Parenting Two and Three-Year-Olds: Limits Tested

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Hebrews 12:3-14


I.         What parent hasn’t been warned about the terrible twos and threes

            A.        The cause of trouble

                        1.         No longer completely dependent on parents

                        2.         Children can efficiently move about -- run, climb, manipulate objects -- but they haven’t learned safety.

                        3.         They can now express their desires, but they haven’t learned tact.

                        4.         They have a measure of independence but no restraint.

            B.        A trying time for parents

                        1.         The child now demands to do things his way.

                                    a.         The cereal must be in the green bowl

                                    b.         Supper must be the familiar -- they could have peanut butter and jelly every meal and be content

                                    c.         Dad has to play now

                        2.         Meanwhile, the parent is thinking

                                    a.         What kind of monster have I brought into this world

                                    b.         There must have been some mix up at the hospital, surely this cannot be one of mine.

                                    c.         Where did I lose that sweet child of a few months ago?

II.        Limits are needed

            A.        Have you ever awoke at night in an unfamiliar room? Moving is difficult and sometimes painful. Once the lights are on and you can see the walls and furniture, things become vastly easier.

            B.        A child needs limits to be comfortable and secure

                        1.         We live our whole life with rules and restrictions. No one can avoid them.

                        2.         A child must be trained to respect authority.

                        3.         Proverbs 22:6 - Train in the direction the child should go

                        4.         Have you notice young children will often cling to their parents when faced with something new. They’ll explore, but they always run back for a little time with Mom.

                                    a.         Annoying when you are trying to get supper on

                                    b.         But they need to know you are there when they need you

            C.        Even grownups learn to live with restrictions

                        1.         I Corinthians 6:12 - Not everything lawful is helpful

                        2.         I Corinthians 10:23 - Not everything builds a person up

III.       Twos and Threes will test the limits

            A.        Were is the line? Is it firm? Does “no” really mean no?

            B.        This means the parents must have a firm idea about exactly what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior

            C.        This means that parents must be prepared to enforce the rules - Proverbs 29:17

                        1.         Rest and delight will come with applied effort

            D.        The Bible’s teaching on child discipline

                        1.         Proverbs 13:24 - Love requires discipline

                                    a.         Our Father’s example - Hebrews 12:3-11

                        2.         Proverbs 22:15 - Removes foolishness (silliness) from a child

                                    a.         A young child doesn’t think about consequences.

                                    b.         He does not realize that standing on a rocking chair might mean a tumble into the corner of the coffee table.

                        3.         Proverbs 23:13-14 - It will NOT harm the child and will save him from Hell.

                        4.         Proverbs 29:15 - Gives wisdom to the child and prevents embarrassment

                        5.         Rod - “a branch or scion”, a slender stick, a switch (Jeremiah 1:11; Genesis 30:37)

            E.        When to administer

                        1.         Make sure the child understands what you are saying and is listening

                                    a.         If there are distractions, have the child look you in the eyes

                                    b.         Have the child acknowledge that he heard you

                                                (1)       “Yes ma’am” or “yes sir” is more than mere politeness

                                    c.         Give instruction in simple words and few concepts

                                                (1)       “It’s bedtime. Pick up your toys.” (Good)

                                                (2)       “Honey, go out to the garage and get Daddy’s phillips-head screwdriver out of the toolbox on the second shelf” (Bad)

                                    d.         Most two and three year olds can only grasp one step or idea at a time.

                        2.         Punish willful disobedience or negligence

                                    a.         I’m not talking about true accidences. Glasses turn over on the best of us, but if a child is told not to reach across the table and he does anyway, spilling the milk, then a punishment should be inflicted.

                                    b.         At this age, you can often see it in their eyes. The look of “I dare you”.

                                                (1)       I have seen three-year-olds get their parents attention before breaking the rule.

                                                (2)       You may think, “What is this child doing?”

                                                (3)       He is testing the limits.

                                    c.         Punishment should be due to the child’s breaking a rule.

                                                (1)       Never punish because you had bad day at the office or because junior kept you up half the night with a cold.

                                                (2)       Though don’t forgo punishing an infraction on a bad day.

            F.        The punishment must hurt

                        1.         The use of a switch on the bottom or legs will not cause permentant injury - Proverbs 23:13-14

                        2.         It may hurt, but they will heal - physically and spiritually - Proverbs 20:30

                        3.         Chasten (literally blows) while there is hope of turning your child from destruction - Proverbs 19:18

                        4.         Strong enough that the child does not want a repeat

                                    a.         Initially a single switch may be enough. The startlement alone is sufficent punishment

                                    b.         If the child quickly repeats the wrong action, it wasn’t enough.

                                    c.         It may take repeated times until the child learns you really mean what you say. Consistency is needed.

                                    d.         Older children may need a more severe punishment, but by that time the need for it should be rarer.

                        5.         The punishment is between you and the child. Take him off to the side where friends cannot gloat over his punishment. Never let another child punish for you.

                        6.         The punishment must be timely, two-year-old will not associate a punishment “when Daddy gets home” with a misdeed that morning.

                                    a.         They live in the now, the dealings with them must be in the now.

                                    b.         This is often why punishments get repeated. Johnny learned last week that he could not have a cookie before dinner and here he is trying to sneak one again this week.

                                    c.         The child might remember last weeks punishment, but he doesn’t connect it to this week’s desire.

            G.        Defiance must not be rewarded

                        1.         Don’t give in just because little Johny is more stubborn than you are.

                        2.         Don’t give in because it is not a convenient time, such as store or restaurant.

                                    a.         You will teach them to wait for an audience to defy you.

                                    b.         Given today’s anti-disciplinary views, you may have to use a single swat or take the child home to correct.

IV.      Religious Training

            A.        Lessons

                        1.         Reverence for God and Jesus

                        2.         Respect for authority

                        3.         Sharing

                        4.         The concept of prayer

                        5.         The concept of worship and the need to be quiet during worship

                        6.         Wrongful actions -- lying, stealing, disobeying, etc.

            B.        Introduce the major characters of the Bible, using simple themes

                        1.         Adam & Eve - Need for doing what God said

                        2.         Cain & Abel - Caring about others

                        3.         Abraham - Trusting God

                        4.         Joseph - God’s Protection

                        5.         Moses - God’s Protection; Loyalty

                        6.         Daniel - God’s Protection

                        7.         Jesus - God’s Love

            C.        Major events

                        1.         Creation

                        2.         The flood

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