Posted by: angiefm | March 12, 2009

Habit/Child Training


A number of people have told me that they were looking forward to my promised post on habit/child training, and now that I sit down to write it, I’m a little embarrassed that I dared to promise such a thing.


The truth is, I am not one to “prescribe” any one method of child training, nor am I one to “subscribe” to any one method.  There are so many books out there that claim to have figured it out, and if you only follow their method/process/philosophy, you will have wonderful, God-fearing, obedient, children who sleep through the night at 4 weeks old so you can go out and do your gardening in peace for 3 straight hours.

Well both Tee Chiou and I have always been put off by such books because sometimes it just goes against our grain to do such-and-such.  But we believe it, and we try and we fail and we think that the method was right but we just didn’t have the guts/tenacity/faith/follow-through/all-of-the-above to make it work and we feel like we are horrid, delinquent parents. 

After having been a parent for 8 and a half years, not long enough to know it all, but enough to have learnt a lesson or two, I now believe that the Good Lord in His infinite wisdom has given EACH of us wisdom for our OWN children.  So I’m not saying you shouldn’t read those books.  Go ahead and read them.  Take from it what you feel you should or can, and leave the rest with no guilt.  And just because something works for you, don’t feel you need to impose it on everyone else, or that anyone who doesn’t parent that way isn’t parenting correctly.  We are all on this journey together.  We could certainly do without the unnecessary judgement.  🙂

So … *deep breath*

Books which we have NEVER agreed with (don’t shoot me here if you are a strong supporter) are Shepherding a Child’s Heart and anything by Gary Ezzo of Baby Wise fame.  They just really went against our grain.  But reading them gave us something to discuss.  It is just as important to understand what doesn’t work for you and why as it is to know what does work and why.

Books which we have really enjoyed and agreed with in-principle are:

We Spare the Rod

We have never caned our children.  We used “Mr Spoon” (a wooden spoon from trusty IKEA) for about 3 months with Timothy when he was 2+, but that was it. 

In fact Tee Chiou likes to joke that we are doing what the Bible says.  We spare the rod and we spoil the child.  🙂 

But I like to think that our children are well behaved and respectful and obedient (most of the time), even without our having used the rod.  😀  In fact, it is interesting that if you read the whole book of Proverbs, you will find many many many ways discipline and training come about, the “rod” being just one of them. 

So how do we do things in the Ng Household?  Here are some MUST HAVES I have discovered for training to be possible in our home.  Remember this is OUR home, not yours.  🙂  I’m not prescribing what you should do, just sharing some things which have worked for us:

We Must Have TIME

Not just LOTS of time but lots of UNHURRIED time.

I used to believe in the myth of “quality time”.  That was when I was working full-time in a hectic 60 to 70+ hour week.  Quality Time was a consoling concept.

But after being home full-time for the last 4+ years, I now realise that you need QUANTITY time to be able to properly train your children.  And this has to be UNHURRIED time.  I have found that we have made great progress in many areas in the first two months of this year, just by having cut down on our activities. 

Last year we were SO BUSY that we didn’t have time to properly train our kids.  As a simple example, having the children make their beds in the morning.  Now they do it consistently.  But last year, when we were rushing off for various activities and they hardly had enough time to get ready and out the door, and I was likewise scrambling to get everything ready (I’m an incurable last-minute person), there was no time to follow-up on something like making beds. 

After a while, Tee Chiou noticed the correlation between how busy we were that day and how much I complained to him about the children’s behaviour when he got home from work!

This year, I have revamped our schedule MAJORLY and cut out all but two outside activities, gym on Thursdays (with lunch with grandparents neatly scheduled just before that) and meeting with another homeschool family on alternate Wednesdays.  And things have calmed down tremendously as a result of it.

Having consistent mornings have been a real bonus for training in many areas – the kids get out of bed when the alarm goes off at 9.30 (I wake them at 9 am, but they are loungers … guess where they got that from!), they make their beds, wash-up and change, have their breakfast, wash their dishes and wipe the table and are ready with their Bibles and hymnals to begin “school” when another alarm clock goes off at 10 am.  Then they know what is expected school-wise before we break for lunch at 1 pm.  Of course we have lapses, but in the main, mornings go as planned.

Speaking of clocks, here’s another MUST HAVE for us.

