Friday, May 7, 2010

What To Do About More Complex Problems?

The Question:

Dear Jane,
I guess I still don't get it.  I don't have a clear picture of what your discipline looks like.  I liked the example that you gave of your child coming home late, and thinking about how you would want to be treated if you were late- it makes sense, and I have been able to apply it to some situations at home with great success.  But, I get stuck when it gets more complex- like one kid saying something hurtful to another, or when the older kids aren't willing to allow the younger kids to play with them or share with them.  Or when someone back talks to me.  Then what?  Please help me to understand.  I want to do better.  I have so many questions- but this one is at the top of the list!  Thank you!

The Answer:

Dear Friend,

I wish I had a blueprint or a manual that would cover every situation.  I remember longing for one of those myself!   But I haven’t found one and I couldn’t write one.  It’s your privilege to decide what the climate of your home will be and how to create it.  My suggestions are really just general principles to guide you in that process.  

Let’s look at one of your concerns:  When older kids aren’t willing to allow the younger kids to play with them.

You’ve identified that as a problem in your home.  You know that you could force the older kids to play with the younger ones—but that won’t work.  It will breed resentment and contention.  You could set up a reward system in which older children earn points for including younger ones.  That would solve the problem on a superficial level, but again, you would be policing and orchestrating the situation.  What you really want is for your children to care about each other on a deeper level--enough that they would feel bad leaving one another out.  Encouraging and building those feelings in our children is possible—but it isn’t done overnight and it demands deeper thought and prayer on your part.

Spend some time thinking and praying about the situation.  Actually, all the concerns you talked about fall into the category of love and respect in your home.  The climate in your home is bothering you and you want to change it.  Know that the Lord wants you to succeed and he will inspire you with ideas.  I’ve been amazed again and again at the inspiration that begins to flow into my mind when I humbly seek it—insights that I would not have had, solutions that were so much simpler than I thought.  The solutions fit my family, my personality, my situation.  Some examples of this type of revelation might be:

I see that I am part of the problem.  The way that I am speaking, acting or treating my children is not modeling the behavior I’m hoping to see in them.

I see that one of my children is needy—discouraged or overlooked and therefore crippled when it comes to giving of himself in the family.

I feel impressed to talk to my older children about my vision for our family and enlist their aid in accomplishing it.

I might really see the point of view of my older children and have the ability to sympathize with their position when it comes to younger siblings.    When they feel understood and accepted, they naturally become more generous.

I might feel inspired to temporarily set up that point system I discussed earlier, as a way of turning the tide and raising awareness.

The general principles that I use involve teaching and loving, instead of continual discipline for failure.  These principles are especially effective when it comes to teaching love in the home.  It’s ironic when children are spanked for hitting or sent to their room for isolating a sibling.  Creating a loving environment, encourages love.  You model kindness when you speak kindly.  You teach patience when you are patient.  Most teen-agers who are disrespectful, are often spoken to disrespectfully, forcefully, and in ways that belittle.

I have often told my children over the years that this is our home, our family.  We knew each other before we came here and we hoped we’d be friends.  We get to decide how we want it to be.  I think it’s very important to keep the larger picture in view for everyone to see, to shoot for the ideal.

And one last thought.  When it comes to love in the home, my greatest asset (besides the Lord) is my oldest child.  Enlist their aid.  Give them lots of special attention and help them feel the weight of their role in the success of your family.  They very often set the tone.  As our children have left one by one, the next child steps into that role and becomes a great strength to us as they mature personally.  I would start fostering that role and relationship early.

Going back to your original question, I don’t really think of this as a “method of discipline”.  I don’t really discipline or punish.  I expect and teach and do everything I can to create an environment that will bring about success.

With Love,



  1. I enjoy reading your blog and your wise answers. I am at the beginning of a motherhood jorney - I have two little kids, but whatever you write always inspires me, makes me think, contemplate what I would like our home would look like. Thank You. Best greetings for Your whole family, Magda, mom from Poland.

  2. Thanks for this post! I have also been trying to wrap my head around your wisdom as I've made changes in how I relate to my sweet kids. This post (like all of your posts) is so helpful. Thanks for helping me make a difference in my home!

  3. Wow, what a post. Loved it, loved it. I remember attending education week years ago and the speaker said that his teenaged son didn't like to play with his toddler and he just told him, "You are older than he is, and this is your only chance you have to build a relationship with him. If you don't play with him, he'll see you as an older person he doesn't know that well. But if you spend time doing things he likes, he will love you forever and ever." The teenager took that to heart, and they were often found playing hide and seek together. Then, when the teenager left on his mission, the little boy would wander around and say, "Where's my buddy?" I loved that story, even though the end made me cry.

  4. My kids are all very close in age at 20 month apart(5,4,2,8 months) I never force my children to share, and honestly for the majority of the time they do. When they do have trouble I simply ask them if they want to be part of a happy family. They do of course, and then I explain that "happy families" share,help and are kind to one another. I then let them decide what their choice is going to be. For us this works well. I think it aloows them their agency while also helping them understand their actions effect our family as a whole.


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