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by Ron L. Deal

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

Proverbs 22:15

Parents talk too much when it comes to discipline. We have this wonderful, yet crazy idea that if we just keep talking to our children about good behavior they’ll eventually agree with us and start acting correctly. (When you see it in print, it’s really a funny concept, huh!) I provide training and motivational presentations to audiences all over the country—and I’m pretty good at it. But I constantly have to remind myself that my children are not interested in hearing Lecture No. 39 again, nor will words alone likely lead to a change in their behavior. I must do something because actions truly do speak louder than words.

Recently my six year-old was a little out of control at the dinner table. We like to have fun as a family when we’re eating, but this time Brennan was over the top. My wife asked him to stop and eat his dinner, but sure enough, two minutes later he was back at it. She asked him a second time to “turn on his self-control” and finish dinner. Children need reminders. After all, they are children. And childishness—and foolishness—is one disease with which all children are afflicted. One reminder is a good thing as kids learn to pay attention to parental instruction. But two reminders is not about them, it’s about us. Parents want their children to succeed and obey and so we give them many, many chances to get it right. Unfortunately, repeated empty reminders or threats just train children to ignore us. And that’s not good for anyone.

After a second reminder, Brennan wasn’t slowly down one bit. Self-control was no where in sight. It was time to stop talking and take action. Without a word, I rose from my seat, picked up my sons plate and took it over to the kitchen sink (at this point I had his full attention). “Your mother asked you not to disrupt dinner, but you have continued,” I said. “You are dismissed from dinner. There will be no snack for you tonight before bed.” He looked at me, dropped his head in disappointment, and left the table.

What did my actions teach? A number of things:

  1. That one reminder is enough;
  2. We expect obedience or there will be consequences;
  3. That dad supports mom;
  4. That we mean business.

Using too many words inadvertently trains children to ignore us. Instead, use actions to gain respect and obedience. Do something, don't just say something. Then, maybe the next time you speak, you won’t have to use actions.

Ron L. Deal is Founder & President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. Learn more here.