home   message board   testimonials   order the book  

The Book

Underlying Principles

Teaching Obedience

Emotional Issues

With Character in Mind

The Parent's Part


Other Materials

Specific Problems

Your First Love

Family Commentaries

Elizabeth's Fun Stuff

Book Reviews

Favorite Books and Links

With Character in MindInsightful Issues     << Ch. 14 >>

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
- Romans 5:3-5

Miscellaneous Problems
In the two previous chapters of this section, I�ve attempted to cover some very common childrearing concerns involving pride and sibling conflicts. Now in this last problem solving chapter, I will be sharing advice regarding a collection of miscellaneous problems exemplifying a number of different character issues. Of course these examples are in no way all inclusive and I will just be touching on the myriad of different scenarios that come up daily in the lives of real parents. If a problem you are facing is not specifically discussed here, I hope this chapter and indeed this entire book, will encourage you to combine godly wisdom, scriptural teaching, and inspired creativity to find a solution. Hopefully the principles that have been suggested throughout this book will be a valuable aid in helping you with this endeavor. 

He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
- Proverbs 15:32

Corinna: What is your philosophy and strategy for teaching children manners? How do you teach them to say please, thank you, to look adults in the eye, and so forth?

Elizabeth: If your children are under control and obedient, teaching manners is simple. Just tell them what you want them to do and remind them as needed. See that they do it without fail, at home or away. Starting young is always best. When they say, "I want a cookie", you respond with, "Say: 'May I please have a cookie.'" Every time you give them something, instruct them to say, "Thank you." Prior to visiting a restaurant, rehearse the rules: no getting out of their seats, no loud talking, etc. Never excuse them because they are just children, or because they are tired, or because it's "normal" for children to be rude and rambunctious. Communicate how you want them to act and require them to act that way.

When I teach manners, I try to carefully explain the principles behind them. In most instances they are ways in which we demonstrate respect and consideration to one another. Our children are capable of understanding that. For example, I explain that we say, "Thank you", to show our gratitude to others. I remind my children to say, "Thank you," to someone who gives them a gift whether or not they like the gift. I remind them that the person giving them the gift did it because they loved them, and cared about them, and thought the gift would make them happy. I encourage them to be grateful that they have someone in their life who cares about them in this way. I am always conducting running conversations with my children about things like this. Parents who teach manners as a sterile list of rules miss this exceptional opportunity to communicate the principles behind the rules of etiquette. 

To review all the basics and obtain many ideas on what manners to teach children, and even how to teach the underlying principles of kindness and consideration, I recommend consulting Miss Manners guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and Miss Manners Guide to Rearing Perfect children by Judith Martin. Both are very funny and informative books you can enjoy reading as a family.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.
- Proverbs 3:3-4

Hope: Our seven-year-old is in a habit of lying. She's very good at it and I am not always sure whether she is telling the truth or not. She even lies to get others in trouble. What should we do? We've spanked for this, but it doesn't seem to change the behavior. I could really use some wisdom here.

Elizabeth: Any child you cannot trust completely needs to stay with you. If your child is lying, then you cannot trust her. I think you can plainly tell your seven-year-old what I just said. Then Tomato Stake her. Tell her she must stay with you until you can trust her again -- a month, a year, or forever if that's what it takes. Because lying is a serious sin (another one of those seven things that God hates), there can be no excuse for even a child to lie. Do not believe that "all children lie now and then" or that "children really can't understand the difference between the truth and a lie". That is a lie itself!

A few of my toddlers tried lying once or twice, but that's it. Out of ten children, I only recall one or two instances where a post-toddler lied to me. Why? Are my children special? No, not at all. It is because from the outset I hated lying, watched carefully for it, nipped it in the bud, and communicated my beliefs to the offenders about the subject. I taught them to hate it too.

If you can not easily tell whether or not your child is lying, you many have to become a combo detective, interrogator, and mind reader to find out. When you quiz a child over a possible wrong, avoid tempting him to lie. A mother who is prone to losing her temper and letting her anger flare out-of-control, may soon find their children lying to avoid her wrath. So, remain calm and self-controlled. 

