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

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

Stop Repeating Yourself A Gazillion Times

20130421-233827.jpgWe’re usually blowing a head gasket before we realize we’ve been repeating ourselves for the last hour. It creeps up on you. You may be giving out a task to your children as you go about your business, but you don’t realize it hasn’t been completed until you pass by your child- still idle. You remind your child of the task again… and again, only to find out it’s still not accomplished. Eventually, your blood pressure rises and you find yourself asking, “WHY ARE THERE STILL TOYS ON THE FLOOR!?!”

1. Make sure your voice isn’t background noise. Put your hand on their shoulder, squat down, and look them in the eye. Once they are looking back at you, then give them direction.

2. Go for the awkward silence. After making eye contact and giving them their chore, keep looking at them and wait for them to start. They will realize that you are waiting for them to get on it, and begin to move.

3. “Yes Sir/Ma’am” Chart. I got this idea from the Duggars. That fantastic family of 19 well-behaved children. Each child gets a blank chart, and every time they respond with a “Yes, Ma’am!” or “Yes, Sir!” they get to mark an “X.” If they fill up all their boxes, they get to choose a prize out of our “prize bucket” (which I fill with dollar store treasures). This has two great effects. First, it teaches your child that beautiful phrase, “Yes, Ma’am/Sir,” and secondly, it encourages cheerful obedience.

4. Check their work. Create a habit of following up on their work. The more often you check to see if they did it right (or at all), the more often they will follow through correctly.

5. Mean what you say. Let’s admit it. We say a lot of things that we don’t really mean. Ask yourself, do you really care if they follow through or not? If it’s not that big of a deal that they pick their blanket up off the floor, communicate it that way. “I don’t really like looking at your blanket, would you mind putting it away?” But if it’s essential, choose your words differently. Use your “Please go do this now” tone sparingly. If your serious tone is overused, then it won’t be taken seriously.

6. Enforce. Name a consequence that will be given if the chore is disobeyed or ignored. Maybe a spanking, or a removal of privileges. If they don’t complete the task in the allotted amount of time, follow through with the consequence. (But remember, don’t threaten if you don’t intend to follow through!)

7. Praise generously. Nothing will motivate them to want to work hard for you like making a big deal out of their obedience. Hoop and holler, give out hugs, kisses, high fives, and loud “Well Done’s!” They will learn to take pride in their work if you are proud of their work.

Spanking Doesn’t Work With My Child

I appreciate Tedd Tripp’s perspective concerning children who don’t seem to respond to spanking. Here’s his wise and insightful advice for those who would say, “Spanking doesn’t work with my child.”

“This objection requires further examination of a parent’s specific practice. Years of pastoral experience have persuaded me that cases of the rod not working can be summarized as follows:

  1. Inconsistent use of the rod. The child never knew what would elicit a spanking. Therefore, he was always testing the parent.
  2. Failure to persist. Some folks never try anything long enough for it to work. They give the rod a couple of days. Their children are not transformed overnight. They give up in discouragement.
  3. Failure to be effective. I have witnessed spankings ministered through a double layer of diapers to a child who never stopped moving long enough to know he had been spanked. The spanking was ineffective because the parents never made the rod felt.
  4. Doing it in anger. I have always been amazed at the innate sense of justice in a child. children will not yield to correction administered in unholy anger. They inwardly resist submitting their hearts to a parent who bullies them.”

From Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15

What Do You Allow?

Yellowstone 2011 - Anthony's Pics (31)I often get frustrated and think, “Why are my kids doing this?!” Like when they talk back or argue, talk disrespectfully, or even just jump on the couch. “Don’t they know what they’re doing is not allowed?!” The simple answer is, I’ve allowed it. I let them do it once, or a few times. I’ve allowed it. I let them do it with no consequence whatsoever. In my mind it’s definitely against the rules, but according to my actions, it’s totally permissible.

Before I freak out, I need to reign it in, and think through if I’ve actually taught them not to do that. If I haven’t taken the time to discipline that sort of behavior, then now’s the time to begin.

If I silently disapprove of a behavior for too long, eventually I will explode, resulting in mean-mommy guilt, and a confused and hurt child. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of our children’s behavior. Stay engaged and on top of the situation at hand. Manage the misbehavior as it comes, so that you can constantly be at peace with your child, or presently working towards it.

The Opportunity To Sin

IMG_3323One of the most effective strategies of training my children to behave is by allowing them the opportunity to sin.

