avoiding a child-controlled home, part 1

i have been having a hard time with parenting lately. i know, who doesn’t! but the problem for me isn’t my parenting, it’s the parenting i see all around me. and it makes me question how my husband and i choose to parent our children. are we right? are we wrong? are we hurting our children? are we helping our children? the other night i sat down and did some googling on some various parenting issues and i came across this blog, which lead me to three articles by donna reish. i am going to post them one at a time, the first part today, the others to follow. they came to me at the perfect time. thank you Lord! they explain perfectly our parenting philosophy, which i could not do. i know what we do and why, but i could never seem to find the words to adequetly explain it, or help those that disagree with us, understand. i hope you find the articles helpful as well. *i almost forgot to add this! those of us who have adopted children who have come from abuse/neglect backgrounds may need to implement other techniques, especially with older children.*

“I want a Oompa Loompa now, Daddy!”, Part 1
(Or Avoiding a Child-Controlled Home)

In the original movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, an extremely naughty girl finds herself in a lot of trouble because, quite frankly, she is spoiled rotten. She asks for everything, and if she does not get what she wants when she wants it, she throws a ten-year-old tantrum. Her indulgent father continuously gives in to her, even to the point of trying to talk Mr. Wonka into selling him one of the Oompa Loompas, the pint-sized candy makers from Loompa Land, for his dear Veruca as she cries out, “I want a Oompa Loompa now, Daddy!”

Parent-Controlled or Child-Controlled?

Nowadays, children controlling their parents seems to be a natural occurrence. It is joked about on talk shows, from church pulpits, in beauty parlors, and at doctors’ offices. Nobody seems to know what to do about the fact that children, not parents, seem to call the shots.

Recently I was in a mall during the daytime when I overheard two young mothers talking to each other and their preschool children. One of the mothers told the children to come along because they were going to get a snack. The second mother questioned her, wondering if they were having lunch or a snack because she had planned on eating lunch. The first mother responded in a whisper with, “Oh, yeah, we’re having lunch. I just tell my kids we’re having a snack because if they think we are having a meal, they won’t come to eat.”

As I was thinking to myself about the state of parenting in the secular world today, I heard a similar story soon after about a Christian mom who writes a marriage and parenting column for a Christian publication. In line at McDonald’s, this gal asked her friend what her six and seven year old children were getting in their Happy Meals. She continued, “I have to be sure to get my kids exactly what your kids have in their Happy Meals or everything will break loose.”

Why do parents (and especially Christian parents) walk on egg shells with their children? Why are they afraid to “cross” them? Why are they weak and unable to set the rules and guidelines for their family?

The World’s Parenting Philosophy vs. The Bible’s Parenting Philosophy

The world (via the media, secular parenting specialists, fellow parents, and others) tells us that we cannot have control of our children. It paints a bleak picture about parenting children: try to stay firm on the battles you know you can win, and let the others go.

Do we have to go through our children’s growing up years wishing they would behave like we tell them to? Do we have to beg, cajole, or bargain with our children to get them to sit down at the table or be content with what they have? Can we ever really enjoy our children, or does every command from us have to result in a battle?

Clearly, Scripture paints an entirely different picture of parenting than the world does. The Bible tells children to honor and obey their parents. It tells us parents to train our children. It tells us to discipline our children. It tells us to love our children. It even tells us that disciplining our children is loving them—and not disciplining them is hating them.

Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight (but neither did the child-controlled home). Obviously, if we start out being in charge from the beginning and train our toddlers and preschoolers in obedience, having school aged children (then teenagers) who obey and love us has more chance of being a reality.

Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice

The issue of obedience in our young children was illuminated for us early on in our parenting when we had the smartest, most clever, most verbal, and most darling three year old son there ever was! We were diligent in teaching him God’s Word as we had been taught we should do from our circle of friends even before we were married. However, this little prodigy who could recite the kings of Judah and the kings of Israel simultaneously did not come the first time we called him. He did not pick up his toys when we told him to. He did not stay in his bed when we put him there at night. In short, he did not obey us all the time—or even the majority of the time.

About this same time, we heard teaching about obedience and character in children, and we realized that we were focusing on knowledge with Joshua, not wisdom. We realized that we were so proud of his ability to learn and articulate that we had focused on that more than character (and obedience). We quickly put learning and “education” on the back burner and turned our attention to training our little boy biblically.

Oh, how thankful I am for that early lesson. It became the basis for our entire parenting (and home schooling) philosophy: godliness before knowledge; character ahead of education; obedience instead of sacrifice; relationship over religion; and on and on. We still (and continued to with all of our children) taught him the Bible and its principles, but we focused more on the application of the Word rather than learning (and showing off!) mere facts. (And putting academics behind character training throughout his life didn’t seem to hurt him–a couple of years ago he received a BA in History–after testing out of all but two classes that were not available for testing!)

