An Important Parenting Concept: Especially for Parents of Young Children

This reality about parenting came to me recently.  I’ve observed it for years, but I am just now formulating my thoughts around the concept.  The reality for most of us is that we tend to try to control less when our children are younger and more when they are older.  It should be the opposite.

When our children are toddlers we tend to dismiss the control issue.  Sadly this appears to be epidemic in today’s generation of parenting.  I hear parents often saying things like, “I can’t get them to take a nap” or “They won’t obey me”.  I see this at church when parents won’t leave their toddlers in the preschool area because “they just don’t like it.”  The fact is that you can make a toddler comply if you really want them to.  You are stronger, bigger, scarier, and smarter than they are.  You may not feel that you are, but you are.  The time to control your children the way they need to go is when they are young.

Something happens when a child enters their late elementary and middle school years.  Our children naturally begin to resist authority and so what do we do?  We attempt to control them even more.  The problem is they have more freedom in their schedules.  They are stronger, bigger, scarier and smarter than they were as toddlers.  They can even pretend to comply and yet do their own thing when parents are nowhere around.

The biggest problem with trying to control our children into their teenage years is that if we don’t protect our relationship with them, when they can they will completely rebel against our authority.  Have you ever known that to be true of a high school or college student?

Almost as a side note, but equally important: If you don’t do anything else in your time with your children, help them to know you love them unconditionally.  You don’t accomplish this by giving into their every wish  when they are young, but by lovingly guiding them in the right direction through discipline and correction when they are very young.  When your children are older, when they need your wisdom perhaps even more, they will continue to seek your input into their life if that love relationship has been developed.  The time to have ultimate control of their behavior is when they are young.

My encouragement, especially to the parents of younger children, is to instill the values you have for your children when they are very young, while you still have control, then move to less control and more protection of their hearts through their teenage years.  If you have trained them well and they know you love them, then they will continue to honor your influence over them later in life.

For more parenting tips, check out the parenting category of this blog.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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18 thoughts on “An Important Parenting Concept: Especially for Parents of Young Children

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this. I was raised in a household in which we did things because they were expected. Not because we agreed. Not because they were fair. Not because we understood. Because we were children, and our parents told us to.

    And I am SO incredibly grateful for that.

    I work with younger students all the time who were not raised in that environment, and they are generally more difficult to work with unless the purpose of the task or rule makes sense to them. Frankly, that's not how the world works. And to raise them in a way that leads them to believe that everyone is as spineless or conforming as mommy and daddy is to do them a disservice. Parents are supposed to prepare their children for success…not a rude awakening!

    I don't believe in barking at your kids or ordering them around or "controlling" them in any way. I am a firm believer in explaining concepts/rules to children who can use that information to make better decisions. Let's face it, however – no 2 year-old can understand the importance of rules. And if you wait until they DO understand to set the routine in place… well, prepare for a battle.

    We don't make our children take naps because they'd rather play. We let them watch tv rather than read a book because it's what makes them happier. And then we wonder why the teenagers are "all about me."

    And I can relate to the nursery bit completely. Let's just say… nursery duty has taught me a few things about how NOT to parent children. =

  2. Thank you for reaffirming this concept! I have 2 toddlers…1yr old and a 2 yr old :) I have felt very strongly about the very idea you express in this post. I have been “lectured” otherwise…but my conviction stands and reading this article has helped me understand that it’s ok! I set boundaries, try hard to be consistent discipline/schedule, let them know church/preschool is the “norm”, and that I love them no matter what and God loves them even more!

  3. Cool.

    I suppose got on my high horse about the "stronger, bigger, scarier" sentence in your blog, that's all.

    IMO, capitalising on the stronger, bigger and scarier wears off once the little ones become stronger, bigger and scarier themselves. Then you're in trouble.

    And I do trust the "punishment applied" mentioned in your link above does not include physical violence :)

    Al the best,


  4. Hi Ron,

    you say “I believe you must get control early” this still sounds awful to me. Children are automatically eager to please, eager to impress, eager to make you proud. You don’t have to exert control or demand obedience. Clear rules, high praise, the rest works for itself.

