Friday, July 17, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Preparing for Discipline

Caution: You are about to enter The Disorganized Zone. In this sector of the universe, chores are often neglected. Bedrooms look like garbage heaps. Temper tantrums erupt from preschoolers like lava from Mount St. Helens. Mothers are known to scowl a lot and sometimes steam exudes from their ears while lasers shoot from their eyes. Enter if you dare….

Episode III: School Wars

The scene opens with Homeschool Dawn, Orville, and Wilbur at work in their classroom. HSD is dressed in her Martha Washington costume and has Yankee Doodle playing from the CD player.

HSD: Boys, stand and march with me like a soldier in the War for Independence.

HSD begins to march. The boys stand and follow her until Orville accidentally steps on the back of Wilbur's shoe.

W(in a whiney voice, shrill enough to break glass): Orrrrviiillllllle! Stop stepping on me.

O: I didn't mean to do it.

W: Yes, you did!

O: No, I didn't!


O: NO, I DIDN'T!!!!

The boys begin stepping on each other's feet while arguing.

HSD: That is enough. Sit down now! There will be no more of that!! Orville, tell Wilbur that you are sorry for stepping on his shoe.

O: But I didn’t mean to step on his shoe.


O: Yes, ma'am. (with a muffled voice) Sorry, Wilbur.

W (in a monotone voice and rushed speech): That's okay, Orville. I forgive you.

HSD: Now, I want you both to get out your journals and write a few sentences about what you remember about Yorktown from yesterday's reading.

30 seconds later…

O: I'm finished.

HSD: Already? Are you sure? That was awfully quick.

Orville hands his journal to HSD, and she reads it. Orville has (amazingly) written a well-formed essay with many details. However, his spelling is grotesque, margins have been ignored, and the Rosetta Stone is needed for decoding his handwriting.

HSD: Orville, your thoughts are excellent; however, I do not think that anyone other than I could read this. You need to edit your work and rewrite it more slowly and neatly so that others can read your good writing.

O: Do I have to? I already wrote it once. I don't understand why I should write it again.

HSD: Orville, you need to exercise discipline and care about the quality of your work.

O: But mom, I don't want to do it. Can't I rewrite it tomorrow?

HSD: No, Orville. I told you to do it and I expect you to do it now.

O: Mom, I really don't think you're being fair. You told us to write an essay, and I did. You didn't mention that we would have to edit it today. That is the second step in the writing process, and I think it is too much to ask of me to pre-write and edit consecutively.

HSD: Orville, pick up your pencil and get started immediately.

O: Yes, ma'am.

HSD turns her attention from Orville to Wilbur. He is crawling around on the floor beneath his desk.

HSD: Wilbur, what are doing?

W: I can't find my pencil.

HSD: Have you looked in your drawers?

W: Drawers? Oh, yes, I hadn't thought to look there.

Wilbur begins to unbutton his pants.

HSD: Wilbur! What are you doing?

W: You told me to look in my drawers.

HSD: Not those drawers, Wilbur… your desk drawers.

W: Ohhhh!

Wilbur climbs back into his chair, spins three times, and opens the desk drawer where he immediately locates six pencils.

HSD: Wilbur, it has been twenty minutes since I gave the assignment, and you haven't written a single word. You must get started now.

W: Yes, ma'am.

HSD turns her attention back to Orville who has a piece of construction paper and markers on his desk. He is hurriedly using the markers to write on the colored paper.

HSD: Orville, you aren't rewriting your essay with markers, are you?

O: No. I am making protest signs.

HSD: Protest signs? That has absolutely nothing to do with the assignment. You are writing about Yorktown. That is the end of the War. The protests preceded the War.

O: These signs are for me. I am protesting the writing process. It is unfair and makes children do unnecessary work.

HSD: Orville, put the markers away NOW. Get your essay out and begin your revision immediately.

O: Yes, ma'am.

HSD turns her attention back to Wilbur who is crawling on the floor again.

HSD: Wilbur, what are you doing now?

W: I dropped my eraser.

HSD searches with Wilbur for nearly ten minutes. Evidently, the entrance to the Bermuda Triangle is beneath Wilbur's desk because the eraser is nowhere to be found.

HSD (handing Wilbur a new eraser): Here is a new one. Please, do not lose this. It is your eighth eraser in three days.

W: Yes, ma'am.

HSD returns her attention to Orville who is writing slowly and deliberately on his paper. She smiles at the thought of him finally complying.

HSD: Orville, I am glad to see you so hard at work and writing so carefully. Let me see the progress you have made.

Orville hands his paper to HSD. After a quick glance, she has to close her eyes and count to ten, taking deep breaths. Orville has rewritten his essay… but in Latin.

HSD: Orville, what is this?

O: You said to rewrite it neatly but you didn't specify a language.

HSD (trying not to explode): Orville, go to your room NOW. Sit on your bed until further notice.

