How to Use Firmness With Your Kids Without Being Harsh RTC 66
Laurie Christine
Laurie Christine
March 6, 2023

How can you use firmness as a parenting tool, without being harsh? Find out in today’s episode of Redeeming the Chaos.

firmness, not harshness

I Get Frustrated With my Kids When…

What is it that makes you frustrated with your kids? I know for me, I often get frustrated when my boys won’t do what I asked them to do, when they argue and whine when I give them an instruction, or when they ignore me altogether. 

All of these things fall under the umbrella of cooperation. Cooperation is working together to accomplish a task, without any arguing or bad attitudes. How do we motivate our kids to cooperate, without having to get angry or yell at them?  How can we be firm with our kids, without being harsh?

That’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s episode of Redeeming the Chaos. 

Today’s episode is sponsored by Amanda Trumpower, author of the Power Pup series – an exciting new series that will engage your boys, while upholding biblical family values. Learn more about Power Pup a little later in the show.

What is Heart-based Parenting?

A few weeks ago, we talked about the 7 tools of heart-based parenting.

In that episode we talked about what heart-based parenting is, and how to build a deeper relationship with your son. Relationship is the first of 7 tools used in heart-based parenting. Here’s a quick summary of the last episode:

Why Behavior Modification Doesn’t Work

Most styles of parenting use a behavior modification approach, or a “reward and punishment” system. If you do something good, you get a reward, and if you do something bad, you get a punishment. In behavior modification, consistency is key. Your child must get the same reward every time and the same punishment every time in order for the strategy to be effective. 

While this type of parenting may work for short term behavior change, it rarely affects a child’s inner motivation to change or to do the right thing. Behavior modification ultimately fosters selfishness in a child’s heart.  

I know back when we were using a “ticket system” or sticker charts in our family, my kids didn’t want to do anything around the house unless there was a reward involved.  I would ask them to clean up their toys and their response was: “How many tickets will I get?”  What’s my reward?

While we do want to teach our kids that hard work and effort will pay off in life, (and we also want to teach them about the relationship between work and wages), we don’t want our kids to always be expecting payment or a reward for their work around the home. 

A heart-based approach to parenting, rather than being all about punishment and reward, trains a child to obey because they have a sense of inner obligation to do the right thing. A heart-based approach considers the work of the Holy Spirit in a child’s life, because ultimately, God is the one who changes the hearts of our children.

National Center for Biblical Parenting

I have been trained as a parent coach and seminar presenter for the National Center for Biblical Parenting.  The concept of heart-based parenting was developed by the founders, Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  Most of the content we talk about in this episode today comes from my training from this organization.  

7 Tools of Heart-based Parenting

In the previous episode on heart-based parenting, we talked about 7 tools that will help you develop internal motivation in your child. 

The seven tools are: 

Relationship, Firmness, Visioning, Transferring Responsibility, Teaching, Spiritual Training, Coaching

Tool #1 – Relationship

The first tool is Relationship. 

Building a relationship with your son will help to soften his heart and allow you to connect with him on a deeper level.  We talked about a lot of practical ways to work on your relationship with your son. You can listen to the episode on the importance of building a relationship HERE.

We want to meet our kids’ emotional needs, empathize with how they’re feeling, but don’t neglect to show firmness at the same time.

Tool #2 – Firmness

That brings us to our second tool of heart-based parenting, which is Firmness.

Firmness builds character in our sons. Firmness means drawing a line in the sand and saying, “we’re not going past this line.” The goal of firmness is to train our children. 

We don’t want to move to consequences too quickly. Consequences can be part of firmness, but it’s important not to use consequences in a justice mentality… we’ll get to that in a few minutes.  

Firmness helps our child develop a sense of obligation — The attitude of “I need to” must overcome the attitude of “I want to.”

At the beginning of the episode, we talked about things that our kids do that frustrate us… like when our kids won’t do what we asked them to do, or when they whine and argue when you give an instruction, or when they ignore you altogether. 

Using firmness is a great way to develop that sense of inner obligation in your child’s heart and help them learn to cooperate.

Being firm is not the same as being harsh. Firmness builds character. Harshness, on the other hand, pours emotional intensity on the situation, involves anger and ultimately damages relationships.

How to Teach Your Kids to Follow Instructions

One of the ways we can be firm with our kids is by teaching them to follow instructions. 

The first step in learning to follow instructions is to teach our kids to come when they are called. 

For younger kids, you can turn in into a game. We call it, the “Come when you’re called” game. In this game, when you call your child’s name, they should stop what they’re doing right away, say “What mom,” and then come to where you are.  

