Grace Based Discipline and the Oppositional Child

Maximus can be a very difficult little boy, especially when he eats any artificial color, flavor, sweeteners, or high-fructose corn syrup. I know there is dissention- especially in Christian circles, about food additives and their ability to cause uncontrollable behaviors- but I am not setting out to debate that in this post. Suffice it to say that when Max eats or drinks anything that contains those ingredients- his personality changes. He becomes oppositional, frantic, extremely active and fidgety. He gets ‘Stuck’ on ideas and desires- as if they take hold of him and he cannot escape from them. His sensory problems go off the scale in intensity. Every light is too bright, every shirt too tight at the neck. He gets this way when he hasn’t eaten as well; so I have many opportunities to choose from and experiment with different techniques to help him comply, even when he doesn’t feel his best.

 We don’t always feel like ‘being good’ as adults. Who among us has not fudged on the housework, put off that phone call to a neglected Auntie, ordered in when better food or company would have been available with a little effort? Hopefully, as Adults, we know when we can fudge it and when it’s not OK. For instance- most of us go to work unless we’re truly sick- ‘don’t feel like it’ doesn’t pay the bills. 😉 One fact of life is that the rules are the Rules, even when we don’t like them. It’s harder for kids. They have so much less experience. Long term consequences are hard to see when your furthest memory only goes back a year or two. One of the goals of parenting is to raise children who do what is right, even if it’s not the easy thing. Grace Based Discipline includes this concept.

Giving Grace doesn’t mean I say to Maximus, “I know you feel cruddy, so I won’t require you to follow my rules today”. Grace in fact, says, “Max- I know you feel rotten, but I still need you to do as I ask. I will help you comply any way I can- but you must still comply”. Obviously that’s a really long and complex sentence and I don’t say that exact thing to him. But you get my drift. Grace means that if you need help meeting the standard, you’ll get that help. Because I love you. Because I want you to understand that life isn’t easy, and other people have boundaries that you must respect, even when you are sick. Because when I couldn’t meet God’s highest of standards, he gave me his Son to bridge the gap. J

 The well-meaning girl in the toddler room gave Maximus cookies today. Dear Husband nearly had a heart attack when he read the ingredients and saw 4. Different. Dyes. Ugh. Before we even got home, he broke down. L He settled in for a snack (and some juice with magnesium in it) and a movie as soon as we got home. He could not keep still- which is by no means a requirement for watching a movie by yourself- but he was bouncing, kneeling, doing handstands, jumping on and off the couch, etc. He had a meltdown during Minimus’ nap- when I wouldn’t let him jump off the folding stepladder onto his bed. I knew he would make enough noise to wake his brother- who was sleeping in the next room. He began shouting, “I NEED to wake up Minimus!! I need too! Oh help!! I HAVE to get OUT OF HERE!!” I had to pick him up and carry him downstairs- struggling with him the whole way. DH took the ladder outside (where it belonged) and then came and got Max from me. Max calmed down pretty quickly in DH’s arms.

 Later he lost it again over something I cannot remember, and he ran outside. DH went out to get him, and he came back very easily, but he wanted to climb on the hood of the car. DH has set a boundary over this, because once Max is up there- he never wants to come down. Plus- it could possibly damage the hood of the car. Maximus is a very determined little guy, even when he’s not under the influence…as it were. He walked away from the car, and brought back his folding lawn chair- which he pushed up against the bumper so he could climb up. Sigh…. J Minimus follows me outside and takes off down the driveway!! 😮 DH ran after Minimus (he’s faster than me! LOL!) And I gathered up Maximus as gently as I could.

“NOOO!!! You need to go to JAIL!!! I HAVE to climb on the CAAAARRR!!!”

“Maximus,” said I, “You want to climb on the car very badly.” (in as monotone as possible)


“You may not climb on the car. You may go inside and bounce on your bed… You may go take the cushions off the couch and jump and watch a movie.”
“NOOOO!!! I don’t want toooo!”

“Maximus, I am taking you inside.” Instant stillness followed for half a second.

“Mommy, let’s go inside and take all the cushions off the couch and watch a movie. That sounds like a great idea!” (big happy smile)

You know that face you make when you’re trying so hard not to laugh you almost pee yourself? I made that face. Now. He did not choose to agree with me because we were headed in for a spanking, because we weren’t. He chose an option I presented because my enforcement of the boundary ended the discussion. By stating that we were going inside- the car hood was no longer up for debate. He could trust me to help him move past his fixation on climbing on the car. I will not punish him for failing to do something he is not capable of doing.

 This is what God has done for us. We are not capable of obedience to Him on our own. Our humanness, and our sinfulness (two different things, btw) prevent us from even desiring a relationship with Him. In his Mercy, he sent the Holy Spirit to woo us towards him. We are incapable of the barest glimmer towards him on our own; all we can do is respond to His love. His love is always there, waiting for us. His Sacrifice provides the means for sinful people to have a relationship with him. His Grace gives us the desire for and the capability of drawing near to him and learning to obey him in love.

 When your child seems defiant, or out of control, or whatever, remember that WE are the Oppositional children to God. We want what WE want, in the order WE want it, and we complain when we don’t get our own way. God always deals with us out of his infinite mercy. So should we deal with our children.

