Top 10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

Discipline without Spanking: 10 Other IdeasIt’s Tuesday, the day when I brainstorm 10 ideas about something. And today we’re going to deal with how to discipline without spanking.

Earlier this month I created a bit of a furor when I wrote about what abuse is (and what abuse isn’t), and the comments section went off on a bit of a tangent about whether or not spanking is abuse.

Personally, we never spank, though I don’t think spanking is always wrong.

But I do think that in the vast majority of cases there are ways to discipline without spanking that teach the lesson better.

That’s what one woman wants to know, who writes:

I am a mother of three and a proud grandmother of one beautiful little girl. Her mother has had a few problems over the years and when my granddaughter was two I took over care of her full time. She is a sweet little thing and a constant joy in this old lady’s life, but she does exhibit some of the regrettable traits of her mother. She is 6 now, and I am trying to instill discipline and common sense in the child early on so she can be spared some of the pain rambunctiousness can bring in adult life. To this end, I have been wrestling with how to punish the girl. When I was a child, my daddy whipped me with a switch and I could never bring myself to do the same to my own dear babies. I managed them with a firm hand to a bare fanny and that worked well for us. Now with my granddaughter I am just not sure what to do. Times have changed and there are multiple perspectives on child rearing. What should I do with my grandbaby?

Just one quick note before I launch into how to discipline. I know that in a situation like this it’s natural to think, “oh, there she is, acting like her mother.” But that’s a dangerous road to go down. Try, as much as possible, to see your granddaughter as her own unique person, and don’t read into her the fears or regrets you have about her mother. That tends to backfire, and isn’t really fair to the little girl.

As to how to discipline, my motto has always been that the punishment should fit the crime. It should be immediate, it should be in proportion to how serious the infraction was, and it should be consistent (if you punish for the behaviour once, you shouldn’t let it go the next two times).  And before you think of punishing your kids, make sure that you’ve got your own yelling and temper under control!

Okay, whew. With that long introduction, how would I punish a 6-year-old–or an 8-year-old, or a 10-year-old–without spanking? Here are some ideas:

Top Ten TuesdayTop 10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

1. Use a Time Out

If the child isn’t playing well, is whining, or is acting up, you can remove the child from the situation and require them to sit still for about a minute per year of age. This often helps them calm down, since it gives them time to deal with their emotions. The first few times you use a time out you may have to keep plunking the child back in the time out seat, since they may not stay there. Reset the timer every time you do. They’ll learn soon enough!

To make this work well: Issue a warning first. Do NOT do a time out in their bedroom, which is often a fun place to be. 

Time outs are best used when the issue is one of attitude. Unfortunately, time outs have become the go-to method for discipline for almost all infractions, even though there are often better ways to deal with other problems. For instance:

2. Remove a Toy

Remember–the punishment should fit the crime. If your children have been fighting over a toy when you told them to stop, the best thing to do is to remove the toy, not put the child in a time-out. Put it in a box marked “jubilee box” and every Sunday it’s a Jubilee Day and they get the toys back. But they stay there until Sunday. If your child is using a toy inappropriately, like banging it or treating it in a way that it could break, they lose it. If your child has refused to clean up a toy, like lego, they lose it.

To make this work well: Do not take away a toy that is necessary for sleeping. If they have a bunny they sleep with, that’s their comfort toy. It isn’t fair to take that away.

3. Lose Some Technology Time

If your child doesn’t come for dinner when you call because they’re engrossed in TV or a video game (after you have given a warning or two), they can lose some technology time. If your child has been disrespectful and rude, you can take away TV privileges for a week or iPad privileges.

4. Leave

Is your child screaming in a store? Leave. Screaming in a restaurant? Leave. Sit in the car with the while the other people finish their food, and get takeout for you. The child won’t like being in the car. Don’t say very much to the child–a simple, “I’m sorry that we’re here, and I really wanted that lunch. But we can’t sit there if you can’t behave.” Then they can scream and yell, but you’re in the car and you’re not budging.

When you get home, you can then tell them that since they took some time from you and made you miss lunch, they have to “give” you some time by completing one of your chores.

5. Do Someone Else’s Chores

Any time a child causes someone else to lose time, the best punishment is to have to do something for them so that you “give them back” some time. If your child made you miss lunch, like above, they can do the dishes for you. If they made a sibling miss something, they can make the sibling’s bed for a week. If they made all of you miss something, they can do one thing for each person.

This is an absolutely crucial one. I firmly believe that children need to be taught that their actions have ramifications on others. This is also the problem with using the “time out” method, or even the spanking method, for every infraction. It doesn’t teach them that. A far better method of punishment is to say, “who was inconvenienced by what you did?” Think of all the people. Now you have to do one thing for each person. They’ll soon learn that what they do impacts others.

6. Miss an Event

If your child is habitually late for something, then they can miss it. If they wanted to go to a party, but they aren’t ready in time after repeated warnings, they cannot go (I wouldn’t recommend this for the first infraction, but if you have a child who will never get ready when you warn them, it may be worth driving this home).

How to make this work well: Don’t deprive them of church. Church isn’t a privilege; church is something we give to God in worship. Missing church should never be used as a punishment.

7. Miss a Sport

Here’s a tough one. What if your child has done something really bad, and you want to ground them and teach them a lesson? Missing sports is often seen as off-limits because other people are counting on them and they have made a commitment.

That’s true. But if your child is not keeping up with commitments at home, by perhaps not doing homework that needs to be completed before you go to a sports tournament, or never doing chores, then I believe that there are times that missing a team event should be on the table. The child has to learn that they need to meet their commitments, but the most important commitments are always the ones at home. If they don’t meet those ones, they don’t get the chance to meet other ones.

How to make this work well: Tell the coach why you’re doing it. Warn the child beforehand. This isn’t a one-warning thing; over a period of days or weeks let them know that if they can’t get their act together, they may have to miss sports.

8. Write a list of what you like/admire about someone

Do you have siblings who squabble? Whenever our kids fought or called each other names, we would make them each tell the other 3 things they admired or liked about the other. And they couldn’t be the same things!

I’m a big believer in having children do this rather than having them say “I’m sorry.” I absolutely believe in apologizing, and I do think that children should ask for forgiveness. But I also believe that this should be done out of a truly repentant heart. Honesty is so crucial. God looks at the heart, not at the actions. So if your child is still angry, telling them “you have to apologize to your sister before we can go get ice cream” isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. What if your child isn’t sorry? They have now lied in order to get ice cream.

On the other hand, there is something to admire or like about everyone. You can be totally angry at someone and still come up with things that you admire and like. So have your kids say these things to each other. It changes the tone of the relationship.

And yes, work towards having them apologize. Model it. Pray with them about it. But I wouldn’t force it. That’s really between them and God.

