here it is, the final installation. sorry it took so long! keep in mind, just because it says ‘large’ family discipline doesn’t mean it can’t work for ‘small’ families. all children need appropriate discipline whether they are an only child, or one of many. enjoy!
“I Want an Oompa Loompa Now, Daddy!”, Part 3
Large Family Discipline
People often gasp when we tell then we have seven children. “Seven children? I can’t make the two I do have listen to me, much less seven of them.”
To which I reply, “Well, we didn’t get them all at the same time. We had time to get used to and teach one before another one arrived.”
It is often assumed that because we have seven children, we have seven times the amount of disobedience, disrespect, and discontentment that someone with one poorly disciplined child has.
First of all, it doesn’t matter if you have one, seven, or twelve children; if they are disobedient and disrespectful, it still brings heartache to the mother and shame to the father, according to the Bible.
Secondly, when you begin disciplining your children effectively from the beginning (or at least with the first two or three children, in the case of a large family), it has far-reaching effects to your younger children. You set a standard for behavior in the older ones that has the potential to trickle down to the younger ones (assuming the older ones interact with the younger ones and the entire family spends a lot of time together). We actually have had to punish our ten and thirteen year old sons (our fifth and sixth children) twenty-five percent of the amount that we had to punish our second child—the most selfless teenage girl I have ever met. (Of course, she wasn’t selfless at ages two and three!) (Note: I was referring to punishment there; training and consequences have definitely been more extensive with our younger boys than with the girls. Gotta love three fairly compliant girls in a row!)
Thirdly, yes, there is the potential for seven times the amount of heartache for parents of seven children as there is for parents of one child, but there is also the potential for seven times the amount of joy. We have chosen to focus on biblical, effective discipline so that the potential for those joyful, loving, less problematic times is increased exponentially.
Children are never perfect… And I never want to paint a picture that is unrealistic. Ray wouldn’t have to tell me that we are “getting the behavior that we want” if our children were perfect! Some days, I go to bed weary and worried. How will we help our young adult daughter through the difficult time she is having? How can we turn a bad attitude around? Is a recent trend in one of the kids indicative of something much worse? Even the most disciplined parents have problems. We are not guaranteed perfect children even if we do discipline and love consistently. However, the alternative that we see in the world–joyless, problem-saturated homes—is enough to keep me moving ahead in what I know the Lord has shown us.
Taking Back Control
Many parents are bewildered as to how to take back their rightful place as, well, the parents. We have found the combined advice of James Dobson, Gary Ezzo, and S.M. Davis to be a big part of the answer: If a child is not happy when he does not get his own way, he should not get his own way.
In a practical sense, this means that if our two year old screams because he has the blue sipper cup and he wants the red one, he is not mature enough to make that decision. The boundaries have been widened for that child too early, and they need to be brought back in. (And the child should have the blue sipper cup for the rest of his life! J)
It means that if our four year old cannot share a toy with his brother, he is probably not old enough (or mature enough) to have that toy. It means that if our ten year old is not doing her homework on time, she should not be the one who decides when she will do her home work, where she will do her home work, and what she is permitted to do until the home work is done. It means that if our sixteen year old cannot seem to get home on time after debate club, he is probably not mature enough to drive to debate club.
One way that we have found to take back control of our children during times that we have felt that we lost control was to bring in the boundaries. When our children are not obeying, they are often being given too many choices and too much freedom. At that time, we have brought in the boundaries in different areas of their lives—and regained control.
For example, when a child is consistently unhappy with his meals, he should have less choices (not more to try to “make him happy”). We need to bring in the boundaries of his choices—just offer meat and vegetables or soup or whatever works until he is content and thankful for what he does have. When a teenager begins displaying negative behavior like her peers, we need to bring in the boundaries that were broadened too much for her maturity. Lessen the time she spends with peers and discriminate more carefully which peers she should and should not be permitted to spend time with.
This is especially helpful with very small children. When we have found ourselves with a two-year-old who threw his food, would not eat what was put before him, and screamed in his high chair, we had probably broadened his boundaries—his areas of control—too early. Those boundaries needed brought in. He was not obedient or mature enough to have his entire meal on his tray; he was not content enough to choose what he wanted from the dinner menu; he was not compliant enough to remain in his high chair for family worship, he needed removed from the family and placed in his crib until worship was over. His boundaries had been too wide.
And no, none of this is easy! We had one child who for nearly a year (around 1 ½ to 2 ½) had unbearable high chair behavior (among other behavioral issues)—so much so that each night we had a designated “runner”—someone who had to cart the little tyke upstairs to his crib when he screamed or threw his food. Every night it was a different person, so that at least some of us could enjoy the meal and interact with each other. This went on nearly every dinner for a long, long time. It was terrible. The older kids still tease the little guy about when they had to be the runner for him! (However, they will not forget the endurance and determination it took to turn this behavior around—and hopefully, it will give them the motivation to persevere during difficult parenting issues.) If Ray had not been so determined, firm, and practical, I would have given up long before the results came about—and I probably would have given him whatever he did want to eat every night just to keep peace.)
Disciplining children is a fine balance among punishment, consequences, discipling, and praise. It is the world’s most important job—and that is not just a trite phrase for a parenting article; it truly is. We have the opportunity to help shape future adults by our faithfulness (or lack of faithfulness) to biblical discipline. We must remain steadfast in our job—lest we end up with a house full of Veruca Salts!
A Baker’s Dozen Discipline Tips
1. Begin early demanding first time obedience from your toddler or preschooler. Punish swiftly for disobedience, and reassure him of your love.
2. Teach and instruct your children about your expectations for behavior during non-conflict times. In other words, do not confront them about other behaviors during times of punishment.
3. Discern whether a behavior is disobedience or childishness and discipline accordingly with either punishment or consequences.
4. Make the consequences fit the crime for childish behaviors like irresponsibility, forgetfulness, procrastination, and messiness.
5. Always explain the why’s of your commands—but expect obedience even if the why’s are not understood.
6. Bring in the boundaries of your children’s lives in order to regain control of their bad behavior.
7. Do not expect to do the same thing you have always done discipline-wise and get different results. Different results require different action.
8. Explain to your children what the Bible says about disciplining and training children. Let them know that God’s Word says that if you do not discipline and train them, you hate them—or at least do not love them with a true, biblical love.
9. Do not give choices to a child who is not happy if he does not have choices. Too many choices too early creates self-centered, spoiled children—and eventually selfish young adults and adults.
10. Do not allow your children to throw temper-tantrums. Punish immediately for tantrums and teach them early on that fits and tantrums will not be tolerated. (Remove the child and isolate him until he has regained control. Once a child starts controlling a parent with fits and tantrums, it is extremely difficult to regain control.)
11. Place character training and obedience training above other activities and pursuits in the early years—over sports, education, clubs, friends, and activities. If you must make a choice, always choose training first. It will pay off in the end.
12. Do not buy into more “modern” disciplinary techniques like counting to a certain number before demanding obedience, sitting a child in time out for direct disobedience, making a child sit in a laundry basket when he back talks, discussing how he feels about the command, etc.
13. Always reassure your child of your love before, during, and after any disciplinary situation, and affirm and praise your children for good behavior.
Donna Reish is a homeschooling mother of seven who lives near Fort Wayne, Indiana. She and her husband (along with their grown children) operate Training for Triumph Family Ministries, a writing, speaking, and publishing business and ministry. You can learn more about them, including about their complete language arts program, Character Quality Language Arts, at