If trying to identify a transgressor, it helps to question in a roundabout, non-threatening way. For example, one day I discovered pencil marks on the grout in my newly tiled bathroom. I did not bellow angrily, "WHO DID THIS?!" First, I called the most likely suspect and asked, in a normal tone of voice, "Have you used the bathroom lately? Did you notice anything unusual in there? Did you take your pencil with you? Did you use it on anything?"

I gently questioned each suspect on my list and soon I had a pretty good idea who was innocent and dismissed them. I detained those I thought might be guilty, and questioned them individually once again. Before long, I was quite certain I knew who the bathroom artist was.

Finally, I asked this child directly, "Did you color on the grout in the bathroom?" An evasive answer told me with certainty that I had the culprit who, with a little more gentle persuasion, then confessed and was disciplined. (With some obviously guilty children, it helps if you prompt them by telling them, "Say 'Yes, I did it Mom.'") 

I never got upset or angry. I continued questioning until I felt confident that I knew who was lying. Then I focused on getting that child to admit what she had done and own up to it. I disciplined reasonably, only as I felt it was necessary to motivate her not to repeat the misbehavior. I lectured to instill correct values, and then I tightened my Tomato Staking to head off a future reoccurrence. 

I think instilling the value of honesty around the home on a daily basis is the most effective thing you can do to head of lying, but if your child has already acquired the habit of lying, then you also MUST keep your child with you so that you can help him overcome it. 

A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will perish.
- Proverbs 19:9

Pamela: How do I teach my seven-year-old son to remember to do things without being told each step of the way? He forgets to change his socks and underwear unless I am in his room telling him. He forgets to turn off the lights when he leaves a room. He does not clean up the toothpaste he splattered on the counter while brushing his teeth. He forgets to load his dishes in the dishwasher unless I remind him or ask, "What are you supposed to be doing now?" I tell him to keep his hands in his lap, but soon he is fiddling with items on the table. What's the remedy?

Elizabeth: In the case of chores, try adding a little motivating consequence to reminders � make him start all over when he forgets. For example:

Him: (he brushes his teeth and comes downstairs.)
You: Did you brush your teeth?
Him: Yes! (big smile)
You: Great! They look nice and white. Now did you clean up the sink after you were done?
Him: Ahhh. I think so. (which tells you he probably didn't, or didn't do it very well)
You: Go back upstairs and double check to see if you did. Make sure it's really clean, then come back down and give me a report.
Him: Okay mom. 

Putting him to the trouble of returning to repeat the chores all over again will motivate him to try harder in the future to do it right the first time. Repeat this with everything he routinely "forgets" to do or does not do as well as he ought to have. 

As far as things he forgets to do right while you are beside him watching, like your �hands on the lap� example, the most effective cure for that sort of this is ambushing. Train yourself to take special note each time you give him a command or direction, of whether he continues to obey you or �forgets�. Be ready to ambush him with some sort of immediate and motivating correction. Be consistent with this and he will soon learn not to �forget�.

Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
- Proverbs 4:5

Gratitude makes it easy to rejoice. Cultivating a spirit of gratefulness also makes it difficult to sink into depression. Discover reasons to be thankful in every situation. Train yourself to do this and teach your children likewise. Require them to express their thanks whenever possible.

The everyday, often minute situations are the most important. If your child complains about a sibling, for example, ask him to list several things he is grateful for in that sibling. Do not allow grumbling or whining, from your children or yourself.

Although your aim is a constant spirit of gratefulness, one thing we have done in our home, to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling, is to have each child keep a �Blessing Book.� This is like a journal or diary of sorts, but one written with a view toward thanksgiving for the many blessings God gives us each day. Older children in our family keep their Blessing Books themselves in a blank notebook or on the computer, while the younger children who can not yet spell or write, tell Mom their blessings of the day and she records them. At the end of the week we often share some of our special blessings within our family and with our Christians friends who do the same. 