9. Work it Out with a Sibling

If sibling squabbles are a permanent fixture in your house, and most of your emotional energy is spent refereeing, decide to throw in the towel. Tell your kids they have to go into the room and they’re not allowed out until they have reached an acceptable solution–that you believe is acceptable (in other words, the older one can’t just force or pressure the younger one to agree to something). Having to work it out takes you out of the equation so you’re not as aggravated, and makes your children learn problem solving skills.

10. Pay Restitution

Finally, if your child has damaged something that belongs to someone else, they should have to make up for it. If they have some money, they should pay an appropriate amount. They may not be able to afford to pay everything, but they can throw in some money. They can do chores for someone. They can fix it. But if they have actually damaged someone else’s property, just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. They need to learn, again, that their actions impact others.

So there you go! As you see, I would use different strategies to discipline without spanking depending on what is happening. Each parent should have multiple strategies that they use, because using just one–like a time out–really doesn’t teach them. Remember, disciplining a child is about teaching them important lessons, it’s not just about punishing them. So make sure that you use some methods that teach them, “what I do impacts others”, “I can’t act up in public”, “I need to respect other people’s belongings”, “I have to live up to my commitments.” These are all such important things, and if we’re consistent with discipline, we’ll find that our children internalize these lessons.

Let me know: what techniques did you use to teach your children? How did that work for you? If you used discipline techniques other than spanking, what did you try?

Reader Question: How Do I Stop Yelling at My Kids?

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s question is a common one: “how do I stop yelling at my kids?”

A reader writes:

I yell at my kids too much. I’m just really busy and I don’t want to be this kind of mom but I find myself often yelling at them when they don’t listen to me. I don’t want to be like that, but how do I stop yelling at my kids? What should I do to calm down?

That’s such a common problem, and I hope I can offer some helpful thoughts!

How do I stop yelling at my kids? Thoughts on strategies to keep calm--that actually work!Are you Yelling at Your Kids Because You’re Too Busy?

Most of the time I yell it’s because I’m aggravated. And the reason I’m aggravated is because I have plans, and things need to get done, and other people aren’t getting with the program. So there are two elements to this problem:

1. I have plans that aren’t getting met

2. Other people aren’t getting with the program

We yell because we think the real issue is #2. But what if it’s actually #1?

Let’s take two scenarios and see how this could play out:

You need to leave to pick up the older kids from school at 3:45. Once you get them you’ll be going directly to karate lessons, so you need all their gear. Because you’ll be at karate so long, you really need to have dinner ready to go when you get home, so you have to have something ready to go. Before you go to school, then, you plan to cut up all the veggies for the stir fry you want to make, marinate the meat, and get the rice cooker on. That way dinner will only take 15 minutes once you get home.

Your younger two go down for a nap at 1. Instead of getting dinner ready, you decide to check Facebook. They wake up at 2:30, but they’re playing relatively well, and so you start browsing the news about the Olympics and other things. At 3:10 you realize you really need to get going. You jump up from your computer and start cutting vegetables. At that moment the kids, who had been playing well for forty minutes, start whining about wanting a snack. You’re annoyed. Then you realize that you never switched the wash into the dryer. You spend the next twenty minutes yelling at everybody as you run around like a chicken with her head cut off.

Here’s another scenario:

10-year-old Ben has basketball practice tonight and 12-year-old Jessica has hockey practice. You have to be at one rink for practice at 6:15 and the other one at 6:35. You won’t be home from everything until 8:30. You need to have homework done and dinner made and consumed before you leave the house at 6:05. But your husband doesn’t get home to help until 5:45, and you don’t get home until 5. While you’re making dinner you’re trying to get the kids to do their homework, but they’re being really slow. They’re whining. They’re waiting for you to fill in the answers, and you can’t do that and brown ground beef at the same time. You’re really aggravated because you’re only taking them to sports to be nice to them, but they won’t cooperate. You lose it.

Do you see what’s happening in both of those scenarios? The children are behaving perfectly normally. The problem is not that the children won’t get with the program; it’s that you have made decisions which makes it virtually impossible for the children to cooperate.

In the first instance, you chose to use time when you could have been getting things done to browse the computer; in the second, you’ve overscheduled the kids’ lives, and after a long day kids don’t always want to do homework right away.

The problem, then, isn’t that the kids aren’t being good. It’s that what you’re asking them (and what you’re asking of yourself) may very well be unreasonable.

Suggestion: Take a look at the last 3 times you really yelled at your kids. Analyze the situation. What was going on? Were you in a hurry? What was your schedule like? Can you trace it back? Is there something that YOU can do differently to prevent getting annoyed with everyone and everything?

Are you Yelling at Your Kids Because You’re Afraid of Something?

Anger is often a secondary emotion. We often feel anger because it’s “safer” to feel than some of the other emotions–insecurity, fear, guilt. So when someone pushes a button that triggers a “scary” emotion, we often react in anger, sometimes without realizing what the real trigger is.

Look at this scenario:

You’ve been teaching your 7-year-old letters and phonics for several years now, and he’s not getting it. He has a little book from school that he’s supposed to read to you at bedtime, but he couldn’t care less. He won’t even try. You’re frustrated and scared that he’ll never read, and you blow up at him when he won’t put in the effort. You want him to grow up to get a good job, not be stuck in some go-nowhere job.

In the meantime, you and your husband are having money issues. Your husband never finished his education, though you do have some college. And you’re scared your son will repeat the pattern. You’re scared, and you yell.

Or perhaps the house is always a mess and the kids seem to squabble a lot, and you find yourself yelling constantly. But if you analyze your feelings, it’s really that you’re scared you’re a failure. All you ever wanted was to be a wife and mom, and now you can’t even keep a house under control. What kind of mother are you?

Suggestion: Next time you find yourself yelling at your children, ask yourself: what am I really feeling here? Am I scared of something? Am I feeling guilty about something? Pray about that feeling instead.

Dayspring Peace Mug

Run “Yelling Interception” by Taking Time to Talk to Your Kids

You’re trying to feed the baby and your toddler is trying to crawl up in your lap and is making the baby cry. Or maybe you’re trying to talk on the phone and your 4-year-old is constantly pulling at your leg and asking for something. It seems as if you can never get any time alone, away from constant demands!

Here’s the truth: kids like to “check in” and know that they’re secure and safe. They know that when they have your undivided attention. If you can give your child some undivided attention throughout the day, even if it’s just in short spurts, they’re far more likely to let you have some of your own alone time later, as I wrote in this post on how to prevent temper tantrums.

Suggestion: Before you start something where you need the kids to leave you alone, take some 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2) time with them. Need to nurse the baby in an hour? Pull the toddler up on your lap now and read a story. Need to clean the house today? Before you start, get on the floor and play a few games with the kids. Make it a habit of giving your kids some attention before you need them to leave you in peace.

