Advanced Discipline Issues

Expectations of age, reinforcement, & childish behavior

Memory verse:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col 3:8-14 - NIV

This week’s principle: It is not the parent’s responsibility to make their child happy, but instead to teach godliness.

Children are constantly rapidly growing in several different ways—vertically (height), horizontally, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Disciplining a child takes into consideration all of these things. As a child seeks to grow in progressive stages, he will necessarily complete milestones before he can go on to the next phase.

Freedoms granted that are equal to a child’s level of self-control brings about developmental harmony.

In adults, belief and thoughts precede actions; we think (hopefully!) before we act. Children, especially young children, will act before they have belief systems in place. This is why training starts with teaching moral behavior long before they understand the involved concepts. Training first involves moral behavior, then moral concepts (though, of course, training each one is not exclusive).

Child-raising and freedom.

Small children are not ready for and do not need extensive freedoms. Too much freedom for a child teaches him that he is his own master. It also may limit his future experiences as he may frequently choose the status quo, e.g., he chooses to eat only PB&J or Pizza. This childish behavior, obviously, limits the child in many ways.

Children need to be in age-appropriate environments meaning they are allowed choices according to their age and ability to choose rightly. This is like a hyperbolic curve:

|                       ]|
|                     _] |
|                    _]  |
|                __-''   | Freedoms
|             _-''       |
|       __--''           |
|_--'''''                |
  1         Age        18

As the child grows, he is allowed more freedoms—freedom to chose how to spend his time, what to wear, what to eat (at times), whether he can go next door or down the street or to the next neighborhood.

As each child develops emotionally and physically at different rates, your child may be more or less mature than your neighbor, and their freedoms may be different, too. Raising children biblically, we have found, typically makes them more mature emotionally than children raised by our culture.

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Pr 26:12 - NIV

When freedoms are given too early, including simple life choices, he may soon feel that he is wise in his own eyes, master of his domain and become tyrannical, wanting to have his own way in everything. Some children can become addicted to choice and not know how to cope without choices. This is much easier to avoid in the first place than it is to correct—meaning it is much easier to go from restraint to freedom than freedom to restraint. It is better to keep control over behaviors and gradually let them go than to try to reign them back in. Simple things like a child asking for permission to do something rather than just telling the parent that they are going to do it. This also gives security of parental authority and helps him to realize his need for parental leadership.

Children are more secure if their world has fences and boundaries. Fences not only keep good things in but bad things out.

Discipline issues

It is not the duty of the parent to make their child happy, but instead to teach them what is right behavior according to scripture. This, in turn, will make them happier than they could be by any other method.

Here are a few common childhood behaviors which must be dealt with in most children at some point. Children will continue behaviors which they think will advance their goals and obtain what they want. We must consider this when disciplining.

Ezzo likes the term “reinforcement training”; psychologists would call it behavioral modification. Whatever the name, it is real, and it is essential and common sense: we need to encourage or reinforce behaviors of which we approve, and discourage behaviors which we want to disappear. Some of the following is from (Also, Wiki B. F. Skinner—lots of useful information)

  • Positive reinforcement is an increase in the future frequency of a behavior due to the addition of a positive or pleasing stimulus immediately following a response. Giving (or adding) food to a dog contingent on its sitting is an example of positive reinforcement (if this results in an increase in the future behavior of the dog sitting).
  • Negative reinforcement is an increase in the future frequency of a behavior when the consequence is the removal of an aversive stimulus. Do not confuse this concept with punishment. There are two variations of negative reinforcement:
    • Avoidance conditioning occurs when a behavior prevents an aversive stimulus from starting or being applied. (“If you clean up your room, you don’t have to rake the yard.”)
    • Escape conditioning occurs when behavior removes an aversive stimulus that has already started. (“If you stay inside, you must watch your little brother.”)
  • Positive punishment is a decrease in future frequency of a behavior due to the addition of an aversive stimulus immediately following a response. Our most obvious example of this is spanking; others would be time out or logical consequences.
  • Negative punishment is a decrease in future frequency of a behavior due to the removal of a positive stimulus immediately following a response. An example: if you can thwart a child stealing candy where his actions no longer give candy, e.g., he must climb up to the candy jar, but the candy is no longer there.