We Must Have TIMERS!  😀

I bought a timer when I was inspired by the Fly Lady.  If you are not familiar with her and her house-keeping techniques, check out  The whole point of having a timer was to get you FOCUSED for a short period of time.  So instead of hemming and hawing about not wanting to do some icky household chore, just grit your teeth, set the timer for 10 minutes and GO FOR IT!

After having used timers for a couple of years now, (we have 5 in this house plus our mobile phones have countdown timer functions too), I have come to the conclusion that all hospitals should issue one in their baby welcome packs.  🙂  We use it for just about everything in this house.  Baths, schoolwork, mummy’s computer time, quiet hour (we set aside an hour on afternoons we are home to do our own thing), countdown to leaving the house … you name an activity and we’ll find a way to sneak a timer in.  Other families use it for time-outs which we don’t practice. 

Now we don’t use it for ALL baths, or ALL schoolwork, but when our children’s habit of attention starts to slip, or bath-time becomes as long as spa-time, then out comes the timer.

The value of using a timer is that it takes over the responsibility of reminding (read: nagging) from you.  And it takes that “edge” off your instructions.  For some strange reason, if I say, “Okay kids, you have 15 more minutes to play then you have to go off to have your baths”, and set the timer, when it goes off, they get up and go!  If I don’t use the timer, then in 15 minutes that familiar bargaining exchange will start.  And eventually I will lose my cool and raise my voice and they will all go off in a huff.


If you are familiar with the child-training method of the author of Raising Godly Tomatoes (, this is what she calls “outlasting”.  In their method, you are told that you must always OUTLAST your child when you are training him.  For a while now, I have been sharing with other parents that we believe we must ALWAYS WIN.  The concept is the same.

When you tell your child something is expected of him – either you need him to do something, or you need him to stop doing something – you cannot give in till it is done.  Here are some examples from the Ng Household …

If we say Tim will not be able to get off his chair till he is done with dinner, we don’t allow him to until he is well and truly done.  WE WIN!  If you have different rules at the dinner table and say that if your child doesn’t finish his food in 15 minutes it will be taken away from him, DO IT!  Don’t make any excuses to give him more time.

If I say (once only) that if the kids get off the bed and go too close to the TV in our room, that it will be switched off … and if they do, it gets switched off.  I WIN!  I don’t repeat the instruction (if you are familiar with Charlotte Mason’s writing, instructions aren’t repeated and passages aren’t re-read, so your child will know they won’t have another shot at it and will pay greater attention to you).

If I say they won’t get lunch until they finish their work (which just happened today), then if they don’t, they don’t eat on time.  I WIN!  I don’t change tact halfway and say, “Oh poor thing.  You must be so hungry.  It’s okay, have your lunch first, but please finish your work immediately after.”

If we say we are leaving the house in 10 minutes and the timer goes off but some child isn’t ready, we leave without that child (of course we now have the luxury of a live-in maid so we can do this safely.  But we have only had to do this once ever with Tim when we were going out shopping for shoes for Chinese New Year last year and everyone learnt really quickly!)  WE WIN!

If we tell our children they are to wear their shoes to leave my parents’ home and one of them doesn’t, we make that child pick up his/her shoes and walk barefooted.  WE WIN!  (This happened to Alethea when she was 2-ish, and she walked about 200 metres barefooted on the road from my parents home to ours.)

If I tell Nathalie she needs to say “Bye Mummy” before she is allowed to leave the house to go to the playground with Alethea and Tim and she doesn’t, the she doesn’t go.  (This happened when Nathalie was 2-ish and she stood in her shoes near the door for almost 30 minutes, steadfast and immovable!  😀  Of course I had to WIN!)

The whole idea is to get your child to believe you.  REALLY believe that you mean what you say.  I have seen on so many ocassions (and I’m sure you have also), a parent saying to a child, “Okay, we need to go now.”  And the kid continues to look at things on the grocery shelves.  “We are going now,” the parent repeats.  (Pause)  “If you don’t put that piece of chocolate down now and come with me, I’m going to leave without you ah?!” (Pause.  No reaction from child.)  “Okay, I’m leaving.”  (Pause.  Still no reaction.)  “I’m going now.”  (Neither moves.)  “Okay, just ONE piece of chocolate and we’re leaving!”

Parent – ZERO, Child – ONE!

So no, no, no.  WIN EVERY TIME!  And if you do, you will realise that you don’t have to do it for long.  (Only for a few years, ha ha ha.)  Our kids are smart.  They will learn really quickly who’s boss around here.  And we don’t have to be ashamed to say it.  After all we have a God-given authority over our children.  No need to be apologetic about it.  We are their parents, not their pals.  They are to honour and obey us and if they do, the Lord is pleased.

