could have been a good time for the father to teach his little soon-to-be man how to exercise restraint, and it would have tied strings.
If you would tell me that early and decisive action on your part would not have moved your son to obedience, you are confessing that you have consistently been inconsistent so as to have trained your son to maintain perpetual rebellion and to resort to war at the slightest provocation. If you will become immediate and consistent, acting before you are angry, acting with calmness and even a smile, you will forestall the child’s road to rebellion.
Over time, many occasions like this will cut the strings of fellowship and cause the child to remain in a perpetually offended mood. Children and parents will come to not like the other and neither can explain why. These same children can go visiting with a relative and be well behaved and very pleasant, but at home the child seems to have this undercurrent of bitterness that pervades everything.
Parents need to see their children as empty vessels that need filling up or as untaught soldiers that need instruction. They should always be asking, “Do you know what that word means?” or “Why do you think that happened?” Parents should take an extra few minutes to include their small children in the adult conversation. When the child shows an interest, or if you think you can provoke an interest, ask him, “Do you understand what he said about the airplane and the engine turbine?” This will cause the child to feel like the parent really likes him, and it stimulates the child to think about what is going on around him. He will develop emotionally and mentally much faster and more completely than a child left to himself. The best parents see every occasion as a time to train. It takes less time, and certainly less emotional strain, to stop that few seconds and offer positive instruction to your children.