About greenegem

Wielder of the Pen of Deep Wit.
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8 Responses to Grace Based Discipline and the Oppositional Child

  1. Pingback: Grace Based Discipline and the Oppositional Child | Why Not Train A Child?

  2. CLove says:

    Hello, I was wondering about the statement, “I know there is dissention- especially in Christian circles, about food additives and their ability to cause uncontrollable behaviors- but I am not setting out to debate that in this post.”

    My aunt is “born again” and lets her kids eat crap. I’m curious about the, ” especially in Christian circles”, part. She complains about her son’s behavior all the time, but wont limit his sweets, etc. Do staunch Christians not believe in food affecting behavior? What is it about the religion that keeps them in denial? My Gramma swears that if it wasn’t safe then it wouldn’t be on our selves, I just chalked up my aunt’s denial to that, but maybe it’s her religion. If you could post some links to Christian sites denying food additives affects on behavior, it may help me better understand her refusal to try diet modification.

    Thank you.

  3. greenegem says:

    Hi CLove,
    First, thanks for reading. 🙂 You asked what it is about religion that keeps certain people from believeing food additives can cause behavioral changes. I don’t have any handy links for you, but most authors of punitive child-rearing make similar statements irt this problem.

    Let me start by saying that it is certainly not the religion that is the problem; it IS a certain attitude about sin and children that has been passed down through History. For many generations there has been a sort of unspoken belief that each of us are fully responsible for every mistake we make even when we don’t know we are sinning. I have not found any evidence that a God of Grace would hold us responsible for any sins of which we have not yet become aware… This applies, of course to children too. What some People- those who were raised in a punishment-based atmosphere- assume is that every mistake a child makes is actually a purposeful sin. They assume that children are set up to do the opposite of whatever a parent asks of them, AND they assume responsibility for ‘cleansing’ this supposed sin from their child by spanking them.

    [Only one Human in all of History carried the power to cleanse another’s sin; and that was Jesus (who was fully God while also fully human). No parent has the power to correct a child’s heart, only her actions.]

    When a parent assumes that his child is already bound to ‘defy’ him, he assumes every unwelcome behavior is defiance. If every behavior is defiance, and every person is totally responsible for even the mistakes they make unknowingly- then any outside factors are irrelevant. Food additives, lack of sleep, social anxiety, immaturity, all become excuses for a child ‘who should know better’. This relieves the parent of any responsibility to know and give grace to her child. All a parent has to do then, is punish ‘disobedience’ and her job is done. (insert huge sarcastic eyesroll here)

    Your Aunt is the heiress of some bad Theology. We cannot change what we are taught as children- but when we become adults- we face the task of chosing to learn and grow in our own faith- or just accept what everyone else has told us to believe. Some people never make the jump.

    Thanks for listening, and I hope you’ve been able to glean something of use from my chatter. 😀


  4. Louise says:

    Your sons energy and bouncy-ness sounds exactly like my son. How did you find out what was setting him off. I have often wondered if my DS (3.5 years old) might be having a reaction to food. He bounces, jumps, runs, flips all day long, as well as scratches, bites, hits and pushes. Was it a matter of elimination?

    • greenegem says:

      Hi Louise! Thanks for asking. 🙂 With the dyes it certainly was very clear what the problem was, because there was a clear onset, and an immediate and profound improvement with the removal of the dye from his diet. It was summer, he was enjoying those freeze-pops, OY!!! With the rest of the things it took longer. I had been researching dairy allergies because I had read that some of his slamming and bouncing might be attributed to that. Someone I was discussing this with suggested a magnesium deficiency, and he WAS constipated, so I knew magnesium wouldn’t hurt. Can you imagine how amazed I was at the change after ONE day? It was very clear that he was suddenly ABLE to control his own body, on his own. I’ll have to write a post about that part, it’s a little long for a comment! I started reading about magnesium, and about things that inhibit magnesium absorbtion in the body, and ran from there. It’s worth a little research- he’s a far different boy now.


  5. Claire in Tasmania says:

    “This is what God has done for us…His Sacrifice provides the means for sinful people to have a relationship with him. His Grace gives us the desire for and the capability of drawing near to him and learning to obey him in love.” That is just beautiful. Thank you! ❤

  6. IndieMama says:

    I was happy to find this post after a summer of wondering what was going on in our child’s mind/heart. She is highly sensitive to food dyes, as it turns out. It has been an amazing transformation for all of us, and I hope to start blogging about our experience so that others might have success too. I am enjoying my time with her and we are able to reason things out now. I hated being in the unnatural position of strict unrelenting ruler, not listening, not advocating for her, while still getting nowhere with her. It felt wrong. The proof that it doesn’t work for me is that now I love every minute with her, even the problematic times! This totally works for us. I enjoy your writings on the concept of grace within parenting. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Katherine says:

    What an excellent post! My youngest daughter (age 9) was diagnosed with ODD, ADHD, and OCD a year ago. While she has always shown more of a “strong will” than my older two children, we saw a marked increase in behavioral problems after she suffered a concussion 3 years ago. We too have noticed an increase in explosive behavior when she has too much sugar and so we monitor her in this area. Several months ago we came across the work of Dr. Ross Greene and it has completely revolutionized our parenting. I am not aware if he is a Christian, but his approach, “Collaborative Problem Solving”, is a very grace-based approach to handling difficult kids. My husband and I minister to children who have very difficult home lives (poverty, addiction, abuse, neglect, etc.). We are beginning to see success using Dr. Greene’s approach with them as well. Blessings on you! I am enjoying your posts.

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