Practice over and over again. Tell your child:  “Max, we’re going to play a game. I want you to go over there and play and when I call your name, I want you to stop what you’re doing and run over here to me and say, “What mom?”  Okay?  

Then you send Max over to play.  When you call his name and he comes running, be sure to praise him and say, “Great job!  You’re learning to obey! Now, go back over there and we’ll try it again.” 

This time, you could mix it up a little bit and have some fun.  Say, “Bobby!  Stanley! Pinocchio!  Wait, what’s your name??  Oh that’s right… Max!”  When Max comes running over and says “what mom” give him a big hug and praise him for coming right away. 

For older kids, a game might not be appropriate. But you can have a conversation with your son and say, “Hey buddy, I’ve noticed we’ve been doing a lot of yelling back and forth across the house. We’re going to start something new.  When I call your name, I want you to come right away and say “Yes mom.”  I’m going to give you a few chances to practice today, okay?”  

What to Do When Your Kids Won’t Listen

showing firmness when kids won't listen

I know you’re thinking… but what if they don’t come? What if they ignore me?  

Well, that’s where the tool of firmness comes in.  Here are a few strategies to try: 

First, rather than calling across the house, you need to walk to where your son is playing. Get close to your son and make sure you get his attention before talking to him. 

I ask my sons to look at my face, so I know I have their attention. Sometimes I have to put my hand on their shoulder, and sometimes I even have to take their face in my hands in order to get their attention.  

You might have to turn off the TV or step between your son and the TV to break his concentration.

How to Give Instructions to Your Child

After you have your son’s attention, give the instruction. But make sure it sounds like an instruction, not a suggestion. 

If I say, “Hey buddy, you might want to think about getting ready for bed soon.”  

You know what his response will be?  “Yeah, and I might NOT want to think about getting ready for bed soon.” 

When you give an instruction, use the phrase “You need to ______.”  This puts the weight of responsibility on the child.  A lot of parents will use the phrase “I need you to…”  But this type of phrase doesn’t transfer that responsibility to the child. It implies that the parent’s are the ones who need something.  

Our children do not have a responsibility to meet our needs. 

After you’ve given an instruction to your child, they need to respond to you by saying, “Okay mom.”  This affirms that they heard the instruction and they’re ready to follow through. If your child walks off without responding (even if they’re heading off to do the thing you told them to do), you need to say “hold on a minute… I need a response back.”  

You’re On a Mission to Do the Job

Let your child know they’re on a mission to complete the task, and when they are finished, they need to report back to you. Once they’ve finished the job, they need to come back to you and say, “I’m all finished.”  

At that point, you will go and inspect their work, praise them for doing a great job, and tell them they’re free to go. 

But what happens if you go inspect their work and you see that they haven’t completed their task to your satisfaction? You can use this as an opportunity to explain what your expectations are for this particular job. 

For example, you told your son to go get ready for bed. He reports back to you and says “I’m finished.” When you go to inspect, you notice that his toothbrush is not wet.  In this situation, rather than getting angry and yelling, simply remind your son:  “Hey buddy, you did a great job putting your pajamas on. Thank you for putting your dirty clothes in the hamper. But part of getting ready for bed is also brushing your teeth, which you forgot. You need to brush your teeth and then report back to me when you’re finished.” 

Following Instructions Builds Character

This routine of giving and receiving instructions is a great way to build character in your child.

 We’re not just teaching our children to follow instructions so they will help out more around the house. (Although, that is one of the benefits of this routine). We’re teaching our kids to learn to follow instructions because we care about what’s going on in their hearts. We are working to develop godly character traits in the hearts of our kids. 

As we teach our kids to follow instructions, we’re actually teaching them qualities like responsibility, responsiveness to authority, obedience, learning to give up your own agenda, perseverance, cooperation, thoroughness and accountability. 

In addition, when we teach our kids to respond to our authority and instructions, we’re actually softening their hearts to also receive instruction from the Lord.

What if My Kids Push Back?

When you introduce this new system of giving and following instructions to your kids, it’s likely they will push back.  

This is a good opportunity to use the tool of firmness with your child. 

For example, You give your child an instruction and he stomps off with a bad attitude. 

You say:  Whoa, hold on a minute. That’s not how we do it. When I give you an instruction, you need to reply back and say, “okay mom.”  Let’s try again. I’m going to walk out of the room and in just a minute I’m going to come back and give you the instruction again. Okay?”  And then you practice.  

