A Tale of Victory

4209 4209_ () 4209 4209 We have had something big happening in our home these last few months, dealing with our resident All Boy All The Time. I wasn’t going to share about it, because it’s a tad on the personal side. But it’s been such a tremendous victory for us that I wanted to encourage other parents out there who might be in the same challenging position.

As many of you know, or may have deduced, Henry is a whippersnapper. We have  known this to be true, and there’s been this part of me that has always sort of stood back assessing and wondering how much of Henry’s personality was a product of his environment vs simply who he was/is. He is a delightful little guy, to be sure, but also what one might consider to be “strong willed.” About a year ago, when I was desperate for resources to get us through, I reached for the classic “Strong Willed Child” Handbook, and decided I might need the amped-up, turbo version. This wasn’t just any strong-willed child. This was THE strong-willed child.

Last year, as the start date for kindergarten loomed larger and larger on the calendar, I was equal parts excited and terrified. I had hoped for some time that the start of kindergarten would be the end of our issues with a boy who regularly would not go to bed, would not obey, would wander off and ignore all pleads and missives to return. He was his own man, end of story.

Oh my goodness, I’m so glad not end of story.

Too often I would overanalyze the situation and really try to consider why my young son was the way he was. A big part of it, I reasoned, was that he has four (much) older brothers. Henry was four. He thought he was fourteen. There are no other little boys around our home, and his standards for living life are that of the pre-teen/teenagery set. We would go to events and Henry would be off working the crowd just like his brothers. He would never get lost, because he was, you know, right there.  With himself. And a few hundred of his closest friends.

So it’s true, part of this issue has been Henry is very outgoing. He loves talking with people. He will either be a Bishop or a talk-show host.

But underneath our love of his delightful personality was sheer exhaustion at a lack of control. Bottom line. I could go into it, but those of you who have ever been in this situation with one of your children will understand what I mean. One of our favorite family mantras, “When I Call You Come,” well it meant absolutely nothing to this child. It was more like “When I call, you ignore. And then I call. And then I call again. And then I come find you and grab you and drag you to where I say.”

It was exhausting. We were exhausted.

And then kindergarten started. And I thought, “moment of truth time.” The entire first day of school, I waited for the teacher to call and say “the charade is up. Come retrieve your child.”

But she did not. There was no call on the first day.

The call came about a month later. The call I had been sort of dreading but also knew was inevitable. The teacher called and Paul and I went in to meet with her.

Basically, her assessment was exactly what I anticipated: your son is a delightful, smart little boy who has zero interest in toeing the line.

We had a really good meeting and discussed the possibility of attention issues and hyperactivity disorders. But none of us — me, Paul or Henry’s teacher — were inclined to go that route.

Finally, Paul and I kind of took a deep breath, looked at each other, and then made a deal with the teacher.

“Give us a month,” I said. “We know what we need to do.”

We had been having this conversation for some time — what are we going to do about this boy, what are we going to do? We were overwhelmed and worn out and frustrated beyond belief. And that ultimatum (the one we gave ourself) was all the motivation we needed to start doing what we should have done a long time before. We got to work on training our son.

That night, we had a family meeting. We put Henry and Isabel to bed and explained to our bigger children that we were in Bootcamp Mode. We turned off the television, we kept computer to a minimum. we told the boys we needed them on their absolute best behavior because their little brother needed the best examples he could have.

And then — here is the key — we started a little thing called “follow through.” Which meant that every time Paul or I told Henry to do something, we got up off our duff and made him do it. When I call, you come. And if you don’t come, I walk over to you (immediately) and there are consequences for not coming. The main consequence being you will no longer get away with simply ignoring us.

We also created a chart, titled “Henry Obeys the First Time.” Every time we saw that connection, where our boy did what he was told to do right away, he got a sticker. The first chart only needed 15 stickers to get a prize. We needed a quick reward to help make the connection. The second chart, the one he filled a few weeks ago, took much longer and the reward was a bigger treat.