    It’s just your use of the words ‘contol’ and ‘obedience’ and ‘trained’ that scare me.

    If you are talking about demanding your children’s obedience to unexplained rules and boundaries, using negative consequences, then I cannot agree.

    If you are talking about positive relationships through clear rules and high praise, then we are probably in agreement.

    As to your comment, “Children will naturally resist authority”, well I agree. I accept that a child will resist imposed, unexplained and unfair authority. However, if the child has understanding of ‘the fair rule’, and a hand in the setting of the rule, and a winning stake in the positive outcome of the rule, then you are both onto a winner.

    It’s much easier and healthier to foster the love and respect than to set mysterious arbitrary rules and punishments

  5. So much has to do with personality. I have three kids, 28, 25 and 21 and every single one of them is different. I never had to “control” my daughter who was also the middle child. She never had to be spanked, seldom disciplined, wise and caring. The boys had to be handled differently because they questioned everything. I believe that if children aren’t allowed to make some minor mistakes so they are taught to critical think and experience the consequences of their own decisions they struggle in that transition into adulthood. Of course, total lack of discipline never introduces the consequences…balance is the key. Sometimes we have to put our foot down. But I have seen how too much “control” leads to some very rebellious teens. Choose your battle wisely. A purple mohawk to me is something to laugh with them about, not a reason for argument, punishment or discipline. My motto as a parent is to never assume that your children know something…keep telling them everything. They are born without anything on their hard drive. We want them to download it from reliable sources.

  6. when you say:

    "you can make a toddler comply if you really want them to. You are stronger, bigger, scarier, and smarter than they are"

    I am reminded of the line in Matilda:

    "I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it."

    structure your children's learning? yes

    model good examples for them? yes

    demand obedience? no.

    you big bully.


    • I disagree with you Steve, but I love you commenting. I believe you must get control early. I am certainly not a bully…well maybe I am….

      I know you don’t know me, but you should know I have 2 awesome young men who think I’m also their best friend today, so I stand on the fact that at least in my case…it worked.

      • Hmm, control…. I agree that parents need to be in charge and our kids want us to be even though they expend a tremendous amount of energy trying to convince us otherwise. But control… I think as parents we have to accept that in the end, our kids have free will and while we might be able to force them in the behaviors we want, we can't actually control them.

        That said, my kids aren't "baked" yet so I don't feel like I can speak about parenting with much authority. Let me see first if I spend my son's college fund on bail and then I'll get back to you. :)

        • Well, I think we may be differing on terminology. I'm okay if you use "in charge" and I use "control". I just know if you don't have control when they are 2, you'll have a much harder time influencing when they are 13. And, I do speak with a fairly good track record. My 19 and 22 year old would agree. And, yes, children do have free will.

    • demanding obedience of little onces does not equal bullying.

      children need to learn about respecting authority. we are their authorities when they are little. we are the most loving authority (besides God) that will ever be in their lives. if they do not learn to respect our authority, they will not learn to respect other authories (i.e. teachers). and then, we are failing them as parents.

  7. Thank you, Ron!! We parents of young ones need guidance! I have recently been asking alot of questions of people who are more experienced parents that I trust about their experiences and advice. They majority are all saying what you have said here in your post. It can be really hard to be strict with the little ones because they are so cute and helpless, but we can already tell that our little Jayda is benefiting from our loving discipline. She is sleeping so much better at bedtimes and naps :)

  8. As a parent of a young child, I really appreciate this post, Ron. Thanks.

    This post is really what you’ve done for so many years with your own children. You say “it’s just come to me recently” but you’ve lived this philosophy with parenting, and you’ve got two sons who love you to prove it works. Thanks for the post, and for the example you’ve left.

    Ben Reed’s last blog post..John Piper and Michael Jackson?
    Twitter: Benreed