FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Discipline from Three to Four Years

with Barbara Rainey, Dennis Rainey | October 22, 2009
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The toddler years are often considered some of the most difficult. Today, Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk to parents about the best ways to discipline children who are just beginning to walk and talk.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • The toddler years are often considered some of the most difficult. Today, Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk to parents about the best ways to discipline children who are just beginning to walk and talk.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

The toddler years are often considered some of the most difficult.

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Discipline from Three to Four Years

With Barbara Rainey, Dennis Raine...more
October 22, 2009
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Bob: Well here from session four of this series are Dennis and Barbara Rainey Right From the Start.

Here on the subject of discipline when you’ve got a little baby who can’t crawl or walk or really talk, discipline is kind of simple and basic. But as soon as your baby becomes mobile, can start to talk back, the complexity level starts to increase doesn’t it?

Dennis: You move from little league to the minor leagues. 

Bob:  (laughter) The majors are still ahead.

Dennis:  I just want to show you what the minor league looks like. I ran across this a number of years ago and I chuckle every time I read this, it’s called The Toddlers Creed.

The Toddlers Creed “If I want it its mine; if I give it to you and change my mind later, its mine; If I can take it away from you it’s mine; if I had it a little while ago it’s mine.  If we’re building something together all the pieces are mine.  If it looks like mine it’s mine.”

Everything is mine is what he’s saying.  I think it’s a wise parent who realize The Toddlers Creed is really a reflection of their heart and that heart needs to be trained and needs to ultimately be introduced to who Jesus Christ is and who God is and how His authority relates to his life and then help him enter into relationship .  But in the mean time you are in essence filling the role of in the authority figure in your toddlers life and helping him learn how to respond properly to authority.

Bob:  When a child can begin to move and can begin to speak and begin to say no defiantly, disobediently. It’s a new day of parenting, isn’t it?

Barbara:  It is a new day and you know, you start thinking about what toddlers can get into. It’s just astounding the confrontations that can be had with a toddler.  All of a sudden when a baby starts walking they can reach pans on the stove, they can reach dishes on the table, they can climb on chairs and counter tops and tables.  They can play in the water in the toilet, they can eat the dog food.  

Bob:  (laughter)

Barbara:  I mean you start thinking about the things that are available to a toddler that were not available for him to get into just a few months prior. So, all of a sudden the stakes have changed.

When you have a toddler who is able to get around on his own two feet and as parents you need to decide.  What are we going to do about all of those issues that are now potentially available to our toddler? What will we remove?  What will we discipline and train for?

Bob:  Did you child proof your home?


Barbara:  We did a lot of child proofing. We decided also we weren’t going to make our house  romper room and get rid of every adult feature.  They had to learn to respect the things that were not theirs to play with.

Dennis:  We’ll talk more about this later that it’s better to have fewer rules than too many. So, what we try to do is strike a balance there, in terms of child proofing our home and also making it adult friendly as well.

Bob:  A lot of people look at this phase of a child’s life as the beginning of the terrible two’s but you don’t see it as the terrible two’s, do you?

Barbara:  No. I decided when I was raising our kids to call it the training two’s because it really is a time of very intense parental training in the life of toddlers and two year olds.  Because there are so many things they can get into and places they can go that they have not been able to before. The learning curve is so steep for a toddler that it really is a time of very intense training for your child.

Bob: This is the time when corporal punishment spanking may start to get used a little more regularly in the life of a child.

Dennis:  No doubt about it.  Here again, is where fewer things rather than more things are better. So, we reduced it down to four things that we spanked for in this age group. First of all, physical aggression, where there was pushing, hitting, biting, pinching, anything that was attempting to hurt another child or another person, including adults.

I’ve got some e-mails from listeners to our broadcast, where adults are allowing their children to hit them. And you can’t do that. You’ve got to take action on that and help the child begin to understand that’s inappropriate.

Secondly: Willful disobedience. It’s that look in the eye or the turning of the back and ignoring and passively choosing not to do what been asked of them. By the way, this is when it begins to become difficult.  It becomes increasingly difficult later on during the three to five age range when the kids get more sophisticated in this. Somewhere in this age range they begin to find out that we can just ignore mom and tell her we didn’t hear her and we didn’t know she wanted us to do that. They ignore the commands or the directives.

Third: Sassiness or disrespect, where there is just an attitude of the heart that is punitive toward the person in authority. That would be toward you as a parent, maybe a Sunday school teacher or a neighbor but any attitude that is expressed by a toddler, I think needs to be dealt with by the parent.

Then the Fourth are situations of danger. You know we already listed a bunch of these around the electrical outlets and things that a child can get into that are dangerous. I think as a parent you have to determine what that is and what’s important there but clearly spell those out for your child.

Again, it won’t be an age, like exactly at two. When you set your child down and begin to spell this out. Somewhere in the 18 months to the 30 month range, your child’s going to go through a self discovery phase where they realize they have a will, and it’s a different will than yours. That that will can sometimes win. It’s a power play.