Set Consequences for Bad Behavior, and Let the Consequences Do the Work–Not the Yelling

Yelling is not a punishment, yet when we’re mad at our kids, often the first thing we do is yell at them. If that’s all we ever do, though, kids often learn to drown it out. It doesn’t phase them. You yell; you vent some steam; but nothing really changes.

How do I stop yelling at my kids? Try doing something way more effective! It’s better to have consequences for bad behaviour that are immediate, that are known, and that are obvious. So, for instance, if you tell kids to clean up, and then you give another warning, and they don’t, they lose their iPod for a week. You don’t have to yell; you just take the iPod away. (Here’s a bunch of effective discipline techniques for children that won’t induce yelling).

I’d suggest having three simple levels of punishments that will work for a variety of things. You could take away iPods or other electronics; you could take away video games and TV; or you could take away outings or fun things. If they’re younger, they could lose a toy. But just have three consequences for each child that work, and put them on the fridge. You can decide then if it’s a Defcon 1 situation or a Defcon 3.

When you start following through with consequences, kids usually start listening to you, and listening to the warning, better.

Practice A Serious Voice–not a Yelling Voice

Have you ever noticed how little kids especially are more inclined to listen when dad says something? My husband, a pediatrician, says it’s because dads have deeper, and thus scarier, voices.

We moms often have this sing-song voice. And we spend our lives saying things like this:

Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?

5 minutes later:

Guys, it’s really time to start putting things away and getting going.

5 minutes later:

I don’t see anyone cleaning up their stuff! Come on, we’ve got to get going!

5 minutes later:

(Yelling) I said to clean up!!!!! Why do you never listen to me!!!!????

But what did that sound like to a child? You’re likely using the same voice that you use for everyday conversation. Most women don’t vary our voice tones very much.

Suggestion: If you have something you really want your children to do, use a lower voice and fewer words. Instead of saying, “Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?”, try “Children, Please start cleaning up now.” In a deep voice. Change your tone, and issue a command, don’t make a statement. Let kids know you mean business, and it may not escalate like that. It will feel unnatural, like you’re being mean, but try it! Kids need to know the difference between you talking to them and you asking them to do something.

God Wants to Help You Stop Yelling at Your Kids

I hope some of those suggestions resonate with you! We all yell for different reasons, and often different triggers set us off. Recognizing those triggers, and seeing the cause, can help us substantially.

But I also want to reassure you that God wants to help you with this. He doesn’t want you yelling at your precious children, since they are also His precious children. He says in Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

But He also says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. You can do this because God can strengthen you and help you! So when you feel weak, ask Him to help you be a great mother to these kids. Ask Him to give you patience. Seek after patience in other areas of your life, too. Seek after peace and affirmation from God, so you don’t need it from your kids. And know that even this struggle can help bring you closer to God, and through that He can open the window onto some things in your heart, and can help healing you and your whole family.

Dayspring I Can Do All Things Plaque

Now let me know: If you’re trying to stop yelling at your kids, which scenario do you most identify with? Feeling busy? Feeling fear? Finding that kids just don’t listen to you? Which suggestion spoke to you? Or do you have other ones for us? Let me know in the comments!

Help! We’re Living with Our Parents: When 3 Generations are Under 1 Roof

Living with Our Parents: Making a Multigenerational Household Work

We live in a time where it is not uncommon to find three generations living under the same roof. Maybe you and your husband are going through financial difficulties, and you’ve had to move in with one set of parents. Maybe your parents are going through financial difficulties and have had to move in with you! Or maybe one of your parents is widowed, and just can’t live on their own anymore.

Sometimes life throws us these curve balls, and we have a living situation that we did not expect. Living with our parents isn’t the norm, and it can cause panic!

But some cultures have lived this way for millenia. It isn’t really that uncommon. And while to the North American mind it may not be ideal, there are definitely ways to make it work.

Divide Up Household Responsibilities and Establish Rules

Set up a system so that each night someone is assigned the dishes, trash, and so forth. If everyone makes a contribution, there is less likely resentment or argument will occur – especially if these responsibilities are divided up and assigned from the start. Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of assuming that certain courtesies are common knowledge to everyone; as a family, agree on what activities can and cannot be tolerated. For instance, is there a “quiet hour” that should be enforced? Do dishes need to be cleaned right away so they don’t pile up in the sink? By laying out expectations, you’re helping everyone to circumvent potential arguments. In order to keep track of who is suppose to do what, consider purchasing or creating a family calendar or organizer like some of the examples found here.

I know that’s hard to do because it puts “rules” on what is supposed to be a “relationship”. And we’re often uncomfortable talking about rules with our parents. But it’s better to get it out in the open now! Say something like, “This may be awkward, but we love you and we appreciate you and we don’t want the way we’re living to wreck our relationship. So let’s get ground rules so that there aren’t any misunderstandings.”

Decide on Child Care

Here’s the thorniest issue: You’ve moved in with mom and dad, but you don’t parent the same way. You want the kids to only eat at meals, with healthy snacks in between. Your mom loves to give them sugar. Or maybe you think your mom and dad are too strict, and they discipline the children needlessly.

They’re your kids, and you want to stay the parent. But if you’re living in your parents’ house, especially if it’s because you’ve lost your job or house, it can be hard to stand up to your parents. They have the upper hand.

At the same time, it really isn’t reasonable to ask that they never discipline the kids or never interfere. It’s also THEIR house, and if excess noise bothers them, even if you think it shouldn’t be a problem, it is.

So talk about what rules you want for the kids, and come to an agreement that you will be the one to discipline them when you are in the home. If you’re relying on your parents to look after the kids, though, you have to give them some leeway, even if they do things that you’d prefer they not do. If your parents are crossing a line, then you simply must move out. But if they just do things differently, then you’ll have to learn to show some grace and respect their boundaries, too. It’s the hardest part of living together!

Create a Safe Environment–for the Little Ones, but also for Seniors

Make sure your home is a safe haven for everyone. Obviously that means child-proofing the house, but maybe it means “senior proofing” the house, too! Make sure that the floors are clear of clutter (or tiny legos!) they can trip over. Install guardrails near the toilet and in the shower and make sure that the stairs are well-lit. In order to free yourself and your children from the burden of worrying about the older adults when you are out of the home, consider purchasing a medical alert system, like those found here; this way, the wearer can receive immediate attention, regardless of whether you’re nearby. Like your other security systems, this may never be activated, but to be safe than sorry.

Devise a System to Handle Problems

Communication and compromise are both extremely important when living with other people – especially in a multigenerational home.  Once a month, call a family meeting where everyone has a chance to express their own thoughts on what is working, what is not, and what needs to be fixed. My daughter lives with three other girls while she’s at university, and they have house rules printed on the fridge, and periodic meetings to check in and make sure everyone’s fine. If the meetings are regular and expected then resentment doesn’t have a chance to build up.

