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Administering Discipline for Attitude Problems

What worked yesterday with a child may not work today, and you have to be flexible
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


Just how do you go about administering discipline for a stinky attitude or other problems as your child edges into adolescence? Admittedly, what follows is just an overview, but you should find these pointers helpful:

1. Affirm your love. A child about to be corrected must be reminded that the parent’s actions have the right motivations.

2. Speak the truth. Be clear in your communication. Explain what has happened, why it is wrong, and make sure the child understands clearly the offense.

3. Call for admission of guilt and repentance. The purpose of your confrontation is to expose the problem and see it rectified. The child needs to acknowledge wrongdoing and appropriately express regret. The purpose of repentance is to take a new direction—not to repeat the same action over and over.

4. Assign a consequence (if necessary). Examples of discipline for this age group include withholding of privileges, grounding, delaying the opportunity to double date or single date, and so on.

5. Reaffirm commitment and love. Always end a discussion like this with a final reminder: “I love you; I want the best for you. I’m in your corner.”

We had a great opportunity recently to do this in a very visual, memorable way with one of our teenage daughters. This child had been somewhat devious about some upcoming plans—just exactly what her itinerary was to be one evening and how many stops she planned to make with the car.

The three of us were having a heart-to-heart chat about this issue in our master bedroom. Barbara and I were on one end of the bed, and our teenager was flopped down on an opposite corner. It was already 11:15 p.m., but we knew we were in the middle of a great teaching opportunity. Our daughter needed to understand that accountability must be total for a teenager; she just wasn’t free yet to do everything she wanted to do without approval from parents.

We sat on the bed and talked in circles for about 30 minutes. She was not getting our point, and in fact was resisting, refusing to acknowledge her wrong attitude. It was one of those moments when the Spirit of God just plops some insight in your lap. I sensed it was time to forget the “front door” approach; I needed to try a side door.

This illustrates an important concept for parents of teenagers: What worked yesterday with a child may not work today, and you have to be flexible. So instead of persisting in confronting this child with her sin, I sneaked in the side door and said: “You know, you’re seated on the corner of the bed over here, and it’s like you’re in one corner and you’re putting us in the opposite corner. I want you to know that this isn’t a battle between you and your parents. Honey, we’re in your corner! We’re not in a boxing match with you! We’re for you, and we’re trying to help you be successful!”

Her expression softened.

“Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise!” I continued. “We want God’s best for you, and we’re committed to helping make that happen. A part of that is teaching you some things that will help you mature and grow into the kind of person God made you to be.

“Accountability is not a minor issue! This is a big deal, because if you hide just a little thing, the next time you’ll be tempted to hide something bigger. If you can get away with it, before long you’ll go down a trail called deceit that can destroy your life as a teenager and as an adult.“

At this point the light bulb flashed on. She heard what we were saying and her attitude shifted. And at about midnight—mission accomplished—we all went to bed!


Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

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