  • Ephesians 6:1 to 3: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
  • Colossians 3:20: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

When our children are younger, we dispense with all consultation.  We don’t let our children pick their own clothes, or shoes, or what they will eat or drink (especially when we are eating at someone else’s home). 

Tee Chiou and I have lots of conversations with our children, so we do explain to them why we do what we do, or why they have to do what we tell them to.  But we’re still in charge.  And they still have a responsibility to obey us.  (And in order to have lots of conversation, you need lots of time … see above.  :))

Some of this may seem harsh to you, but it really isn’t unpleasant.  In fact, it is much more pleasant than having a mother nag, or repeat instructions at an ever increasing volume.  After having spent time and energy and attention to training our children, now even something as simple as a call of “Alethea” from me at anytime of the day is rewarded with either a cheerful “Yes Mom” and her almost immediate appearance, or at least an acknowledgement like, “Sorry Mom, I’m in the toilet”.  🙂  I don’t have to keep at it with, “Alethea.  Alethea, where are you!  Alethea, come here!  Where ARE you Alethea!  HEY!  I SAID COME HERE!”

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason had lots to say about habit and child training.  She likened it to “laying down the rails” or “laying down the lines of habit” so that we secure smooth days ahead for both ourselves and our children.  If you are keen on reading more about this, you can start by reading Volume 1 of her 6-volume series at, or you can consider buying Laying Down the Rails from  This latter book has all the writings of Charlotte Mason on the topic of habit formation, compiled by category, and has been an invaluable resource for us as we seek to train our children one habit at at time. 

In Conclusion … Whew!

Now we are not THERE yet. Not by a long shot.  We are all a work in progress.  I am learning to be calmer and more consistent.  My children are learning to obey first time every time.  There is no shortcut to learning obedience.  But if you read the Bible, you will see over and over again that an obedient Christian reaps manifold blessings not just for himself but for his generations to come.  But when we disobey and rebel, the result is curses and punishment not just for us but for our future generations.

When we teach our children to obey us, we are teaching them to obey their Heavenly Father in future.  What a foundation we are giving them!  So even though it is difficult, keep at it.  The benefits are eternal!  🙂



  1. Hi Angie, many thanks for sharing your methods. I’m learning lots!

    I agree with the principle of the parent always winning, but I’m wondering if there are situations which do not allow for you to win, eg something that is dangerous like crossing the road without holding hands for a kid prone to dashing around, or something like refusing to greet someone when asked? How does one deal with those situations?

    Also, do you regret using the ‘spoon’ on Tim, why did you stop, and could you share how you used it please?

    Finally, would you have any thoughts on training toddlers?

    Your sharing would be most appreciated, but I would understand if you don’t have the time for a lengthy response to my questions.

    • Hi there captaincaveman. 🙂 Beware … brevity is not my strong suit. 🙂

      The first thing I do is to train our children to obey immediately on a single command. The most important lesson I learnt from reading Parenting with Love and Logic is that when children are young, as early as they understand the word STOP, they need to learn to simply obey. Raising Godly Tomatoes has the same advice, and they use spanking as punishment for disobedience. We have never had to, since our children respond very well to verbal training and reasoning. If you haven’t, you should read their child training tips on their website. That would be my one piece of advice about training toddlers. They don’t have the ability to understand rules. They just need to know one thing. When I say something, OBEY! If I ask you to do something, do it. If I ask you to stop doing something, stop it.

      So when you say STOP, they really must. Immediately and on a single command. When Tim was about 4, this training literally saved his life. We were sitting at the cafe at Borders, Wheelock Place, and Alethea and Tim were running about playing catching, but Tim got over-excited about getting away from his sister and was running toward the road at the really busy traffic junction. Even if we got up to run toward him, it would have been too late since we were quite a distance away. But I shouted, “TIM! STOP!” And he did! On hindsight, of course we shouldn’t have let it happen in the first place. Our oversight. But if he hadn’t been trained … well the Good Lord only knows what would have happened.

