How I Do It–The Basics

 

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“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.

Lying

Every kid tries out lying at some point. Some learn it’s wrong and stop. Others find it handy and perfect their deception. Here’s how I train my children to be truth-tellers.

1. Catch it young. Once kids start to learn language, they can learn to lie. A child as young as 1 or 2 can perceive that admitting he threw a toy at his sibling’s head is going to get him into trouble. And he doesn’t want trouble, so he lies. Catch it now, and tell him that lying is wrong.

2. Truth-train. “We always tell the truth, even if it gets us into trouble,” is a common saying around here. Usually, I preface interrogating the guilty child with reminding them importance of telling the truth. Stress the importance of telling the truth: telling the truth is right; lying is wrong. It seems simple, but it will reinforce their God-given conscience.

3. Firm consequence. Even a well-trained child may choose to still lie. A time-out, spanking, or loss of privilege may be an appropriate consequence for lying. Enforcing a consequence will help them exercise self-discipline next time they are tempted to lie.

4. Set an example. Give them a reason to believe all your talk about telling the truth. If they see you tell the truth when it’s hard, they will do it, too.

5. Tell them why. Tell them why telling the truth is important. I love what Josh McDowell said in The Father Connection, “I want my children to understand that God is true– that whatever is like God is good. Whatever is unlike him is evil.” Go beyond “Telling the truth is right, lying is wrong.” Plant a desire in your children to discover morality by discovering who God is.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”      John 14:6

Training VS. Controlling

This is probably the most challenging lesson I am learning in motherhood.

It was like I was looking into a mirror when my six-year-old daughter, frustrated to the point of tears could not get her three-year-old brother to be quiet. She wanted to prepare the room like a “movie theater,” and with the lights dimmed, she instructed all her brothers to be quiet. Well, one wouldn’t. He made a goofy little sound after each shush, and she. could not. handle it.

Is that what I act like, I wondered? Her desperation and tears seemed all too familiar to me, particularly when I’m trying to control my children. Where did this poor soul learn to be so controlling? She was freaking out over something that’s so small! Oh, dear. What am I teaching her? Instead of my, “Stop freaking out, it’s not a big deal, response,” I compassionately pulled her close. I knew I was to blame.

Too often I get irritable, snappy, and exasperated trying to control my children’s behavior and responses. I’m constantly reminding myself: Loosen up. Don’t be so uptight. Enjoy the moment. Have a grateful heart. And delight in your children. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about training and being controlling. Do you struggle with being controlling?

Training: proactively sets an example and leads by it.
Controlling: reactively snaps at annoying behavior.

Training: gently corrects bad behavior, and nudges them back on the path of good behavior.
Controlling: permits one small spectrum of behavior, and tolerates no other.

Training: consistently and patiently teaches good habits.
Controlling: consistently disappointed and frustrated with current habits and failures.

Training: expects the consistent training of today to reap good behavior in the future.
Controlling: expects sporadic correction to yield perfect behavior now.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The Compliant Sibling

Kit's iphone 001 (5)I love gleaning from older, married couples who have adult children who still respect their parents. Occasionally, I’ll have the privilege of meeting a family where an obvious significant investment has been made, and Grandma & Grandpa are being paid the dividends of children and grandchildren who just adore being around them.

Today, I was making mental notes as this particular older and wiser man offered nuggets of wisdom: Don’t give the extra work to the more compliant child just because their sibling is harder to work with.

We’ve all noticed that our children have uniquely different personalities, and could probably identify right now which child is the more compliant one. He’s the one who just does it. He wants to please you, doesn’t feel the need to argue, and does the job the way we like it to be done. Then there’s the hard-to-put-a-saddle-on-child who has a tendency to complain and argue about the job that you know could easily be knocked out in five minutes by the compliant one.

Don’t give the headstrong child’s chores to the compliant child because it’s less of a fight.

