Eleven-month-old Suzie was hurrying across the store toward the big, swinging, automatic doors. Her Daddy saw the danger and called, “Suzie, come back here.” But the sound of his command lacked finality and expectancy which was confirmed by his immediate jumping up and racing to intercept the child before the doors swung open again. When Suzie heard his voice, she looked over her shoulder and picked up speed, running away in an almost stumbling, controlled fall, as if there were a wonderful prize at some finish line. I could see that she was thrilled with the chase. Daddy, too, was running and he caught her just before a customer on the outside stepped past the infra-red beam that would cause the 150-pound door to swing open like a giant child-swatter. Suzie just laughed and squirmed to get free. Mother looked a little distressed, and Daddy looked as if he were wishing he was back at work, bossing his employees who not only paid attention to his commands but even to his suggestions—at least the ones he keeps on the payroll.

I have observed and engaged a sufficient number of parents, both in action and in conversation, to have made a very good guess about what this frustrated father was thinking. I’m certain he was proud of his patience and tenderness, knowing that he was not being overbearing or insensitive toward this child. His philosophy clearly is, “She’s a handful, but kids will be kids! Just love them, and in time they will turn out all right.” No doubt, he was solaced by the fact that in the best of times she responds to his commands. He has “faith” that such a sweet child will survive and eventually “grow into” obedience.

I cautiously mentioned to him that he could actually train her to stop upon command, pointing out how much safer it would be if she obeyed instantly. He brushed it off with, “Oh, she is not being disobedient; we play games like that.” And then he made some comment about how he didn’t like to spank his children except in extreme situations. He didn’t really consider it to be disobedience in a child so young. He was a foolish young father, not yet having seen the final end of the seeds of self-will and rebellion he was sowing.

I chose this example because there is nothing extreme about it; it is the kind of thing that happens often, and no one considers it much of a problem. I could speak of children constantly whining, occasionally screaming, kicking, demanding, and eventually striking their parents. Just go to Wal-Mart and you will see plenty of examples of untrained children and countless frustrated parents.

There is no doubting that this young father was limited in his thinking. He saw only two options: either let her run and act at her discretion (up to the point of hurting herself or someone else), or do the unpleasant thing and spank her for disobeying. He didn’t understand the need for, or even the concept of and the simplicity of training. He reasoned that if he spanked her for every act of disobedience he would be spanking her excessively. He enjoyed fellowship with his little girl and felt that even if he rebuked her for not responding to voice commands he would be losing the congenial, fun spirit they shared. Like many parents, he has the best of motives, but experience has repeatedly demonstrated that good motives are no more productive in child training than in operating a computer. Many things can go wrong. Trusting that a child will somehow find the right way and do it without being constrained to do so must have been the source of this biblical passage “…a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15). Many parents bathe their children in a pool of indulgence and permissiveness, thinking it to be an expression of their deep love, assuming that children should be allowed a time of irresponsibility and unimpeded pleasure.