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Unbinding Foolishness

October 15, 2009

Last week I had a herd of children running in and out of my house and the NGJ office. I am no longer as acclimated to the rambling chaos of toddlers and tikes as I was when my children were young, so the simultaneous movement and noise of 18 children seven years old and under seemed like just a nonstop spinning blur. The best I could do was occasionally focus my mind on one child—in other words, manage to see one tree instead of the forest.

After a few minutes of observation I realized that before me was a complete spectrum of behavioral issues. There was downright disobedience, which is rare in our circle. Then there was the bad attitude, which gets more common around nap time. And there was the aggressive kid, needing to be controlled, and the whining sissy wanting to be coddled, and the wild-haired kid who has had too much red dye or sugar. And then there was the foolish child, the most disturbing of all.

Often the most endearing child is the foolish one. She can be obedient and kind, not a loudmouth…she just acts silly. She might take unwise chances, such as standing on the slide making stupid faces until she loses her balance and falls, hurting herself.

I say her, but usually the most foolish child is male. Parents usually overlook the foolishness because the child is not rebellious, mean, bitter, or hurtful to others—just silly and childlike beyond his age. Maybe that is the reason God very specifically addresses this area of ugly childhood behavior and tells parents exactly how to respond. God says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”  This verse is found in Proverbs 22, the same chapter that features the famous child training verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  I often hear parents of rebellious older children wonder why their child departed from their careful training. Many of these parents forgot to consider and obey the verse just a few verses down the page. The foolishness bound in the heart of their child has never been driven out.

Some parents are heavy-handed and can take the fun and warmth out of sunshine. This will only lead your children to anger. Don’t misunderstand me and become overbearing and critical; then you will be the foolish one. A child knows when he is acting like a fool. Don’t be mad and take offense. Be wise and deal with it like God commands. As a child grows, his unrestrained foolishness will progress from amusing to irritating to embarrassing. You wish you could just shut the door and hide his behavior, and many parents eventually do shut the door, so to speak, on their foolish, stupid clown of a kid. When you fail to drive the foolishness out of a young child, he will develop embarrassing habits that become very difficult to control. Then you have two big problems: a foolish, silly kid and an angry, hurt child, feeling his rejection. Your task is then much larger; you must both discipline and heal.

It is so much easier to check foolish behavior while the child is yet young. If you catch him acting silly or irresponsible, then rebuke and spank as needed to produce sobriety. When you see him do a dumb thing and you know he knows better (or at least should know better,) communicate the seriousness of your concern with a spanking.

If your child risks life or limb in a foolish stunt, as I saw my own sons do when they were little, follow their daddy’s example. I have seen Mike say to them, “OK, you want to risk getting hurt, I will show you what hurt feels like.” And then he spanked them soundly. Next time they thought twice before showing off in a dangerous manner.

If you are visiting in a home and your child goes through the drawers or cabinets, communicate with a switch that it is not an acceptable practice. If your five-year-old spills a bag of nuts out on the car seat when she could have sealed the bag shut, let your rebuke be accompanied by a couple swift swats with the rod of your choice. Good habits are made, not born. If your children gorge on junk, even to the point of stealing food and hiding, know this: it is better to set them free from bad habits now than for them to struggle all their lives with being overweight and sickly. A few licks will remind them that overeating hurts. It will help shape lifetime habits.

But parents, use common sense. Feed a hungry child when he is hungry; don’t cause him to be tempted above that which he is able. When you allow children to get so hungry they want to sneak around to satisfy their hunger, you are training them to be thieves and liars. Instead of being trained to walk in truth, they are being trained to walk in deceit. For every thirty slacker parents who allow their children to overeat, there is one parent who is legalistic in demanding austerity in the child’s diet. Ask God for wisdom and listen to the advice of those around you.

Children are not all necessarily rebellious, loud, selfish, mean, aggressive, bossy, whiny, or moody. But all children have foolishness bound in their hearts, and they all need to be freed from the bondage that will drag them down their entire lives. Give your children the gifts of wisdom, sobriety, and a sound mind; drive foolishness far from them. My mom always said that a slender willow switch works wonders. I say it works miracles. If you have misgivings about the proper application of the rod, read Mike’s little booklet, In Defense of Biblical Chastisement, again.

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38 comments on “Unbinding Foolishness”

  1. Wow...this helped me so much. Just finished a year of cancer treatment, and there is so much behavior I need to fix in my kids as a mother as a result of being too tired to deal with it. I'm going to keep reading. Thanks.

