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April 30, 2020


In my teen and college years, we were constantly warned that most people ended up unprepared for retirement. We were told that most senior citizens did not have any money, other than their meager social security check, and spent their golden years in poverty. Some were fortunate enough to have family but most ended up relying on food stamps and soup kitchens. 

We were told that social security would help, but it was not enough to retire on, and we had to take responsibility for our own retirement. 


I thought everybody got the message. 


Boy was I wrong! I understand 60% of today's retirement age people are still working out of financial necessity. I see many people taking early social security, because they desperately need the money, even though their check would only be ⅔ of what it would have been if they had just waited a few more years for full retirement age currently 66, but increasing to 67). 

And once you take your social security check early, the check never gets any bigger, even when you get to full retirement age. You are stuck with the smaller check for life. I know people that are getting just $800/month, and it will never get any bigger (except for cost of living adjustments which barely keep up with inflation, so the dollar amount may increase, but the purchasing power does not increase).

I see this with some of my patients. Last month one of my patients that has diabetes, told me he isn’t taking his insulin. He said even with Medicare, the insulin is just too expensive, and he just does not have the money to buy the insulin. Another patient, a nice older gal, has no fixed home. She is bouncing around: staying in a small camper without any utilities in a friend's back yard, about 9 months ago and now sleeping on another friend’s couch the last 2 months. She is in her late 70s and who knows where she will be next month.

When I served as a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it was heartbreaking to see the number of Church members who were in retirement, or very close to retirement, that had nothing. Many of them not only had nothing, they were also still buried in debt. 

I saw then, that if people hit retirement, with a decent car that was paid for and owned a home free and clear, and had a decent social security check, they might scrape by. But that is really the bare minimum.

But many people have to retire early due to failing health, and they still have house payments, and other debt, and there is just no solution for them. 

Currently the average social security check is about $1500/month. The average mortgage payment in Washington state is $1132, so you can see how that works out when you add in utilities and food, etc. It’s a pretty meager existence and certainly not the Golden Years I have looked forward to all of my life.   

A home purchase is a GREAT first step towards retirement preparation. If you have at least 20 years until retirement, you have plenty of time to pay off your house, if you start NOW. 

I wish my wife and I would have started our retirement savings earlier than we did and I wish my parents would have encouraged us to start saving earlier. 

February 2020

Important Child Rearing Concepts



This paper is NOT a review of all the things my wife and I did perfectly when we were raising our kids. Rather this is a review of what I currently wish I would have known about and used with our own kids. 


Some of these principles just weren’t known when we were raising our kids, and we have only recently learned about them in published studies. Some of the other principles we used successfully, but some we could have done a better job with.


Some principles are easier to understand than to apply. This is the Sunday School syndrome. It sounds pretty easy when we discuss it in Sunday School, but we get home and old patterns kick in and the Sunday School discussion suddenly doesn’t seem relevant. Or we just don’t see how to apply it. Knowledge comes easier than change.  

Of course this won’t be a comprehensive overview of parenting. That would be far beyond my writing ability. This is intended to just review some basic principles. If you can understand these principles you will be able to apply them in myriad different situations. So focus on understanding the principle rather than the specific situation we are using for illustration purposes. 

Never-the-less, these are just my opinions. This is my best opinion today, based on the sum total of my own experiences and failures, my own observations, and my review of current research. You are welcome to agree or disagree, but either way, please share your thoughts with me. I’m still learning.

The Basic Paradigm

In this culture, the main child rearing paradigm relates to punishing bad behavior and rewarding good. As a Christian nation, much of our perspective comes from the bible, which is replete with threats of punishment and offers of rewards. In general most behavioral psychologists promote a system of punishments and rewards. Most child rearing theories only differ in 3 issues.

  1. The ideal balance between rewards and punishments 

  2. The techniques of administering rewards and punishments

  3. The understanding of what constitutes rewards and punishments

Does this paradigm work with kids? Remember this question, because it will be answered later.

Let’s look at 2 definitions.

Punishment: a punishment is anything that tends to decrease or eliminate the behavior that precipitated it.   


Reward: a reward is anything that tends to increase the behavior that precipitated it.


Remember these definitions, as they will be central to what I have to say. 


Children, by nature, don’t like pain or isolation. Hence spanking or inflicting pain in some manner, and timeouts are basic forms of punishment used by many parents. Kids like praise and parental attention, hence most rewards include some combination of verbal praise and parental attention.


Inflicting Physical Pain

First of all kids can be raised without spanking or parental infliction of pain. Nothing in my experience suggests spanking is a necessity. But spanking is a frequently used method, particularly in the youngest ages. 