In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
- I Thessalonians 5:18

Trina: What can I do to calm my son's impulsiveness? He is seven years old and his heart is good--he really wants to obey. But he does things impulsively, without thinking. Here is a brief list of impulsive things he did just yesterday afternoon:

- Threw a Little Tykes bike, breaking off a wheel.
- Bounced a wet dishrag off the ceiling.
- Planted his foot in the baby's face.
- Leapt into his startled sister's lap while she was studying on the couch.

When I ask why he does such things, he says, "I don't know. I just wasn't thinking." He doesn't act out of defiance, but rather playful foolishness, without thinking of the consequences. What I can do to help him to develop self-restraint and prudence ?

Elizabeth: There is only one cure for impulsiveness as far as I know, that�s vigilant Tomato Staking. As you Tomato Stake, focus on two things: Stopping, and Thinking. Monitor the impulsive child closely to stop him before he does each impulsive misdeed. If he is on the verge of an impulsive act, call out, "STOP" or "FREEZE". Then, grill him with thought-provoking questions. For example:

"STOP. Do you think that's a wise thing to do? Do you think that's the right thing to do? Do you think that is a safe thing to do? What if something goes wrong? Would Dad do that? What would others think if they saw you acting so foolishly?"

Do not be annoyed every time you have to correct the impulsive child. This is very likely part of his inborn nature, which is not an excuse, but a motivation for you to work all the harder training him to overcome it. Recognize that you are in for the long haul on this job, and you must persist for as long as it takes, even if that means years. When you see improvement, be sure to lavish praise and encouragement on your child. Help him to see you as an ally in this fight to overcome impulsiveness, not just as nagging mom. 

Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool displays folly.
- Proverbs 13:16

Valerie: When do children become modest? 

Elizabeth: As soon as you teach them to. When my children are old enough to get dressed without help or use the bathroom unassisted, I start teaching them to be modest. I simply say, "We don't display our bodies; we dress in private." They learn to shut the door when dressing or using the bathroom, and to knock before they enter a bedroom or bathroom. With several boys sharing the same bedroom, I don't expect them to take turns dressing, but I do expect them to avoid making a spectacle of themselves. They all know when to turn and look the other way.

I did once catch one of my younger boys before bedtime, dancing around the room in his birthday suit in front of his little brothers, trying to be funny. (His older brother discreetly ratted on him and alerted me as to what was going on.) The earnest spanking he received convinced him that immodesty isn't funny. There's never been a repeat.

The teaching we apply is Biblically-based and stresses that God greatly favors modesty and so, unless they are married (a husband is one with his wife so there is no need for modesty between them), they are to be modest. They are not to be running around half dressed.

Girls especially, must be taught that their clothing can be immodest if it is overly revealing or sensuous -- that which appeals to the appetites. I explain that they should dress in a way that attracts others to their faces and their countenance, not their figures.

I teach these things as the need arises and I do it very naturally in the course of everyday living. For example, I remember visiting a park one day with one of my girls when a scantily clad woman happened by. After she left, I quietly asked my young daughter if she had noticed her. She had, and observed, "She wasn't very modest". I asked if she'd like to dress that way and she said, "No!" Her response pleased me greatly.

Of course, in enforcing the idea of modesty, I cite the story of Noah�s son Ham, who stumbled upon his father in a drunken and immodest state. That son didn't avert his eyes, and discreetly keep the matter to himself, but instead hastened to tell his brothers. The result was that Ham�s descendents were cursed forever. The other brothers covered their father without looking themselves, and were blessed in the end. The lesson is simple and clear: if you see something immodest, quickly look away, then act as though you saw nothing.

But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness.
- Genesis 9:23

Selma: In our home, one goal we always aim for is prompt obedience. But what do you do when your school-aged child says, "But I don't want to..."? Until now, my response has been, "I didn't ask if you wanted to, I told you to do it." But then, the tears start. Is there a better way to handle this, or will this be part of the adjustment process as I "retrain" my child?

