Help! I Don’t Know How to Use the Funnel!

The concept of the funnel in parenting seemed easy enough to understand.  The visual picture of the funnel showed me that tight boundaries in the early years would open up as the child demonstrated responsibility and maturity.  Applying this concept in practice, however, proved elusive to me.  I struggled to understand how to use the funnel in everyday training with our children.  If that’s where you are, perhaps the following examples will enlighten and equip you.

If you encounter meltdowns in your child or continued frustration as a parent, ask yourself, “What freedom or privilege is my child not handling well?”  When you answer that question – and set a new boundary consistent with your child’s maturity – you have used the funnel to restore order and peace in your home.  What I thought sit time, chastisement, or loss of privilege would correct in my child was often more effectively handled by adjusting the funnel.


Does your child have too many toys to pick up?  Here are some ways to respond using the funnel:

  • Limit the number of toys available to play with. Consider a toy rotation every six weeks.  I’d have my children gather all the toys and put them on the floor together.  Then I’d get a black trash bag full of toys from the basement and bring them upstairs.  It was like Christmas as they discovered forgotten toys.  After the bag was empty, we’d put the “old toys” in the black bag to store for 6 weeks.
  • Train your child to put away one toy before getting another one out. He who is faithful with little will be given more.


Do you have messes to clean up because a curious toddler or preschooler in another room empties a drawer, closet, or shelf? 

  • Being in another room unsupervised is too much freedom for a toddler. Staying in the same room with you will keep your toddler inside the funnel. Use blanket time, playpen time, or high chair time to help your toddler focus on an activity.
  • Maybe you need to set a boundary for your preschooler like, “You may play with things on this shelf or this drawer. You may not open these drawers.”  If they continue to disregard your boundaries, then your child needs to stay with you.


Does your toddler attempt to climb out of his/her crib? 

  • Early correction, as soon as he lifts his leg to climb over the rail, is appropriate. Don’t wait until he comes out of his room.  Use your voice to give a directive, “Stay in your bed.  I will come get you when it is time to get up.”


Have you moved your toddler from the crib to a big bed but he won’t stay in bed now? 

  • Put your toddler back in his crib to sleep. During the day, work on staying inside boundaries such as blanket time or sitting in a chair.
  • Start with a short training time, even 15 seconds, and build up the amount of time, using a timer to define the end of the training time. Praise him for staying where you put him, even if he cried.
  • When your child stays where you put him until you come to get him (and you’ve worked up to at least 20-30 minutes), then he is ready for a big bed.


Are you frustrated because your child won’t sit still in a chair at the table or makes big messes with his food? 

  • You can tighten his funnel and reduce the messes and conflict by returning him to his high chair. Praise him for sitting still and then try the chair again in a few weeks.
  • Consider a booster seat with a seatbelt.
  • Praise the behavior you want to see so your child knows the boundaries. Children respond well to praise.  Catch him staying in the boundaries you desire and praise him.  When our 20-month-old grandson was characterized by throwing his food and cup off the table, my husband started praising him before he had a chance to discard his food.  He would praise him saying, “Peter, you are doing a good job sitting on your bottom, staying on your chair, keeping your food on your plate,” or whatever the current issue was.  Peter would look across the table, smile at the praise, and attend to his food.  It wasn’t a one-time praise; more likely 4-5 times during the meal at first.  We all learned a valuable lesson in practice that day.


Does your 10-year-old have trouble getting ready on time in the morning on his own?  Have you recently altered his bedtime to allow him to stay up later?  You realize he is not handling the increased freedom well.

  • Maybe you need to have a discussion during a time of non-conflict about what responsibilities go with the freedom of a later bedtime.
  • If he continues to be late for breakfast or school, using the funnel, you may move his bedtime back to the earlier time.
  • When can he have the freedom of the later bedtime back? When he is taking care of his other responsibilities, without reminders from a parent, over a long period (maybe 2 weeks, 2 months, or longer) then he can earn that freedom back.


What about using the funnel with a new driver? 

  • In our family, we had our own graduated driver’s license. Using the principle that he who is faithful with little will be given more, our new drivers started with limited distance from home, no passengers, daylight driving hours, and nonhazardous road conditions.
  • As they demonstrated faithfulness over 3 months, the funnel opened slightly allowing them to drive further from home, with one sibling as a passenger, and later in the evening.
  • With continued good driving habits and responsibility, the funnel opened even further, until they eventually had all freedoms allowed by the state laws.
  • This allowed our new drivers to gain experience and confidence and demonstrate responsible habits in line with their new freedom.


The funnel is your friend.  I have a mini funnel hanging on my refrigerator as a reminder that wisdom is a better choice than reminding, threatening, or bribing, which are usually ineffective.  The funnel helps parents train their children to be responsible with the freedoms they earn and can be adapted for any age.  What is happening in your home that frustrates you?  How can you use the funnel to restore peace and order?



After 25 years of homeschooling, Beth Blunk is adjusting to the empty nest years, having launched six children into their adult years.  She is wife to newly retired husband, Ed, which offers another transition and the ability to plan fun adventures to see the grandchildren (seven and counting), as well as the ministry of encouragement to young couples and families.  Making memories with her own growing extended family is a priority.  She enjoys flower gardening and mentoring other young wives and mothers.






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