For example, when a 9 month old baby starts biting moms nipple while nursing, a quick finger flick to the cheek will stop this pretty quick. But you can also immediately take the breast away for about a minute. A minute is an awful long time for a hungry baby. If the breast is immediately removed every time the baby bites, or a finger flick is quickly given the baby will connect biting with pain or the food stopping, both of which are punishments and the baby will stop biting. Either way will work, and some mothers do both. 


I don’t know any way to handle this (and other similar situations) without some type of punishment, whether the pain of the finger flick or withholding the food and comfort of the breast.


I have known a few mothers, back in my baby delivering days, who couldn’t bring themselves to do either one. They just couldn’t knowingly inflict pain, and they couldn’t stand to hear their little angel cry with hunger. These mothers all quit nursing and switched to the bottle. These are examples of the child training the mother, instead of the mother training the child, because of the mothers unwillingness to use punishment.   


Similarly, a little slap on the hand for a 1 year old, or spanking on the rear end, for a 2-3 year old can transmit an important message. Administering any punishment as close as possible to the offending behavior makes it more effective. Imagine how ineffective it would be to do the finger flick 30 minutes after the nipple bite. Or to withhold the breast the next day. 


When spanking is overused, even young children desensitize to it. It should be infrequently administered, and very mild, which is appropriate to the very young age of the child. As children get older, spanking is less effective, and at a certain point it becomes not only ineffective, but actually counterproductive, as it serves more to enrage the child than to correct the behavior. 

Ephesians 6: 4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.


Here is the TAKE HOME: Punishments of some type are essential. Parents that don’t use punishments of some type end up with kids running the family. Spanking, or inflicting pain is one option, but there are alternatives. If spanking is used it is most effective for very young children and like all punishments, should be administered as soon after the precipitating behavior as possible. Spanking loses its effectiveness if overused. As children age it is less effective, and soon becomes counterproductive. 


Rewards vs Punishments, the Right Balance

When my wife and I were young we were determined to use primarily rewards, consisting of verbal praise, hugs, cuddling, and attention to shape our children's behavior, and the only punishment would be ignoring them during their bad behavior. We thought that consistent praise and love would help our kids to be angels, and whenever they did wander into bad behavior, the punishment of suddenly being ignored by us, by not getting any attention when they acted out, would suffice. 

We were wrong, and we found out that a better balance of rewards and punishment was needed, and the punishments needed to be a little more aggressive than just ignoring their bad behavior. 

My mother helped us to see that just ignoring, or pretending to ignore a 1 year old child as she thrashed on the floor, yelling, kicking and screaming at the top of her lungs was not working. Our child had developed this habit, and we steadfastly ‘ignored her’, which was a joke, because when she was doing this, it stopped whatever we were doing. So we would just silently stare at her waiting for it to end. It would go on forever and was repeated frequently. We weren’t ignoring her, we were just being quiet, while she terrorized us, which meant nothing because nobody could have heard anything over her screaming anyway. Her being able to bring everything to a halt, and be the center of our attention, was in fact a reward. And that is why the behavior persisted.   

My mother showed us that we could simply pick her up, and without saying anything, drop her off in her bedroom, close the door and leave her, at which point the tantrum stopped pretty quick. We didn’t talk to her through the door, we didn’t offer to let her come out if she would behave, we said nothing. After 30-60 seconds of silence on her part we would open the door so that she could rejoin us (punishments don’t have to be long for little kids). If the crying or tantrum resumed, we silently repeated the process. Thirty to 60 seconds of silence would always result in the door opening and the opportunity to rejoin us. On the rare occasion that she continued to cry, scream or act out the door stayed closed. She could only earn the opportunity to rejoin us by getting herself under control.

Note: Older children may need a longer timeout for optimal results.

Please note that we did not give her a lot of verbal interaction prior to, or as we took her to the bedroom, and when we let her out, we did not give her big hugs and lots of attention, and praise her for getting herself under control. That would have been a reward, and that would have taught her that acting out brings rewards. We just silently let her come back out and be with us. 

It was a simple formula: 

Temper tantrum = isolation.

Want to end isolation? = end the tantrum. But she had to figure this out on her own, we didn’t verbally interact with her to coach her, which would have been a reward.

The trick was to do this without mixing a bunch of rewards into the process. Parents that go through some long verbal interaction of asking the kids if they want a timeout, and threatening them and negotiating with them, are in fact supplying rewards. These are all forms of parental attention, which is a reward, and rewards will increase the behavior that precipitated it. (see reward definition above)


Here is the TAKE HOME: punishments need to be something that actually decreases the behavior that precipitated it. Punishments need to be administered as soon after the misbehavior as possible. Punishments need to be administered without inadvertently mixing in a lot of rewards. 


