My wife was standing in a yard talking to the young mother of a seven-year-old boy and two girls. The girls are fairly obedient and even tempered. But the boy…

…well, they were interrupted by him coming from the house with a Hostess Twinkie. He said, “Mama, can I have this?”

She said, “No, there is not enough for the other children (neighbor children with whom he was playing).”

He looked shocked and offended, then anger curled his lip and hardened his brow. He began to protest and beg, frantically tearing at the wrapping. It appeared that he would rip it open in defiance. The mother commenced a foot shuffling, grabbing competition for the Twinkie. For a while it was up in the air as to who would win. She finally grabbed it, but she didn’t win—neither did the boy. He was a bigger loser than either of them supposed. His was a character loss.

Since he knew that, due to her size, eventually it would be necessary to forfeit his spoils, he surrendered the Twinkie. But it was his bargaining chip. The mother was standing there holding the deformed Twinkie, looking exhausted, when he fired at her, “Then, let me have a Graham Cracker.” Seeing a way out, she paid the little extortionist his Graham Cracker and resumed her adult conversation. It was all in a day’s stress at the old home place.

He never actually expected to overpower his mother (though he will someday). He just wanted to express his anger at being denied personal indulgence. Furthermore, from past experiences he knew how to manipulate her into compliance. And you will note that this time his behavior was rewarded with a Graham Cracker. This mother had reinforced his ugly behavior pattern. As I have said, “All children are trained—some positively, some negatively.” She was training him to repeat this negative behavior.

Let’s look at this experience a little closer. She could have handled the situation by flying into a rage and spanking him for his lousy attitude and actions. He would have screamed and kicked to make her sorry for being such an “abusive, cruel mom.” She would have felt deeply defeated in spirit and, I hope, saddened by the condition of his soul. If she increased the spankings or their severity, he would be more cautious, but still angry and manipulative. Is this your situation? Have you “tried everything” and concluded that you just have a “strong-willed” child? Not so. You have neglected to properly train.

What of our Twinkie consumer? Keep in mind that his responses are a result of undisciplined desires for “things good for food.” He is living for self-gratification, and is angered when anything or anyone gets in his way. The issue is far bigger than that managing eating schedules. Our first concern is character development. The child may not be morally developed to the point of possessing the capability of making a value judgment and denying his flesh, but he can be conditioned to respond in a restrained way. If you do not condition him to get control of his passions now when he is young, he will be out of control long before he knows that he should exercise self-discipline. Her giving-in has trained him to repeat this and other similar undesirable actions.

I will suggest a possible way to deal with the Twinkie ripper. He begins to tear at the wrapper and protest. Instead of accepting the challenge and becoming the other half of the competition, lean back and solemnly observe. Think of yourself as a judge reviewing the evidence. If he intended to open the package, he would do so. If he doesn’t actually intend to forcibly open it, with no one caring to spar with him, his little performance would soon become a lonesome embarrassment. Wait until he manifests himself. When he gets it open or gives up trying, take any course of action that not only denies him immediate gratification but denies future gratification as well. Make his actions counterproductive by responding in a way that denies him much more than what he hoped to gain. When he gets the Twinkie out of the wrapper, calmly tell him to give it to his friends. The shock of your cold and solemn rock hardness will probably cause him to obey. Then, tell him that he will be denied sweets for one week. Reinforce it with a spanking. Stand by your pronouncement. Let him suffer deprivation while the other family members indulge. After two or three such times, he will see the law of cause and effect in action. Apply the principle of action and reaction. When his actions are inappropriate, it is the cause of a reaction on your part that will get him the opposite of what he wanted. He will soon make adjustments, using the law to his own benefit. If you are as consistent as the “law of the Medes and the Persians,” he will adjust his actions in favor of his own appetite.

What if he should continue to scream and protest when you give the Twinkie to the other children? Lead him to the place where the “magic wand” is kept and give him respect for the “Powers that be.”

What if he should continue to steal sweets and make demands? Simply tell him that his actions have led you to see that his addiction must be broken, so you will not buy anything sweet for one month—and stick to it. The worst thing you could do is to make an exception or to give-over after a week or two.

Moral development

You may ask, “If he is still motivated by selfishness, how is the conditioning going to be morally beneficial?” Though he may still be acting out of self-interest, he is having to exercise his own will in the immediate denial of passion. This will equip him for exercising self-discipline when his moral faculties are fully developed. The rod and your manipulation of his responses can’t change the child’s heart. However, it can completely check the “evil” manifestation of the heart and provide a very teachable and disciplined body that is, for what ever reason, exercising self-restraint.

The rod, when ministered with dignity and for the child’s good, is an indispensable part of the training. But it can not take the place of training. You must not continue to scream at or beat on your child in response to his repeated twinkieholism. Arrange the circumstances so that, if nothing else, his own selfishness will motivate him to acceptable behavior; and then use the rod as a part of that enforcement and training.