Respect Privacy

Are kids allowed in Grandma and Grandpa’s room? What about the office? Make sure your kids know what rooms to steer clear of. And what if you and your husband need some alone time? Consider paying for a dinner out for your parents. Sure it costs something, but if they’re letting you live with them, it’s relatively minor compared to rent. And make sure that you and the kids leave Grandma and Grandpa alone at least one night a week, too! Head out to a park, or go see a movie, or head to the library. Give them some time without you. In fact, as much as possible find things to do with the kids outside the home, whenever you can, to give your parents some peace. When the weather’s better, make picnic lunches. Have a homework time for school aged kids in the local library. Acknowledge that you want to give your parents some alone time, and then they’re more likely to give you alone time, too!

 Make Time for Family Bonding

Sometimes, though, instead of alone time you need together time! The best way to get over petty disagreements is to also have times when you’re laughing together. Whether it’s dinner together a few nights a week, or a family game night, it’s important to come together as a family. Sometimes finding ways for the generations to bond over hobbies does wonders, too! If Grandma is feeling overwhelmed with all the kids underfoot, what about spending time with just the oldest girl and teach her how to knit?

Hopefully the situation living with three generations is temporary, but if you set up rules, have times to talk about problems, and work on both bonding and on privacy, you may just find it works quite well (and saves a ton of money!). Most problems come when people don’t prepare for them, and often the reason that we have to all move in together is precipitated by a health or financial crisis, which doesn’t exactly make planning easy. But once the crisis has calmed down, take these steps to make it easier. And hopefully you’ll find that love really can multiply.

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On What is Abuse, What is Not Abuse, and Why We Should Be Very Careful

Reader Question of the Week
On Monday I like to post reader questions and take a stab at answering them. Usually I post a question that came in by email or on my Facebook Page. Today I thought I’d do something different, and respond to some comments on some posts last week.

I suppose I’m a glutton for punishment, but last week’s two posts dealing with abuse drew so many comments and got me all riled up, and I thought something more needed to be said. I’m not sure I clarified well last week that I do believe abuse is real, and I’m not sure I was clear about what is abuse and what is not. I wrote that piece for a specific purpose–sometimes we use the word “abuse” too cavalierly. But the discussion veered from there in the comments, and I thought clarification was in order, especially since so many people were asking me about what abuse really is.

So I want today to talk about what is abuse, what is NOT abuse, and why we need to be very careful about labelling things as abusive. If we aren’t careful, then we’re not really taking abuse seriously.
What Is Abuse, What Is Not, and The Difference

Let me start with a story.

When my daughter Katie was 4, she and her sister had been bugging me all morning, being loud and fooling around and not listening to anything I said. I told them to clean up. They did not. I told them again. Rebecca did. Then Katie started messing it all up again. In anger I hauled Katie up by an arm and plunked her down on the floor, where she promptly fell and hurt herself. She burst into tears, I burst into tears, and we had a good hug. That’s the only time I remember really hurting one of my children (and it wasn’t that bad), but I felt terrible.

I was not an abusive mother, because that was not typical of our relationship. However, had I acted in exactly the same way, everyday of our lives, Katie would have been better off removed from our home. What I did was wrong. But it was not abusive, because it was not typical of our relationship, nor did it cause much harm. But if I did it everyday, even though it didn’t cause much harm, it still would be abusive.

The key in this case is two factors: first, the severity of the harm; and second, the overall context of the relationship.

I think much of what we call verbal and emotional abuse fits into this category. In some cases it rises to the level of abuse, and in some cases it does not. It depends on whether the behaviour is part of a larger pattern or not.

An abusive relationship is one in which the abused person spends much of their emotional energy trying to figure out how not to provoke the abuser.

They hide their true feelings and their true thoughts. They try to gauge the abuser’s mood. Their lives become characterized by fear. What makes the situation abusive is not just the behaviour, but the fact that the behaviour forms a pattern. And rarely is it only one behaviour; it is usually several. The spouse yells; the spouse is jealous; the spouse withholds affection unless you completely conform; the spouse goes behind your back and separates you from friends; the spouse demands an accounting of all of your actions. There are few behaviours which are automatically abusive in and of themselves (the exception being sexual abuse or real physical harm, which are always abusive), but the pattern of behaviour can constitute abuse. That’s why I don’t like the emphasis on “is what he did abusive?” Sometimes someone can be abusive without doing any one thing that’s particularly horrible. It’s a whole pattern where a spouse has to deny their feelings and placate the other, and be constantly told that they’re stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.

Let’s take the spanking-with-a-belt example, because that’s something that all of us can easily understand.

Personally, I don’t spank. I never thought it was a very effective method of discipline, and we used other methods when the girls were young that worked fine. I know some people do spank, and I understand. Most western countries, though, make it illegal to spank with anything other than one’s hand, and I agree with that.

However, pretty much everyone I know of my generation and those generations before me was spanked with belts, and the vast majority of them turned out okay. To say that spanking with a belt is abusive, then, to me, also says that they would be better off if they had been removed from the home, and that’s not so.

Do I think it was right for them to spanked with a belt? No. Do I think it was abuse? Not necessarily. In many cases it would be, and I’d point people to the critiques of Debi and Michael Pearl’s books To Train Up a Child, and the children who have been killed using their methods of corporal punishment, as examples. But at the same time, I’m supremely uncomfortable saying it always is abuse.

Let’s flush this out a bit using two different examples.

In Family A, this spanking happens for the slightest infraction. It is often arbitrary; sometimes the children get whipped for something, and sometimes they can get away with it. The children are often punished for their feelings–they aren’t allowed to be sad, or angry, and anything other than happiness is considered a betrayal. Even if they’re not punished, they’re ignored if they don’t behave perfectly and put on a smile.  (This, by the way, is quite characteristic of some of the harsh discipline techniques advocated in some parts of Christianity. In To Train Up a Child, for instance, the Pearls actually advocate that if the child is not misbehaving, that you set up a situation to tempt the child, so that you can then spank them with a plumbing line and teach them.) The children thus spend their lives trying to cover up their emotions, and trying to mollify their parents to prevent a spanking or to avoid entrapment. Whenever they want something, they second guess themselves, wondering if this will invoke anger. They thus have a difficult time figuring out what they think about anything. Their whole emotional and psychological well-being is affected.

In Family B, the spanking with the belt follows a large infraction. The child knows it will be the punishment for the specific instance of disobedience. It’s rare; it really is only used when something huge is done. The rest of the time, the relationship tends to be a loving one, where the child is able to share true feelings.

In both cases the spanking with the belt is wrong; in only one case is it part of the pattern of abuse.

