Too-Nice Parenting

The following was written by Dr. Terry Johnson and taken from The IPC Messenger, the newsletter of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah,  Georgia. It can be found in context here.


Dr. Terry Johnson Senior Pastor Independent Presbyterian Church Savannah, Georgia
Dr. Terry Johnson, Senior Pastor
The Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia

One common problem with child-rearing today is what I would call “too-nice” parenting. The parents are simply too nice. They don’t want their children ever to be disappointed or have any demand delayed or left unmet. All desires are immediately satisfied and all behavior excused. That’s right. All behavior is excused because all demands are perceived of as reasonable. After all, the child has needs, and this is his/her way of letting adults know.

What “too nice” parents fail to recognize is that when children are rude or demanding or interrupt or throw a tantrum, it’s not merely immaturity on their part, though it is that. It is also sinful. Really? Yes. Of course it is. When parents jump to meet the need of a demanding child, to satisfy his/her desire, to allow the interruption, to excuse the behavior (“he’s tired,” “she’s hungry,” etc.), they are not being nice, but cruel: to the children, themselves, and all those around them. They are rewarding bad behavior, and in the process, guaranteeing that more will be forthcoming.

Worst of all are parents who think the bad behavior of their children is “cute.” It’s not. When children are allowed to grab center-stage, interrupting adult conversations, ignoring adult instructions, placing themselves in the head of every parade by being whiney, fussy, demanding, loud, or rude, no one is amused except perhaps the parents and grandparents.

I’ll never forget when Emily and I went out to dinner with a couple visiting from Florida with their out-of-control two-plus year old. He was up, down, climbing, crying, demanding, food-throwing. Gradually his clothes had to be stripped down to his diaper because he was wearing most of his dinner. The climax of the evening came when he went from his father’s lap to plopping down, diaper first, in his father’s watery plate of oysters, with a splash. It was ridiculous. Emily and I said afterwards we’d never raise our children like that. “Johnny, sit down!” (He didn’t). “Johnny, stop playing with your food!” (He did, for five seconds). “If you don’t stop, you will be punished!” (He wasn’t). “Stop whining and daddy will give you a treat when we get home.” (He didn’t.) “Sit still and I’ll let you watch ‘Lady and the Tramp’ tomorrow.” Shameless attempts to bribery continued. It was classic parenting by negotiation. On and on it went the length and breadth of the entire meal. Conversation was impossible. Tension was palpable. He wasn’t cute. He was insufferable.

Then there is the “our Johnny is so smart that we dare not restrict him” philosophy. He’s a borderline genius, the evidence of which is visible every day! We don’t want to stifle his inquisitive mind. So we let him wander around the house, the yard, the world, doing whatever he wants, lest we squelch his creativity. Not until Johnny finally enrolls in school and begins to compete with other children do parents begin to realize that Johnny, like most children, is quite average. I know of what I speak. Dobson writes of how the first child’s first words, first discoveries, his first curiosities lead parents to think they’ve been entrusted with the next Einstein. Hook, line, and sinker, we bought it. Sorry, by defnition, most children are average, probably including yours. His/her brilliance is not an excuse for being out of control.

When we brought home our first Jack Russell terrier, “Jack,” I began to place limits on Jack’s behavior, that is, train him. Sally, who was about seven years old at the time, cried out, “Dad, don’t! He won’t like us!” We continued to discipline and train Jack, and Sally was able to see that though we were strict, no dog ever loved a family more than Jack did. The portrait of the noble beast occupies an honored place in our home.

I wonder if some parents don’t think like our seven-year-old Sally. If I don’t allow little Johnnie and Susie latitude to do what they want, their reasoning goes, they won’t like us?! It’s silly, really. Children need order. They need limits. They need borders on their existence. They thrive with structure and routine. Deny them this and they will be miserable, and eventually you will be blamed.

It’s good to be nice. I wish I were more nice. Yet one can be “too nice,” as when one’s niceness is actually self-serving (I want to be liked) rather than self-sacrificing (doing what is in the best interest of the children).

— Terry Johnson

Scotty Anderson

Assistant Pastor to Families & Youth

Scotty is a native of Santa Anna, Texas. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1994 and completed his Masters of Divinity at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2005. Scotty’s Air Force service of eleven years included time as a Security Forces Officer protecting nuclear weapons and also instructing at Officer Training School before being called into pastoral ministry. He and his wife Kerry are parents of three children, Clayton, Avery, and Grace.

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Scotty Anderson
Assistant Pastor to Families & Youth Scotty is a native of Santa Anna, Texas. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1994 and completed his Masters of Divinity at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2005. Scotty’s Air Force service of eleven years included time as a Security Forces Officer protecting nuclear weapons and also instructing at Officer Training School before being called into pastoral ministry. He and his wife Kerry are parents of three children, Clayton, Avery, and Grace.