Orville leaves the room, and HSD turns her attention back to Wilbur. He is moving his pencil frantically. She leans over to see that he is doodling… on his desk.

HSD: Wilbur! What are you doing?

W: I don't know.

HSD: Well, are you writing your sentences about Yorktown?

W: No, ma'am.

Wilbur's lips turn downward. His big, blue eyes widen, and he gives HSD an innocent look of despair, similar to Oliver's before he asked, "Please, sir, might I have some more?"

HSD: Wilbur, have you written anything?

W(handing his journal to HSD): Yes, ma'am.

HSD looks at the journal entry. Wilbur has written the heading and nothing else.

HSD: Wilbur, we have been at this assignment for an hour, and all you have written is the heading.

Crocodile tears pour from Wilbur's eyes.

W: But I don't know how to write.

HSD: You don't know how to write? Wilbur, we write all the time. What do you mean?

W: Well, I do know how to write, but it is so hard I think my fingers might fall off if I do it for too long.

HSD(ready to scream): Wilbur, please go to your bed.

Wilbur leaves the room. HSD somberly slumps into the chair at her desk and despairingly drops her head into her hands.

HSD: *sigh*

I know all of you must think I am a terrible disciplinarian after reading that sketch. I do have my bad moments, and they usually come when it seems that both boys are intent on doing the opposite of what I want and need them to do like in the above scenario. The bad behavior seemingly hovers around me, pressing inward, and makes me feel beaten down. However, we do not have to feel defeated or deflated. Though we do not know exactly when or how bad behavior will rear its ugly head, we can prepare for it.

"Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him." Proverbs 22:15 is the place to begin in preparing for discipline. Our children's hearts are full of folly because our children are sinners in need of God's grace. In those moments that my children's actions interrupt and try my patience, I am always tempted to focus on myself. I get angry because my plans have been interrupted. I huff and I puff because my good teaching is not being appreciated. I worry because I think I am not doing this school thing as well as all the other moms out there. I sin and try to apply my methods for correcting and rebuking and not God's.

I have been known to say things like, "how could you do this to me?" or "if you embarrass me, I'll…." or "don't you know how you hurt me (or frustrate me or anger me…) when you do that?". But, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." (Prov. 1:7) As much as I try to make my boys' misbehavior about me, it is not about me at all. My discipline must not center on my feelings, my damaged hopes, or my prideful dreams. My discipline must point my children to the Lord. To prepare myself to teach my children the fear of the Lord, and not just the fear of the rod or the fear of me, I make a list of Scripture passages that correct a variety of sin problems. I also have a prepared response to each of four categories of misbehavior that when followed, keeps me calmer and more likely to discipline in a God-honoring way.

The first category of misbehavior is "Power Struggle", and students exhibiting these behaviors are acting as controllers. The controller is the one who talks back, disrupts, and willfully disobeys. Their actions can provoke us, but controllers must be dealt with calmly yet firmly. A power play in our home earns an automatic spanking. However, the controller is often sent to his room for a cool-down period first. If I try to discipline these actions immediately, I am more likely to discipline out of anger or pride. I take some time to pray. Then I go to the controller and show him from the Word how he was wrong. I set him in my lap or kneel down to his eye level while we talk. Then I apply discipline and leave him to reflect on the relevant Scripture. Afterward, we pray together and he makes the necessary apologies. Then he is hugged and loved.

The second type of misbehavior is "Revenge". The retaliatory child lashes out. These behaviors can be aggressive like stepping on a sibling's toe or passive like pouting (in the child's mind, not speaking to Mommy is a way to get back at her). Their actions are often effective, too, tempting us with feelings of guilt, failure, or hurt. I believe the most affective reaction to the revengeful child's actions is very similar to that of the controller. When applying the Word, I add a talk about how his attempts hurt him much more than me or his brother or whomever he was attempting to harm. We talk about that fact that harming your neighbor is a sin and how sin separates us from God and how hurtful that is. We follow with a discussion of our need for grace, our need to be gracious, and that vengeance is the Lord's.

The third type of misbehavior is "Attention Seeking" and the attention seeker's actions tempt us with feelings of annoyance. I am less prone to spank the attention seeker than the others. That doesn't mean that I won't spank him; it just means that I try to exercise wisdom with this one. The attention seeker after all likes the spotlight, and misbehavior, and sometimes punishment, is a way of shining it directly on him. Sometimes these attempts are mild, like telling a joke at an inappropriate time, and I think are best just to ignore. He wants attention, right? So why give it to him by correcting him? In fact, there is the potential for a vicious cycle to ensue… he misbehaves, you correct, he gets attention, he likes the attention, he misbehaves again to get more attention….