And that, to me, is the issue: when we debate whether or not something is abuse, we’re usually not talking about severe beatings or sexual abuse (at least I hope we all agree that these things are automatically abusive, and you must take steps to keep yourself and your children safe). We’re talking about the grey areas: the yelling, the lashing out, the sulking, the controlling, etc. We often ask, “is this behaviour abusive?”

I think it’s the wrong question. It’s not whether the behaviour is abusive; it’s whether or not it forms a pattern of an abusive relationship. The same behaviour, in two different contexts, could mean something quite different.

I think the problem with our language is that we don’t have a word for behaviour that is WRONG, but isn’t part of a pattern of an abusive relationship, and so we call everything that is dysfunctional “abusive” to stress the severity of it. There’s two problems with that:

If everything is abusive, then nothing is. It diminishes the seriousness of abuse.

And secondly, it can make it difficult to deal with problems that aren’t as serious because we’re labeling someone as evil. That’s never a good way to inspire change.

There is behaviour which is absolutely wrong: blowing up at your family; manipulating family members; trying to control family members; getting overly jealous; picking at family members. It is ALWAYS wrong to do these things. But it is not ALWAYS abuse. It really depends on the nature of the rest of the relationship.

Abuse is a term which should constitute the sum total of the relationship and its effects on your mental and physical health.

I think we need a better word to denounce things like temper tantrums and rages and picking, when it doesn’t cross the threshold of abuse. We need a way to condemn it, and say, “it is not right to speak this way or act this way with your wife/husband/kids”. Instead we seem to have only one word, and that word is “abuse”. But as soon as you tell someone they’re being abused, it’s like saying “you should leave.”

What if the rest of your relationship is pretty good? You don’t walk on eggshells all the time; you just have hard periods occasionally. So you don’t want to leave. Or you decide leaving isn’t worth it. You now feel like you can’t complain about the behaviour, because it’s either abuse or it’s fine. And that’s not true.

There’s that middle, where the whole relationship isn’t abusive but someone is still doing wrong.

We need a word, like “abuse”, to mean:

The pattern of the way you are being treated is so harmful to your physical and/or emotional well-being that you need to distance yourself from your abuser.

And then we also need a word that means:

The way you are being treated is wrong and is harmful, and you have the right to speak up against it and to try to change it.

We need both words, so that we are able to tell someone:

You do have permission to leave. It honestly is okay.

But then we are also able to tell someone:

It is natural and right that you are hurt, and we all need to take action to change the behaviour.

If we don’t have both words, then we don’t really have the tools to help families in crisis.

In one case we may blow things out of proportion, which doesn’t solve the problem; and in the other, we may not treat things seriously enough.

I wish we had both words. If we did, I think we’d get into fewer arguments like the one last week, and it would be easier for us to address problems in the home without escalating them.

I think the reaction to articles like these largely depends on your own cultural framework. In some Christian circles, where an interpretation of submission includes never speaking up for yourself, abuse likely is unreported and not taken seriously enough. In other Christian circles, like the one I’m in, as soon as someone says the word “abuse” we all run around like  we have to protect someone from Evil Incarnate. It’s taken too seriously. Depending on which culture you’re in, you’ll likely read this article, and the one last week, with very different conclusions, and those conclusions likely relate less to what I’ve said than to what you have seen around you. Please keep that in mind in the comments!

I’m not going to participate in the comments today because I really said all I need to say in last week’s posts and in today’s, and I’m busy with other projects. But feel free to leave a comment if you’d like!

Winning the Parenting Power Struggle

Power Struggles with Children: How to Stop the Drama by Enforcing ConsequencesEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week, let’s talk about power struggles with children.

I recently read about a dad who dialed 911 when he discovered that his teenage daughter had posted naked pictures of herself on Facebook. He was desperate, and to him this was an emergency. The dispatcher, though, wasn’t amused. She wasn’t in the position to do anything about it, because she wasn’t the girl’s parent. He was.

He was in the midst of the battle of all battles: power struggles with children.

Yet too often, by the time we have teenagers, we feel helpless.

Parents, there simply is no one else. You are in the unique position to influence your teens’ lives, and you need to take it. Does your teen have a cell phone? Does your teen have a computer? Internet access? A comfortable room? Dessert? None of those things is a necessity, and likely most of them are paid for by you. Therefore, you have leverage.

Unfortunately, by the time the Parenting Power Struggle rages in the teen years, winning it is much harder. Power struggles with children are easier to defeat than power struggles with teenagers. Yet too many parents give up in the early years, perhaps without even realizing it. Their kids don’t want to go to bed until midnight, so they stay up late. The kids want to eat junk food, and are picky eaters when anything else is in front of them, so the parents serve chicken fingers. Because of the absence of arguments, the parents feel like the children are obeying—after all, they’ve found no need for discipline. But children can’t obey if no rules are laid down. The parents have thrown in the towel.

But what happens when we throw in the towel too early?

We don’t end the Parenting Power Struggle. We simply delay it. Think of the amount of freedom that you give your kids as the shape of an upside-down pyramid. When kids are little, you don’t give them much leeway. But because of this, they learn to make good decisions, since you’re providing structure, security, and a moral foundation. As they age, you can give them progressively more freedom—the wide part of the pyramid—because they won’t abuse it.

If, instead, we let our little ones rule, you’ll find your parenting more like a right-side up pyramid: you’ll have to crack down hard in their teen years. Just when you should be loosening the strings to let them out of the nest, you’re tightening them because you’re scared of what they’ll do.

So how do we enforce standards when they’re young?

It doesn’t involve being mean, and it certainly doesn’t involve yelling at your kids. If you yell a lot but your child never actually changes his or her behaviour, then you haven’t done anything except raise the volume of the house and teach your child to tune you out. How much better to remain calm, express your disapproval, and then remove a toy, enforce a time out, or take away TV privileges. Do something with consequences, and kids will learn. Raise the roof, and kids will keep doing whatever they want to, they’ll just do it more sullenly.

This kind of effective, consequence-based discipline is hard, though, because it requires consistency, and some days we just don’t have the energy to deal with a kid who is screaming because they have lost their game boy, or their Lego, or their chance to watch cartoons.

That’s why we need that long-term perspective. Put in that work in the first five years, and you’ll have less of a chance that your daughter will be broadcasting X-rated pictures of herself ten years later. Don’t be afraid to be the boss, whether your child is 7 or 17. Steering kids in the right direction is what a parent is for. And there really is no substitute.

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Reader Question of the Week: Appropriate Discipline for Teenagers

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week’s question was asked on my Facebook Page with some intriguing discussion:

When disciplining teenage boys say, age 18, what types of punishments to you give when you really mean business??? And do you wives submit to your husbands even though you may not agree with HIS method, whipping for instance? (Spare the rod, spoil the child?)