Elizabeth: If the tears are a response to a change in disciplining, then it may be a habit held over from being allowed a bad attitude in the past, so yes, this might be just part of turning of a new leaf. But still, don�t let it slide. Train your child to respond correctly. When he says, "But I don't want to...", pleasantly reply, "Say, 'Okay Mom.'" When your child responds verbally in the affirmative, it actually helps him to obey with a right attitude. If he still resists, be more serious and insist that he say, "Okay Mom", and then does what you asked.

Remember never to engage in a verbal argument with an older child. They should know that the subject is not up for negotiation or debate. An older child may politely question a request after he shows a willingness to obey with a good attitude.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
- Ephesians 6:1

The assignment of chores has always been one of the mechanisms employed by parents to teach responsibility. I too, assign chores for this purpose, but in ways that represent a departure from the usual model involving long lists of heavily scheduled and strictly divided duties.

My approach is different because of the problems I've run into doing it the traditional way. I began to notice early on that assigning specific chores and tasks to specific children soon resulted in selfishness, laziness, and dissention. Each child focused exclusively on what was on his list and was extremely reluctant to help anyone else, thus risking the chance he might do one iota more work than his own list specified.

So, I devised a different method that I think aims more at teaching helpfulness, flexibility, and true responsibility, than just at getting the chores done. Rather than assigning specific chores perpetually to specific children, I keep my own, continually changing list of things that need to be done, and hand out chores according to age and ability as the need arises. I assume the role of a hands-on director and supervisor, rather than assigning permanent chores and being disappointed when auto-pilot does not kick in and I wind up playing referee and slave-driver all day. 

Although I am opposed to using a strict schedule unless absolutely necessary, I do follow a general routine. It�s works best for me to have the bulk of the chores done in the morning, so that�s when I look over my list and give out assignments. I may give each child a list for that morning, but I make a pointed effort to change that list daily to keep everyone on his toes. There is a continual rotation of tasks and frequent unexpected new jobs assigned that are not on anyone's list. I continually repeat the following: "Your job is to do anything that needs to be done," and, "When you are done, come and ask me what to do next," and, "If you see something that needs doing, do it," and "Do your job and a little bit more".

As our older children have aged, I have been very pleased with the results. They rarely need more than the occasional assignment. They seem to have a well rounded idea of what is involved in keeping a home and they all just sort of pitch in without being told. I even find them voluntarily helping me with my organizing! �Mom, do you need anything from the store?� or �Mom, would you like me to get the younger kids started folding the laundry?� are the type of questions I hear from them routinely. I couldn�t be happier. 

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Philana: I'm trying to homeschool a child who fidgets � incessantly. He�s not an unusually hyper-active child in general, he just doesn�t seem to be using any self-control in during school time. 

He is supposed to be writing, and I notice he is messing with his pencil sharpener. I tell him to put it down. He does, and then two minutes later, he is tapping the pencil on his forehead or gently poking it into his ear. I tell him to stop. In a few minutes he is pushing against the computer desk door, a no-no. I say again to stop. Meanwhile he is perpetually wiggling in his chair, often falling onto the floor. Soon, he's messing with the pencil sharpener again. Should I be endlessly reminding him all day to stop? Should I swat? What?

Elizabeth: First, you must seat this child right next to you while you are schooling, not across the table. Lay your paddle on the table between you and he as a visual aid. Begin like this:

Mom: Do you see this paddle?
Child: Yes.
Mom: I'm tired of reminding you not to touch, fidget, wiggle, or to rock in your chair. From now on, I'm going to use the paddle to help you remember. Do you understand me?
Child: Yes Mom.
Mom: What are some of the things I'm always telling you not to do?
Child: Playing with my eraser?
Mom: Yes. What else?
Child: Getting off my chair?
Mom: Yes. What else?
Child: Scribbling instead of doing my math?
Mom: Yes, and I'm sure you can think of a lot of other things, so I'm not going to remind you. I'm just going to use the paddle. Do you understand me?
Child: Yes.
(Two minutes later child begins rocking in his chair.)
Mom: Get up and put your hands on the table. (SWAT!) Now sit back down and go back to your work.
(Three minutes later child begins to poke his pencil through his buttonhole.)
Mom: Get up and put your hands on the table. (SWAT!) Sit down and start working.
(Five minutes later child begins tapping the table leg with his foot.)
Mom: Get up and put your hands on the table. (SWAT! SWAT!) Sit down and work.