If you run the easy route, and have the compliant child do his sibling’s chore because I just want it to get done! then you will be doing both personalities a disservice. The headstrong child will figure out, If I push back hard enough or perform poorly, I won’t have to do it. Their laziness will be rewarded, and they’ll grow up learning that “someone else will do it.” The compliant child will unintentionally be punished for being a better worker. He may grow frustrated or embittered for having to carry the weight for the majority of the work.

Instead, put your gloves on and zone in on your headstrong child. Discipline, teach, train, set an example, develop a warmer relationship; do whatever needs to be done to instill a better work ethic and a willingness to help out. Both personalities will be blessed by your effort to maintain fairness in the home.

Do all things without complaining and disputing…   Philippians 2:14

Nip It In The Bud

20130829-113142.jpgI’d like to take this posts’s space to stress the importance of training your children while they’re young. Teaching kids not to hit, grab, scream, and throw tantrums should begin as soon as you see it. Usually you start to see them begin to demand their own will around 1 year old.

Don’t be fooled by the powerlessness of your toddler. It might come across cute or the at the very least amusing when they’re this tiny chubby person impotently demanding their own way. In about 5 minutes, they’ll be in elementary school with the same attitude, but with a lot more strength and a larger vocabulary, doing their best to get you to do what they want… unless they learned previously not to act that way.

It’s a lot easier to nip bad behavior in the bud than to try to undo it when the kid older. My son used to hate having his play interrupted for a diaper change. At 11 months old, he would slam his legs down on the changing table in defiance. I would then give him a stinging swat on the bum. The purpose being that I want him to learn as early as possible the attitude that drives us to swing and hit, hurting ourselves or damaging things is never acceptable.

“If I discipline my kids for this stuff early, does that mean they won’t throw tantrums, hit, grab or scream when they’re older?” No. I wish! But the idea that those things are wrong will have already been planted deep in their hearts, and that in and of itself will make life a lot easier. Instead of trying to drive a car that’s out of control, you’ll be constantly and consistently nudging them back on the course that they already know is right.

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The Message You Send

Boise Trip-HQ-11If [the father’s] verbal and nonverbal language is saying, “Get away from me,” “Don’t bother me,” “I prefer the companionship of adults,” “I don’t have time for you,” “I think you’re stupid,” “I don’t particularly like you,” “You’re a nuisance,” “I won’t consider your views or feelings,” he will alienate himself from his children and force them to search elsewhere for the comfort and support they need.

Josh McDowell, The Father Connection

Respect The Little Guy

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Here, Jane’s “great idea” was constructing a disguise with paper and glue.

He didn’t want to go to Sunday School. “I don’t like the teachers because they talk to me like a baby,” said my friend’s 3-year old. My friend treats her kids ages 3, 1, and 6 months with more respect than I’ve seen almost any mother treat her children. She doesn’t brush them off, or baby-talk to them all day. She treats them like young people who have something interesting to say. Her 3-year old son was perceptive enough to notice when he wasn’t being treated with the respect he was used to.

Did you know that our kids need our respect? We live in a culture that doesn’t value children all that much. They’re kind of annoying, inconvenient, messy little people. Why give them our undivided attention when half the time they don’t even make sense?

These little people may have indiscernable accents, a small vocabulary, and know very little about life, but they are still people. They can sense being brushed off, being mocked, or treated like they know nothing. Treat them like they have nothing valuable to say, and they will grow up to be very insecure adults. Or, treat them like equals who have something intelligent to say, and watch their confidence grow.

Here are a few ways we can treat our children with respect:

1. Don’t mock them. As Mark Driscoll once noted, “They have little ears, but they’re functional.” A 2 or 3-year old can sense being made fun of (and can have their spirits crushed by it). Don’t laugh at their expense; you may be doing more damage than you realize. Treat them the way you like to be treated.

