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Discipline Crashers

Discipline Crashers

The thought “I scream for ice-cream,” flashed through my brain as Amee, buckled securely in a restaurant high chair, defiantly wailed, “I want ice-cream.”

And we the spoilsports, aka parents, stubbornly answered, “No.”

A two-year-old about to skyrocket, Amee yanked at the plastic bib around her neck, flailed her arms, and kicked her legs.

I picked up a small piece of ripped off hamburger with one hand and an equally innocuous piece of bun and held it out to her.

“You need to eat some food first,” I insisted.

Amee wanted none of it. Her lips pursed tight together and she shook her head away from the offending offer. No buzzing fake airplane doing loop-di-loops in the air above her head could land in that hangar.

“Come on, Amee, just a bite,” her daddy coaxed. We broke down pieces until they were microscopic while her refusal grew bigger and bigger, louder and louder. The showdown became more about giving in and opening her mouth than ingesting a burger.

“Ice-cream,” she cried, punctuating the “cre-e-eam,” as if the world would end. She scrunched her nose and squinted her eyes, squeezing out tears that ran down her cheeks.

We were the only ones in the fast food diner. No one else watched or judged. But the sweet lady up front at the counter apparently heard.

Discipline crashers can be well-meaning, but oh such a problem. Compassionate strangers who want to help can make a parent feel like a failure and squelch discipline.

She came past the booths and tables, a pleased smile on her face, and in her hand she carried the biggest ice cream cone known to mankind.

Amee, stopped mid-rage and stared with big eyes at all that sweetness coming her way. Her mouth stayed wide open, her blue eyes fixed. She looked about as shocked as we did.

“Here, little girl, it’s on the house,” the waiter assured us with the briefest glance our way, and placed it directly into those pudgy little fists. And before we could close our mouths, there it was, spread across her happy cheeks.

It was over before we even had time to react, or think what to do. We were set for the fight. Our line had been drawn. And someone sabotaged the standoff. Fussing was rewarded.

When other people interfere, what is a parent supposed to do?

  1. Be gracious. React to the intent, not the error of the act. “That’s very kind of you.” Recognize the person is well meaning. A simple thank you recognizes the act, although ill-timed, was generous. A meddling well-doer might benefit from a lesson about intruding, but it’s probably not the best time to do it. The disrespect portrayed would deflate the giver and likely result in an unpleasant finish for everyone.
  2. Regain control. If possible, derail politely. A better response, had we had the time to think, might have been to say, “Thank you, I’ll take that. We’d love to give that to her as soon as she eats a little bit of that hamburger.” In hindsight, it may have worked, and again it may not have. World War II was about to happen with or without ice-cream.
  3. Clean up the mess. Sometimes, as in the case of our daughter, there’s not much you can do other than clean up the mess, both literally and figuratively. But, in the process ask yourself a few questions. What do I want my child to take from this muddled situation? And what do I not want her to learn? What is most important here? How can I change the focus?

It is much better for our children to remember the kindness of a stranger rather than a picture of mom and dad’s irritation or a situation that exploded. We want to model graciousness and gratefulness in our response.

The subtle message that bad behavior will be rewarded with magic ice cream cones, is not what we desire. If children are old enough to understand, remind them of the behavior you expect and repeat that their previous behavior is neither right nor acceptable.

No parent likes parental authority snatched from them, but one thing as a parent I must remember: Jesus blesses me far above and beyond what I deserve daily. He puts up with me when I fuss and when I storm. He loves me unconditionally, and He wants my heart to reflect His, and my responses to please Him. That is the most important lesson for everyone involved. So I will use this lesson as one I hadn’t planned to use. It will be my reminder of His grace toward me.

It didn’t surprise God at all when that ice-cream cone hit my daughter’s hands. As much as I like to be in charge, it’s always good to recall, God is. He can handle parenting concerns and disasters. He can even change what goes wrong and transform it into something good.

If the scene should repeat itself today when I’m with my grandkids, I believe I might have a better response.

“I’ll take chocolate, please.”

By: Sylvia Schroeder serves as Women’s Care Coordinator at Avant Ministries. She and her husband raised four children in Italy and Germany, where they were missionaries with Avant. Their children are all married and they have twelve grandchildren. Visit her blog, When the House is Quiet, at

Join us at for our parenting blog each Monday-Friday and for info about the Just 18 Summers novel.

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