You Say Punishment, They See Rewards

As kids get older, rewards and punishments can come from many sources, not just from parents. And a greater reward will cancel out a lesser punishment, and vice versa. 


What does this mean? Sometimes our kids get so much peer approval and admiration for certain behaviors that it far outweighs the negative consequences from parents. Conversely, losing peer respect might be a bigger punishment than the reward from home for doing something unpopular. In these cases you will wonder why your punishments and rewards are ineffective. This is minimized if your kids are not peer dependent, and if they have good friends (good friend definition: peers that reward positive behavior).


On the home front, screen time or other diversions in the bedroom may be a bigger reward than the punishment of isolation from the family. Timeouts in this case just won’t pack any punch, because you are actually rewarding them by sending them to the bedroom.  


And there are other rewards to consider. For example, being in control of the family dynamics is a reward. 


Have you observed this pattern? You tell your kid to do something. They ignore you, or respond with some lame excuse. Soon you repeat it. This goes on for a number of repetitions. At some point you raise your voice, you use your best stern parental tone, and you start including threats.


At this point you have already lost. Why? Because you have put the kid in charge. Your intention was for your kid to obey. Their intention was to stall for time, get attention, and to be in control. Who is winning? Not you. 


Think of the kids game, King of the Hill. Everybody tries to get to the top of the same small hill and keep everybody else off of it. At the point that you are going back and forth with your kid, it is the emotional equivalent of playing King of the Hill. The kid is loving the game, regardless of who wins in the end. 


Now let's get to the end of this game. It ends in one of two ways. One is you kind of quit engaging with your kid, and kind of let them slink off and do what they want. Hard to believe any parent would do this, but I see it very frequently. This is the emotional equivalent of the kid just having won the King of the Hill game. Yes, this is very rewarding to kids and they will continue playing this game with you, frequently. 


The second way it ends is that you escalate it enough to force compliance. The escalation can be in the form of you yelling, or making a big enough threat, or engaging in some type of violent end, (pulling the kid by the ear, shaking them, hitting or spanking them, etc.). This is the equivalent of your kid just finishing a fun game of King of the Hill. They didn’t win this particular round, but it was great fun, and overall was still a reward to the kid. 

In other words your kid is now “obeying” but you have lost. You have not taught your kid to be obedient (forced compliance is not obedience), you have not conducted yourself appropriately as a parent, you have driven the good feeling away , and your other other kids, have learned some good moves to try the next time they get to play the game.      

At the end of all this, you may invoke some punishment, (IE after they finally take the garbage out, they get a time out in the bedroom). Even if you slip in a real punishment at the end, the reward of the argument almost always outweighs the punishment. 

Here is the TAKE HOME: As kids get older it is hard to keep punishments from turning into rewards, and to make punishments relevant. Raising your voice, making threats, and arguments are all rewards to your older kids.

How Do We Avoid this Pattern?

One option is to ignore your kids and let them run wild. Kids are wrestling around in the living room? Ignore it. Couple of kids are bickering? Fine. Wearing their muddy boots right into the living room? Kids will be kids. 

Ignoring the behavior really might be your best option. It is better to ignore the behavior than issue some directive that you allow them to ignore (which teaches them all the wrong messages about authority). 

It is also better to ignore the behavior than have a big argument (which is a reward to the kid). If you don’t have the energy to enforce the order, or a reasonable plan to enforce it without an argument, keep your mouth shut and let kids be kids. 

But if you do issue a directive make sure you are willing and able to enforce it. If you don’t enforce your directive you will teach your kids that obeying directives from you is optional. 

Here are some age appropriate methods to enforce a directive.

For 1 to 3 years old:

Father: “Sally, pick up your toys.”

Sally: continues playing with toys

Father: without raising his voice, without repeating the directive, gets up and takes Sally by the hands, and helps her to use her hands to pick up the toys. 

For 3 to 6 years old:

Mother: “kids, quit bickering.”

Kids: continue bickering.

Mother: gets up, calmly takes each child by an arm, escorts them out the front door and in a calm voice states: “you can come back in when you want to get along.” Closes the door and returns to what she was doing. 

If they are bickering again 15 minutes later, the process is repeated. Again without raising the voice, which would be a reward. The 3rd time this needs to be repeated, there is a little change.

Mother: escorts them out front door and says “I will come back and let you know when you can come back in.” Depending on the age of children, you wait much longer than they waited, or 15-20 minutes etc.

For 7+:

Parent: issues 1st directive

Kid: ignores directive

Parent: issues 2nd directive, “Why don’t you head to your bedroom, until you can be a little more attentive to your parents requests?”

