Kids Who Throw a Fit and Refuse to Do What You Want Them To

Christian is five years old. He's smart, funny, and pretty nearly never stops talking. He's happiest when he has a purpose, even if the purpose is schoolwork or chores. But sometimes, often, he just doesn't want to do what he's been told to do. Yours, too?

You would think that after doing this parenting gig for almost 20 years, with Christian being our 7th child, I would have figured the whole throw-himself-on-the-floor, writhing around, fake-crying thing out. You would think. I just look at him and roll my eyes in my head.

Do you remember when I wrote about The Ticket System we're using from Dr. John Rosemond? It has been very helpful, causing the middle kids to stop and think about their attitudes and choices. And then last week Dr. Rosemond's newsletter appeared in my inbox with yet another parenting tool that I thought could be a great approach to Christian's dramatic stubbornness.

It's called The Agony Principle, and it works basically like this:

Parent tells child what to do - "Christian, you need to pick up the toys in my room."

Child protests - "Noooooo! I don't waaaannnnnt toooooooooo." {throws himself on floor}

Parent can now take on the agony of the child, becoming equally agonized. That stinks. So:

Parent says, "Okay. You don't have to pick them up." Child skips away and parent picks up the toys.



I know. That was my response initially, too. But here's the thing: If you argue with the child or even pick him up and take him kicking and screaming to do the task you originally told him to, your agony has now reached the level of his, and maybe even more.

Here's the brilliance: you will address the issue, but only when it matters to the child. For Christian, that was right after dinner tonight. As Dr. Rosemond suggests, we didn't tell him what was coming. Instead, as soon as dinner was over and Christian was doubtlessly looking forward to the bonfire dad had going in the big fire pit, we looked at him and said, "Okay, bud. Time for bed!"

He was stunned. He started to protest. We smiled. "Sorry, but you didn't obey today when I told you to pick your toys up in my room. Now it's time for bed."

He cried but moved himself up the stairs, and when he got about halfway there I called out, "Hey buddy! Next time remember to do exactly what Mommy says so you can enjoy your whole day!"


What Do I Do About a Child Who Lies?

Recently I asked on the Preschoolers and Peace Facebook page what you all would like to see covered on the blog before I take a summer break. So many of you responded with great questions and ideas! Thank you. I'll try to get to them all as best I can.

Preschoolers&Peace Lying Child.jpg

Rebecca commented, "[I'd like] creative ideas for disciplining a three year old (almost four) who is having problems telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Back in 2010 another reader asked the same question, so I'm just going to double up. Here's how I answered Stacy about her child who was struggling with lying:

We consider, and probably you do too, lying to be one of the worst habits a child can form.  We try to snuff out lying and deception as expediently as possible because when trust is broken down within a family, it's very, very difficult to regain.

Therefore, lying carries the heaviest discipline around here.  We communicate that, too.  We've only had two who have lost our trust for a long period of time because of lying, and they feel the consequence of that loss sorely when we say, "I'm sorry honey.  I'd love to believe you but I just can't."  In the case of the child who is the oldest of the two and who seems to have conquered this ugly habit, the loss of trust was felt deeply enough that it reformed him.

However, I know that this isn't the case for everyone.  We have friends who have children who chronically lie or are sneaky, and it is emotionally taxing for them as parents.  I say that because I don't want what I wrote above to give you the false impression that after a period of mistrust, your child will be cured of lying forever.  Life's messier than that.  So if that's the position you're in, I'm just going to encourage you to stay the course.  Do not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season you shall reap!  I was a liar as a child and young adult, and it wasn't until the Holy Spirit got ahold of me in this area that I changed my ways.  Keep praying for the work of the Holy Spirit on behalf of your children. And tell them, everyday, that only Jesus can be their righteousness, no matter how hard they try. His grace covers all!

All that said, would some practical ideas help? Charts with stickers can be a great motivator. One sticker for each day telling the truth and then a celebration when the chart is filled. This gets into a little bit of muddy water for me, though, because I never want to just deal with a child on merely the behavioral level. If you do something like a chart, be sure you're telling the child they are loved and they live under the banner "It is finished!" even if they slip into lying.

I love stories that illustrate a character issue and the consequneces that can arise when we fall into a particular sin. Lying is a sin that can easily become a habit very difficult to break, so stories about people whose lives were gravely affected by a lie can be very powerful. Look for story books that deal with lying, such as the classic Pinnochio. Conversely, steer clear of books that weave some lying in (particularly child to parent), and where that lie told produces a good result or at least goes undetected. 

And then tell that lying child again the good news: Jesus is perfect! When God looks at you, He sees Jesus! Even when we lie, we can never lose His love. The law never motivates, but love and grace always win!