What we realized, in our weeks-long endeavor, is that our dear sweet child was in large part a product of our lackadaisical parenting. At least when it came to him. Because once you start dealing with big kids, it’s very easy to see the issues of a smaller child as insignificant. This one child not coming to get dressed when I call, well it just doesn’t seem like a big deal compared to other issues (homework! drivers license! wanting to go ride bikes!). What’s the big deal?

Except, it is a big deal. It’s a very big deal. It’s training and it’s important and when you don’t tow the line with these younger children (in a loving, sane fashion) there is a huge price to pay.

This has been such a victory for us, and for our boy. He is thriving in school. Things aren’t perfect, don’t get me wrong. We have not reset the switch and created a robot. But where we were three months ago seems so far from where we are now, in a very good way.

If you are at your wits end with your small child, I do want to encourage you. You can do it. Don’t give up. Follow through on everything you tell that child. Get up out of your chair when you want obedience. Don’t settle for being willing to repeat the lad’s name over and over and over again. Say it once. Then make it happen. We were amazed at how quickly our smart, sweet little boy caught on. All this time and he was simply doing what he had been trained to do — to do whatever he pleased until I got around to making him obey.

In many ways, I feel like we got our life back. When it’s bedtime, I don’t get that sick feeling in my stomach anymore. And we can absolutely sense the peace in our son — children need and want those boundaries. They want to know they are not the boss — despite their behavior and attitudes to the contrary.

One last quick disclaimer: I am not making any judgements on ADD and ADHD. I understand those are valid diagnoses. But we knew in our gut (in our lazy gut) that the problem was with us, and it was time to get to work.

The efforts are worth it. Life is so peaceful, especially for our dear sweet boy.




  1. best.blogger.mom.ever.

  2. I needed this encouragement! This is my story for boy #4. He’s a love life and have fun and avoid work and obedience kind of child. And I haven’t been sure what to do. I *love* the “…obeys the first time” chart. Thanks for the ideas, Rachel.

  3. My youngest Stephen was very much like Henry.He would get frowned faces and the occasional smile from his kindergarten teacher. When I asked him about it, he informed me he was developing a pattern!. He just put us on ignore. so I too stopped repeating myself, and refused to allow him to ignore us. It worked! I was so busy with baby 1 and baby 2 that baby 3 was allowed to act up. My mantras was I will not repeat what I asked you to do, you better figure it out. and he had consequences if he failed to follow the directions . it worked! by the end of the year no more frowns appeared on his conduct sheet, they too suggested medicine for my son, but I knew it was my fault. today he is 22, engaged and the most well mannered gentleman I could ever hope for!

  4. Oh! So needed to read this. Thank you for sharing and for not giving up blogging.

  5. Good for you!! This is exactly the post I needed to read today after WW III with my Strong Willed 3 year old this morning!

  6. Thanks for sharing! I think we can all use a reminder that we need follow through on discipline! Dr. Ray always says, words are not discipline. That is *so* true.

  7. I don’t think I’ve told you this before, but Henry reminds me SO much of my brother, Mac. Except that 5-year-old Mac makes Henry look like the world’s most obedient child. He had no sense of danger, would run into oncoming traffic, ride his toys down our front stairs and bust through the glass windows of our front door. My mom thought there was no way he would live to see his 10th birthday. He was a sweet little guy, but incredibly high-energy. After my first day of kindergarten, he was waiting with my mom to walk me home from school. When he saw me, he pulled back and slapped me across the face. Naturally, my mom asked him why, and he said, “I just missed her SO much today, that I didn’t know what to do.” He was constantly in trouble at school, and my mom constantly got the ADHD thing, and so she cut artificial dyes out from all our diets and briefly took him out of St. Mary’s. She had this quote that one of his teachers sent home that said, “Those who are difficult to manage become great managers of life”. It has absolutely been this way for Mac. He is THE most disciplined person I know. He’s in the Honors college at Auburn, and had a 4.0 his first semester of school. He’s so kind, so analytical and logical, has a super sweet girlfriend that he’s been dating for a year, just an all-around great guy. So call my mom if you ever feel hopeless, because Henry will do big things!