Especially when I’m busy, I find myself correcting my children, and then taking away their opportunity to sin. “Don’t touch this!” I say, then I take it away and set it on top of the shelf where they couldn’t touch it if they wanted to. It’s immediately convenient for me because I don’t want to have to deal with their disobedience. However, I’m also taking away their opportunity to practice obedience.

When I’m focused on getting stuff done, I remove my children from situations where they can get into mischief. When I’m focused on training them to obey, I let the opportunity for mischief stare them in the face. Because an opportunity to sin is an opportunity to obey. 

As my toddler attempts to topple my pile of freshly folded laundry, I tell him, “Don’t touch…” I don’t redirect his attention. And I don’t remove his temptation to destroy my hard work. I leave it all there right in front of him and wait to see what he will do. He ignores my warning and grabs the pile. He then receives the reproof- a spank on the  hand. I remind him, “Don’t touch…” and I wait. I wait to see if he’ll obey. He goes for my folded pile again, and I spank his hand a second time- a little harder. I’m ready to discipline disobedience, and ready to praise obedience. Each time he grabs the forbidden pile of laundry, he gets spanked. It’s not even about keeping my stuff orderly or completing my tasks anymore. This moment is all about training him to be a good boy, so even if it all ends with laundry strewn about, it’s worth it. Finally, he submits. He sits back in his new-found self-discipline, and leaves my laundry alone. Whew! 

There was no anger. No drama. Just training. Training them to obey by allowing them opportunities to sin.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16

Dealing With Tantrums

IMG_0702I saw a poor woman yesterday in the grocery store. It’s the same woman we all see and pity. Her child is on the floor. Defiant. Screaming. She’s embarrassed. Trying to maintain an appearance of control, she impotently orders her child to get up. “Stop it. Let’s go. I mean it. Stop it right now. Get up. I’m going to leave. Fine, I’m leaving now. Bye. I’m leaving! Stop crying. Get up!” But her child’s behavior reveals who has the control.

Tantrums. You have got to get on this one early. They’ll start at age one, and you have to stay on top of it for years. The best thing I believe you can do is tonot allow them. That’s not to say they won’t happen. But your children should know what will happen each and every time they attempt to throw a tantrum.

My one year old screams when his siblings take his toy away. And he doesn’t stop until he gets it back. He may have been wronged, but if I don’t deal with his reaction now, he will learn it’s perfectly acceptable to throw a fit every time he finds something unpleasurable.

The issue in his heart is selfishness. He wants what he wants, and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going find a way to make me give it to him. It’s the selfishness that you want to teach him to control. His selfish reaction maybe annoying now, but it will grow with him. By time he’s 18, if I haven’t taught him how to deal with his selfish heart, he’s going to be a very hurtful, destructive man.

The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Prov. 29:15

Children are like cars with a brick on the gas. If someone doesn’t crawl in the car and grab the wheel, they are going to destroy themselves and others.

You won’t get far explaining selfishness to a one year old, but he’ll get the idea if you deal with him swiftly. As soon as I see him begin to scream, I calmly tell him in his ear (because he won’t hear me over his own screams otherwise) not to scream or he’ll get a spanking. He continues screaming, so I take him into a private place, and give one spanking. I then tell him what to do instead of throwing a tantrum. If you don’t instruct along with discipline, your kids will keep screwing up because they will always know what they are doing wrong, but never know what to do right.

“Don’t scream,” I tell him. “Say, ‘Can I have that back please?’” He does his best to parrot what I instructed him, and I reward him by granting his request. I praise him for responding calmly and unselfishly. “Good job! That’s right! That’s a nice way to react!” Make a big deal about his obedience; give him a hug and tell him you’re proud of him.

As their comprehension grows, you can actually teach them what selfishness is. My older children understand it as “not sharing.” We’re steadily moving from that concept to “not throwing a fit when we don’t get what we want.” Give them alternatives to freaking out. Instead of crying, talk normally. Instead of screaming, ask politely. Instead of hitting, go find an adult.

Keeping children from throwing tantrums is a 24/7 job! I will reiterate my point from earlier. You have to correct them every time they throw a tantrum. Let them know every time that it is unacceptable. If you ignore it, because it’s too unpleasant or inconvenient to correct them, I assure you that they will become increasingly demanding before bedtime. If you go days or weeks without correcting tantrums, you will find yourself dreading taking your kids into public. If you go years, your child will be on You Tube as an adolescent throwing a tantrum because his video games got taken away.

One last powerful point is to appeal to authority. Tell them, “We don’t throw tantrums because Jesus wants us to be thankful. It dishonors Him when we are selfish. If we love Him, then we want to obey Him. Being thankful is saying ‘Thank you’ to Jesus for everything you have.”

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. Psalms 100:4