Ezra,  Family,  Fatherhood

A dad’s perspective on creative discipline and special needs parenting

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This is a guest post by my husband, the father of my child and co-parent with me along this special needs parenting journey. The content and style may not match what you are used to. My husband is still trying to figure out this dad thing, and learning how to discipline been quite overwhelming for him. This post is a brutally honest look at both his own personal fatherhood struggles (as a combat veteran who missed an entire year of his son’s life) and the struggles unique to special needs parenting. This post was written before our son was diagnosed and before my husband was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so there was still a lot of uncertainty that we were trying to sort through in the parenting department. I hope that you will read this with these factors in mind, and offer compassion rather than judgment.   

To read more of my husband’s perspective, post-diagnosis, read this post: Life as a special needs dad (when you have an anxiety disorder)

Creative Discipline: A Dad's Perspective

My son is great.

I don’t really know him even though he is 3 years old, mostly because I spent a year away from him and then have spent a lot of time away from him every day because of work.  There are far more moments where I feel like he is not even a blood relative than I feel like he is my son, as I have written about here before.  But those moments are decreasing in frequency over time, and I feel like I know him enough to say that he is great.

So why is he such a pain in the rear end?

Seriously.  I don’t know what is wrong with him.

“Oh it’s just the terrible two’s three’s.” (or perhaps the rest of my freakin’ life)“Oh he is just acting out.”

“If you wouldn’t spank him, he would obey.”

“You need to spank him more.”

“You shouldn’t let him cry himself to sleep at night.”

“You shouldn’t let him make the rules.”

And so the wildly uninformed and unhelpful fad of Assisted Parenting goes.

Autism Awareness Shirt – Get it here (affiliate link)

And it doesn’t help, because we don’t know what to do.  Our son is not a bad kid, and I don’t mean in the sense of “my son is not bad, I don’t know why he shot all those people.”  Ezra is a genuinely good boy.  He literally gets excited about helping with chores without even us asking him or having to tell him to help.  He randomly vomits nuggets of wisdom about how it’s right to be nice to people and follow the rules.

But then he pushes other kids.  He can’t share toys.  And oh yeah, he smacks my wife in the face. Hard.

I told Aprille before we had kids (and I think before we were married) that I would not tolerate my kids being blatantly disrespectful to my wife.  I also am of the opinion that the way to raise a good kid is to spank them enough that they would rather do good than endure such horrible pain.

But it’s not working.

And we don’t know why.

I am honestly thinking that there may be something emotionally/mentally, or physically wrong with my son and it is causing his lack of self-control and creating such blatant disregard for rules he knows very well.  But just like the pearls of wisdom from every parent on the internet who knows better, I can’t prove any of it to be true.

I can only try.

Creative Discipline: A dad's honest perspective on discipline, fatherhood expectations, and special needs parenting

Like with his bed-house.  I made him what could possibly be the perfect blend of inexpensive and wonderfully awesome bed.  He honestly didn’t deserve it, but I knew he would enjoy it.  And he has.  And the number of times he has cried himself to sleep has gone down.

For now.

house bed 1

Creative Discipline: A Dad's Perspective

But heck, I’m just glad it worked.

So, yes, I’ve tried spanking him.  But, as I said, it doesn’t work all the time.  So what do we do?

We have taken to come up with creative ways to displine him.

For example, tonight I gave him a choice of discipline in response to his bad behavior:  he could face the wall and stare at it quietly or he could get a spanking.  He chose to face the wall.

I told him that was a good choice, although it was really the harder one.  We pretty much ignored him for almost 10 minutes while he stood there quietly.  But it worked.

When I told him he could get out of punishment, he was actually happy and ready to listen and obey.

I had life figured out before I got married.   That changed a little when I got married, but I wasn’t too far off the mark on how to have a good marriage.  It’s just a hard thing to actually do consistently.

I had parenting and discipline figured out before I had kids.  Now, I want to time-travel back to talk to myself and go “ARE YOU FREAKIN INSANE!??”

As much as I want to follow God and make my life Christ-centered, I also want to be a good parent, husband, employee, etc.  But it’s so easy to forget the point.

Centering on God and Christ means aiming at that and making that the target.  My aim is going to change as my position moves.  And while my target is the same, the aiming is going to be different based on what is going on and also based on who is doing the aiming.

I would love to just reach back to my roots and go: (best read in a thick southern voice) “Whell lemme tell you what, the Bible says ‘spare the rod and spoil the child!’ (Prov 13:24)….  But that only works sometimes.

My son is a person.

A person I desperately want to fall in love with God who is the most awesome person I know.  But I have to help and discipline him to do that in a way that works for him.  And that means sometimes I might have to do something that looks a little strange or doesn’t really fit with what I think is the best way to discipline.

(But then again, if you told me 10 years ago that I would find Chris Tomlin’s music inspiring and infectiously praise-inducing I would have said you were not right with God.)

My point is not spiritual rigidness vs looseness.

Its about maintaing focus on the goal.

And when I become more focused on the method I am using to reach that goal than the wonder of the actual goal itself, its time to get creative and do something very different that will re-center my attention and my focus.

I wish God would discipline me everytime I did something wrong.  But if He did I would be dead.  And I am not.  And I have no idea why other than the fact that He loves me and He is trying really hard (if such a thing can be said theologically) to make me reach the goal He has for me even if that means He has to take me places I have never been to before or thought I would go.