    • I love this Maureen. Awesome. xo

    • Maureen, I’m glad you touched on artificial dyes because I have a 7, 5, and 1 year old and we always struggled with our 5 year old being disruptive, distracting, and disobedient, especially during school time (we homeschool). I wanted to chalk it up to age and maturity level, but then my husband and I started looking into behavioral consequences of red dye in foods. We discovered that our 5 year old son is very sensitive to red dye and it causes him to have major (negative) behavioral problems. We started watching his diet and making sure to keep red dye out of his system, and he is like a totally different child! He can now focus for longer periods of time, and he isn’t nearly as disruptive and wild as he is when he has that poison in his system. I truly believe that there are many children out there that are being medicated when a diet change would probably make all the difference in them. I say this because I am convinced that he would have been classified as ADD in any other setting. I am so shocked by all my research of Red 40 dye that I am so eager to tell everyone about it. Red 40 is in so many of our foods and I think there needs to be more awareness of its effects on us. I’ll get off my soapbox now! 🙂

    • Maureen, I did what your mom did with your brother and had amazing results, too. At age four, my son hauled off an punched me in the face when I was reprimanding him. I was at my wits end – this was just the most recent in a long line of acts of anger/hyperactivity . I remembered an article I had read about artificial dyes (especially Red) and I immediately did a pantry raid and got rid of everything that had a color in the ingredients. I saw great results within a week. I highly recommend this as a first course of action for anyone dealing with ADD/ADHD issues

  8. Thank you for this post. You completely described my 3rd son in a family of 5. We have 1 girl and you are right, it’s us…not him. All this time we were choosing other things to focus on and too lazy to follow thru.
    I am so inspired to get him on track and in turn he will be happier!
    Thank you….we needed to see this in writing and with real life results!

  9. HURRAY!!!!! Henry will be most grateful for your wise training as he gets older and knows to toe the line. :0)

  10. Best post ever, Rachael!! And you are SO right. My 5th (and youngest) gets much more lazy parenting than any of the others. And it shows. I get SO frustrated with his behovior sometimes, and reading this just reaffirmed that there is a large part of it that I need to claim as my own. I’m getting on the wagon. Thanks!

  11. Amen. We are so much “easier” on our 4th and 5th children than we were on the first three….and it shows. It’s exhausting and repetitive to be a good parent, but it’s necessary to have good children. I love especially how you sat the older 4 down and got them involved too. Aren’t big families awesome?

  12. I loved this post, it’s always so refreshing to hear Moms who tell it like it is, problems, messiness and all. Thanks for sharing!

  13. What a wonderful lesson for all of us with active little boys! I have five year old twins and one of them is a lot like your sweet Henry. Thank you for the reminder and positive example!

  14. My husband once said the toughest part of parenting is getting up (off the couch, of your chair, etc.) Thanks for the encouragment!

  15. Oh My – needed to read this today!!! I have been doing the “he is too little to understand” thing and I officially am now over that!!

  16. You. rock. =)

  17. Thank you! I hope I can keep it up through middle and high school with my #5. Your story certainly helps remind me both of what’s at stake and how to enlist the older siblings. I suspect that they can help even more as young adults who only come home occasionally. (Poor kid, he has six parents, not two.)

    And you reminded me of a story about my #4: when he was a 4 yo, my #1 and #2 were in middle school and experimenting with bad language… not in my presence, of course, but baby brother heard it plenty. Came the day when a word slipped out in front of me (out of the mouth of the babe). I talked to the older ones about why their laughter was misplaced. It wouldn’t be cute if he used that word to his kindergarten teacher, would it? They had to agree. I also implemented a “3 runs around the house” punishment for nasty language. Since we were living in northern Maine at the time, and it was winter (you don’t know what winter is down there in Georgia!), the nasty language dropped off precipitously.

    The irony is that #4 is now in high school and has the cleanest mouth and strongest faith of all my kids. I can’t wait to see what becomes of #5!

