Warning Signs

Joey and Carla Link

June 7, 2023

Your toddler is whiny and difficult to deal with. You are on a family outing at a waterpark so you try to give him everything he wants to keep him happy. When he starts hitting everyone and then bites his sister who is trying to be nice to him, you tell your spouse to take the kids and go play in the water and you find a quiet place under a shady tree to put him down on a towel and let him sleep. 

Your teenage son gets quiet and withdrawn unless he is snapping at you. When he starts yelling at his siblings, saying horrible things to them, you sit him down and ask him what is going on. He admits he lost his final project for a class at school and if he can’t find it before the next day, he will flunk the class.

Did you notice in the above scenarios there were signs things weren’t quite right and when they were at first ignored, these signs got to the point intervention was required? In parenting we often don’t deal with the signs that indicate trouble is right around the corner, nor do we see the result from not dealing with these seemingly little” signs until they become really big, unpleasant issues. Do Joey or I think any warning sign is “little”? No, we don’t. Why do we think you think they are? Because if you thought they were important, you would deal with them at the first sign of trouble. 

In reality however, you did deal with them. It took a lot more time and energy from the entire family to deal with your overtired toddler, when you eventually decided to do what would have saved you a lot of energy if you had made it possible for him to take a nap when he first started to whine. You thought you were giving your teen some space to work out whatever was bothering him. It would have saved his siblings hurt feelings from his harsh words if you had sat him down at the first sign of “something’s wrong” and asked him what was going on and what you could do to help resolve it.

In our home, there were always wet towels on the bathroom floor that didn’t get hung up after our girls’ showers. We lectured them, we reminded them, we threatened them, and still it didn’t get done. I (Carla) opened their closet door one day to find a laundry basket of clean clothes in there. Since the girls were good about putting their clothes away, I did it for this one time, thinking the daughter who the basket belonged to had gotten too busy to get it done. 

A couple weeks later I noticed they were putting the bare minimum effort into doing their chores, and one of them wasn’t getting them done at all. More reminders, more lectures and more threats.

One day we were discussing what to do about this. When the wet towels on the floor came up, we were surprised when we realized we had been getting on the girls about them off and on for years. Years! We realized the towels on the floor had snowballed into a major lack of responsibility. And to top it all off, we knew it really wasn’t the girls’ fault. Whose fault was it? Ours. It was our fault for thinking reminders, lectures and meaningless threats were going to make them do what they knew they were supposed to do in a responsible way.

The warning signs were flashing in our faces, but a little bit here and a little bit there over time didn’t get our attention enough to make us do something about it. But a little bit here and a little bit there grew into a bigger bit here and a bigger bit there and eventually a collective heap was stinking our home up. 

Why weren’t we on top of these warning signs sooner? We were busy, just like you are and we didn’t want to stop what we were doing in that moment to deal with it. When you take your kids bad behaviors on, it usually causes a difficult scene and we often just didn’t want to put ourselves through it. Because our girls were characterized by obedience in the big things, we weren’t paying attention to the little things. We both started giving logical consequences instead of reminders or lectures. 

The consequences we gave the girls got their attention. If they left a wet towel on the floor of the bathroom, the girls had to dry off after their shower without one. I confiscated the basket of clean clothes that wasn’t put away and they had to wear clothes that weren’t their favorites. A logical consequence is taking away what they misused. For how long? Long enough for it to hurt

Our kids, who at this time were preteens, had to earn the freedom of getting what was taken away back and had to figure out how they were going to do that. 

Next time you catch yourself yelling at your child in frustration or anger, take a step back for a moment and look for other warning signs you are missing. Count how many times you remind each child in a day. Add them up for a week. If you have more than 5 for a week’s period of time, it is definitely time to stop reminding and to start taking away what they misused.

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6