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Q&A: Disciplining Young Children When They Become Defiant and Rebellious

These can be difficult years when you feel you’re teaching your kids the same lessons over and over again.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

What’s the best approach to discipline with my young child?

Barbara: When children are 2-5 years old, I call this the “intense training” stage. During these early years, you will notice your children becoming more defiant and rebellious—more temper tantrums, hitting, biting, whining, even lying and stealing. When these behaviors occur, as a parent, you need to deal with each of them effectively and clearly, because you are establishing what is right and what is wrong within your family.

These are often hard years, particularly for moms, because you may feel like the cycle is never-ending—that you’re teaching the same lessons over and over again. It can take children a long time to learn what you’re teaching them.

Dennis: At this age, children start to become independent, and they realize they have their own will. Plenty of toddlers control their entire family, especially the mom. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to take steps to stop the child from dominating you, or you’ll really pay the price when your child is a teenager, not to mention the price your child will pay the rest of his or her life.

What you need to do is sit down with your spouse and make a list for the children of what they can and can’t do—what actions require discipline and which you can let go. You will help your kids by drawing up very clear boundaries for them.

Also, go on the offensive. Remind your kids ahead of time about what you do and do not expect. This will help your kids do what’s right. When the kids were little and Barbara took them to the grocery store, she would pull up in front of the store, turn around and look at all of them in the car’s back seat and remind them that they were not to touch anything on the shelves. The fresh reminder of the rules really helped them obey.

It’s good to remember that you’re not just trying to train your children out of certain habits or behaviors, but rather that you’re dealing with character issues. For example, many children go through an early biting phase. You might be tempted to respond, “Oh, biting is just a phase. The behavior will die out in a few months—no need to deal with it.” Behaviors and actions may eventually pass, but the heart issues behind them will crop up in different areas of the child’s life.

Barbara: In this case, biting may stop naturally in a child’s life, but the action brings harm to another person. This will come out in another area, so you aren’t just training your child to stop biting; you’re also training the child not to hurt others when they get angry. The character issue is teaching them how to properly handle their emotions.

Dennis: Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Keep the long-term perspective in mind with your child. Yes, you can gloss over these issues and pretend they aren’t there, but you will miss “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” that you’re attempting to bring about in your child through diligent discipline.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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