avoiding a child-controlled home, part 2

here it is, part 2.  not that any of you have been waiting in agony to read this or anything though.  but i have to tell you, i keep referencing these articles when i am feeling like a ‘bad’ mom and they are so helpful!  enjoy!

“I Want an Oompa Loompa Now, Daddy!”, Part 2

Disobedience or Childishness?

In disciplining our children, Ray and I try to determine whether their behavior was rebellion against us (as in outright disobedience or disrespect) or childishness (forgetfulness, procrastination, sloppiness, etc.). We do this because disobedience requires punishment, and childishness requires a different disciplinary approach. Discerning between disobedience and childishness can be so difficult! Even after twenty-three years of parenting, Ray and I still continuously ask each other which behavior a child is displaying.

Difficult or not, we must do it. The Bible says that we are not to exasperate our children. Two sure ways to exasperate them are to discipline incorrectly (in anger, etc.) and to discipline something as disobedience when we should be training through consequences.

All parents are faced with this—parents of many are just faced with it more often! A child dawdles when we call him to come get ready for bed, and we wonder whether this is just childishness or if it is real disobedience. Our son leaves the dog out all night rather than kenneling him (for the third night in a row), and the pooch potties on the new carpet; we ask ourselves if our little guy is disobeying or forgetting because children (and adults) forget things—and need help remembering.

When our older children were little, we taught them what we called “obedience math.” It goes like this:

Obedience + Own Method = Disobedience

Obedience + Delay = Disobedience

Obedience + Incompleteness= Disobedience

Obedience + Bad Attitude = Disobedience

Obedience math sums up the saying, “Do what you are told, when you are told, how you are told, with a good attitude.” Thus, disobedience math is not childishness but outright disobedience.

It is not childishness when a child is given a direct command, and he does something different than he is told. It is not childishness when a child is given a direct command, and he waits and does it on his own timetable. It is not childishness when a child is given a direct command, and he only does part of the command. It is not childishness when a child is given a command, and he complies but does it with a bad attitude. All of those are disobedience and should be punished.

Benchmarks for Determining Disobedience and Childishness

Through our years of parenting seven children (currently ages seven through twenty-three), we have established a few benchmarks that have helped us determine if a behavior is disobedience or childishness.

One benchmark is the age of the one violating the command. If I tell my seven-year-old son to go unload the dishwasher right now and when he comes into the dining room to put some knives away, he starts watching his brother play a computer game and forgets about his dishes, he is being childish. Seven year olds get distracted! He doesn’t need severe punishment for his infraction. He needs reminding and, perhaps, consequences if he is characterized by getting sidetracked by computer games.

However, if my thirteen year old is told to go take the trash to the corner and then come back and help his brothers straighten the family room, and he stops to shoot baskets for fifteen minutes, he is more than likely disobeying. He should be mature and responsible enough by that time to consider his brothers’ feelings as they do his portion of the work. He should be obedient enough to go do the job he is told, then come back inside and do the next job.

Another benchmark is whether the violation was of a direct command just given or a routine or schedule type command. For instance, when I tell my seven year old to go unload the dishes right now, and he decides he would rather go upstairs to play Legoes, he has directly disobeyed me and needs punished. However, when he finishes his morning routine and is supposed to (according to the schedule) go directly to the dishwasher and start unloading, and he sometimes starts looking at books instead, he is more than likely displaying childishness and probably needs consequences (or a chore chart, etc.) to turn that childishness around.

Reality Discipline

In I Corinthians, Paul says that when he was a child, he thought as a child, but now that he is grown, he thinks differently. This tells us that children do not have the capability of thinking things through like adults have (or should have). (Piaget didn’t have anything up on Paul!)

That’s why Jacob (age seven) stops to watch the computer game when he is supposed to be unloading the dishes. It is why my thirteen year old son forgets to kennel the dog some nights. It is called childishness, and every child has it! (After all, in part, that’s what we love about them!)

As parents, it is our job to help our children transition from childhood to adulthood, from childishness to responsibility. We do this by making them responsible for their behavior. We make them responsible for their behavior by giving them consequences for inappropriate irresponsibility.

Notice I say inappropriate irresponsibility. I always try to remember that I sometimes forget to kennel the dog when the boys are at church and it’s my responsibility. I try to remember that I sometimes do not run the dishwasher before I go to bed when I tell the kids not to worry about it, for I’ll take care of it. I try to remember that there have been times when I have had a stack of checks in my purse to deposit for days only to discover that I forgot to deposit them—and my checking account was overdrawn. I try to remember that I sometimes let my “junk drawer” accumulate until the drawer can hardly open–and it breaks.

I love what I learned twenty years ago in Kevin Leman’s book, Make Your Kids Mind Without Losing Yours. In that book, he describes reality discipline. I was a very young mother (just over twenty) with only one child at the time that I read it. I remember thinking that reality discipline made so much sense. In part, I think I saw it as so appropriate because I was still an irresponsible kid myself in many ways!

Regardless of why it made sense to me, it did, and my husband and I pored over that book until we understood the concepts Mr. Leman presented. We began implementing it immediately—as much as we could. (The majority of infractions committed by a three-year-old are disobedience and require punishment.)

Reality discipline says that the consequences of a child’s behavior should match the behavior. We should strive to make the consequences of our children’s childishness to be as natural as the consequences that an adult might encounter when he or she commits a similar infraction.

Basis of Reality Discipline

For example, when we forget to deposit checks into our checking account, we get charged for being overdrawn (and incredibly embarrassed). When we don’t clean out our junk drawer, it gets full, the drawer won’t shut completely, we can’t find anything, and it takes longer to clean out later when we finally get around to cleaning it. These are natural consequences.

For children, reality discipline means setting up consequences (unless they naturally occur like in the case of forgetting to study for a spelling test) that are appropriate for the infraction. For Jakie who looks at books instead of unloading the dishes after his morning routine, he might not get his computer time (his free time; he already took part of it), or he might not get to choose two stories during story time (he already looked at his books). For Jonathan forgetting to kennel the dog three times in a row, he, perhaps needs more kenneling practice. Maybe he should have dog responsibility for an entire week instead of two days a week.

Of course, there are instances in which grace is extended. Just like the bank occasionally calls to tell us that we are overdrawn and asks us if we would like for them to move money out of the newspaper-delivery-business account into the family account, we extend grace to our irresponsible children. Just like when my husband surprises me by cleaning out the junk drawer while I’m at a meeting (thwarting the natural consequences I would have endured), I extend grace to my childish little ones.

But just like in real life—-too much grace for my irresponsibility, and I become lax—-and more irresponsible. Too much grace for my seven-year-old’s disregard for the dishwashing schedule, and he becomes more childish rather than less childish. Sounds like the Lord’s prescription for working with us—a balance of grace and justice—grace because He loves us and justice because He loves us too much to let us remain as we are.
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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