What do you think? Let’s help her in the comments!

UPDATE: Thanks for all of you who answered already! I thought I’d better chime in soon, though, just to make my views clear. I think whipping is NEVER appropriate, no matter the age. I also think that there are many discipline techniques that are far more effective than spanking, and I am not a big fan of spanking at all, especially for children over 6. I think it CAN be done appropriately, but parents who can spank appropriately are also good enough parents that they can probably figure out alternative consequences that teach the reap/sow principle better.

As for discipling an 18-year-old, it’s too late. Whipping an 18-year-old? That’s assault.

The issue here is not one of submission; it’s how you help your son who is still living under your roof from your husband. And in this case, I’d be encouraging my son to get a place of his own, I think, and getting some others involved, because this is not appropriate.

Perhaps others think I’m being too harsh, but I do think this needs to be said.

UPDATE 2: There’s a giveaway for my book 31 Days to Great Sex going on this weekend over at Marriage for Champions! Enter here.

Reader Question of the Week: Respect the Line, Please

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week, we have a reply from our reader, who asked last week’s question.  Also, we have a new question after that, be sure to read and respond!

Reply from Brother’s Keeper:

I would like to thank every single lovely person who took the time to respond to my question.

It is amazing how I have gone from feeling very alone and vulnerable to feeling very supported, as a result of your posts.

The main thing I would like to thank you all for, is for giving me perspective.  This situation has been going on for so long now, that my attitude towards my husband has definitely been more on the nagging side, rather than from the perspective of a supportive loving wife (which is how I started out, but I will be the first to admit I have let our marriage down by not continuing with this approach).

To answer a few of your questions:

1.       My husband believes in God, but does not attend church.   This is another area that we are working on at the moment, as it is something that I believe a husband and wife should do together to set an example for their child

2.       My mother-in-law and I have quite a good relationship, and she is a very active part of our daughter’s life.  I don’t believe that my daughter should be deprived of a grandparent because of my personal issues.

3.       The brother’s wife does not work –her children attend day care. 

4.       Yes, I work my $300 per week job, not so much to “make ends meet” but so that we can get ahead.  This is my version of “squirreling away” money, because I pay it off debt, or put some aside for a home loan deposit.   This money has paid back nearly all of the debt that was left from the bankrupt client, so I am happy to be able to support my husband in this way.

I am fortunate enough to work from home in my job, which means that my child does not have to attend day care.

5.       We live in Australia, where the hourly rate for the job that the brother does is $20 per hour for someone who provides their own tools and car.

6.       The brother does not have any illness / disability. He is 30 years old.

7.       My husband is very non-confrontational.  He prefers to stick his head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. 

8.       My husband is a very loving man, devoted father and hard worker.  This is our only source of conflict, and therefore I do not wish to leave the marriage.

Again, I would like to thank you all for your support.  I have immediately revisited my approach towards my husband – lots of praise, cuddles and just general “newly wed” things that have slipped away over the last year or so.

I will continue to hold my $300 per week job, as I feel that it is my contribution towards not just our future, but that of our daughter. 

I will continue to pray and pray and pray, and for now, I am going to “zip my lips” about the brother.  My husband is very clear on where I stand on the matter, and so now I am going to give him a few weeks to work on it himself before I bring it up again (this time in a loving, kind and supportive manner).

I have gently suggested again this evening that we attend church together.  He said “it isn’t his thing”.  I explained that we have friends who regularly go to church and their marriages seem to be very strong, and they have also had the support of the church during tough times.  He still stuck to his guns.    

Wish me luck! 

This week’s question is a struggle many of us havehow do you deal with extended family undermining your authority with your children?

How do you set boundaries with in-laws regarding how they treat your children? My parents-in-law live 20 minutes from us. They consistently undermine my authority with my daughter and don’t stick to the schedule I’ve given them when they baby-sit her.  They allow her to misbehave and tolerate behavior that we don’t put up with in our home.

What boundaries do you suggest? How would you handle it?


Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, and What They Tell Us About Marriage

'Katie Holmes' photo (c) 2010, Kathrin-Thuy OTTO - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/To no one’s surprise, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are apparently divorcing. Katie wants full custody of their 6-year-old daughter Suri. I don’t blame her.

It sounds like one of the sticky points in their marriage was Cruise’s weird obsession with Scientology, a cult that teaches that we all have untapped potentials, since we aren’t actually of this earth–we’re descended from a race of Thetans. And it gets weirder from there.

Scientologists don’t believe in original sin–or in sin at all. And so their approach to parenting is very strange. No discipline. No rules. The key is to let the child make all decisions for himself/herself. And it seems, from news reports, that this is how Suri was being raised. She has a $3.2 million wardrobe. She had high heeled shoes specially made for her since she was three. She frequently has meltdowns in public.

Katie Holmes was raised in a Catholic, regular home. I obviously don’t know her, but my gut would tell me that she just wants to raise her child normally. She doesn’t want to create a brat. And so she’s suing for custody.

Will she win? I don’t know. Tom Cruise will have all his own resources, and all of Scientology’s, on his side. But here’s where things get tricky.

I don’t actually know that legally she SHOULD win.
Do I think Scientology is weird, horrible, and dangerous? Yep. But consider this scenario. A woman is married and has several children. And one day, out of the blue, her husband announces that he’s gay and he doesn’t want to be married anymore. So they divorce. But he’s now suing for custody because his children will be raised as Christians if they stay with their mother, and Christianity believes that homosexuality is wrong. So his wife’s religion is damaging to his relationship with his child.

Do you see the slippery slope here? Courts aren’t allowed to distinguish between “weird” religions and “good” religions, so I don’t know what will happen. If courts start to recognize that parents have a right to demand that their child not be raised in a certain religion, what’s to stop that being used against Christians? Hopefully they’ll find for Katie Holmes based on child psychology–kids need to be treated as kids, not as adults–rather than religion, but even that is problematic because how is a court to determine the best parenting techniques?

'' photo (c) 2002, Cuito Cuanavale - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The truth is there is no easy answer here. My heart goes out to her, and I sure hope she gets custody, but the whole thing is one big mess.

Which brings me to what I really want to talk about today.

I receive a lot of emails from readers in marital quandaries. Some are easier to deal with than others. But the ones that are especially hard are where she is a Christian and he is not. What do you do, for instance, if you’re a Christian, but your husband isn’t, and he’s using porn? Or he enjoys looking, but not touching, other women. Or he’s going to strip clubs. Or he’s pleasuring himself rather than pleasuring you? These are horrible things in a marriage, but the problem is that while it’s easy to explain to a Christian why they’re wrong, how do you find common ground if he’s not a Christian?