If ignoring him, however, does not correct the situation and he persists, it is time to apply the rod. When his attempts to get attention are purposefully timed to disrupt or infringe upon other rules, he must be removed from the situation immediately. I have sent my attention seeker to spend time alone in his room. This was not a "time out" but a "time away". His isolation was spent in his room (about an hour) with toys and other "fun things" removed. He was allowed to leave for the restroom but for no other reason. He had to learn that as long as he tried to manipulate us he would not get the attention he so desired. I have found that sometimes he must spend time after discipline in isolation, too, because he will try to get attention afterward, doing his best to make sure everyone feels sorry for him. When we do things right, we do not give him what he seeks. When he repents and acts appropriately, however, we make sure to give him the attention he so desires through lots of hugs and compliments.

The fourth type of misbehavior is the one that must be handled most carefully. "Avoidance of Failure" behaviors tempt us with feelings of frustration. Why won't he read his book? Why does he keep losing his pencil? Why does he take so long to complete such simple assignments? Sometimes these actions really are the result of immaturity and they really do require the rod. In this instance, they are probably more of a power play than an avoidance. However, sometimes they are something more and are rooted in something much deeper. There could be a gap in his learning, a place where he needs a little extra motivation to jump a hurdle, an issue like vision problems, or a learning disability. This is not a time for us moms to be paralyzed by guilt or feelings of inadequacy. It is a time to pray for wisdom and to find help. It is a time to talk with your child and get to the bottom of what he is experiencing.

There really were a couple of months in which Wilbur was constantly under his desk, making silly excuses, and dragging his feet. I was really frustrated, too. I tried a carrot or stick approach with him by rewarding him for completing tasks in a timely manner. I set the timer for each assignment and allowed him to go to the candy jar whenever he finished his work on time. However, during this trying period, rewards did not motivate him. Likewise, discipline only caused him to become sneaky about hiding his struggles to complete his work which made the day even harder for him and me.

One day, I determined to get to the bottom of this and sat down to have a heart to heart with him. He finally explained that he was having trouble reading. He started reading at a young age and had never struggled before, so I probed more deeply. He finally shared with me that the words on the page were blurry. After a visit to the optometrist and new glasses, the "misbehavior" stopped. His actions in this instance weren't really misbehavior as much as they were a coping mechanism. He did not want to admit that he was having problems. Though there were some lessons for him to learn about pride and honesty, he was not acting out as much as he was protecting himself.

Regardless of the type of misbehavior, we must be diligent to apply the Word. "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Tim 3:16 As we prepare to train our children in the Word, we are equipping and preparing ourselves for the work of discipleship. As we couple the rod with the Word, we are teaching, reproofing, correcting and training our children in righteousness, not to fear us, but to fear the Lord. Below is a list of Scripture passages that teach to the heart of the matter concerning each of the four types of misbehavior.



Power Struggle: Ex 20:12, Eph 6:1, Prov 1:8-9, Prov 3:11-12, Prov 4:1-9, Prov 4:14-15, Rom 6:12-14, Eph 5:15-17, Tit 3:1-9, 1Cor 13, Gal 5:16-24, Heb 13:17
Silver Lining: Each of the four misbehaviors has a silver lining. The power-struggle child is a person of vision and determination and he has the potential to accomplish great things. Pray continually for your controller that his vision and determination would be subject to God's authority. Pray that he will learn to hate sin and that he will mature into a Godly leader who is determined about the things of the Lord.

Revenge: Prov 3:29-35, Rom 12:19-21, Rom 13:10, Rom 15:1-2, 1Cor 13, Gal 5:16-24
Silver Lining: A person inclined to take revenge is a person who feels things deeply. He wants to hurt others because he is hurt. He has the potential to be incredibly compassionate. Teach him to take his pain to the Lord. Pray that your revengeful child will become a merciful person and that his passion would be for Christ alone.

Attention Seeking: Prov 27:2, John 12:43, Heb 2:12, Heb 13:15, 1 Pet 4:11, Psa 115:1, 1Cor 13, Gal 5:16-24
Silver Lining: Your attention seeker wants YOU! Teach him limits but revel in the fact that he wants love and give it to him unconditionally. He also has a big heart, big personality, and the ability to make friends easily. Pray that he will consider others more important than himself and that the Lord would make him unashamed of the Gospel.

Avoidance of Failure: John 5:24, Rom 8:1, 2Cor 3:5-6, 1Cor 13, Gal 5:16-24, Prov 16:18, Prov 29:23
Silver Lining: Though this child probably struggles with perfectionism, it is because he really cares. Teach him that mistakes are okay. Give him work to do at which he will excel and praise him for a job well done. In areas where he struggles, encourage him to always try his best but not to be paralyzed by the need for perfection. Lead him to the Throne of Grace. Pray that he would adore Christ, who alone is perfect.

1 comment:

argsmommy said...

Excellent! I am going to have to read this again tonight to fully take it in and have time to really look at all the scripture references you provided. You really should make this all into a book. I feel almost guilty for how much I've learned from this series. : )