It is amazing to me how little it takes for a small child to challenge a parent who is so much bigger!
How could they possibly believe that they are stronger than their parents? After watching kids AND parents for more than 20 years in ministry, the sad truth is that many of them are. Despite their size and resources, many parents fall victim to the intimidation and control of their children.
Recently, I watched a small toddler show his true feelings to his mother. After being asked to do something he didn’t like, he looked at her and spit on her.
Now I know what you are thinking: “All children spit at least once when they are little.” I agree! But how we respond to that first time (and second, and third) of spitting IS critically important!
There is a reason, I believe, God made children small. First, He was compassionate to the dear woman who is giving birth! Second, He knew that when they arrived, they would be small and needy which allows them to develop the necessary trust and bonding love with their parents. This trust and bond of love would carry all of them through the hard times of parenting ahead. Third, He knew how determined these little children would be to do their own thing and we must have at least size to our advantage so we could instill good boundaries when they are SMALL!
With this in mind, how is it that more parents do not teach their children to respect their authority?
A typical response, “If you want respect, you must earn respect.” Yes, and no.
There is obviously a learning curve during the “earning” process of the toddler years. You are correct that if you don’t respect your child, over time, they won’t respect you. However, parents must start this process early by establishing who is in charge, earning their respect. If we don’t, our children will catapult like a wild animal trying desperately to find the boundaries. They need security to flourish. What child feels secure wandering about without any fences?
As I watched this mother struggle, my heart went out to her. She truly did not want him to spit on her but she missed her O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y. As she told him to stop, he continued to spit on her another five or six times and she did nothing. Then dad came in, took him into his arms, and in a quiet, gentle voice told him he wasn’t being nice.
Are you kidding me? This child was NOT stupid. Even at 2, he already knew this fact! He was not TRYING to be nice. He wanted his own way! This little charmer then began to spit on dad for another 5-10 minutes until Dad tired out and carried him off as the small victor of that challenge.
What is this little guy really saying? He is saying, “Who’s in charge of me? Who will take care of me and keep me safe? “. Dad and Mom both responded, “Not us.” At their lackluster response, he shows not only his disrespect, but now his increasing disdain for them.
What is the correct response? I have found the best answer is this: consistent and intense responses to his ugly behavior every time until he gets it.
Intensity is referring to the quickness and firmness of our response, NOT physical discipline. It means time-outs, sitting in the corner or in the chair for an age appropriate time, etc. Act quickly and firmly with an authoritative, “No, this is not acceptable, ever.” The quicker, the better…and no yelling. Yelling is the surest way to promote disrespect.
Consistent means doing it over and over until they get it. Stop counting. If they get it when they are small, they will allow it when they are big. And they will never be any smaller or younger than they are today! And if they get it with you, they will get it with teachers, bosses, policeman, and the government. If they don’t, they will forever struggle with authority.
Build a bright future for your child. It starts with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.