I love what I have learned from books by Gary Ezzo and Kevin Leman about Biblical (and effective) discipline. They have helped me focus on punishment when needed (instead of fads or formulas) and reality discipline, or consequences, (instead of ineffective gimmicks). While there is much more to training children in God’s ways (discussed in other articles at our website), one of the major aspects (and certainly one of the earliest) is that of Biblical discipline. The two basics of Biblical discipline that we have found include punishment and consequences.


For us, the first aspect of Biblical discipline has meant explaining what is expected (to keep from exasperating our children) and punishing when these expectations were not met—just like the Scriptures tell us to. Of course, it is not always as simple as that, but that is the basis of punishing for disobedience. Biblical discipline is not tricking, bribing, begging, screaming, hitting, threatening, or spoiling. Biblical discipline is giving a command, expecting it to be followed, and punishing when it is not followed.

Of course, knowing how to punish effectively is the other side of the coin. Two methods of punishment that are not effective are those of delayed obedience—or letting children have time to decide to obey and threatening without following through.

When Cami (our third child) was just under five, we lived back a long, long lane out in the country. At the beginning of the lane lived a family with a little boy who was also five. Occasionally, this little boy would come down to play with Cami—but he never wanted to go home when it was time.

One evening at dinner, after this neighbor boy had been down playing in the yard with Cami, she started to describe to the family around the dinner table his mom’s disciplinary technique. Now I will forever keep this moment in my “mind’s picture gallery” because Cami was a giggler when she was little—so I captured many giggles and put them altogether into one darling, forever “giggle picture” of her in my mind.

Anyway, Cami could barely get the first sentence of her news out because she was laughing so much, her eyes big and her sweet little hand covering her giggles as she exclaimed, “You’ll never believe what Billy’s mom does when he disobeys!”

“What?” we questioned.

“She….she…(giggle, giggle)..she COUNTS!”

Then she went on in great detail and with great animation to describe the scene to us: “She told him it was time to get his bike and head home, and he said he didn’t want to (like he always does)”—she’s saying this all really fast yet matter-of-factly while she giggles—“and she said he had to, and he said no again, and she said not to make her tell his dad, and he said no again”—“and then she looked real serious and she started COUNTING!! ” Giggle, giggle—what a dolly…

When she recovered from her giggling, she asked, “How does counting make someone obey?”

We explained this child training technique to all the children—how when a parent begins counting, it means it’s the last straw and the child has to obey by a certain number or else.

Then she and her younger sister, older sister, and older brother began giving each other commands, “Put your hands on your lap,” “Pass the salt,” and “Give me your butter bread,” then counting after the command was given to see if counting made a person obey. It was actually hilarious to see them, and it brought out the absurdness of counting to get obedience.

Of course, this led to a lesson on first time obedience and how Mommy and Daddy should never have to say it over and over to get them to obey–and we should never have to count.

Biblical discipline is not one of game playing. We should give our children commands and expect them to obey them cheerfully. We should not have to resort to begging or bribing. When we realized that Joshua needed training in obedience more than he needed training in Bible facts, we began expecting him to do what we said. When he didn’t do what he was told, he was punished for it.

Who Makes the Decisions for the Children?

I can still remember vividly a time when we were trying to get a handle on Joshua’s behavior that I was questioning biblical discipline and wavering some on whether more “modern” techniques might be appropriate. One time, during my doubting weeks, I called Joshua to come to allow me to put on his coat. He didn’t come right away, and I remembered an article I had read in a parenting magazine about talking sweetly, giving the explanation, acting nonchalant about their disobedience, etc., so I tried it. I had his coat in my hand as I told him that I really needed for him to come, so we could leave. I told him that if he didn’t come soon, we would be late. I spoke in soft, sweet tones. Then I sat on the couch and acted like it didn’t really matter to me whether he came right away or not. Suddenly, I looked down at the coat in my hand and thought about what I was doing and realized how foolish it was.

Joshua was training me rather than the other way around! There I sat on the couch, unable to leave, because my little one did not want to. I was allowing an immature preschooler to dictate our schedule rather than me.

In essence, that is what we do when we do not punish our children, but let them do things their way or do what they want instead of what we want. We are letting someone without the maturity and wisdom to make decisions about himself (when to go to sleep, what to eat, what to wear, etc.) if he decides he wants to. Our children are given to us parents as babies and then grow into children because they are foolish and unable to take care of themselves (i.e. to make decisions on their own). God expects us to take care of them and make decisions for them—not let them do that for themselves simply to avoid tantrums.

Of course, I am not opposed to explaining why I want a certain behavior–but a child should not have to have an explanation in order to obey. I explain what I want and why for two reasons: (1) to keep him from becoming exasperated; and (2) to give him something to put in his “moral bank” for future reference. These early explanations are the foundation for later character training.


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

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