“How do you do it?” When people see how many kids I have (5), and how close they are, (between 1 & 8 years old), a question I’m often asked is, “How do you do it?” “I don’t know, I bribe them,” I respond. But deep down, I am thankful they are well-behaved. I’m not bragging. No one’s perfect over here, and I apologize to my kids a lot. But if there’s something I’ve learned that can make your parenting experience easier- no delightful, here it is:
This is the very basic foundation of all my kids behavior. I teach them to obey when they’re young. I’m talking like one-year-old young. The one basic command that they learn before they can even put a spoon of cheerios in their mouth is, “Don’t touch.” That’s the main thing that 1-year-olds do wrong is they they touch stuff that they’re not supposed to.
And good news- teaching a one-year-old not to touch is easy! You can do it like 10 minutes. And if you consistently enforce your “don’t touch” rules at home, people will be flabbergasted how well behaved your kid is. However, if you wait till they’re 3, 4 or 5 years old to obey, it may take months to instill this principle in their hearts.
Whenever my toddlers go after the books on the shelf, or light sockets, or knives in the open dishwasher, I tell them “Don’t touch.” I have a rubber spatula that enforces my voice. If they touch after I’ve told them not to, I grab their hand and tell them, “Don’t touch this,” and spank their hand. They cry, I hug them and kiss them, tell them to say, “Yes, ma’am,” (no, they don’t actually say this yet, but it’s for future training) and let them give me a kiss back. Repeat this process as many times as it takes until they stop touching it. And when they finally stop touching it, do not forget to praise them! “Yay! You did a good job! Good boy!” And throw in some extra kisses.
Does a one-year-old understand? Absolutely! If you stick to it for 10 minutes or so, you will see your toddler pull his hand back when you say, “don’t touch.” Your kids are so intelligent! These are not dogs or horses learning tricks. These kids are human beings, made in the image of God, and they learn quickly! I have often times seen joy in their eyes after learning to obey. It’s almost as if they are proud of themselves for listening.
What do I do if they just keep touching no matter how many times I spank their hand? You are probably doing one of two things wrong: 1) You aren’t spanking their hand hard enough. Simply put, the pain you’re inflicting is not enough motivation to convince them to obey you. Increase the force, and they will cry. But don’t waste those tears. Pull them close, hug and kiss, them and reinforce your rule: “Don’t touch.” 2) You might have too much irritation in your heart. If you are angry and irritated as you are disciplining them, it’s better to just leave it alone. Take a break, and revisit it when you can control the emotions of your heart. Disciplining in anger is something we never want to do. Make sure your heart believes in them, is patient with them, and sticks around to follow up with the hugs and kisses. If you are barking, “Don’t touch!”, spanking their hand, then walking away, it will not work.
Isn’t it mean to spank them? No. What’s mean is never helping your kids develop self-control. Kids with no self-control are hard to be around. Also, kids are unreasonable. You may have noticed that your toddler gives no mind to your convincing argument why sticking a fork into the light socket is bad. But a quick sting will teach him the lesson in 5 seconds. Your kids will be safer and more likable as they grow in self-control.
This whole thing is so important, not just so you don’t have to follow your toddler around picking up the stuff they’ve pulled off the shelf, but because it teaches them respect. They will learn respect for authority and respect for things. A one-year-old who obeys will be a two-year-old who obeys, who will be a three-year-old who obeys, etc. It’s easy to teach this to a one-year old! Not so much for a five-year-old. So start as young as you can!
Ending note: If your kids are older, and you never started them out on these basics of obeying. Don’t worry. You may have to work harder to teach them to obey, and it will take longer, but it is possible. The principles are the same, if they don’t listen to your voice, there will be a consequence that “stings.” Be consistent, and don’t discipline in anger. And always go out of your way to praise them for doing something right.