      The second thing is to “pre-empt”. I remember an incident just last year. It was after our BSF class and Tim and his classmate were running along a grass verge toward a carpark. His classmate’s mother was shouting at her son to “stop, stop, I say stop, stop running”, etc and she was running after him. But the kid ran right onto the road. It wasn’t busy, but that’s beside the point. But Tim came to a complete stop just before he reached the kerb and stood there waiting for me to catch up. And I hadn’t said a word. The other mother, huffing and puffing, dragged her son back to the kerb, then asked how come Tim, who was the same age, was able to do that. I joked that I train children like you would train dogs. But there really is an element of truth.

      We talk a lot to our kids. I explain to them why it is that when I say STOP, I mean STOP. When I say COME DOWN, I mean come down NOW. I tell them it could be a matter of life and death and that there is often no time for them to question. They must just obey. We do this when we aren’t having an issue to deal with so tempers aren’t flying. And I don’t “nag”. I don’t do the “stop, stop, stop, I’m telling you to stop” speech. When you do that, they learn to tune you out. I also don’t raise my voice (not usually anyway), so that when I do, it really means something.

      I also talk to them about how they are to behave in various situations. For example before we go to the grocery store, I tell them that I will NOT buy them anything. So don’t bother asking. Of course as a parent, we know that when those little fingers are lingering over something that our children really want it and I’m not saying that we cannot buy it for them. But they NEVER ask. And as a result, they are always pleasantly surprised when I do buy it, and are very grateful.

      Another rule in the supermarket or a shopping centre or just about any public place is that THEY have to look out for ME, and not have me look out for THEM, since I’m outnumbered. 🙂 So I just walk and do my thing, and they follow. Because they know that if they are inattentive and stray, THEY are in trouble. *grin*

      Or in a carpark, when they get out of the car, they know to just stand and wait for my instruction to walk. And they know that when we walk in a carpark, we do so in single-file. It all starts with training for obedience. A bit army style lah. Ha ha ha. And yes, like dogs, I do tell them to “stay”. 🙂

      About not greeting. Funny you should ask today, because just this afternoon, after getting our haircuts, I reminded all the children to say “Thank you Uncle Kenneth”, but Nathalie (4) refused to. Of course Kenneth and his wife Winnie dismissed it, saying, “Aiyah, never mind lah.” But I did mind. This was a battle of wills. She stood her ground (this one’s a bit of a challenge) and was silent, then that turned to crying. I said we were not going to leave till she said it. I didn’t make an empty threat like “If you don’t, Mummy will leave you here”, which I hear parents say a lot. Because you can never carry out a threat like that so you lose credibility. So we waited, and waited and even though we were running late, I was determined not to lose. The hairdressers were of course getting a little antsy. Ha ha. But we waited. Alethea and Tim know the drill already so they amused themselves with something else. By this time, there were TWO things I needed Nat to do. First, stop crying. Then say thank you. So I broke it down for her. And eventually she did both. I WON AGAIN! 🙂 Then much later (like 3 hours), when we were alone in the car, I talked to her about it. I reminded her that first I was training her, so it was important that she be attentive and learn. And second that when I asked her to do something, I expected her to do it. Then we practiced it a few times. I said, “Nathalie, can you say thank you to Uncle Kenneth?” And she did.

      Again you can do some pre-empting in such situations. When we are on the way to someone’s house, I repeat our “rules”. Greet everyone by name, don’t ask for ANYTHING, but accept it with thanks if it is offered to you. Visits go much better that way.

      Mr Spoon – I have no regrets. There was a time it was necessary and that time was short. I used it mainly to get Tim’s attention, since he used to have these crying fits and tantrums. Mr Spoon got him to listen to me. After I spanked him, I would hold him tightly and ask him to quieten down because I had something to say and if he continued crying he wouldn’t be able to hear it. I said it softly and in his ear so that he really had to be quiet to hear.

      Then I would pray aloud. I would first pray for myself, that the Lord will give me wisdom and calm to handle the situation, then I would pray for him, that the Lord will open his heart to receive the discipline. 9 out of 10 times, by the time I finished praying, he would have calmed down, and we would talk about his behaviour. After a while, there was just no more need for Mr Spoon so he retired. 🙂

      I hope some of this helped. It’s been a while since I had a young one. Let’s see if I remember my own advice when #4 gets to that age! 🙂

  2. Angie, I hooted so much with laughter when I read about how WE MUST WIN. You really hit it on the head for me with this one, and with why we need lots of time. What can I say? One year after quitting a nearly 24X7 job, I think one of the biggest reasons why we’re having a really terrific time now is because I’ve had the luxury to make my presence and the reasons for doing what I do, known. I don’t mean this can’t be done for FTWMs, but staying at home for me has helped tonnes.

