Teachable Moments in Toddler Tantrums

My child threw the worst fit I’ve ever seen in the middle of SM Makati, a mall here in the Philippines where we’re currently on vacation. It was by far the loudest, most obnoxious, most irritating, and most appalling moment in my mothering career. Never have I been tested this way and boy was I not ready for it! I guess I can check off another request on my prayer list!

I will be speaking at a women’s conference on February 7th. Feeling unqualified, uncomfortable, and unprepared, I humbly asked the Lord to show and speak to me about the topics He would like me to address that would make my talk authentic and my heart humble. I asked the Lord to reveal situations that would make my stories come alive and examples that will make me look like a recipient of God’s glorious grace. I can definitely say, this one rises to the top of my list.

Ever since Chris left for the States, Micah has been dealing with separation anxiety. He has been acting out and throwing fits when he doesn’t get his way. He has been answering back and demonstrating rebellious behavior. He has been disciplined multiple times and though I understand that he is going through a phase and figuring out his emotions, the fact still remains: disrespect and disobedience are unacceptable. We only have three foundational rules in our family: LOVE, OBEY and RESPECT. If your actions fall under categories that disregard those character principles, there will be consequences. Our children have been warned since birth. Clearly, today, he violated all three. He even told me we should go home because he was having a bad attitude and not obeying. HMMMM…He (totally!) knew what he was doing.

I tried really hard to stay calm, but I was really irritated with his rude behavior. I felt embarrassed and wanted to take the easy way out and leave. It would have solved our problem and allowed me to deal with the situation without completely looking like a mom who can’t take control of her child. But having imagined this scenario in our mind, Chris and I have discussed how we would respond if presented with this situation. We decided we would handle the situation then and there. We want to win the sin battle and break his will but not his spirit. I had to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom as I struggled to quickly find a quiet corner for us to talk and pray.

I finally found a semi-private spot, away from the crazy rush hour crowd and dealt with the seemingly impossible situation. I could see razor sharp eyes glaring at me as I escorted my son to our conversation corner. From salespersons to security guards, bystanders, and SM employees, I watched them glance our way as my son screamed about the worst day of his life. Believe me, it was a nightmare! But because I knew I needed to honor the decision my husband and I had discussed regarding discipline, I had to set aside my pride, ask the Lord for direction, and focus on the task at hand. As it says in Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

I tried to talk to him about his horrific behavior and terrible attitude, but instead of a humble heart, Micah answered me back with, “I don’t like this Mama. I don’t want to obey you.” I asked him to think about his words and his actions and that there are consequences that would follow. I explained to him that he was not only hurting me but was also hurting God. His act of disobedience was bringing us pain and the Lord was not pleased with his actions. I knew that he knew better than to act this way. He even told me, “I’m having a bad attitude. But I don’t want to listen. I’m upset Mama!” I was getting furious but I knew that I couldn’t discipline effectively if I lost my temper.

I had to ask the Holy Spirit to really fill my tank because boy was it running low! I explained that it was okay to feel upset and frustrated but it is never ok to act this way. We concluded our private session when he told me in a much calmer voice, “Mama, I’m still upset but I will stop crying and yelling. But I’m not ready to say sorry.” I told him it was okay but he had to exercise self-control.

After about 15 minutes of turbulence, he finally decided it was wise to calm down. He settled down in one of the grocery carts and told me, “Mama I am happy now.” though knowing full well we weren’t done! He told me (in a pretty demanding tone), “Mama, Mama, I’m ready I’m ready.” But I asked him to get my attention with a much kinder voice. He changed it asked me if we could talk. He even told me he was looking at my eyes, which is always how we try to speak to him especially when we discipline. This was our conversation:

Micah: “Mama, I’m sorry. I apologize now.”

Mama: “Why are you saying sorry? What are you apologizing for Micah?”

Micah: “I had a bad attitude.”

Mama: “What was your bad attitude?”

Micah: “I was screaming and screaming and yelling and crying and screaming.” “I said No Mama, No Mama.” He continued on, “I didn’t obey. I made you sad and God was sad. I will tell papa I did not obey. (He knows his actions will be accounted for by both of us even if there is only one of us present.) I was not listening and not respectful. I’m sorry Mama. I know I have a consequence mama. I need to pray mama. I forgive you now ok? (Translation: please forgive me now.)

Mama: “I forgive you Micah but why did you do that? You knew that was wrong and that it was disrespectful and yet you did it. Was God glorified with your actions?”

Micah: “No. But because I did not get what I want and then I want to go home.” (BOOM! Sinful nature at its finest!)

Mama: “I understand. I’m glad and I’m proud of you for admitting you were wrong and knowing what you did but I was very disappointed in your actions. God was, too. You did not exercise any self-control and you spoke rudely to me. You know that there are consequences. We came here to buy you some fruits because you really like them. But instead of being thankful, you had a bad attitude. You know what to pray for ok? I forgive you.”

He quickly reached over and gave me a hug after our conversation. He prayed and asked the Lord to forgive him. He told me he really wanted to watch Cars with his uncle but he couldn’t because that was his consequence. He doesn’t get to watch TV so this was a huge deal for him. I think it was safe to say that he got the point of a consequence. We carried on with our agenda with smiling faces and a much better demeanor. Praise God! I was glad (and surprised) the guards did not escort us out for causing such commotion.

As I contemplated on our day and shared it with my husband, he was shocked but glad. We knew this day would come and it was just matter of time. I just thought we would handle it together! Haha! Guess what? The first thing he asked was, “Did you bring him home?” I said no. He said, “Good!” He encouraged me by saying he was proud of what I did and that he would have done the same thing. He told me that he was most proud of the fact that I pointed him back to the Lord and that his actions weren’t glorifying to Him.

Through this situation, we were reminded that our goal was to ultimately point our children to Christ. It is our duty as their parents to give our children a healthy fear of the Lord and to regard His standards in the way we think, speak, and act. Though it may be difficult, embarrassing, and challenging (a lot of times), we need to stand united as husband and wife as we guide our children to follow and obey Christ. It is our responsibility to raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord yet it is not our choice whether they will give their hearts to Him. But it is our earnest prayer that we will be able to model God’s example even through our imperfections. We are humbled by His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”), thankful to have the bible as our manual (2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”), and blessed to have each other as partners (1 Corinthians 11:11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman.) in this wonderful thing called parenting! There is nothing more important in parenting than following God. If we follow His ways in our life, marriage, and parenting, it will revolutionize our family and glorify God!

That experience was both a teachable moment for me and Micah. Sure it was humiliating but what’s truly important is not what other people see but what God sees. God saw Micah’s stubborn heart and my crushed pride. He intervened and worked in us. He humbled us both and reminded us that only His grace and love restores and reconciles. This may not be the last time that something like this will happen but I take comfort in the fact that I can always run to God and His Holy Spirit to strengthen me in moments like these. I can always rely on God’s power to change by sons’ attitudes and disposition. And I can always run to Him for wisdom and grace to know how to handle situations like these in a way that honors Him.

The calm after the storm.

The calm after the storm.

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