  2. Is all silliness wrong? Sometimes we get silly with our kids just out of playfulness, but I wonder if it's harder for them to distinguish playfulness from rudeness sometimes. My husband tends to stretch it a little further than I would, but I don't want to be a killjoy. Also, I always thought the foolishness referred to by that verse was more of a lack of the fear of the Lord and His commands, not silliness. I spank them for outright defiance. Have we been mistaken?

  3. I found this article to be very harsh towards children. Being silly is a sin? God told us to train up a child in the way they should go meaning to teach them wrong from right Good moral Not killl their childhood. Foolishness is running out in a street in front of a car, playing with Fire Not Spilling a Bag of food!! This article has taken this scripture totally out of context.Colossians 3:21Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
    Discipline is used to correct and train people to go in the right way.

  4. I'm sorry, but this article broke my heart. While I felt you had some valid points at the beginning, the swiftness to which you advise striking a child for every menial wrong filled me with sorrow. I DO NOT believe this is how Christ implored His followers to treat children. While I agree that infractions and foolishness should be dealt with, I think that advising someone to accompany a rebuke with "a couple swift swats with the rod of your choice" is not at all Christ-like. What you advocate is the breaking of a child's spirit.

  5. I loved this article. There is a definate difference between playfulness and foolishness. Foolishness not only hurts themselves or others, it can lead to a lack of control of the mind, mouth, and body, and spirit. A funny child/person is appreciated and brings joy, but the silly child is annoying and brings embarrassment. The difference is whether they are trying to be funny/get attention. An untrained mind causes a child to not think ahead and consider cause and effect. I am speaking from experience since I was a foolish child. My mind was so deficient that I felt I was in a fog. I couldn't remember what was said to me past 5 seconds. My mom asked me once if I was retarded, and looking back, I was! I had never been trained to think! Thank God for the mind of Christ.

  6. This was what God intended me to read today. I have loosened my training through the years. My two older children are very well behaved and balanced, but my younger 2 have clear problems. Yes they are sweet,funny, and cute. But my 5 yr. old is very foolish sometimes. To such an extent people think she is still 4. She is petetite for her age, but given that she does not speak to anyone outside the close family people conclude she is only 4. She is very smart. I know God wants me to take responsibility again. My 2yr. old is an outright tyrant. I say that with a smile, because I know how good she could be with God's training. I make excuses for her and myself. I think I am tired of the excuses. But I know God will be the only help I have for these trials. Thank you for your wisdom on child training. I dont know of 1 other family in my community that uses these training techniques. So it is encouraging to remember God'd will for this area of our lives. Thank You.

  7. Thanks again for another article that is very needed as my husband and I teach and train our four blessings from God!..I look forward to every nugget of wisdom that God brings into my life and your ministry is full of them..God bless you and thanks again..

  8. This article is awful!! A 5 year old closing those ziplock bags is a joke. Adults can't do it half the time.Maybe the adult should be switched for being foolish enough to rely on a small child to do this task....but wait...if he switched his wife that would be abuse. But switching a child is not. I don't understand. If you need to beat your child to get them listen than you should reevaluate your parenting skills.
    My son is very silly and makes me laugh.

  9. Thanks for the article. I was thinking how much better it would be to have a few licks than a lifetime of parental huffs, sighs, and rolling eyes.
    I was also picturing the
    difference between the look of vain delight on a child's face who is being silly for attention {I saw and did this alot in the college years but it was no longer a matter of snacks and ziplocks} and the face of a child who is delighting in the good things God has done and blessed him with.

  10. I think the part about the ziploc bag was a little harsh, and I don't picture that as foolishness. As Debi points out, however, according to the Bible foolishness is clearly wrong and must be dealt with, no matter how funny we think it is. We've been struggling with this with one of our children, which is why I read this. Thanks, Debi.

  11. There are some good points in the article about foolishness. The main concern for me is foolishness that can cause accidents or harm to my child or others. That does need to be addressed seriously. Switching isn't always the answer. As for the zip lock bag, though it might have been foolish to not close it, switching is to harsh a punishment for it. We can make mistakes and learn from them. That for me would be one for the child to learn from through the parent talking to their child as to why they spilt the food in the first place. I take from articles whats relevant and leave whats not in raising my children. Thanks for the prospective anyway.

  12. I think this article is right on. People who think it's harsh are missing the point. I took it as the child deliberately dumped the nuts out on the seat. This happens, I know. Liberal ideas on parenting are hard to shake, but look what it's gotten us. Teenagers that kill each other. Silly can turn to senseless violence when it ages.

  13. I can understand what is being said about the zip lock. It isn't about a child making an honest mistake... that should not earn a spanking. It is about a child developing sloppy habits on a continual basis. The article says "when [they] could have"... that means the child made a choice not too zip up the bag.