When we practice giving and receiving instructions over and over again with our kids, we are building new routines and behaviors and we’ll start to see progress over time. 

Don’t Engage With a Child Who Is Arguing

showing firmness when kids are arguing

Another way to use the tool of firmness is to not allow your kids to manipulate the discussion by arguing or complaining. Do not engage in discussion with a child who is angry, yelling, or arguing. 

If a child is upset, wait until he calms down to discuss the problem.  (We actually have a whole different routine for what to do when your child is off track and needs to calm down. It’s called Taking a Break. We’ll talk about this in an upcoming episode).  

If your child is whining or nagging you, do not continue with the conversation. Tell your son: “Time out, this sounds like whining. I will not discuss this with you when you are whining.  Let’s try that again.”  

It’s important not to get sucked into the emotions of your child. If your child is angry or yelling, it’s important to remain calm.  (I know this is so hard!)  Don’t let his negative emotions dictate your response to him. This takes a lot of practice. But when we meet our child at their same level of intensity, the situation will only escalate and get worse. 

The Goal of Consequences is Heart Change

Boy sitting at sofa and using digital tablet while his father talking to him.

Consequences are also a part of firmness. But they are just one of the tools in our toolbox. Be careful not to jump to consequences too quickly. 

A heart-based approach to parenting uses consequences differently than other parenting styles.  For example, in a behavior modification approach to parenting, consequences are always based on a justice mentality. “If you do something bad, then you’ll get this punishment.” 

But in heart-based parenting, consequences are always forward-looking. The goal is heart change. 

Here’s an example: 

Your son has a bad attitude and tells you to shut up when you ask him to do something. 

In a behavior modification approach, the consequence might be that he loses screen time privileges for a day. When the day is over, he gets is phone or ipad back. But no heart change has taken place. 

In a heart-based approach, consequences always have the goal of heart change. You might say to your son: 

“Hey buddy, I’ve noticed that you’ve had a really bad attitude whenever I tell you to do something around the house. Your behavior does not show honor and it’s not okay for you to act like that. We’re going to work on this. 

“I’m going to take away your ipad until I see some changes in your behavior. There’s no set amount of time. It’s up to you to earn back the privilege of screen time. I would like to give your ipad back, but first, you must demonstrate to me that your attitude is changing and that you can respond to me in the right way. I will give you plenty of opportunities to practice over the next few days.”

My Son Won’t Take No for an Answer

Another way to use firmness as a parenting tool is to teach our kids to accept No as an answer. Many kids can’t handle hearing the word No.  And many parents think they might damage their kids if they are told “no.” Actually, quite the opposite is true. By teaching kids to accept NO for an answer, we are teaching them the heart quality of contentment. Our kids will learn to live within the limits set for them, and they will develop the heart qualities of unselfishness and gratitude.  

I have an entire episode on Redeeming the Chaos on the topic of teaching our kids to take No for an answer.  In this episode, I interviewed Dr. Scott Turansky, the cofounder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting. You can listen to my interview HERE.

Expect Resistance 

When you begin to use the heart tool of firmness with your son, you should expect some resistance!  When you start setting boundaries for your kids and saying “no” more often, your kids will push back. 

Remember, being firm is not the same as being harsh. We are firm with our kids because we love them, and we know what’s best for them, just as God is firm with us. Don’t get caught up in your own emotions when your child resists correction or a change in routine.

Practice makes progress. As you start to put these heart-based parenting tools into practice, over time you will begin to see some changes in his behavior and his heart.

Want More Help?

There’s a lot more I could say about firmness, giving instructions, consequences, and developing cooperation in our kids.  As a certified biblical parenting coach, I offer a limited number of coaching sessions for parents, where we meet over the course of 8 weeks and I help you to establish new routines in your home and deal with challenging behaviors in your children. You can learn more about my coaching program HERE.

Episode Sponsor

This week’s episode is sponsored by Amanda Trumpower, author of the Power Pup series.

Are you looking for an exciting new book series that will engage your boys while upholding your conservative family values?

Introducing Power Pup, a Christian superhero series filled with action, humor, and a biblical worldview. Set in the zany world of Collar Cases, Power Pup joins fan favorites Alex Digger and Mittens Meow as they take on new bad guys, make new friends, and learn more lessons about character.

Give your child the gift of superhero adventures without secular entertainment’s woke agenda. Everything comes from a biblical worldview in the Collar Cases universe.

The adventures begin with Power Pup vs.Tommy Trigger Finger, available now in paperback, ebook, and audio. Learn more at


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