The Funnel Theory of Parenting

A Funnel Cloud Reaches Towards Earth from the SkyI’m a firm believer in the funnel theory…training needs to start very young for the most satisfying results. My husband and I first heard of “parenting inside the funnel” from a parenting class our church offered one summer years ago.

It’s a common sense approach to child training…once you’re on the other side of child training! (Grandparents, for example?)

Raising responsible and mature children is made easier when applying the principles of the funnel theory. Most of us get the details inverted though, read on!

Picture a funnel, the kind used when transferring liquids, with a narrow end and a wide end. When our toddlers are being trained, we need to limit their freedoms–this time of parenting is referred to as being in the narrow end of the funnel. As they grow, we give more and more freedoms as they earn those freedoms by obeying. By the time they’re teenagers, they can handle the wide end of the funnel, which represents little parental guidance.

See how easy it is to invert the funnel? We give our littles so much freedom (in the form of choices) that they come to expect the world on a platter, and by the time they are teens, they’re out of control and parents start tightening the reins in a last unsuccessful attempt to regain control.

The Ezzos use a simple example to prove this point. Say you’re being a good mommy (so you think) and you offer your toddler her choice of a pink or orange sippy cup with her breakfast juice. Then, you offer her either orange juice or apple juice. When it’s time to get dressed, you let her pick between wearing pants or shorts, blue ones or green ones, sandals or tennies. You think that you’re equipping your child to be a good decision maker. Right?

Well, shortly after this free-for-all-choice-fest, you announce that lunch is ready and toddler needs to pick up her toys. And she says, “No.” Um, she is still in control of her universe! This is a direct result of allowing too many choices/freedoms when a child is not ready to handle them.

The other key to this, is that most tantrums are caused by parents removing freedoms they’ve previously allowed. If you let your infant play with the remote, or the piano, or the cell phone and then decide when they’re 18 months that they’re too destructive to play with them anymore…tantrum time.

So be careful what freedoms you allow your children. Are they responsible enough to handle having a choice?

If they’re responsible enough to handle not having a choice, then they’re ready.

Very few adults have been trained in how to be responsible, I think much of our college crisis in America is a direct result of too little parental involvement during the most formative years–up to age 12. Our children are going to face hard things in life, how they deal with these things depends on how they’ve been equipped.

Any thoughts?

15 thoughts on “The Funnel Theory of Parenting”

  1. Right on Mary,

    We too apply the funnel principle in training our kids. For the most part people looking in think that we are too strict and that we have “too many rules”. Oh how wrong they are! If we allow our eleven month old to have too many choices now, we are asking for rebellion and tantrums later.

    Thanks for the post! I needed to be reminded, as I have succumbed to the plea of the world to “let kids be kids” and to “give them some freedom”. I need to remember WHY we keep the reigns so tight in the early years. Thanks,

    Mrs. Meg Logan

  2. Another way of looking at this same issue is the issue of ‘law’ and ‘grace’. When a little one is learning to live in the family, he needs to learn ‘law’. Law is a protection to him. As he grows and experiences more of life…some of it still in childhood…he can learn grace. He can’t really understand grace until he learns the place of law…just as I learn from God that I ‘must be born again’ to be in and enjoy God’s family (law)so I will not truly appreciate His awesome grace (all that He is as taught in His Word and what He wants for me) until I have learned to respect and obey His Word. I love Proverbs 9:10 and John 14:21 in this regard. Mom

  3. I’ve never heard of the Funnel Theory, it makes so much sense! It’s easy to give into the tots sometimes and let them choose, just for a moment of silence. But it can backfire so easily the older they get. Thankfully my teen is a great kid, but I was pretty strict with her when she was younger. Now that I have tots again I’m not as strict. I think it might be time to tighten the reigns!

  4. Hi Georgiana and Mrs. Meg Logan, 🙂

    I’m reminding myself of this also…I’ve let my toddler have her way too often lately, and it might be time for a little bootie camp! These principles worked so well with my older two though, it’s sad how we let things slide with our younger kids. Wish it wasn’t so! Guess it proves that training has its rewards…good kids aren’t just an accident!

    Hi there Mother-dear, 🙂

    Wonderful analogy! And right along with it you could compare the law of the OT that showed the Israelites their desperate need of a Saviour’s grace…and appreciate it that much more.

    In our experience, children are much happier when they know their boundaries. And mom is much happier when she’s not frustrated and pulling her hair out over her child’s latest tug of war.

  5. WOW I havent heard about the Ezzos in years. I did a couple of their parenting courses when Billy was younger.

    I think they are great and can really equip parents well and of course they are Christian

  6. Hi Jen, glad you like the Ezzos, so many times bringing them up stirs controversy. I’ve been so blessed by their materials that I recommend them to my friends a lot.:)

  7. This makes so much sense. Lydia is 5 months and two days old and yesterday I told her “No” for the first time. (She has been grabbing my eye glasses …and her dad’s…she’s just realized they can be removed). It was so hard to say no and remove her little hand. I kept thinking to myself “she’s just exploring.” I have to get in the mindset now to be more firm…for her own good!