    We have an employee who is very sloppy, and as an adult, this trait is something that is keeping him from moving up in the company. It is so important to nip bad habits in childhood!

    This article is also very careful to note that parents should not swing to the extreme where they are constantly angry, and disciplining.

    "Parents [using] common sense" will not punish a child when it is not necessary. This doctrine is so needed in today's society! I see kids everywhere, who deliberately disobey, and are softly reprimanded with "please don't do that dear... (repeated 50x in 10 minutes)"

    My mother babysat some kids who were mildly to more severely handicapped, and had literally been left to run wild. They were like animals, very destructive, and completely uncontrolled. My mother took them on the condition that she could spank them when necessary. Within a few years, these children were normal, well behaved, and responsible. It was completely due to the fact that my mother did not "spare the rod", but disciplined them with love. They knew she cared about them, and so the discipline caused them to respect her more.

  14. Thanks so much for this article!! We really apperciate all that you do. And in response to all of the negative comments above just check out how all of their children turned out!! That is the kind of parents I want to take scriptural advise from!!

  15. I love reading your articles. I fully believe that as parents we are not only responsible for training up our children and rearing them in the right direction, but that we are also accountable for that task, which truly is an honorable task. Not one that should feel as a burden. I agree with Debbie, although, the bag of peanuts spilling I believe to be more like an accident. I mean, if the child said "No, I will not close that bag!" or you as a parent knew that in that child's heart they were not closing the bag as a DELIBERATE act of defiance, well, then ofcourse a spanking is in order. But in that case I read that as an act of ignorant disobedience. I don't even think disobedience is the word for it. Accidental is more how I read it. I mean if you had told him time and time again to shut the bag and they simply were not doing it, well, then I guess the issue would arise of whether or not they were being deliberately defiant. Anyway, thank you for your website. You books and website have been a blessing to me. It is wonderful that we can write in and even agree to disagree. God bless.

  16. Thanks for this article. It is unfortunate that abusing children has led to the clampdown by governments and various bodies.

    Unfortunately, this clampdown is causing more harm to our children than helping them.

    As parents, God has entrusted these children to our care, and we will one day give an account of how we brought them up - whether it was one of abuse or genuine loving correction.

    However, ignoring a direct command that we should not spare the rod is a recipe for future disaster (of the child). The so-called embarrassment of the parent due to the foolishness of a child is quite minimal compared to a lifetime of pain the child ultimately suffers.

    It is better to nip a problem in the bud than to allow it to grow into a cedar tree. An early correction will set a standard by which the child will live and ultimately adhere to. This I have found to be very true.

    Lastly, I found this article to be quite helpful and balanced:

  17. Well, I was about as silly as they come when I was a kid. It took a few years of being married to a serious command man to make me realize how silly I was. If only my parents had sobered me up in the way Debi describe! I know that would have done the trick.

    I thought it was pretty silly that reviewers kept commenting on the ziplock bag, but because of that I won't resist adding my own comment. Debi must have had good reason to think that might deserve a swat or two. I have several children of my own and I can tell you that most of them would not receive a swat from me for spilling a bag of nuts, but I have one child who is so lazy that he repeatedly slops stuff around. He would be the one that should get the swat for carelessness because he seriously needs to sober up. He just does not care enough to be careful about things. Having been such a silly person I know that such reinforcment is nessesary for sobering up a person. It would have worked wonders on me. Kids that have a silliness problem don't need their parents to just sit back and laugh. Most of us don't realize that such encouragement of unrestrained silliness will cause the child to continue the behavior into adulthood where it is no longer funny or desired. I don't think Debi means for you to beat out all signs of merriment in your child. I don't mind a little comic action. God knows we need funny people. But our children need to know that there is a time and place for being funny. I still like to be funny but have learned to control it and not to go clowning around unwisely. My sloppy lazy kid is our family clown and I would love for him to use his humor for God's glory as he grows. But plain old silliness to show off and in dangerous situations or being careless all the time is not good.

    Back to the ziplock example, I think it is up to each parent to decide if the child needs a good sobering swat. So many people need to just use their own imagination and judgement rather than thinking every example of Debi's was meant to apply to eveyone. Everyone is different so take the principle of the article and use it. I believe basically we are not to encourage our children to out of control silliness or carelessness but to teach them to be sober. I am so greatful to Debi for addressing such a simple issue. I was ignorantly on the road to raising some very silly individuals who lack good judgement and self-control. It is for each parent to decide if their children could use some sobering. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom Debi!!

