The Foundation of Effective Parenting

We have four kids. Two technically qualify as adults, two don’t. The two younger ones moved with us, the two older ones didn’t. Since relocating, to the absolutely beautiful area of Florida we now call home, we have been patiently praying to have them all back together. Recently, we got closer to making that a reality.

One of our girls was ready for a change. She contacted me, asked me to come get her. She is here now. Life gets better every day. We are a family of five now. Looking forward to being a family of six, or more, even if it’s only for a season.

My girl has provoked some interesting conversations, since she got here. Plenty of them involve parenting comments. Since we were much younger parents with her, and she was an only child for about eight years, it was different. It’s funny, as a parent, to hear your kid’s perspective of your parenting skills. It also reminds me of why I tend to cringe when parenting advice is thrown around casually. Especially heavy, long-range advice from folks with only small kids or none at all.

She is reminding me of things we did right, and the things we missed. We were pretty effective disciplinarians, according to her. 

Our rules were pretty simple. “Time out” was mostly for when she just needed to calm down or detach from whatever was about to get her in serious trouble. Stuff was taken away when it seemed like the simplest solution to solving a crisis. Bedroom doors were removed when they were slammed. Toys and junk left laying around for more than a day would go into a bag in my closet. Lectures happened, too. Those are a great way to thoroughly annoy teens.

And, yes, spankings were part of the deal in our house. But, only a few things were grounds for that. My girl explained why they were effective to her. I had almost forgotten this routine until last night.

Three things guaranteed a paddled fanny in our house. Lying, hurting someone intentionally and repeatedly refusing to do what they were told. “Spankings make you remember things.” An actual quote from her when she was about seven. She didn’t get them very often, but she got them. We weren’t abusive parents. Challenge me on that, and I will explain what child abuse is. I promise that I know better than you think.

Here’s what the spanking routine looked like at our house.

Kid lies, hits another kid, keeps doing something we said not to do over and over… “Go to your room.” Walk into the room, explain that we will be back and they can just wait right there. Go collect weapon of backside destruction. (We kept a small plastic spatula or wooden spoon is a specific place. Never used a bare hand, for the obvious psychological reasons.) Return to the room, close the door, sit down next to stressing child. Explain what is about to happen and why. Stay calm, turn them around, administer one or two quick swats. Sit them back on the bed, tell them we will be back and to wait.

At this point, we would give the kids about five minutes alone. Time to think about what happened. Then we would go back, close the door and sit them on our lap. We would explain why they got spanked, why we can’t tolerate behavior like that. We would make sure they got hugged tight and told that they were loved. We would sit with them as long as they needed. We never left the room angry, either of us. From the words of my own adult daughter, it was a very effective way to handle it.

It’s not about abuse. It’s about establishing a critical fact in the mind of a child. There will be consequences for bad behavior.

When those kids grow up they will experience consequences. Learning about it in a controlled environment, with people who love them, has got to be the better way to do it. The prison system doesn’t handle it that way. The court system doesn’t handle it that way. The school system doesn’t handle it that way. The playground bully won’t handle it that way. But, if those kids understand that there are consequences for bad behavior, maybe they won’t end up in trouble like the kids who don’t.

When we attempt to defy gravity, we fall and get hurt. When we attempt to defy other laws, there are consequences involved. The kids who don’t understand that fact, are being set up for a long run of continuous problems. Those are the kids who don’t respect authority. They don’t care about any laws or rules. When the bible says that a child left to itself becomes a shame his mother, that’s what it means. Children are not prepared to manage themselves or make lifelong decisions, yet. They need our guidance. They need to be taught by someone who loves them. They shouldn’t have to learn all this the hard way.

There’s another thing about parenting that has to be said… You know… Since this is what my site is about…

Those kids need to learn to love. That isn’t taught with time out or spanking or any other type of punishment. It’s taught by example. Those kids need to see love in action. Pure love. The kind that exists without selfishness or false pretenses. They need to see their parents being considerate and compassionate to each other. They need to the parents treat each other like they are the most important people in each others world. They need to know that a relationship with another human is possible. They need to see affection, communication and problem solving displayed in front of them.

There is an image in my mind, from my days on the road.

In an airplane, they are required to give that speech about seat belts and other things that nobody listens to. Right in the middle of it, they tell you what happens during a loss in cabin pressure. Little oxygen masks will pop out of the ceiling. What do they tell you to do? Put yours on first, before helping the people around you. Why? Because if you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone else. And you die. Ineffectively. Fix you first. Before trying to fix them. Learn to love your wife. Demonstrate it to the kids. Teach them to breathe. Help them do it.

When I worked with Prison Fellowship, I saw churches within prisons. They were often the strongest, most amazing churches I ever attended. After a few years, I realized why. They can’t leave. They don’t have the ability to walk away and join another one when they are offended. They kinda have to work things out when stuff happens. They are in a position where they have to resolve things. Induced maturity.

In an older article, Plan B, I explained that we have to learn to work plan A. Once we create a plan B for our marriage and family, plan A has been crippled. We have to teach our kids that family sticks together and cares for each other. Selfishness is only concerned about itself, love is the opposite. Telling them you love them is not doing it. Telling them is reinforcement, after you have shown them. You might want to read that one, too.

I guess the whole idea here is that we have to have discipline for a healthy family. However, if we learn to love, there is a lot less need for it. Love seems to manage itself pretty well.

If these are all new concepts to you, you might want to grab a copy of my 21 Days book. It’s full of stuff I wish I had learned before starting a family.

M. Erik Matlock is a self-professed recovering knucklehead with more than 500 articles and four books in print. He shares his hard-earned wisdom at, and through his books, which are available at Amazon.

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