  3. Your detailed response has helped a great deal. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Your approach appeals both to my head and my heart!

  4. Hi Angie, I have to say I am very inspired by your methods. I think the timer is a fantastic idea – I’m going out to get them tomorrow. Seriously. I’m always threatening my kids with “5 minutes more…” “One more minute…” and doing countdowns aloud. While it works, I think an actual timer would cut down all that vocal work I have to do. To be honest, I hate the sound of my own nagging and boy, do I nag a whole lot in a day. I do use the time-out method, which I find works for me because it’s also a good time for me to calm down (otherwise I always feel like I’m two seconds away from throttling them). Having an actual countdown on time would save me a whole lot of irritation since my daughter loves asking “How many more minutes” every 10 seconds or so.

    As for the “Parents always win” method – you are right. It is essentially making credible threats, threats you can act on. My problem is consistency. I sometimes make credible threats (and act on them), other times I say something stupid, something I know I can’t act on. Still working on this one.

    We practice a very open, consultative style parenting, which has worked up until six months ago when my then-four-and-a-half decided she would push limits, every single time. She has now become unbearable and tries everyone’s patience. I’ve tried reading a few books which again reiterate the credible threat notion, but I find it isn’t enough. We are getting desperate enough to want to get into caning, which I loathe but really cannot see what else we can do. Reading your post has made me think about her behaviour just today and all my responses. I think being more authoritative and less consultative definitely has benefits.

    Incidentally, this is a great blog! Am happy to have stumbled upon it.

  5. Hi Angie,

    Firstly, I think this is a great blog and it’s the one and only one on my blog roll.

    Secondly, hi again, I’m the mom working in OCBC Bldg whom you’ve had to make quick dashes to deliver books to! ha ha ha 😉

    I’ve got a strong-willed 2 yr old on hand and his teachers have labelled him “stubborn”. I know I’ve got to get started on training him properly, but am just not too sure where and how to start since there’re tonnes of books out there on this. Raising Godly Tomatoes is an interesting one and I’m contemplating getting a copy.

    I also find your take on sparing the rod refreshing! First time I’ve heard a christian parent advocating this!

  6. great post! love it !

  7. Wow….great blog. A lot of interesting suggestions here.

    I am a dad with a lovely wife, Mary. 2 kids. Isaac who is 23 mths old and Grace who is 4 mths old.

    koppiemama, when you talk about labelling, I want to say that we can never stop others from doing that to our children. But what we can do is to pray for and with our children, and declaring that they are God’s pracious gift, that they will be great. We can teach them to reject negative name callings in Jesus name (except that it is done in their hearts so as not to cause guilt of discomfort to others).

    Below are my recent thought about a child’s obedience:-
    I believe in first time obedience too, tho’ it is not something that any child can “master” in a day. First time obedience is like how we should obey God even when we do not fully understand why He wants us to do or stop doing certain things. No questions ask. But by faith and trust and reverence, we obey Him. And when we see its goodness, we learn to trust Him even more. But then it also means, if we expect that from our children, we better live up to our promises after they obey us. If not, it will make it hard to trust us, parents again.

    • Hi Kelvin and thank for coming to “visit”. 🙂 I am in complete agreement with you about obedience. I always tell my children that the reason they need to learn to obey Daddy and me is so that they will learn to obey God. We are their training ground. 🙂 That’s why even though I do explain to them why I do what I do, I usually do it after I have secured their obedience. It cannot be conditional upon my having a good reason why they should obey. They should just obey. But really the onus is on us as parents, because we are accountable to God!

      Blessed Parenting! 🙂

  8. Hi Angie,

    Happened to chance upon your blog while researching on homeschooling in singapore and have been very inspired by the things that you do at home and with your family. It has also caused me to wonder more about homeschooling and if that is something I might want to do with my own 3 young children.

    On the topic of habit training, did you sleep train your children when they were baby/toddler age, and if so, what did you do?

    Also, why do you not agree with Shepherding a Child’s Heart?

    Thanks again for blogging. I have learnt much from reading your blog.

    Looking forward to your response.

  9. Thks for yr indepth sharing! it was meaningful & a gd sigh ….wish we did the “we must win” method short cut many headaches & with the many conversations with them sure bring in the democracy in as well.
    But above all, the obedience issue really reminded me why didnt Jesus use it on us? That way we would have also shortcut many mistakes & enjoy manifold blessings!

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