  18. I don't think that there is anything harsh about this article. When children receive prior training and quick discipline they don't have to be switched very often. I went to a church where the ladies were horrified that I could suggest swatting a child. One lady was scolding me for being so harsh and brutal, but then she looked over at my children and said with amazement "but they seem so happy!"
    One time I had a woman come up to me in a public place and comment on how joyful & happy my children were. Then she said, "I'll bet they have never been spanked in their life!" I couldn't help but laugh. "But that's why they're so happy." I don't think she got it. Children like themselves a lot better when they know that they are living clean obedient lives.
    Loving discipline swiftly applied rather than screaming and yelling leading up to a major correction is what children need. You all are putting your tender heart's need to coddle and protect above the real needs of your children. You all will never know the joy of having a child that truly considers it a joy as well as a duty to obey his or her parents. That kind of radical joy & obedience is probably more than you all can understand.
    May God open our eyes to trust in the Lord, rather than to lean on our own understanding.

  19. "all children have foolishness bound in their hearts, and they all need to be freed from the bondage that will drag them down their entire lives." Oh, how true this statement is. I have been reading the Pearl's books for years, and while all words spoken by man need to be sifted through the Word of God, I have never read anything that has hinted that the Pearl's books/wisdom advocate abuse. On the contrary, their biblical advice has, when used wisely and in the spirit of love, been beneficial in our home. We are the parents to eight children ages 18 months to 7 years (six of whom are adopted). Each displays foolishness in varying degrees--some bound tighter than others. Part of our homeschool lessons include studying the wise man vs. the foolsih man in the book of proverbs. Today, when one of our children acts foolishly, before being disciplined, they will be asked, "was that a wise/foolish choice that you made?" We then go on to remind them what happens to the man (child) who chooses the foolish way, "he is held captive by his own sins...he will die for lack of self control, he will be lost because of his great foolishness (Proverbs)." The world and it's ways are seeping into the Christain home and our children are suffering because of this. "In the last days, there will be difficult times, For people will only love themselves...
    they will be proud and scoffers of God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful." This same chapter in 2 Timothy 3 goes onto to say what is needful and of vast importance, "being taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, that have given you wisdom unto salvation." Let us be honest with our kids and take sin and foolishness seriously, for the sake of their souls!

  20. Thanks for the article. I appreciate the balance in it. Read some posts on folks not wanting to train their kids out of being habitually clumsy, etc. I wonder if the lack of discipline from many Christian parents has anything to do with the great number of Christian young people that volunteer for military service? Just a thought.

  21. Thank you for this article. It's easy to make excuses for our little ones because they are young but that's when the seeds of foolishness must we dealt with. Silly boys do grow to be foolish men. There is a man in our church that has friends there because the Lord told the other men to befriend him. My husband is one and he really didn't want to be his friend. He acts extremely silly if he is excited about anything or if he has too much caffine. We have seen the Lord do a work in him over the past year or so but for a 30 something year old man to act foolishly and then to see him get angry because his children act just like him is really something to behold. Thank you for speaking the truth of silly children.

  22. i really enjoyed your article. It made me once again remember how happy i am that i received corporal punishment as a willful little girl. Shame on those people who allow for foolishness and disobedience in their children. Thank you, Mommy, for spankings!

  23. This is the saddest and most disturbing article I have ever read. God is loving and gentle and forgiving - I cannot even begin to imagine how this message has been so twisted. My sympathy and compassion go out of all children who live in fear and confusion and are not able to celebrate the joys of being a child.

  24. This is exactly what I wish MORE people would do. I HATE to see kids acting in a foolish manner in stores. Nothing comes for my goat faster than this! And in restaurants, I have seen loud, foolish children. In McDonald's , where there IS a playground, I would take kids there, if they were going to play WITHIN REASON. There has to be a way to make kids reasonable, and not very foolish at all.

  25. I too am grieved by this article. There is a difference between misbehavior and accidents. Research shows that non corporal methods of discipline (yes, you can discipline without beating children) is more effective. I'm not going to demonize all spanking, because I think there is a very small window for it.

    Model good behavior and you won't have all these discipline problems. Model how to be continually disappointed and angry and vengeful and you might sow what you reap.

    All of my children are extremely well behaved, joyful and sometimes appropriately silly and I love them. A calm, serious tone is usually all that is needed to discipline. That coupled with consistency and respect. And nobody gets hurt, or dies. No emotional or physical injuries. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this SUMS UP THE LAW OF THE PROPHETS." I would never want someone to hit me for spilling something. Period. Jesus backs me up.

