Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pearl,
A faithful friend handed me your books. I wish I’d read them 10 years ago before letting my kids learn many ways of quietly disobeying. Do you have any suggestions on where best to start changing things? It doesn’t seem quite right to suddenly and immediately punish every infraction when we have allowed them to get into these habits.
AP

Michael & Debi Answer
I can understand your consternation. I agree that it would not be right to suddenly bring down judgment on their well-ingrained habits. What you feel is correct, giving your perspective on “punishing every infraction.” Your understanding of our message is incomplete. You missed the main point of all our writings. The church is full of books teaching parents to apply the rod, but our unique contribution to the subject of child rearing is to encourage parents to train so they do not have to punish. Furthermore, punishment is ineffective if it is not part of an environment of careful training and fellowship. The first step in retooling the family, is to renew your attitude.
You have to become attractive to your children. In short, you must learn to smile and enjoy life. Then you must enjoy them. Children do not respond well to condemnation and criticism. No kid or adult ever rose up out of a pile of condemnation to please his accuser. Rejection and fault finding has never motivated anyone to seek approval, quite the opposite.
You must tie string of fellowship and goodwill. The children must be convinced that you value them greatly and are doing this for their good.
The second step in reclaiming the heart of your children is to speak with them plainly, explaining what you are doing and why. Many parents have found it profitable to read our books to their children. Others have used our tapes or videos to inform their kids. We receive may letters from parents who tell how their children enjoy listening to the Alabama Seminar and the three books on tape when they are falling off the sleep. Whether our material or someone else’s, or no aids at all, the key is to inform the children and enlist them as active participants in the process. Cause them to understand that you are doing something different, and that it is for their good. Let them know that at times it will not be pleasant if they rebel, but that as long as they cooperate, everyone will be happier and things with go smoothly. Establish, as it were, a rule of law, a code of conduct, with predefined punishments for infractions. Involve the older children in the chain of command, giving them authority over the younger children and letting them be your partners in trainer the younger children.
The third step is to set up training exercises that are designed to reprogram their behavior. I have illustrated this many times in our writings, so I won’t go into it here. Don’t just wait until they repeat their negative habits and then punish them for it. It won’t work. When you come up against unacceptable behavior, stop right there and explain how you expect things to be different. If you are angry or frustrated, you are wasting your time. You must maintain your dignity and cool. Smiles make everything go down better. After explaining how things are going to be different, put the kid through his paces. Walk him through the right response or action. If it seems appropriate, have him repeat the same act of obedience several times as a way to program his mind.
Fourth, stop thinking of the rod as something to be used at the end of an intolerance curve. Parents too often make such a big deal out of spanking their kids. They remove them to another room and go through elaborate ceremonies that take a lot of time and emotional energy. The momentousness of the ordeal makes it something to be avoided if at all possible. Consequently, parents put it off and resort to threatening and nagging, sometimes whining. The attitude that parents display leading up to the spanking is far more detrimental to training than the spanking is effective. Keep the rod handy and use it in place of telling them twice. Use it on the spot, without having the child get up or bend over. Swat any exposed skin anywhere except on the head. Don’t warn them. If you give a command and they delay, don’t tell them again, give them a swat and smile. In twenty-four hours your children will learn that they are under new management and the bar of tolerance has been raised. If you act immediately, you will not be reacting later in anger and frustration. Best of all, the children will not have to be pickled in the lousy attitude that you develop when their lack of compliance leads to your frustration.
Fifth, be consistent. Stay with it and don’t vacillate. If you are on one day and off the next, you destroy any respect they would have. You will lose out entirely.
Lastly, spend time talking with your children and doing things together, things they enjoy. Don’t allow them to continue in boredom and gloom. Lighten up and enjoy life together.