If they ignore the 2nd directive, the parent silently takes the child by the arm, walks them into the bedroom, closes the door on way out. In this process the 2nd directive is not repeated, they already heard it. If the child interjects questions, they are ignored. This is not a discussion, or a negotiation which would be a reward to your child. This is you enforcing a directive without adding rewards of parental attention, etc.

In general, most parents would do better by ignoring a lot more kid behavior, and giving a lot less directives to kids. But when parents do give an order, they should enforce it immediately without engaging in behaviors that are rewards: raising your voice, arguing, threatening, etc. As you establish this pattern, your kids will learn to respond promptly to your directives.  

Here is the TAKE HOME: Let kids be kids, but when you do choose to give direction, enforce it without delay in a dignified way, without engaging in behavior that is a reward to the kid, and has the effect of nullifying the punishment.

Making Rewards and Punishments Effective in the Long Term

But even more important than changing behavior is helping our kids make changes that persist, even when they are no longer under our dominion. Helping your kids stay away from liquor and tobacco is great, but not so much if they immediately take up drinking and smoking when they turn 18. 

This is where some interesting research has shed some light recently.

One issue relates to the consistency of the punishment or reward. And this is kind of counterintuitive, because we all believe consistency in parenting is a virtue. WRONG! 

If a person is ALWAYS rewarded for a particular behavior, when that reward stops, there is a high likelihood that the behavior will stop as well. But if the reward is intermittent and/or random, the behavior is far more likely to persist after the reward is gone. So if you always praise your kids for behaving, they are more likely to quit behaving when you aren’t there to give them the praise. If your praise and reward is hit and miss, they are more likely to continue the behavior on their own. 

Same thing in adults lives too. A paycheck is a reward that comes every week. When the paychecks stop, employees quit coming to work. On the other hand, think of gamblers at a casino. Winning is intermittent and random, and gamblers don’t quit coming back just because they didn’t win. Same with fishing. Sometimes you catch a fish, sometimes not, but no fisherman quits just because they didn’t catch any fish the last time they went fishing. The gambler will think, “the odds are that I am about due for a winning streak.” And the fisherman will think, “the fish will probably be running next time.”


Same with punishment. Intermittent punishment is better than consistent punishment. This principle is actually a blessing to parents that are busy enjoying life, have many interests, and don’t hover over their children all day. Those types of busy, happy parents are often inconsistent and intermittent in their parenting and it turns out that is the best for their kids. 


  • Can’t make it to every game your kid is in? Fine. S/he will survive and will learn the lessons the sport offers, not just how to genuflect to your praise.

  • Only occasionally thank your kids for doing their chores? Good. They are developing their own work ethic.

  • Didn’t monitor your kid close enough to catch, and punish, every wrong behavior? Great, he is growing his own conscience. 


Here is the TAKE HOME: Don’t hover, give your kids some space. It’s OK for kids to get away with something once in awhile, or to not get rewarded every time they do good. You want your kids to actually learn to do right, not just respond to your rewards and punishments. 

How Much is Enough?

Now let’s look at a different principle that relates to older children, that we have learned from recent research. Consider 2 scenarios. In the first, you give your child the bare minimum instruction and counsel to get them to do a certain behavior. For example, you give gentle encouragement to pay their tithing. 


Now in the second scenario, you go all out with reasons and explanations for why they should pay tithing. You give lots of threats of punishment if they don’t pay their tithing and offer rewards if they do. 


They are obviously more likely to pay their tithing in the second scenario. But they are more likely to keep paying their tithing in the first scenario.


Why is this? Not sure, but researchers feel that in the first situation, where you give the least and most mild encouragement, the child is more likely to internalize the behavior and to draw the conclusion:

“this is me, this is what I do, I’m a tithe payer.”

So the behavior is more likely to become permanent.  


On the other hand, when you go all out with lots of strong encouragement and threats and rewards, the child is more likely to draw the internal conclusion:

“I have to do this, mom/dad insist, this is their thing, this is not me.”

And the behavior may rapidly extinguish when you aren’t there to supply the threats and rewards.


So when should you insist kids do things? When it is a life or death situation. When there will be dire, grave, immediate consequences, you really do want to insist on obedience. Better not to take a chance. And hopefully, as they get old enough for intelligence to kick in, they will see the necessity of continuing the behavior.


When should you give mild guidance to older kids? Most of the time. They may make the wrong choice sometimes, and that is fine. As time goes on, they will have repeated chances to make the right choice.


