Posted by: fatherof11 | July 15, 2007

"Undoing the Wrong"

This is a question that was asked on an email group we moderated a couple of years back, along with Bob’s answers and Ramona’s practical applications:

Would any of your like to put a little flesh to the quote I’ve read from Ramona in discussing sin, “We first have to untrain the wrong before we can train the right behavior.” That makes sense to me, but I want to SEE it in action.

Bob’s answer:

Let me say first that it is probably better to say “at the same time”rather than first. Let me give you a passage from God’s Word.

Eph 4:20-32 But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor,working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

The Biblical principle expressed in this passage is one of putting off and putting on. We are to put off the old man and put on the new. This passage has several examples. We need to do more than just not sin, but we need to actively put on righteousness. The one above that is perhaps best for your question is the one of stealing. If you steal, you are to stop stealing. But more than that, you are to labor so that you will have something to give to others. We are to replace the sin of stealing, with hard work and giving to others. Put off stealing, put on hard work and giving.

The problem with older adopted children is that they have often been taught either actively or through neglect that it is OK to steal. So we must teach them to not steal and to replace that with hard work and giving to others.With a biological child you have a clean slate (as much as any sinful human being can be considered clean without Christ). However, from a habit standpoint they are a clean slate. They can be trained with good habits from the beginning. With older children they have already had training with wrong behaviors and have developed habits with these behaviors. This important to remember as you deal with them, because they have been taught previously that it is OK to steal. If you do not remember this, you will become frustrated with the slow progress. We have to remember that they have twice as far to go, since they are unlearning at the same time they are learning.

Further, some children have a personality that naturally resists change and finally add that the tendency of children to believe that the way they were taught first is the “right” way, and it may take even longer. One of the things we constantly heard from the teenagers we adopted was”but in Russia we did…” If I had a nickle for every time one of them said that, I would be a rich man. As an example, we are still working on the notion that Stalin was not one of the good guys. Sigh. Some of what they learned is hard to get rid of.

Another example is with one of our kids, who was taught through experience that the “truth” is the answer that the person asking the question wants to hear. It took me some time to realize that he had no concept of what it means to tell the truth. To him, the right answer is the one that keeps him out of trouble, not the one that represents what actually happened. I think after five years he is finally understanding that, but he still has a hard time telling the truth when there is the fear of consequences looming. This is a hard one to deal with because often the object of the lie is a transgression that demands its own consequences. I guess my main point would be that it is not as much a matter of there being a process of untraining as that you need to realize that it will take longer because you are trying to break old bad habits at the same time you are training new ones.

Also, let me say that I assume that while you are training them toward outward conformance, you are also working on the heart issues. Teaching them God’s law, so that they recognize their sinfulness, recognize their need for a Savior, and turn to Christ. In the end, all you will have without a heart that has been changed by the Lord is a well trained Pharisee.

Hope this helps. Maybe Ramona will chime in as she is usually better atthe concrete side of things.


OK, concrete examples. This is my department. I am always demanding (gently, of course), “Give me practical examples!!” So, I will try to illustrate this with some of my own.

One of our kids used to look at me with what I called “dagger eyes”, right after we brought him home, any time I would confront him or try to correct him. Finally, our communications got good enough where I would say to him, “The way you are looking at me right now is wrong. Your eyes are saying bad things to me. You need to look at me in a nicer way.” He really didn’t seem to be aware of what he was doing, but when I told him, he was able to change his look to a much better one. After he practiced that a while, with me having to tell him each time, he no longer gave me those dagger eyes (well, with a few exceptions, of course).

One daughter used to be one way with us (nice and sweet) and then turn into a whole different person when she was behind “closed doors” in her bedroom. This nasty behavior had to stop. First, it needed to be identified, though. So, I would hide behind doors and peek through cracks in order to “catch her” while she was in the middle of it. Right then, I would go to her and say, “THIS is what I want you to stop doing – how you are acting right now.” Then, I would show her how she needed to act instead. It took a long time of doing this, and we still have struggles with this, five years later, but for the most part it helped her unlearn the wrong ways and learn the right ways to act.

One of our sons was about 4 years old when he went to the orphanage. He did not know how to eat from a plate, with utensils. Those bad ways of eating had to be unlearned, at the same time as he learned the “new” way of eating – like a civilized person.

Lying is a hard one, I must admit, since it is difficult at times to document the lie and show them the correct way. The key for us seems to be to find times when they are definitely lying, and we can prove it. Then we explain why we know that the child lied and how they could have better handled the situation. Our deaf daughter has a problem communicating – she wants to talk in grunts and monosyllables. I have to slow her down and make her talk right. She needs to unlearn the bad way of talking and learn how to better communicate, on a daily basis.


(Note – It is interesting to read these posts, three years later. I assure you that we are still working on many of these behaviors with our older adopted children. It is a life long process, not a goal to be conquered and then put behind you.)


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