34: What to Do When Discipline Is Not Working

Question: I have a question regarding our daughter who is three and a half. Janie had colic when she was little and cried a lot for the first few months. Since then she has always been really tough. She has fits we can’t snap her out of every few times. She seems to get in this state of numbness while screaming. It’s really strange. We were at a cabin recently and she had a 40 minute discipline session each day. But she made herself so beside herself that it was again drawn out. Not just a normal fit, it’s almost like she loses control of herself and is incapable of hearing us, or feeling anything. We eventually get her to stop but it seems ridiculous to be going through this now, and it’s making us miserable, always has. 

We have a younger child, Cynthia, who is much easier. We discipline pretty much like you do, for each offense, and stay consistent. Cynthia will only take one spank to give us her heart again. Janie, was not like this back when she was Cynthia’s age.  She has always been loud and strong against us. We were hoping it would be over by now (at least the spank drama’s). 

We have begun to show her Bible verses and she does pray for example; that she would stop having fits and obey. So Janie knows what she needs to do. This does not occur each discipline time, otherwise I would have thought it was manipulation. She never wins as far as we know. We have also tried to continuously spank her until she stops, but that could get up to lots of spanks in a row.  

Do you have any ideas?



First of all, take heart!  Don’t get defeated.  You can win with this child.  Each one is different and some have a whole lot more spunk and willpower than others.  Parenting can get really hard at times, but you will win if you stick in there. 

Make sure you also get input from your small group leader or someone who is closer to the situation.  Ask them for open and frank input on all areas that relate to your parenting.  Oftentimes it is easier for an outsider to see our issues than it is for us to see them ourselves. 

I don’t know enough of your daily life to give real specific counsel, be here are some bases I’d want to make sure you’re getting covered.


More love and relationship

Make sure you (both parents) are connected with your girl.   Are you in the home enough?  Is she with sitters or in daycare a lot?  I’d cut out as much of that as you can.  She needs YOU.

Some kids like lots and lots of attention, and for some of them, negative attention seems better to them than minimal attention.  Some kids will go through spankings just to get to the kiss and make-up part at the end.  Make sure that throughout the day you are touching her, saying ‘I love you’, and making eye contact with her when you talk to her.

More discipline

Kids will act up if they think they can win.  Some kids will give up the battle of the wills if they have a ten percent chance of getting caught and/or disciplined.  Although it’s always best to be consistent, a little inconsistency with these kids might not be a real big deal. 

However, all kids are different.  Some kids feel victorious with far less.  If they can win one battle out of twenty, then they consider that a victory.  They will battle every time in hopes of winning just once.  Losing nineteen battles is no big deal as long as they can win the twentieth.

In your situation it would be very easy to get fearful of getting into discipline situations.  For some parents this can lead to weaker parenting: they make excuses for their children’s misbehavior, they accept less than complete obedience, and they shy away from giving any instruction that they think will be disobeyed.  Here’s an example:

   “Gimme that toy.  Give it right now…  Hurry up...  Okay, you want to put it on the chair?  That’s fine.  But don’t touch it again...  I said don’t touch it again...  Okay if you want to touch it that’s fine, but you better not pick it up…  Put that back down.  If you don’t put it down I’m going to tell your father...”

The child in that situation just won about five battles.  She didn’t obey quickly.  She put the toy in a place different than she was told to.  She touched it again.  She picked it up again.  She didn’t put it down again quickly.

I’d take the battle back to the first offense and discipline after she put the toy in the wrong place.  Take away her victories.  If she has no hope of winning such battles, there won’t be much point in engaging with you at that level.

I would also caution against getting fearful that something is terribly wrong with her.  If you lose confidence in that, you will not be as strong as you need to be.  I could be wrong, but I sense that you may think something is wrong with your little girl.  I wouldn’t worry about that too much.  I’d bet you a quarter that what is wrong with her is that her flesh is raging and that she is throwing a royal hissy fit.  Nothing personal, I’m just saying kids can be rebellious, and she is not different.  If she can obey sometimes, she can obey all the time, or at least become a generally obedient child.  Could she be more prone to acting up at times?  Sure.  I’m definitely grouchier when I’m tired, but I need to control that regardless of my vulnerability to it.  I suppose it is possible that there are aspects of her disposition, psychological makeup, or physical health that make her more prone to rebellion, but that doesn’t make it okay to be rebellious.  She may be more sensitive to how much you are home, or things that are said to her, or to what she eats for breakfast.  Sure, there could be contributing factors to when she struggles, but like all of us, she needs to learn to use self-control even when she is tired, sick, irritable, ticked off, or whatever. 

More instruction

Give her lots of structure.  Kids thrive with structure.  Have her always operating under your direction.  Practice ‘blanket time’ with her.  Set her on a blanket for 30 minutes with 3 or 4 toys.  Have her play quietly without getting off.  Stay close to keep an eye on her.  If she fusses or gets off, discipline her for disobeying you.  This will help her learn to obey your instructions and to stay within boundaries that you set for her.

If she was really going berserko for a while and I felt the amount of discipline was getting to a troubling level, I might try to slow down the process a little by giving her a lot more instruction.  After disciplining her you might try holding her for a while and letting her calm down a little.  Then, after she has regained her composure you could give her another opportunity to yield.  For instance I might discipline her, and then just hold her in my lap for a minute or two saying, “Shhhhh.”  Then, after she calms down a touch I’d explain it real clearly, “Honey, you don’t want another spanking do you?  Good.   I don’t want to give you another one.  But if you do not obey, I will, because that is best for you.  I want to help you learn to obey.  I want you to say “sorry”.  Good!  Now I’m going to ask you to obey again, and if you do not obey, I’ll have to spank again.  And you don’t want that right?  Okay, now, I want you to go and get the toy and give it to me.  You must give it to me.  You may not set it on the floor.  You may not throw it.  You may not give it to someone else.  You must get the toy and give it to me.  Do you understand?  Good, now please go and get the toy and hand it to me…” 

She is three and a half.  She can obey, but she is still young.  Give her lots of instruction.  Make it good and clear that you love her, and that you will work with her through this issue, but that you will win.  You don’t want to lose the battle, but you can certainly slow it down a little and give her some time to think through things and make good choices.

Hopefully something in here can help.  I’d really give 100% attention to these areas for the next few weeks and see if you notice any change.  You should not have lots and lots of long drawn out battles.  If your consistent love, discipline, and instruction is not curbing her behavior then I’d encourage you to keep reevaluating the situation and continuing to get input.  Keep praying for wisdom.  Ask God to reveal to you anything that you can change to help turn the situation.  He wants to help you.

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