“Children Crave Our Direction”: Why Disciplining Your 3-Year-Old Is More Important Than You Think


We had a good laugh about that, but it’s true. My husband and I are a team. I don’t go behind his back. If the children ask me something he has said no to, I don’t change the script. If I disagree with him on parenting we address it privately, not in front of them. They understand that their parents are a team, and they can’t play us against one another.

We don’t spare the rod. We discipline in many different ways. Some things only take a conversation, but others require physical correction. We don’t believe a spanking is abuse, and I find it odd that the more that opinion becomes mainstream, the worse children behave in public, and the worse young adults emerge.

But we also don’t spare love. We don’t physically discipline without following it by physical love. We hold our children and we explain why a punishment occurred. We are teaching the next generation. If I mouthed off to my boss, I’d get fired. If my children mouth off to me, I teach them that kind of behavior doesn’t fly. I model respect. I respect their opinions, I respect their feelings, I respect their emotions, and I respect that everyone is human and makes mistakes. They don’t get a lecture when they spill milk; they get me on my knees helping them clean up. But they don’t get a free pass at being hateful, ungrateful, or cruel because they are young. If they hurt someone they are corrected. I’m raising compassionate, kind, respectful young women.

We show our daughters so much affection. They never worry if they are loved. One of the ways we prove we care for them is by providing them an education on human decency. Some people say, “kids are cruel. Kids will be kids!”

But I say, “let’s start now teaching kindness, respect, and love for everyone.”

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Let’s not wait until they’re older, or at a more appropriate development stage. Children are smarter than you think. My three-year-old will fake cry when corrected. She has learned that when she cries she can get her way. I watch her manipulate her older sisters into giving in to her every request. If she’s old enough to learn manipulation, she’s old enough to learn decency, The Golden Rule, that words hurt, that lying is bad, or that cheaters never win.

Sometimes I think discipline has been passed off. Parents are too busy with overtime and social networking. They’re too busy creating a birthday party the whole neighborhood will envy rather than teaching their child how to be grateful when the gifts come. We expect teachers, coaches, and pastors to teach them right from wrong. We’ll foot the bill for the extracurriculars and new kicks. We’ll take them on a vacation they’ll never forget, but not remember to model thankfulness for the things we have. We end up with entitled brats who equate parental love with a price tag rather than an important life lesson delivered in honesty.

Integrity is reserved for the ball field, and we miss teaching it at the dinner table. We require summer sports to learn teamwork and perseverance, instead of picking it up just as easily doing chores as a family unit. Hey, I’m not against sports. Just saying you don’t need a coach to teach your kid not to be a sore loser. You can start teaching that at home. If little Billy thinks he’s a winner every time, life is gonna be quite the wake up call.

My daughters know they can be anything they want to be in life! But they also know that sometimes they can’t be everything they want to be. They know you win some, and you lose some, but you’re grateful that you got to play. My daughters are being taught to treat others the way you want to be treated. My eight-year-old recently got the brunt end of an angry older sister at the swimming pool. We didn’t intervene. We didn’t say, “hey, don’t yell at my kid! She’s just a kid. She doesn’t know any better!”

My daughter had excluded a girl from a group of playmates, and the girl’s very large sister had come to her defense with thunder. My daughter learned the consequences of her unkind actions. Why is it most of us don’t blink an eye when children learn lessons amongst their peers, yet we have trouble teaching them those lessons at home? How about we start the discipline at home before it becomes a black eye on the playground, or worse yet, a young adult who can’t hold down a job. We are raising the next generation of responsible adults. Of note, we used the pool incident as a lesson, building it upon ones we had already been teaching at home. She knew she was wrong. She owned up to it, and we moved on.

If a stranger corrected my children in public I would say, “Thank you. My kid was acting like a little jerk! I appreciate it. Sometimes they don’t listen to me.”

Our dog listens to my husband because he set firm boundaries with love. She respects him, she loves him, and she knows not to act like a crazy mutt!

Have you noticed that we live in a society that takes their dogs to obedience school, but won’t even tell their children the word no?

We don’t use the word no in this house. It’s too negative.

Uh, okay Nancy. We’ll see how well that works out when they’re forty, still in your basement, and asking for another loan.

Children need discipline. I don’t know where it’s gone, but it needs to come back. My kids are wild as bucks! But if I have over half a dozen strangers walking across the room to tell me they’re angels, then the comparisons out there must be pretty paltry. I’m half-joking, but seriously, I’ve seen those hooligans at the mall playground. Where are their parents?! I’m afraid my kid is gonna take a dropkick to the face by the next WWF wannabe. Yeah, sometimes it’s easier to ignore bad behavior, but maybe that’s lazy parenting. Just saying.

It’s okay to teach your child voice modulation. It won’t hurt their ability to express their feelings. It’s okay to teach your child manners. They won’t have Mommy issues twenty years down the road. How about this? It’s okay for the man to step up and lead the household, be the Alpha dog, model respect, and correct behavior that needs a revamp. You can tell your child “no” and still respect their autonomy. You can reward good behavior but not bad ones. That’s kinda how the world works. Only God dishes out undeserved favor.

Which leads me to this. Indiscipline we give love, but we also model grace. Our daughters know that we all mess up. When I do, I apologize, no problem. I model forgiveness and unconditional love. They know that no infraction will ever change my love for them. Basically, my husband and I read the Bible. A lot! We take what we learn there, and we apply it to parenting. We treat our children like Jesus would. Don’t you think God disciplines? Of course! He’s a good Father. He also loves. He forgives. He gives great grace. But He never forgoes correction. A loving parent can deliver all these things. Naturally, not as perfectly as our Heavenly Father, but we’re trying. Maybe that’s what we need more of today… parents trying. Trying to be more like Jesus. Trying to love like He loves, teach like He teaches, prepare for a good and prosperous future like He does, serve like He does.

Where has discipline gone? Maybe it’s still there. Maybe we’ve just forgotten how to apply it. We’ve forgotten how a good Father can discipline in love, that discipline is love, that a good Father never withholds His wisdom, and always teaches us to be the best us we can be. We need to remember this. The future depends on it.

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Brie Gowen
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Brie Gowen is a 30-something (sliding ever closer to 40-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler or playing princess with her four-year-old, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She’d love for you to check out her blog at