And that’s why you bring these four things to them and you explain to them, you know what? Here are the four things that mommy and daddy will simply not allow you to do. It’s a little bit like Barbara’s instruction around taking the child down to the street.  Not if but when they test you.  You point out the wrong behavior, that’s called reproof.

You correct that child; bring them back on the highway. That’s the discipline aspect of spanking or of another form perhaps, and you continue to train in the direction they need to go. All those components come together around these four things.


Bob:  Barbara, this is the period of time where you would move from using your hand to using a different implement for spanking? 

Barbara:  We did because I realize spanking with my hand was not producing the right kind of pain or enough pain to cause them to want to comply, so we graduated to a wooden spoon at  about the time they all turned two.

Our son and daughter-n-law don’t use a wooden spoon. They use this leather strap that a friend of theirs had made. It’s about 12 inches long.

Dennis:  It pops too. 

Barbara:  It really does pop. 

Dennis:  We’ve never used it but…

Barbara:  We watch them use it. 

Bob:  Explain to us what a good spanking is going to look like start to finish.  How would you go about the process? 

Barbara:  Some of these we’ve already kind of mentioned but I’m going to go through them real quickly.  One of the things that we always were committed to doing was spanking our children in private so we would always take them into another room so we didn’t have an audience. 

We talked earlier about not spanking in anger so that is another component to a good spanking that is profitable.  We’ve talked about making sure there is pain that the child feels and if they don’t feel pain then you may have to administer it a second time because the goal is for them to associate the pain with the offense with what they did wrong so they will be motivated to avoid experiencing pain again in the future. 

We’ve talked about communicating clearly that you love your child and that you are doing this because you love them and you want to train them into how to live rightly.  Another thing I think is helpful is try to use biblical terminology so that they begin to understand.  Use words like selfish and say mommy saw that you were being very selfish with your toys and you were not sharing.  God wants us to be kind.  It helps you identify the issues of the heart if you can begin to practice naming things the way they are named in Scripture.  This will enable the child to begin understand his behavior in association with his heart attitude.  Ultimately you are trying to correct his heart not just his behavior. 

Then you spank him and after you spank him if he struggles or fights being spanked which we talked about earlier in response to a question you may need to spank him again.   I also shared about the time when one of our children was older probably five I told this daughter that she was going to get a spanking and to meet me downstairs in the living room because I had to go find the spoon by the way our kids started hiding wooden spoons, so I found the spoon and met her in the living room. 

I said come over here and sit by me and when she came over and sat by me I thought she looked a little like she had gained a little weight.  She had gone upstairs and put on six or seven pairs of panties under her jeans because she thought that would be really smart and that I wouldn’t notice and therefore it wouldn’t hurt.  Kids can be very creative in trying to avoid the pain but they must feel the pain for it to do any good. 

Then at the end we always prayed with our children.  We prayed for them.  We prayed that they would come to know Jesus as their Savior some day.  We prayed that they would learn to understand what it meant to obey God and to follow Him with their whole heart for all of their lives. 

As they got older and could pray we asked them to pray as well and helped them articulate to God that they had sinned against mommy and daddy.  They had disobeyed and will you forgive me.  We were training them in communicating a relationship with God.

Lastly, if the offense involved another person like hitting a sibling or taking or jerking a toy away from a friend we always made our child go and apologize and say I’m sorry I hit you.  Will you forgive me for hitting you or I’m sorry I took your toy.  You may have it back will you forgive me for taking your toy.  We helped them verbalize to that person that they had wronged exactly what they had done so they learned to own that responsibility of owning their behavior and their mistakes. 

Bob:  You were specific about that apology as well.  You didn’t just let them say sorry.   

Barbara:  Absolutely not.  They wanted to.  They wanted to just blow it off especially when they got older and go do I have to go through all this?  We’d say yes, you do.  It’s important that you say what you did and that you own up to the responsibility of your offense. 

Dennis:  At the point the child has done something wrong and again the younger the child the closer the discipline needs to be to the time of the offense.  You can’t delay a spanking for an 18 month old child like you can for a five year old.  You can use the delay actually as a part of the discipline with a five year old.  Go upstairs and wait until your dad comes home.  That is a good tool to use—time.  But the younger the child the closer it needs to be.  Take the child in your lap and tell them you love them.  I always liked to think of it as the bookends of love.  You tell them you love them at the beginning before you spank them and you tell them you love them at the end because the whole thing is bathed in love. 

It’s all about training and helping the child become a better person.  It’s interesting.  The whole process will continue on into adolescents.  When you discipline your teenagers and you tell them that these boundaries are for your sake.  We are doing this because we love you.  We wish we could allow you to do all of these things but we can’t. 

You take your child in your lap and tell them what they did.  If it is appropriate and they are old enough to articulate it they articulate what they did wrong.  You take them in your lap and turn them over and at that point if they fight you that is where you implement the second spanking for fighting you.  They have to receive the discipline for the appropriate offense.  They cry and you put them back on your lap and you hold them.  Sometimes we would hold our children for a long time before we ended the time of discipline. 

