It has been important to us in our child training that we understand (or at least try to understand!) the difference between foolishness (willfulness) and childishness (underdeveloped character). The differences between these two types of behaviors in children are crucial in disciplining properly. This is truly one of the biggest mistakes that we see parents make. For example:
(1) A child who spilled his milk at the table is disciplined in the same manner as he was earlier in the day when he struck his brother
(2) A child who forgot to shut the door and the dog got in the house is disciplined in the same manner as he was when he talked back to his mother
(3) A child who didn't thoroughly clean his room is disciplined in the same manner as he was earlier when he lied to his dad about using one of this tools
In our child training, Ray and I have tried to determine whether a behavior was rebellion against us (as in outright disobedience or disrespect) or childishness (as in forgetfulness, procrastination, sloppiness, etc.):
a. Undeveloped or underdeveloped character
b. Forgetfulness, procrastination, irresponsibility, etc.
c. May turn into “foolishness” if left unattended
We do this because disobedience requires biblical discipline whereas childishness requires the second aspect of child training we have used: reality discipline (or consequences).
I like what an attendee at a recent seminar told us that she heard about this topic: Punishment is only for the Four D's:
1. Disobedience (i.e. not forgetfulness or overlooking routine at first)
2. Disrespect (i.e. direct disrespect to parents or those in authority--not disagreeing with you respectfully or having their own thoughts!)
3. Deceit (lying, stealing, telling half truths, etc.)
4. Destruction (purposely hurting things or people)
Which Behavior Is This?
Discerning between disobedience and childishness can be so difficult! Even after nearly thirty-one years of parenting, Ray and I still continuously ask each other which behavior a child is displaying.
Difficult or not, we must do it. The Bible says that we are not to exasperate our children. Two sure ways to exasperate them are to punish incorrectly, as in anger, etc., and to punish something as disobedience, when we should be training through consequences.
All parents are faced with this. A child dawdles when we call him to come get ready for bed, and we wonder whether this is just childishness or if it is real disobedience. When our son leaves the dog out of the kennel for the third night in a row, and the pooch potties on the new carpet, we ask ourselves if our little guy is disobeying or forgetting.
In a nutshell , if a child is disobedient, disrespectful, or rebellious, we have a heart issue—and a serious discipline problem that needs handled in a serious manner—and quickly. That is, the Four D's need punishment/chastisement, not consequences or reality discipline.
If a child is forgetful, slow, unreliable, etc. (especially a younger child), it is usually childishness—and we can “train” that undeveloped or underdeveloped childishness out of a child through consequences and reality discipline.
Besides disciplining these two types of behaviors correctly, we also need to watch our response to these behaviors. Simply put, not putting the hose back in the garage after the child watered the garden should not be met with the same response by the parent as lying about putting the hose back in the garage!
It is like responding to a child's red streak in her hair in the same way as we do if that child uses God's name in vain. There is simply no comparison. And the same should be true in our response to childishness vs one of the Four D's.
For more information on this, please check out Discipline at our blog--or host a Raising Kids With Character seminar in your church or parenting group or homeschooling group. (Our RKWC seminar is a Christian parenting seminar for all Christian parents as opposed to our homeschooling workshops that we do for homeschool groups. All parents, homeschooling or not, can benefit from Raising Kids With Character!)