  18. Rachel–you have never met me, but I know your sister Jojo. she was my student worker at Franciscan and i love her to pieces!!! thank you so much for this blog today!! i needed it! it is my oldest, strong willed 3 year old and my husband i need to get off our lazy duff’s!!!!!!!!!!!
    heading to it right now as he takes all of his clothes out of his dresser………

  19. I’m so glad you didn’t find this topic to personal to post about. I know your post and the comments that followed will help many parents. Good show!

  20. This post was such a (well-written) call to action for me! I’ve been struggling with feeling helpless against the antics of my 19 month old wild child because I’m too busy with his newborn brother and older sisters. Thanks for reminding me to take heart and be more diligent in my discipline with him.

  21. Yay! You are so right!
    And I am in the same exact place and I needed this encouragement! : )

  22. I have a 7yo who drove me batty from the ages of 4-6. A lot of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and meltdowns. I also got a lot of hurtful criticism for not being consistent with him! Finally, last year I went to have *myself* assessed. I was diagnosed, as an adult, with ADHD and anxiety. I started medication at the beginning of this school year, and the amazing thing is that my SON’s grades went up and complaints from school reduced.

    I think my son probably has ADHD as well – there is a genetic component and ADHD is very heritable (some interesting twin and adoptee studies on that). But I don’t at this point feel the need to have him assessed because treating my ADHD has changed the dynamic between us. ADHD kids need a lot of external structure to prop up their own efforts at internal control. They need very clear expectations – because they will NOT pick up on anything subtle or any subtexts – and they need a lot of consistency, and help staying on track. When my ADHD was untreated it took all I had to keep myself on track, let alone keep track of sticker charts and consequences. Treating my ADHD has helped me to be more consistent with my children, and more reliable for them, and I have been thrilled to see how it has helped my son!

    Just contributing my experience. 🙂 I’m glad you were able to give Henry the structure and consistency he needed!

  23. Rachel, thank you for this – we’ve been having a hard time with our little one, and today was, well…the worst.
    With another one on the way, I haven’t been very good with following through on my words…this is a good reminder to do exactly that.
    So, thank you!

  24. I never comment but I always read your blog. I had to comment today though. Best post EVER. Thank you I needed to hear this today. I feel new resolve to do things right with my own strong willed child.

  25. We’ve had an analogous problem with our 5 year old (#4 of 5) and it culminated in him throwing something in the class at school when his big cousin happened to be his teacher one day. As I’m a teacher myself and my wife is on the Parent/Teacher Council it was actutely embarrassing.
    What you are doing with Henry is what I also sensed is wrong for us (hence why he misbehaved with his big cousin). But you’re right, it’s not easy to follow-through unless you also have rewards- it can just become negative.
    It’s also made me think of my classroom practice! I’m always ‘forgiving’ and not ‘training’. From Monday I’m following through more. And it’s all your fault!! If they don’t like it I’ll give the children your email address.

  26. Thank you so much. We have been struggling with our first as headed to kindergarten this year. Mornings are awful. Making my mick does it the first time chart now!!!

  27. The Dr. Sears ADD book is a wonderful resource even if your children DON’T have ADHD. It has great ideas on how to create a consistent, loving enviornment for your children. It gave me the background for 2 of my favorite parenting ideas ever: The Yes Day (a day where you try to say yes to every silly request, used when the family seems to be going though a rough patch where people are grumpy with each other. Brings some joy, love and laughter back!) and The Happy Hands Award (actual construction paper hands) awarded on days when the child does all the stuff you ask at least pretending to be joyful. They get to put their name on it and stick it on the fridge.

    It also has discusisons about getting the distracted child to do homework etc. Anyway, I found this to be a great parenting resource.

  28. Hi Rachel,
    Thank you so much for your candor. This is a timely reminder for me as well. Even though we only have 3 boys, sometimes I feel like when they all come together they fuse and become ONE. I have a theory about boys, a boy with sisters is totally different than a boy with brothers! 🙂 As a result, our parenting has eroded over the years because of the excessive amounts of jumping, bouncing, squeaking and senseless violence…we need to be pinched periodically as parents to get off our duffs and fight for what’s important for our families! 🙂 Thank you! ~ Julia

  29. I am loving the suggestions in the comment box here as well, they have blessed and encouraged me!