Ideally, in many of these cases, if a couple just can’t come to a resolution, you’d find a mentor couple from church to talk to who could help you talk or navigate through these issues. But if he’s not a Christian, you can’t. He doesn’t even believe the basic premises that porn is wrong, or that sex is made for intimacy and not only physical release.

By the way, I’m not suggesting that all non-Christians use porn or think porn is great; not at all. Many non-Christians actually behave better in marriage than Christians do! The only point I’m trying to make here is that when you’re married to a Christian and you’re having marriage difficulties, at least you have common ground and a common authority you can turn to. If you’re married to a non-Christian and you’re having marriage difficulties, often you don’t even agree on basic premises. And then what do you do?

Outside of prayer, working on your friendship and building goodwill, and then working on communication to establish that common ground, I don’t think there’s much you can do.

Which is why, ladies, if there’s one thing I’m absolutely adamant about, it’s this: Be very, very careful who you marry. I know for most of us reading this blog, we’ve already walked down that aisle. But many engaged people read this, too. And even if you are married, spread the word: WHO you marry is the most important decision, short of salvation, that you will make on this earth. And while you may feel giddily in love with this guy now, if you do not share a faith, chances are you are going to end up hurting in the end. That is not to say such a marriage can’t work; but given what I’ve read in emails, I would never, ever chance it. There’s a reason that the Bible says “don’t be unequally yoked“.

Of course, my mother married a Christian man who actually ran the Christian group on campus who later abandoned his faith. Other women have gotten married and only later converted to Christianity, while their husbands still haven’t. Things happen after we tie the knot, too. Nevertheless, for the best chance of success, marry someone you share a faith with. Please.

Reading all the emails that come my way is so sad. I spend time praying over each one, but it is draining. And over and over again, the thought that comes back to me is “this would have been avoidable if she had only married someone she could pray with”. If you can’t pray with him, don’t marry him. Really.

Perhaps that sounds harsh, but coming from one who reads of all the crises in marriage, I have to say that so often this is the cause. Two people are married but only one really believes in God’s plan for marriage. And it’s very, very difficult to make a marriage work in that situation. It’s not impossible, and it’s still incumbent upon us to try, but it’s hard. And heartache often follows.

So please be careful! And spread the word to those who aren’t married yet: Don’t end up like Katie Holmes, whose child’s future will soon be entirely in the hands of the courts.

The Importance of Disciplining Toddlers: The Pyramid Idea

The Importance of Disciplining Toddlers: The Pyramid IdeaWhen I was a young mom, a mentor told me that disciplining children was a lot like a pyramid.

When they’re small, you provide a lot of guidance and discipline. You train them constantly. You follow through with consequences. You’re consistent. You’re persistent. It’s exhausting.

But because you have put in the hard work when they are two, three, and four, they have learned to obey. They have learned to listen to you. They have learned that you love them, and so they tend to be easier to manage. And thus you can relax the rules a little.

By the time they’re teens, you’re relaxing your boundaries around them quite a bit, until you have no real rules at all. You’re preparing them for the real world where they will have to be responsible for themselves. And they can handle it because they have the foundation of learning a moral code, learning to love God, learning to listen to you, and learning responsibility.

That’s how discipline is like a pyramid: you start out with a base of a lot of rules and boundaries, and you have fewer and fewer and the pyramid gets narrower and narrower until you reach the top, when the rules disappear.

And the child is now ready to fly out of the nest.

That’s how it’s supposed to work in theory. What happens, though, if you don’t have a lot of boundaries when the kids are little? You give in to their temper tantrums. You don’t enforce bedtimes. You let them yell at you and disrespect you. You let them eat whatever they want for dinner, even if it’s not what you made. You let them snack constantly and then refuse to eat the yucky stuff that’s on their plate at mealtime. You buy them everything they want.

When you don’t discipline toddlers, you invert the pyramid.

You’ve given them very few rules when they’re little, but the concept of the pyramid doesn’t change. It just turns upside down.

The Pyramid Idea of Discipline: Don't Invert the Pyramid!

When you don’t stress disciplining toddlers, giving them rules and structure when they’re small, then your kids will need increasing intervention from parents as they get older.

They have not internalized self-discipline, or values, or even simple politeness. While you can get away with this when they’re small, when they’re older you’ve created a monster, because when they make bad decisions at the ages of 11, or 13, or even 16, they can get in a lot of trouble.

That’s why some parents don’t really start disciplining until the child hits the pre-teen or teen years and starts causing real trouble. They fail at school. They start drinking. They start taking drugs. Or maybe it’s not something self-destructive; it’s simply that they’ve tuned out of the family. They’re rude, they glare and barely talk to you, and they complain constantly. That’s very hard to live with from someone who is 15. You think they should be helping with dishes, or cleaning up the living room, or at least doing their homework, but for some reason they don’t. And that reason is because they never learned the importance of it earlier, and they don’t want to listen to you.

Now, this isn’t entirely true, because some children will be trying as teenagers even if they’ve been given great, consistent discipline from the time they were small children. They might just have that sort of personality. But on the whole, this is what happens.

One day, a parent wakes up and doesn’t know who this teen is, and is totally at a loss as to what to do. And so they slam down hard. They ground them. They take away TV. They take away their phones. They don’t let any friends over. They become super strict, and the child rebels even more. If you’re in that situation, Kevin Leman’s Have a New Teenager by Friday, that I reviewed here last month, can really help.

But the point is that you’ll be dealing with a pyramid regardless.

You either put in the work disciplining toddlers, when it’s easier, or you’ll have to put in the work disciplining teens, when it’s harder (with more serious consequences for bad choices).

The encouragement is that if you readers currently have small children, and you’re utterly exhausted, be assured that the work that you’re putting in now means that less work will be necessary later. Keep going. Keep at it. I know it’s tiring, but you’re saving yourself a lot of heartache later.

The whole reason that I’ve written this post, though, is that I’ve had a close up look at different parents of teens’ discipline attitudes lately, and I’ve started to feel like I’m a little alone. I do not believe that we should relax all rules and stop trying to discipline if our kids are making bad choices. We must still institute consequences for actions. But the ideal is that as teens grow, we won’t need to as much, and we’ll take a step back.

That’s why I told my oldest daughter last night that as of this summer, she no longer has any rules. She does not have a curfew. I will not wake her up in the morning to start her schoolwork. I will not make her go to bed. I will not limit her Facebook or anything. You see, as of this summer she only has one more year at home, and I believe (as Leman also says), that that final year should be free of rules, because as soon as she moves out she won’t have rules. And I would rather she get used to that while she is still under our roof than that she only experience it when she moves out.