  8. This is a good point. A lot of child training materials that I have seen in the secular world talk about introducing decision making at certain ages (like “which shirt do you want to wear”, etc.). I’m beginning to wonder if these types of choices encourage the whole “this is my favorite and I’m not going to be satisfied if I don’t have this specific one” attitude.

    Thanks for getting me thinking.

  9. Thanks for weighing in Amy and Colleen!

    Amy, one thing I found surprising is that even at 8 months old, these littles have GREAT memories! They are so sharp and learn earlier than you’d think. It’s so hard to remember when they “ignore” you that they are probably doing it on purpose! What worked for me before actually saying “no” was getting her attention by saying her name…let’s say it’s Lydia. “Lydia, look at mommy”…then once you get her eyes on yours, then you say “no”. That way she’s got the message loud and clear and can’t ignore you. She’s a bit young, but when the time comes, that simple advice (from Elisabeth Elliot) works wonders. You may have to reinforce it the first couple of times with a slight swat to get her attention!

  10. MInTheGap, thanks for commenting–we cross-posted!

    I think too many choices give young children a big head. They begin to think they know better than mommy or daddy and soon you have a huge problem on your hands. Ever hear parents bargaining with their offspring? Scary. Our oldest still seeks permission for many things other kids take for granted, yet she is so responsible and clear-headed she often takes the initiative in filling in where needed by helping in our family. In terms of responsibility, she acts more like a 13 year old than a 9 year old. I just love how thoughtful she is, and respectful. And I funnel-parented her “religiously”. So they eventually become responsible, good decision makers w/o all the opportunities as a young child.

  11. i don’t think anyone would disagree that small children need limits and boundaries. i just oppose the ezzo’s methods of enforcing those boundaries. why strike a toddler or baby when it’s simply not necessary and sends a pretty awful message. good parents can assert their authority without doing things that are mean and morally questionable, so why not go that route instead?

  12. I guess everyone has a different opinion on what’s considered mean and morally questionable. I like to think I’m not a mean mom, but I would have never thought of the “watermelon/toddler” post being taken as me “teasing” my toddler. (I know it wasn’t you that said that, but I imagine you agree!). I wasn’t being mean, my toddler got the point and was soon making us laugh over her latest Tarzan imitation.

    I think it’s because I started young with the kids and high with my expectations that they’re so easy to be around. We don’t punish for silly moments, we let the “kids be kids”…they know they’re loved and cherished and can talk to us about anything without getting a long lecture. They’re considerate, which is huge to me. I don’t want obedience out of fear or done in bitterness and resentment, I want my family functioning as a family unit in which each is looking out for the other’s best. This takes training.

    And training isn’t all about spanking and sin, etc. It’s a lot of talking and role-playing in non-conflict times. A parent has to have the right attitude in order for the child to have the right response.

    I’m interested in what route you recommend, books, authors/speakers? And not so I can pick it apart, I’m truly interested.

  13. i like dr. sears’ baby and discipline books. we use a combo of positive discipline and just trying to have good communication skills. we’re actually on the *stricter* end of the spectrum as far as expectations go, at least in our peer group. i am not the most patient person so i had to teach (i prefer that to *train*, but whatever) them to mind well from an early age. they are great kids, their only behavior issue being an excess of silliness at times. i do not spank or shame and rarely punish. i also do not believe in rewarding just for normal, expected beahvior. i want my kids to want to belong to our family and our community because of the joy of being a part of something.

    i know you said you don’t spank for silly things, but as you know, the pearls advocate spanking for anything and everything, starting in infancy. i find that extremely immoral and wrong and detrimental to the parent child bond. i personally believe that if you’re usinf spnaking more than every once in a blue moon, it’s very likely that you are using it inappropriately.

  14. Hey, I appreciate hearing where you’re coming from, and it sounds good. I think we’re probably more on the same page than you’d think, considering whose materials I’ve used. I’ve heard of Dr. Sears book before, and will keep my eye out for it at the library.

    If you’ve noticed, in all your blog-reading today, 😉 I don’t advocate infant-spanking. I can’t remember reading that in any of the Pearl’s stuff, and definitely not in the Ezzo’s materials. I know they both recommend swatting hands as early as 8 months of age, but that’s all I recall. I guess the common sense part of what I’ve taken away and USED is what sticks with me. Do you agree with everything Dr. Sears recommends? Maybe you do.

    On the spanking, we rarely have to spank, but I feel it’s because of how we’ve raised the kiddos and the level of love and respect we’ve got for each other.

    I’m not a die-hard fan of anybody but the Lord, and I have to admit the scheduling and ordered way of raising kids appeals to me based on my reading of the word.

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