The following table shows the relationships between positive/negative reinforcements and increasing/decreasing required behavior.

Decreases likelihood of behaviorIncreases likelihood of behavior
PresentedPositive punishmentPositive reinforcement
Taken awayNegative punishmentNegative reinforcement

You don’t have to remember the names for these methods at all, but learn that there are several ways to skin a cat. These are not always clear as some overlap may occur. The point is to encourage good behaviors and discourage bad ones. If you give in to undesirable behaviors, they will recur. Keep this in mind when you feel you are too tired to discipline!


Whining may begin soon after the one-year birthday, and it is a subtle challenge to parental authority. It breaks the 3rd rule of obedience—to obey with a good attitude. They will often not dare outright rebellion but will sneak it in the back door. If allowed this will only continue and worsen. One way to deal with this is completely ignore it; another would be to remind the child, if they are old enough, to obey with a good attitude and chastise them. Another might be, if they are a small child and have limited vocabulary, to teach them simple phrases like, “more, please”, so that they can articulate their desires and needs. Ezzo advocates teaching a child to sign, but we have not found this necessary, and it takes time to do this. (Stephen and Ash taught some signs.) Older children, if asking for something in a whining tone, should be reminded that whining is not acceptable; they should then be made to wait 2-5 minutes before they can ask again in the right tone of voice and attitude. This can be done often and for things other than whining. If it continues and you feel like the child is simply now doing this intentionally, chastisement is recommended as this is disobedience.


A temper tantrum is an improper way to express feelings. They are typically seen only when they have worked in the past. If you do not give in, they will not recur often. All children will eventually outgrow “hissy fit” tantrums, but if they are not dealt with, the underlying attitude is still there and will later morph into verbal and even physical violence. Temper tantrums are the ultimate rejection of parental authority. Tantrums can be for blackmail (getting what they want) or revenge (when mom or dad doesn’t do what he wants). Children will not have tantrums when no one is paying them any attention; they need an audience. (And they know the best times to pick!) For young children, isolation/apathy may be effective. For a child over 2½, tell him that when he stops his tantrum, he will get his spanking—and do it.

The goal should be to teach the child self-control and better ways of dealing with his anger and emotions when he is disappointed. If your child never learns self-control, he will eventually be a slave to his own impulses, and others can easily dominate him.

A person without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls. Pr 25:28 - NLT

Frustration tantrums are different and occur when a child becomes frustrated with a task or desire that they cannot accomplish. These do not merit chastisement and are not rebellious, but they need your help to learn self-control and better ways of dealing with frustration. Teach the child to ask for help, and suggest alternative ways to deal with their problems.

Power struggles

This is usually when a child believes that he can control you using his behavior—simple rebellion. But sometimes this occurs (and is completely unnecessary) when parents fail to use their authority wisely, when they force themselves into a “must win” situation over small or trivial matters. The lesson here is to choose your battles wisely—don’t worry about little things that have no real effect on overall morality or influence on your child. Hairstyles, for instance, come and go and do not greatly affect your child’s overall health or behavior. Their style may have some meaning as to what they are thinking or tending towards, but in itself, it is usually benign. If you find yourself caught in a power struggle, you can either win it and take more care next time, or sit down with your child, explain to them your thinking and how it has changed, and let them “win” this one. Communication is usually the key in these issues. Let your child know why you are concerned and they may be able to alleviate your fears. If it involves repetitive behavior, like a small child touching the TV/DVD, then consider changing tactics instead of continuing the same punishment. Walking away may be an alternative here as they may simply be doing this for attention.


Lying, stealing, and cheating are all types of dishonesty.

These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way. Ps 58:3 - NLT

This applies to ALL of us as we are all born into sin, all deserving death.