We first discovered this principle with one of our teenage daughters. One day we gave her an instruction, and she told us NO!! As we had previously determined, we just moved on, and did not escalate it by turning it into an argument that would have been a reward for her. We were totally surprised the next day when we found her doing what we had asked her to do. 


This is kind of how it went:

Us: “you earned some money babysitting, don’t forget to pay your tithing.”

Daughter: “You can’t make me pay tithing, I earned that money. That's my money, I need it. I have to pay my sports fee at school. You never give me any money. I don’t even get an allowance. Everybody I know gets money from their parents. I’m NOT paying any tithing!” 

Us: lips zippered, no response, nothing else said

Daughter: next day, “do you have a tithing envelope I can use?”


This pattern went on for a long time. We would give her some instruction or guidance, and she would respond quite strongly in the negative. We did not respond to her protests. Soon, she would be doing the very thing she had assured us she wouldn’t do. 


The Lord taught us about this response to help us respond appropriately:

Matthew 21: 28  But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard.

29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.

30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.


As time went on her protests became less intense, and shorter, and eventually disappeared. Had we insisted she agree to follow our counsel, she would have just dug in deeper, and I think it would have been very unlikely that we could have forced her to accept our counsel.


I believe the following scripture applies:

Ephesians 6: 4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

When we are overbearing in insisting that kids accept our counsel, we provoke them to wrath, IE to reject the very behavior we are trying to teach.


Here is the TAKE HOME: Don’t force your kids to behave in every aspect of their life. Lighten up, teach correct principles, allow room for them to choose. Often with older kids, less is more. Let them practice making choices. Learning to CHOOSE the right is more important than immediately being compelled to DO the right.


God is Not Optional

And this brings me to the last principle I want to discuss, which should be one of the first principles we implement. Indeed this is something we start from the youngest ages. 


We need to teach our kids to notice how they feel when they do good and how they feel when they do bad. They need to be taught that when they are acting and thinking right they will have the fruits of the Spirit. 

Galatians 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

And conversely when they are acting and thinking wrong they will have negative feelings.

Galatians 5: 20: hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife,


God, who is our Father, and who loves us, gives us these feelings to help us stay on the straight and narrow path back to Him. Kids need to understand that bad behavior not only makes mom and dad unhappy but also offends Father, and they can know how God feels about their behavior by being sensitive to their own feelings.


As they become fluent in recognizing these feelings and being responsible for their feelings, they will hold themselves to a much higher standard. You need to help your kids have enough experiences with positive spiritual feelings, that they can connect the dots. 


When they learn to be responsible for staying in tune with the Spirit, our job is much easier, or maybe even done. 

Galatians 3: 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Parents are the schoolmasters, using the law (punishments and rewards), to help our kids come unto Christ, through faith.


Many children, when they have chosen poorly, need to spend some time counseling with a parent, and in a non accusatory fashion, from a faith based point of view discuss some of these types of questions: 

  • How did you feel when you were doing __________?

  • How did you feel afterwards? 

  • What specific commandments of Father did you break? (often very helpful to read the actual scripture) 

  • When did you first realize you were doing something wrong? 

  • Before you even started, did you know in your heart you were making a mistake? 

  • How would you like to get over this? 

  • What repentance steps are you going to apply? 

  • What can we do to help you with your repentance? 

As a part of this discussion, you can talk about an appropriate punishment, if needed, to help them get back on track, but this is presented as a favor you are doing them, to HELP them, and brought about by their own behavior. Willingly submitting to an appropriate punishment is a sure sign of true repentance. Timeouts are a valuable punishment for all age groups, in part because it promotes the type of meditation and prayer that strengthens the relationship with God, and sometimes our kids carry on this type of internal discussion by themselves without needing us. Especially if you have conducted this type of discussion with them in the past.


Here is the TAKE HOME: Use good disciplinary techniques to help your kids learn to do good, but it must be mixed with faith. When they connect with God, through the Spirit, and recognize the fruits of the Spirit, they will become stewards of their own behavior and you will become their partner as they strive to walk on the straight and narrow path. If they don’t develop their own relationship with God, there is little long term hope.


Let’s Answer the Question

So let's end by answering the question that we asked at the beginning.

Question: Does this paradigm (of punishment and rewards) work with kids? 

Answer: Punishments and rewards work only in the short term, as a stopgap measure as your children develop their own faith, and hence their own desire to do right. As children age, rewards and punishments should become milder and more random and intermittent, allowing children to develop their own conscience through making their own choices. As children grow the parents role is less authoritarian and more advisory, more coaching, more mentoring them in developing, growing and protecting their own faith.


If children leave home without faith and an active relationship with God their behavior will rapidly resemble the world that they live in.


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