As soon as he realizes that he controls whether or not he gets a swat, he will start improving. If he laughs, or exhibits a bad attitude, apply an "I Mean Business" spanking. Remember, this will not work if you are not being very consistent, so you MUST train yourself to notice every little thing. Decide what degree of fidgeting is acceptable, taking into consideration the personality of your child, then correct for everything that is excessive. He is probably not even aware of his excessive movements and he needs you to bring them to his attention, and insist he control them. 

And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.
- Mark 4:39

Jennifer: My almost six-year-old son loves being silly and drawing attention to himself and he just doesn't know when to stop. For example, at choir practice he was sitting with the other children, and another boy said, "This kid eats his shoe," pointing to my son. My son responded with, "I eat my underwear, too," and they all started laughing. Soon afterwards, he saw another child dancing around acting goofy and of course he joined in and began imitating her to get the other kids to laugh at him too.

In both cases, I quickly discouraged him, but he keeps doing this kind of thing. How do I stop this behavior? I want him to be a kid and have fun, but some of this seems inappropriate.

Elizabeth: This, of course, is just another symptom of typical childish self-centeredness. He wants to draw attention to himself and has stumbled upon an effective way to do it. If it's just occasional silliness, then I'd be watching for it and stopping it BEFORE it goes too far (which is usually right at the beginning). Teaching has to go along with this. Point out to your child that he should be paying attention to others, not trying to get them to pay attention to him. It will help if you enable your child to understand the difference between being laughed with and being laughed at. Work to instill in him a desire to appear (and indeed be) mature and wise, not foolish and goofy. These are things that you need to be teaching all day, every day, not just once in awhile when he makes a major fool out of himself. Meanwhile, do correct him every time he acts in this unflattering manner. 

My son, if your heart is wise, My own heart also will be glad; And my inmost being will rejoice, when your lips speak what is right.
- Proverbs 23:15-16

We do not give allowances. Our children are not given personal money they can spend any way they wish. We do not encourage everyone to think of themselves as separate entities with separate bank accounts, earnings and expenses. Instead, we teach our children to view finances as part of the makeup of our family as a whole. Then, employing our mentoring style of Tomato Staking, we educate them regarding the wise management of money as they participate with us in the management of our family finances. 

In our home, we do not budget our income in the usual manner. That is to say, we do not determine our fixed expenses, set aside that amount, then save and tithe a determined amount, then spend the rest. That seems to be the most commonly suggested plan and it often winds up with everyone living on the very edge of financial safety, or disaster. Instead, we begin by considering how we can save on every purchase. If we are coming up short, we cut expenses and look for ways to increase income. If we have excess, we do not look for ways to spend it frivolously, but rather ways to invest it in things that will benefit our family or others, or we determine if it would be best to save it for the future. 

When it comes to spending, the first thing we teach our children is to determine if they really need something. Then, is it a good thing? Is it a good price? If something is not a necessity, we consider whether it would be a profitable (spiritually or financially) and affordable purchase, or whether we are better off without it. 

We don't pay our children for household chores, since it is their responsibility to do these things. We all live here, so we all do the work here. No one pays Mom to cook the meals or change the diapers.

We teach our children to help others without expecting payment. We never let them take payment from their grandparents or those in need. We make every effort to teach them to be generous, without neglecting the financial responsibilities that God has specifically given them. In Matthew 15: 3-6, Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day for giving all their money to the church instead of to their own needy parents, so that is our example.

We don't allow debt of any kind. Several years ago we went through the entire Bible and looked up every verse we could find having anything to do with debt, borrowing, lending, interest, usury, and so forth. We found that, lo and behold, the Bible has nothing good to say about borrowing. The main thought that has motivated us to remain debt-free is the knowledge that �the borrower becomes the lender's slave.� I would highly recommend that you teach your children to live a debt free life.

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender's slave.
- Proverbs 22:7

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.