So who am I to suppose I can parent my child any differently?

creative discipline pin


  • Meg Melnik

    Hello Aprille and Dad,(I didn’t catch your name) I’ve been following your blogs for the last month now, ever since your, “How to encourage a special needs Mom”. Loved that one!! My daughter is a 14 years old hi-functioning autistic. My husband and I have struggled over the years on the best ways to discipline her, always trying to keep in mind her limitations…What have we tried? spankings–yes…time-outs–yes…sent to her room–yes.. loss of privileges–yes. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes not. And yes, we’ve definitely rec’d our fair share of unsolicited advice, usually by folks who aren’t familiar with special needs kids. This is why I’m not about to offer either of you any advice, what works for my child may not work for yours–and vice versa. The only thing I can say is to pray for your son, pray for God to show you the best way to raise him, pray for your own sanity. It sounds cliché, but really God loves him. I’ll say some prayers too. May God bless all of you and please keep up your blog. 🙂

  • Cindy

    We are part of a parenting class in our church and just finished an excellent book called Parenting by the Book by Rosemond. It helps to put parenting into perspective; parenting with the end in mind rather than minute by minute. We also looked at Scriptures to see how God parents (because He does parent His children) and came up with an excellent list to use as our goal in parenting. The Scriptures we looked at were Genesis 3, 2 Sam. 12, John 21: 15-25, Deuteronomy 6, Exodus – The Nation of Israel, Proverbs 3:12, 6:23, 19:18, 29:17, Col. 3:20, Heb. 12: 6-11, 1 Cor. 13

  • Rosalie

    Good post Russ! You and Aprille are doing a great job. Parenting keeps you on your toes, right?! Anyway, it’s always nice to hear a dad’s perspective. My husband met our oldest son when he was almost 6 months and has since missed chunks of time with both our kids. We’re constantly reevaluating how we parent. 🙂

  • wifosaurus

    Time outs are more effective for us here, but even that has led to obedience for the sake of getting out and playing again. I feel like I’m just training my son to be obedient out of fear rather than love. His “repentance” only lasts long enough to let him play again.

    Right now I’m at the mindset that we can’t teach repentance, and we can’t teach obedience, we can only model both and pray that our kids would come to know the Lord so that the Holy Spirit can breathe love into them, too. I tell my son that when he disobeys, it shows me that he has sin in his heart, and that we need to pray that Jesus would take that sin and replace it with his love. I try to teach him that he needs to obey me because I love him, not because he should fear me. I try to own up to my mistakes so that when he is an adult, he knows that he needs to humble himself and ask for forgiveness.

    I grew up with several abusive relationships, and I want it to be clear to my son that he should only obey those who love him. “Do you love me? Then follow my commandments.” My son told me the other day that he didn’t love me. (He screamed it at me, actually. He can be pretty emotional.) That’s why I have to alter that a bit and say, “Do I love you? How do you know that I love you? Do you understand that I want what’s best for you? That when you obey me, you show me that you love me, too?”

    He also sometimes screams back, “I DON’T have sin in my heart!” That’s always fun.

    Nothing has taught me more about my own sin and need for grace than having a child. I consider myself pretty patient, but I lose my temper multiple times daily. Prayer helps. Prayer for my child and prayer with my child. We are fighting a battle that is not one of flesh, that cannot be solved by the mere punishment of the flesh. I don’t know where the line is between love and justice and mercy. I do know that my son cannot control his emotions yet, that he needs grace as much as he needs to know that there are consequences. For every punishment I deal out, I try to balance grace and forgiveness with law and consequences.

    It’s an uphill battle, but my child’s soul is my mission field. I am determined to make him a humble, loving, empathetic person, knowing that the only way I can do that is by the grace of God.

    • Aprille

      Caitlin, I feel like you wrote what was in my heart that I couldn’t find the words to say!

      We went through the span of several months where time-outs where very effective, but now to even get him into time out we have to threaten to spank, which seems totally counter-productive to me. We still use it on occasion, but more when he’s just rowdy and needs a calm-down than as a discipline for disobedience.

      I too am in that place of frustration – knowing that at this age, things like grace and repentance are so outside of the realm of his understanding. I hate the thought of simply disciplining to modify his behavior and teaching him to be a “good boy” just for good boy’s sake. I don’t want him to grow up reciting rules and the truth about good/bad behavior without him really understanding that he CANNOT be good on his own accord.

      I am trying to point him to Jesus and have him pray to ask Jesus for help obeying but I’m not quite as good about that as I probably should be – and I wonder how much he understands.

      And where I struggle to is this: at the end of the day, his behavior DOES need adjusted. Understanding grace or not, he needs to know he can’t run out in the parking lot because it’s not safe. We HAVE to wear shoes and coat when we are leaving the house. We HAVE to eat and sleep and all of those things. And every single one of those things is a battleground right now.

      I too try to balance grace and forgiveness with law and consequences and make sure he is still getting loved on and lavished with intentional affection. But I’m very very human and also losing my temper multiple times a day.

      This morning after a huge meltdown / discipline session we just sat and rocked and I prayed hard out-loud for him which is something I don’t do often, but he calmed and started taking deep breaths while I was praying. I asked him if he wanted to talk to Jesus too but he said, “I don’t know Momma…” and never did. I didn’t push. I think prayer is effective but I’m not good at it (horrible actually).

      Anyway, thanks for listening to my ramblings but YES YES YES to everything you wrote (and so eloquently so).

      • Mary Renee

        “Nothing has taught me more about my own sin and need for grace than having a child. I consider myself pretty patient, but I lose my temper multiple times daily. Prayer helps. Prayer for my child and prayer with my child. We are fighting a battle that is not one of flesh, that cannot be solved by the mere punishment of the flesh. I don’t know where the line is between love and justice and mercy. I do know that my son cannot control his emotions yet, that he needs grace as much as he needs to know that there are consequences. For every punishment I deal out, I try to balance grace and forgiveness with law and consequences.”

        WOW! Thank you for writing that. Especially that first sentence. Hit me like a done of bricks…and gave me a new realization for how we discipline.
        Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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