Now she will still have to act as part of the community. She will still have to clean the bathrooms and do dinner occasionally and wash dishes, because I am not her maid. And when she lives with housemates at school she’ll have to be doing housework and dividing up the work there, too. She also will have to carry a cell phone and text or call me and tell me where she is and who she’s with and when she’s expected to be home. This isn’t because I’m her parent; that’s simple safety. When she’s living out of the house she should be doing that, too. Someone should always know where you are and who you’re with, and so that will still be in effect. But the difference is that I do the same thing. When I go out, I report in and tell them where I am, too.

I don’t think I would relax the rules like this if Rebecca were acting up, but she’s a very responsible girl, and I don’t have a lot of concerns. But part of that is because we put in so much work in those early years.

If you didn’t, you can still catch up! Read the book. But remember, a teen will experience total freedom when they do move out to go to school (if that’s where they’re heading) or to get their own apartment. It’s better that they experience a taste of that freedom when they’re with you. They’re less inclined to go all crazy then.

Other Posts on Disciplining Toddlers:

How to Stop Temper Tantrums Before they Start
The 3 D’s of Discipline
The Terrible Twos–and Making them the Terrific Twos!
When You Have Different Parenting/Discipline Styles

What do you think? Where are you on the pyramid? Let’s talk about it!

Why I'm Sometimes Sarcastic…

'Suraj' photo (c) 2007, Jennifer Woodard Maderazo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Last week my post What I Wish I Could Say to the Parents on the Plane garnered a ton of traffic–and a ton of comments and emails, both here and on Facebook.

And while much was positive, a significant part was quite negative. How could I judge that mother like that? Now parents will be scared to fly with kids because of judgmental people like me!

Looking back, I wouldn’t really change what I wrote, but I might have added more context. It certainly was not my intention to hurt parents who are super-tired and overworked and worrying that others are judging them if their kids misbehave. And yet I’d like to revisit a particular aspect of the incident, and then ask you all: don’t you think this child deserved better? I was being sarcastic because sometimes the best teaching situations come from real life examples. I can talk all I want about how to discipline, but when you tell a story, it tends to hit closer to home. Hence I chose this one. But my point in the post was not that the kid was a brat or that the mother’s parenting was ineffective; it was that the mother wasn’t even trying. That was the problem.

So here are the facts: the mom and dad were sitting across the aisle from each other so they could talk. The 4-year-old was against the window; the 6-year-old was in the middle. They brought no toys. They brought no books. They only let their kids watch a few of the movies on the plane (they cost money). They weren’t talking to the kids. And they weren’t disciplining the kids.

The 6-year-old whined a yelled a lot, but the 4-year-old just screamed. And so I wrote my post about how a parent should act on a plane with a child.

Let me reiterate: the issue was not that the child was screaming. Lots of kids scream on planes. The issue was that the mom was doing absolutely nothing about it, and hadn’t brought anything to help the child. You cannot expect a little girl to be perfectly quiet for 5 hours on a flight with nothing to do. The mom got exasperated and started issuing warning after warning, to no avail, but she made no effort to engage the child in anything.

A few commenters said, what if the mom was tired? What if they were returning from a funeral and she was exhausted? Well, yes, that might have put a slightly different spin on it. But she sure didn’t look depressed with the way she was talking with her husband. But here’s the thing: I’ve taken my one and a half year old to her own brother’s funeral–when I was the grieving mother. And you know what? I still packed books. Because I wanted Rebecca to have something to do, and I knew I wasn’t in much position to help her. So I put a bunch of books and toys in a bag, and we went to the church.

Of course that mom may have been exhausted. We all are exhausted at some point. But she is still a mother, and a mother has a responsibility to care about her child. I am not sure why people think that it’s so bad to point this out. Is it actually fair to take a child on a plane for 5 hours and then ignore her?

Now some of you have flown with kids who have cried the whole time because their ears hurt, or they were tired, or sick, or scared. I know some passengers get annoyed with you, but that wouldn’t have been me. I am never annoyed when I see parents trying; I feel a lot of compassion, and there are times I have offered to bounce a crying baby on a trans-Atlantic flight to give a mom a break. I think we all should do that! And there are times when I was travelling with my kids when they were younger when we have shared our toys and books with other young children.

If a mom is trying, and she’s at her wit’s end, then compassion should be our main response. But what should be our main response when a mother doesn’t even look like she cares? Have you ever seen that, whether you’re on a plane or not? I’ve often been out with moms who have kids in strollers or kids by the hand who never even talk to the kids. They talk to their friends, and ignore those children. They take them into McDonald’s and order them food and then text the whole time, rather than acknowledge their child’s presence.

That makes me mad, and I will continue to call them out on it. If a child is acting out in those circumstances, it is not the child’s fault. It is a natural response to being bored and ignored.

Now some of you have children who are more difficult in public because of autism or other syndromes. I can understand being very wary of people judging your children in public, because other people can’t necessarily tell that your child has these problems just by watching them. But the key to me is not the child’s behaviour, but the parent’s engagement. If the parent is engaged, and trying appropriately to help and discipline and steer the child, that’s great, regardless of the child’s response. But if the parent is doing nothing, that’s a problem.

In other words, what bugs me is not the child’s behaviour but the parent’s response. Do you see that? I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough in the original blog post; I really am. But I also am afraid that we’ve gotten to the point where we’re afraid of setting any standards for parenting in public in case we make people feel guilty. You are the parent. You have a responsibility to engage your child and raise them properly. You have a responsibility to consider your child’s needs when you go out in public, even if that’s a tall order. You just do.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, because author Joanne Kraft emailed me after reading the comments to the post and sent me a link to a similar post she wrote, where she’s railing about a dad she saw in a store. It’s awesome. She writes:

Hey there Mr. Playground-Dad. Yes, I’m talking to you. I’ve been watching you and your son for quite some time now. Would you like to know the one question that keeps popping into my head over and over again?

Have you lost your mind!?

For the past ten minutes, I’ve witnessed your son yell at you, slap you, and refuse to sit beside you in a time-out. Your only response when he wiggled away was to yell, “You’re going straight to bed when we get home.” Your son yelled back even louder, “No I’m not!”

Why didn’t you get up and run after him? Why didn’t you pick him up and walk out of the play area? Why did you let him continue playing? Are you afraid of him? He can’t be older than five.

What’s that? You’re tired?

Too bad. Parenting isn’t an option. Lots of us parents are tired. Poor excuse dad. Do you think parents of well-behaved children aren’t tired? You are the adult. He is the child.

You can read the rest here, but I just want to reiterate: I think, as a society, we have forgotten how to parent. It is not compassionate on children to stop pointing this out. We need to call parents back to parenting effectively, which is why I tried to give pointers on how to keep kids engaged.

This mother didn’t seem to care at all. Some may still think I’m judgmental, but my primary thought and prayer was for that little girl. No one deserves to be ignored like that, and I am not sorry for feeling that way. I’m just sorry if I wasn’t clear enough in the first place.