I think those moments are really important moments to sing to and pray over your child.  Tell them you love them.  Tell them they are going to grow up to become a great young lady or great young man and these are just hard times they need to be trained in. 

Then as Barbara said we prayed with them.  They were off and running and sometimes that whole process for a child was repeated over and over and over again in a single day and I would come home and I would find Barbara and she would be tied up.  Not physically but emotionally because of the exhaustion.  A part of this list we gave you came from a time where I came home and found Barbara and I didn’t know what to do. 

I think all I can do is spank them.  Let’s pull back and let’s evaluate what all the options were.  We literally created a discipline chart of all the various ways we could train our children without having to spank.  We taped it on the inside of the cabinet where it remained for who knows how  many years just to give her a number of options to look at in the middle of the battle with six children under foot. 

One of the reasons why we lose as parents is we don’t take the job seriously enough to pull aside from the battle on that date night on Sunday night and talk about what is happening here.  What is our game plan?  Let’s stick to it.  When we drop her off at the nursery on Sunday morning we are going to tell her in advance that we are going to drop her off.  If she wants to cry she can cry but we are walking away. 

Bob:  I think one of the important things that you point out is that you have to persevere in correcting but you also have to persevere in instruction. 

Dennis:  Right.

Bob:  As parents we think it’s correct, correct, correct but the ongoing instruction and remind that this is the standard.  This is what we expect in the cool of the moment when you get to the grocery store you say now we are about to go into the grocery store let me reinstruct you on what is appropriate in the grocery store.   We are about to go to church let me reinstruct you about what we expect at church.  The ongoing repetitive nature of instruction along with the ongoing correction is how you eventually get the child where you want the child to be.

Barbara:  Exactly.  I think that is what is so wearying to parents is the repetitive nature because you do it so much.  You think how many times do I have to say this before they will ever get it?  Because they are little you have to do that.  Our tendency is to think I’ve already explained this ten times and I shouldn’t have to explain this again.  It needs to be explained over and over again just like the correction needs to be done over and over again and they need to be tied together. 

Bob:  One of the reflections I had as we met with a number of couples as we were producing this series it was a great reminder to me of the days when Mary Ann and I were bringing our first children through the early childhood years.  We were clueless and we didn’t remember what our parents had done when we were two and three and four years old.  Maybe we had sketchy memories and we’d never done it before so the issues of discipline and what to do as a parent we needed mentoring and counsel and support and training just like our children need to be instructed and to be trained. 

I thought to myself as we met with these young parents I wish we had information like this when we were young parents.  Of course that is the reason we put together the Right From the Start DVD series with Dennis and Barbara so that a group of young parents or an individual mom and dad or an entire church can sit down and go through this material together.   They can talk about getting a game plan together to make sure mom and dad are on the same page in terms of how they are going to handle discipline in the home with toddlers and with preschoolers. 


If you are interested in finding out about this DVD series we’ve just been able to feature portions of the audio this week but you can actually see some of the clips on line at FamilyLife  You can order the entire DVD series from us. 

You can also call if you’d like more information, or if you’d like to place an order over the phone 1-800 FL-TODAY is the number—1-800-358-6329.  That’s 1-800 – F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY.  When you get in touch with us someone on our team can answer any questions you have about this DVD series sent to you.

Next month FamilyLife Today will celebrate 17 years of producing this program.  Over the past 17 years we have had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of subjects some of them things that every family faces and every marriage experiences.  Some of them are unique issues and challenges that not every family faces but when a family does confront an issue like an eating disorder or a suicide or drug use in the family or a marital affair things like that can be devastating for any family.  We have tried over the years to provide our listeners and now those folks who come to FamilyLife with a wide variety of practical, biblical help for any issue you might face in your marriage and in your family. 

I want to take a minute and thank all of the people who have made all of this possible and that is those of you who have supported this ministry with your donations.  We could not do what we do without the faithful financial support of FamilyLife Today listeners.  Those of you who have benefitted from this program and have either picked up the phone or gone on line to make a donation to FamilyLife Today we want to say thank you for that financial support and for partnering with us in this ministry.

This month if you’re able to make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today we’d like to say thank you.  To do that we have an audio book that we want to make available to you:  It’s the audio version of Barbara Rainey’s book Thanksgiving:  A Time to Remember.  We have heard from many of our listeners over the last several years who have enjoyed not only the book but this audio book that is read by a dramatic actor. 

Again the Thanksgiving:  A Time to Remember audio book is our way of saying thank you this month when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  You can do that on line at – if you are on line, and you’re filling out the donation form type the word “THANKSGIVING” in the key code box that you see on the donation form, and that will alert us to the fact that you’d like to receive the Thanksgiving CD’s. 

When you make your donation over the phone, just make sure to ask for the Thanksgiving audio book, and again we’re happy to send it out to you.  We very much appreciate your financial partnership with this ministry. 

Now tomorrow we are going to move from the minor leagues of discipline into the major leagues of dealing with the toddler issues.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock Arkansas.  Help for today.  Hope for tomorrow.

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