2. Praise their efforts. Every time you praise them for cleaning up or doing a math problem, you are giving them a token of motivation that they will be able to use in the future. If you’re stingy with your praise, your children will lack the motivation to attempt new challenges. They need affirmation as much as you do.

3. Listen to the whole story. Sometimes kids’ stories seem to go on forever. Give them the attention you’d like to have when you don’t quite have the words. Stay focused to the end.

4. Expect them to understand. They won’t always, but put the bar up there, so they can rise up to it. Use words they’re unfamiliar with on purpose. Talk to them like little adults, so they can get used to interacting with people in a mature way.

5. Engage their ideas. Our 6-year old daughter is often declaring to us that she has “a great idea!” Listen to their ideas and run with them. It may not be physically possible every time, but don’t shut down their ideas so often that they stop having them. Show them you value their creativity by employing their ideas.

Then little children were brought to Him that He might put [His] hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”    Matthew 19:14-15

Picky Eating

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It can be frustrating when a child refuses to eat their food. I’m particularly prone to bitterness when I’ve worked hard on a healthy meal, and the response I hear from tiny little voices is, “I don’t want that!”

Most of us are blessed enough to be able to eat 3 meals a day, plus snacks. Meat is an everyday event; cereal, chips, and baked goods overflow. It used to be that only royalty had the means to obtain a pineapple, and they had to send ships halfway across the world to get it! We are overly blessed to have an abundance of food at our disposal, and my kids have no idea.

I know I have to make a concerted effort to instill thankfulness in their hearts. And oftentimes lack is what produces hearty thankfulness. So when I hear, “I don’t want that!” I don’t play the, well-what-do-you-want game. The rule in our house is, you don’t have to eat it, but there are no substitutes, and no snacks until the next meal. If they choose to go hungry, by the next mealtime they are ready to be thankful for what’s served them! Hungry kids aren’t picky!

We talk quite a bit about being thankful for our food around here. All the kids know that the best way to show that we’re thankful for our food is by eating it!

…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.    1 Thessalonians 5:18

A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.   Proverbs 27:7

Selfish Children

076Other people’s selfish children can be annoying. But when it’s your own child being selfish, it can be downright disheartening. It’s embarrassing to see your child shamelessly display incredible self-centeredness in public.

I believe the best way to teach your children generosity is by example. Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity, and if you are not following His example, probably your children aren’t either. Do your children hear you calling them, “Hey guys, come here! I have a treat to share with you!” Or are they used to, “No! Get away from that! That’s mine, don’t touch it!” Does your home teach your children the joy of generosity, or the burdensome task carefully guarding your stuff for yourself?

Secondly, children need to have the freedom to be selfish if they are to learn genuine generosity. If they are being forced to share their stuff with others, then they are not really learning to do so. They will likely spring back to selfishness as soon as the authority figure leaves the room. They need to know their stuff is theirs. Theirs to keep. Theirs to give.  

When selfish hearts get vocal at our house, the envied toy automatically goes to the person to whom it belongs. The other child may then politely ask for permission to play with it. The owner of the toy gets to make the ultimate decision whether to share or not, but they are strongly encouraged to do so. Here are some questions I often ask to get them thinking about generosity:

  • “Do you like it when I share my ice cream [or other item you’ve recently shared] with you?” (Of course the answer is, “Yes.”) “Then you should also share your stuff with your brother.”
  • “I think it would really bless your brother if you let him play with it. Would you like to bless him by letting him play with it for a little while?”
  • “You can say ‘no’ if you want to, but that’s called ‘selfishness.’ It’s wrong to be selfish, and it makes Jesus sad when we’re selfish. Would you rather share like Jesus shares?”
  • “Jesus is very kind to us, isn’t He? He always shares His stuff with us, and He says that we should be like Him and share our stuff with others.”

When children are given the freedom to share and the freedom to be selfish, they will better own their decision. As you point to Jesus’ example of generosity and imitate it yourself, you will likely see your children follow in your footsteps.

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us… Ephesians 5:2