I was in a doctor’s waiting room when I met “Tiny Terror” and his mom. Tiny Terror was bouncing off the walls, and Mom seemed to have no way to control him. I thought the older couple sitting in the room was his grandparents. After all, Tiny Terror was on the floor in between the older gentleman’s legs banging a toy against the wall. Finally, Mom said that Tiny Terror was going to “time out.” It did not seem that Tiny Terror considered that an unpleasant prospect. When they had left the room, I learned that the people I assumed as “Grandparents” were just perturbed victims of Tiny Terror. The older gentleman commented aloud, “That boy is out of control and is the boss of his mother.”
How do we avoid raising a Tiny Terror? We have to realize that we are in a struggle to decide who is boss. The parent who can give consistent and firm discipline can win that battle. Consistency of consequences for unwanted behaviors is important because children will attempt to wear us down in this battle over wills. Punishment needs to “unpleasant” in order to be a deterrent (cf. Hebrews 12:11). Timeout can be unpleasant if done correctly, but in Tiny Terror’s case timeout was not dreaded.
I still think there is a place for spanking, and by the way, so does scripture (Proverbs13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15). Dr. James Dobson gives a number of good guidelines in his books. He suggests mild spankings could occur beginning at about 15 months. Spankings should be infrequent and reserved for defiance. Corporal punishment might continue to ages 9 to 12, but again are reserved for rebellion. I realize that there have been negative studies of spanking. However, I don’t believe researchers have carefully distinguished between the controlled corporal punishment as outlined by Dobson and the swats done out of anger and frustration. I too deplore the latter and think they fail as effect discipline.
Other punishments must also be a part of the parent’s tool kit. They will include timeout, loss of privileges, and work, although these must be tailored to the child’s age and abilities. Punishment shouldn’t be done out of anger. It should include talking about why the child is being corrected and should also include the expression of the parent’s love for the child. Discipline is not just about negative behavior. Discipline also includes reward and praise for appropriate behavior.
Parents should be clear about boundaries for their children. It is natural for children to test the boundaries set by parents, which is why consistency is important. Don’t make threats that you are not going to carry through on. Idle threats only allow the child to push your buttons and the edges of the boundaries you’ve set. If we are consistent, we won’t have to use our anger as the means of control. We can gain compliance before it reaches the anger level. Also be careful about promises. Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep.
Raising children also includes a great deal of instruction. We are instilling values and morals. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NASB). We should be talking about spiritual things and values in our daily lives (see Deuteronomy 4:9, 6:7, Psalm 78:4-7, and Ephesians 6:1-4).
Few parents would want to claim perfection in child rearing. We all make mistakes, but there are common sense ways of being in control—ways to avoid “Tiny Terror.”