Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Tomato Staking

    November 19, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Are any of you familiar with the concept of tomato staking as a parenting/disciplinary approach? The concept is one I ran across years ago, and right when I needed it. I had a child who was misbehaving every time I left him alone {guess who it was}. This book pointed out what should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t: then don’t leave him alone. I would sum it up, but the authority on this approach has done so already:

    Think of your child as a tomato plant. Most parents provide too little staking for their growing young tomatoes. They care for them intimately when they are babies, but soon afterwards, begin letting them grow their own way.


    Ours is a Tomato Staking lifestyle. Usually my younger children are all within eyesight and earshot of me in the same room, even if they are behaving well. Right now, my five youngest, preschoolers to preteens, are just around the corner from me. I know exactly what they are doing, and I can clearly hear them talking and interacting. Should they begin to bicker or get rowdy, I will stop them immediately. If they continue to misbehave, despite my verbal rebuke, I’ll summon the offenders and sit them right next to me, allowing them to do nothing until they are bored stiff and motivated to obey. That would be more intensive Tomato Staking. Once under control and worthy of my trust again, I will direct them to some other activity closer to me than before, where I can see and hear them. That’s still Tomato Staking.

    You can read the whole article by clicking the link if you are interested.

    Now, I’m not sure that a preteen necessarily needs tomato staking. However, comma, in my own house no one is over seven anyhow, so objections to this concept based on age-appropriateness are irrelevant for me.

    The other day, I was thinking about how brave my two-year-old had gotten. At first, when we installed the Hobbit Hole, there was no real change in her life. She was too timid to go outside very much, especially if I wasn’t going with her. Plus, Neighbor M.’s dog tended to break into my yard to ogle the duckies, and she was terrified of him.

    But gradually, she’s become more confident braving it out there alone.

    For the most part, I thought it was a good thing. She has courage she needed to acquire. She is beginning to take her place in creation, realizing that she should master the animals rather than letting the animals master her. These are good things.

    But one hour grew into two hours. And then she began to spend entire afternoons away from my presence.

    I began to miss her, but I didn’t think that was good enough reason to stop her. I remember musing to myself that I would never have let my previous two-year-olds run wild in that way. If I had paid attention to my own words, I would have been more alarmed at the idea of running wild, but I didn’t.

    And then this week, I realized that this is just what is happening.

    I could list off what I noticed, but I don’t think it is necessary. We all know what a terror two-year-olds can be if left to their own devices. In fact, it was yesterday that this verse remembered itself to me:

    The rod and reproof give wisdom,
    but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

    Proverbs 29:15

    It dawned on me that this was too much. My poor baby had been left to herself, and I was one who was setting herself up for shame.

    Thankfully, the Lord is kind to me, and this little tomato is still plenty tender for staking.

    When I told her yesterday that she would be staying inside with me after nap time, and all evening long, she cried {sadness}. In fact, she went through all the stages of grief. She stamped her foot {anger}. She said she was going outside anyhow {denial}. Eventually, though, she accepted her fate and agreed to help me make dinner.

    Later, while I finished up preparing the meal, she and her one-year-old brother were in another part of the room, sitting in a pile of toys, giggling together. She looked up at me and smiled. Her curls were wild. Her clothes were wild. But her spirit was already calmer than before.


    It is hard to know what to do with them sometimes. Mama, I think, is often their best medicine.

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit


  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts December 4, 2009 at 5:27 pm


    I’m sorry I neglected your comment until now! For the record, I haven’t read the book, only the website. However, the way the website is set up makes me wonder if it is the book, available for free for those willing to read online. I am not positive, but I think that might be the case.

    I will have to be honest and say that I have never had a 2-year-old that got into a lot of trouble. I think I have a future 2-year-old (who we lately call “The Cyclone”) who might fit that description, but I haven’t done it yet.

    I can tell you a couple things I have done, but I really don’t know if they will work with this type of personality or not. For ironing, I have always ironed when toddlers are sleeping, even if that means ironing at night. When cooking, I try to get children helping when they hit the grabby stage. With my current two-year-old, I give her the job, for instance, of putting the chopped vegetables in the pot when we are making soup. Her hands only hold a few, so it keeps her busy while I get everything else ready.

    With my oldest, I vaguely remember him teaching to use the things he kept grabbing. But I think he was closer to four when he was doing that. When he was grabbing knives often, I gave him a butter knife and had him cut cheese for salad toppings.

    But he was sort of autistic back then and spent hours on end putting cars in a straight line, so I was dealing with a different sort of trouble…

    These are just a handful of things. Since my high-energy tot is younger than yours, I’m afraid you will have to teach me! 🙂

  • Reply Rachel R. November 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm


    I agree. I read these articles begin years ago, and I agree with them. But I am such a dunce at this mothering stuff that I cannot seem to figure out how to actually implement it on a day-to-day basis. What do you do with a 2yo sitting beside you? I cannot get anything done with mine right beside me, because I am constantly (literally, constantly) having to put out a proverbial fire. (My 2yo can get into trouble faster than any other human being I’ve ever met.) I certainly can’t keep her right up against me while I’m ironing and have to worry about her pulling the ironing board over on herself, or while I’m cooking and have to worry about her snatching up my knife during the 2 seconds I’ve set it down to scrape the chopped food into a bowl. I think I need a videotape of a successful mama’s day, from start to finish, or something.

    Does Elizabeth get into this any more in-depth in the book? Not the corrections, but what their day looks like in between the corrections?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 20, 2009 at 10:23 pm


    I knew someone else around here had mentioned it on their blog…now I remember: it was you!

    I guess I was prejudging her age-appropriateness based on her saying that her preteens were where she could see and/or hear them. However, I was thinking later that if it is a lifestyle they lead, then that is probably not “forced” on them, but something they happily choose because they are a close family.

    Yes, by the way, that proverb makese me ache sometimes! (It is the ache of conviction.)

    I have a few prayers that I pray over and over in regard to my job as a mother. I pray I catch them when they are wrong, I pray I am not too prideful to see their sins, and I pray I will know how to correct them.


    It’s true! Thinking of them as tomatoes is sort of…unappealing! I guess I simply took hold of the staking imagery–we have to stake the trees in our orchard, for instance. And vines have to be tied up–like grapevines, for instance. Of course, it falls apart when I say I like my pumpkins to be unruly. 🙂

  • Reply Willa November 20, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I was just thinking about that site recently. I think the concept is very important, which is why it comes to my mind whenever someone shares a discipline problem with me that seems to boil down to the child having too little supervision and guidance. HOWEVER, comma 🙂 I just can’t bring myself to like the tomato metaphor. It stops me in my tracks every time. It probably isn’t justified, since Scripture talks about children as young olive shoots. Maybe I just am not very fond of tomatoes ;-).

  • Reply Mystie November 19, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Yes! I love the tomato staking articles. I don’t think she promotes staking into the older ages *unless* you see a need for it; near that same section you quoted, she says a high-school age child is in a different state on a trip.

    That proverb has been the most convicting the me over the years.

    Noticing the problem is half the solution. Good job paying attention and doing what you know you need to do!

  • Leave a Reply