    If you are having serious problems with discipline in your home, I beg of you to seek wise counsel and turn away from anything that tells you to treat your children as you would not want to be treated. There are many, many Godly and great resources out there.

  26. I am an atheist and I am really appalled by the immoral nature of your suggestion. Children don't need their childhood driven from them. They need to have the ability to make mistakes and learn form them. You can help by guiding them - but that requires communication. A switch is not a form of communication. Beating your children breeds fear - not respect. They don't understand why you are beating them and you are not actually helping them to adjust their behavior to make it more appropriate. You are just ensuring they will hide anything from you that could bring your wrath down upon them. Beaten kids are the ones that get pregnant or go out and try drugs because they can't trust their parents enough to talk to them about the situations they are facing. Your kids will think your response will be another smack in the grill - what does that get you?

    You guys are Christians so I doubt you actually read much of the Bible - but try to understand that there are plenty of vicious passages in the Bible that you don't want to use as a parenting strategy. I doubt you want to take your indolent kids to the city gates for stoning - so please put down the magic book and use your minds.

  27. I was brought up like this and it did far more damage than good.

    My question, who gives the parents a few swats for their foolishness? When they accidentally spill the bag of nuts in the car? Or do something for fun only to end up falling and hurting themselves? Or over-eat and over-indulge on sweet treats? Who is swatting the foolishness out of them?

  28. Children aren't foolish... they are human being in learning process (constrution) they become what we tell them they are. So be careful of the words you use towards them!! They are learning and mistakes are part of their learning process. I think the words we use towards them can be too powerful ans hurtful. These are kids not little adults...

  29. Wow!!! I'm shocked!!! Not at the artical, but at some of the responses. The first thought that comes to mind is, Why are you reading on the NGJ website??? The second thought is, I'm so glad you weren't my mother!!!
    My father passed away when I was 7yrs old. My mother raised us on her own and yes she spanked when it was needed. I have to say I was often foolish in my choice of friends. It was my mother who helped me to wise up!!! The consequence: I now have one of those marriages that most people think can't possibly exsist!!! You know, a marriage so awesome that people think your lying when you talk about it!!! If this is the outcome of my mother spanking the foolishness out of me.... Thank God for my Momma!!!!!

  30. I would not spank my child for everything thing that he does. My mom did that to me and although I turned out to be a respectful person, there are other alternatives. Other's have given examples, such as time-out, taking toys or favorite items away. One thing that I am trying to teach my child is to pray and talk to God about his behavior. He is not what I consider foolish, but somewhat agressive toward other children. Hitting others and wanting to get his way has led to him being expelled from day care at the age of 4. Regardless, of what others believe, his father and I do not tolerate this behavior and it not seen at home. Continued prayer, fasting and allowing God to sit on the throne of our hearts are the main keys for behavior corrections. Good luck to each of you with children.

  31. I agree with Wendy. I think some of the negative responses are a result of a major misunderstanding of the discipline methods that the Pearls suggest. Quick, cheerful, and controlled correction is different from harsh, intimidating, or anger-driven spanking. Furthermore, I'm also thankful for my dad's strictness. I see behavior in kids now, and think, "I would NEVER have acted/ talked to an adult in that way!!" I was taught to be respectful, and that did wonders for me in the workforce. I'm now a homeschooling Mama, and praising God for the Pearl's wise leadership in this area.

  32. Wow. What a lazy way to parent. If you don't want to do any difficult parenting, just beat your children! Anyone who honestly believes that a "teenagers today are murdering each other" because they are not being beat enough by their parents is lacking a few I.Q. points. My 3 siblings and I were never beaten. Guess what? My brother makes six figures for a successful government contract. I went to West Point and became a Military Police Captain in the Army. My two younger sisters are both in college and getting straight A's. We are all happy productive citizens. What if God beat us every time we sinned? Is that the example Christ set? Here's a thought- if your child spills some nuts from a ziplock bag, how about maybe taking a few moments out of your life and actually parent! Tell them the nuts belong in the bag, not the floor. Have them help yoou pick them up. Show them how to close the bag correctly. Tell them if they keep spilling them they will not get to have them in the car anymore. Sorry, busy people, I know it takes a little more patience and requires you to actually talk to/teach your children, but beating them is not the panacea for every discipline problem.

  33. It takes a lot more time and patience to talk to your child and explain how to do it correctly.

    I have a lot of respect for parents who have well-behaved kids who were raised on time outs and removal of privileges.

    I have no respect for parents who hit their kids. OF COURSE those kids are well-behaved--they have been raised in fear! Too easy.

    Creative parenting is much harder, and more work.