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal truthfully are His delight. Pr 12:22 - NKJV

Lying is not only intentionally telling falsehoods, but also not telling the complete story to gain advantage. Children—and adults—will almost assuredly do this at times. It is our nature as fleshly creatures. It is especially wicked as it destroys the trust and confidence of the family bond. If we cannot trust our family, then we are in desperate times. This hurts us as parents more than just about any other foolish behavior. Trust is something that breaks the family relationship and takes time to rebuild. Breach of trust is a serious offense, one that our family takes very seriously.

A half truth is a whole lie. ---Yiddish Proverb

Age should be considered when considering chastisement for lying. A young child does not understand the impact on the family, and lying is typically done to avoid pain or punishment. They are not intentionally breaking trust as they don’t fully understand the seriousness. Adolescents, on the other hand, should understand this, and serious structured consequences should result. They must be taken back to the understanding that God is truth, and Satan is the father of lies. This must result in fully repentant heart and attitude, or they will continue in this behavior.

Motivation encouraging the child to lie must also be considered. Here are several factors:

  1. To get attention
  2. To gain control over an object or relationship
  3. To get revenge or hurt others
  4. To escape responsibility
  5. To be accepted
  6. To balance parent’s unfairness
  7. Because of following parental example.

For all of these situations, they are countered with advice and counsel directly related to the motivation itself. They must be made to see that alternatives not only exist but are better for them as well as being godly. Knowing the motivation does not justify the behavior or excuse it, but it helps in correction.

Lastly, regarding lying, consider if it is in character or out of character for your child. One who habitually lies is showing that he is consumed with self-interest and that relationships mean very little to him. This is very concerning. If a child lies rarely, this is likely more a momentary lapse in judgment, and if dealt with properly, will likely continue to be rare.

A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. Author Unknown

Truth fears no questions. Author Unknown

Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom. Thomas Jefferson

Stealing is a similar trust issue and can be graded according to the seriousness of the “crime”. Taking a cookie without permission (which I would honestly consider more disobedience than stealing) is much less serious than stealing money from mom’s or dad’s wallet. Also, stealing from inside the family shames the child, while stealing outside shames the family. These factors determine what consequences must occur. If it involves a legal matter, as hard as it may be, it may be best to allow your child to be punished fully by the law instead of your helping them avoid consequences. If simply too much to bear, then very serious structured consequences must be applied. Juvenile delinquency is waiting around the corner.

Stealing is not only possible in tangible areas but is also in…

Gossip often takes the good reputation from others, and is a form of stealing as well as lying. It is likely one of the most under-recognized sins of today’s church in the US as we often put up with it. It is a hidden poison or cancer which affects many different situations insidiously.

A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. Pr 16:28 - NIV

A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. Pr 20:19 - NIV

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. Pr 26:20 - NIV

When we hear our child involved in speaking ill of others, we try to bring the behavior to their attention, help them to see the evil of it, and encourage them to instead speak well of the person in public, or, at the very least, to walk away and do not participate in those acts. Scripture frequently tells us to mind our own business.

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.

The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them. ---Will Rogers

Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It’s gossip. ---Erma Bombeck

No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues. ---Bertrand Russell

Gossip is when you hear something you like about someone you don’t. ---Earl Wilson

Cheating is an act of deceiving and/or defrauding others, and is a form of lying. Cheating not only hurts the cheater but also the one who is cheated. God hates this.

Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight. Pr 11:1 - NKJV

Do not have two differing weights in your bag — one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house — one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly. Dt 25:13-16 - NIV

Children often learn this from their parents on little things—telling the theater that they are under 12 (when they are not) to get cheaper tickets, etc.

Siblings and conflict

I, who have no sisters or brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends. ---James Boswell

Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring - quite often the hard way. ---Pamela Dugdale

Because we are all sinners, and family members live in close quarters, there will always be conflicts. The key is to minimize behaviors that are sinful and cause greater conflict.

Sibling rivalry is usually not truly ill will towards a family member, but more often when a child does not feel loved himself. Address the root issue here—give the child the love and security they need in the first place. Sibling conflict is more accurate when siblings are repeatedly fighting with each other and needs to be addressed as is done here.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Th 5:11 - NIV

Encouragement and kindness towards others, especially family, is something that should be actively taught to our children. If we cannot be kind to our own family, then we cannot hope to be very godly to others. Parents (especially me—Frank) tend to “be ourselves” at home, let down our guard, and be much more selfish and grumpy with those we love the most compared to those we see at work or in public. This teaches our children to do the same. Some issues are more common in children.

Resolving conflict

Try to have your children resolve their own conflict whenever possible. This teaches them that they can get along without intervention and helps them to see the point of view of the other sibling, and to treat them with compassion. (Ex.: having our kids sit knee to knee to work out a problem; Hawks have put two of their boys into one of their dad’s t-shirts for a short period of time until they work it out—end up laughing)

Tattling is when a child brings a report of another sibling’s behavior motivated by the desire to get them into trouble. The aim of the child is to hurt their sibling and is malicious. It should not be considered tattling when a child tells a parent of behaviors involving health or safety concerns; this behavior needs to be encouraged because it is actual concern for the health of the sibling. Sometimes the only way to discriminate between the two is to read the child’s face and actions to see if it is malicious. A truly concerned sibling will come in humility and not haughtiness. When in doubt, give the benefit of the doubt, but warn the child that they are close to tattling which is wrong and will be punished.

Tattling is also close to gossip. Tattling should not go unchallenged as it breaks down the family bonds and encourages sibling conflict. We do not initially put it on the same level as rebellion (but treat it more with asking forgiveness, etc.), but if it is repetitive or habitual, it may become rebellion/disobedience, and it needs serious consequences.

Verbal and physical altercations: We must teach our children self-control, and kindness and love towards one another.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Pr 15:1 - NIV

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. Pr 29:11 - NIV

Hitting, pushing, and biting are all potentially serious and must be addressed. We did not find that spanking increased these behaviors but stopped them when done properly. (Children know the difference between these bad behaviors and properly administered punishment.) Determine the motivation and intensity of the conflict. If it is more simply child’s play, then we might have them “hug, kiss, and make up” which normally made them smile, laugh, and end up playing again. Tattling is also often involved here: “Mom, Ricky hit me”, when they are not hurt in the least.

Talking badly about a family member is destructive. We are really hurt when family members talk poorly of us. Teach your children to encourage one another. If you hear one child talking smack about a sibling, consider making that person make several serious, uplifting comments about that sibling in its place. Teach your children to be siblings to one another—not another set of parents. Do not let an older child try to parent a younger one (unless baby-sitting, etc.) or the younger child will resent the older child.

In short, be prepared in every situation to teach your children biblical principles of how to treat each other. Show them how to love one another, to lift one another up. Take time to explain what the Bible says, to show better ways to express concerns and conflicts, and to realize how our God expects us to behave—like Him.

Use family devotions as a time when you can read an applicable passage of scripture and address issues you see coming up during the day. Make sure you point children to our need of a Savior because of our sinful hearts, and God’s gracious provision. Look for teachable moments. Point out bad behaviors you see around you. Help them learn from other’s mistakes—maybe yours!


  1. What does it mean to be “wise in your own eyes”? How can we prevent this in our children?
  2. How should you deal with whining? Tantrums? Power struggles?
  3. Why is lying so devastating to the family?’
  4. How should our children learn to speak of others? What can we do to encourage right behavior?


  1. Evaluate the freedoms granted your children. Do they match their level of maturity?
  2. Watch for conflicts among your children this week. Be prepared to share what went on, the motivation, how you dealt with it, and the outcome.

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero. ---Marc Brown

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk. ---Susan Scarf Merrell

When brothers agree, no fortress is so strong as their common life. ---Antisthenes

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate. Ps 127:3-5 - NASU