Your phone is ringing. The baby is crying. Your toddler just spilled his juice all over the floor. The clothes dryer is buzzing and you haven’t even put up the clean clothes from last night. Is your head exploding yet? Mine is.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a normal, common state for well-intentioned parents. My parents were never there for me, so I’m gonna put my all into being the best…parent…ever. My mom and dad sacrificed everything for us kids. That’s just what parents do. The Bible teaches me to be submissive to my husband and a servant to my kids, so that’s what I’m doing.
Wow! I’ve actually heard parents say these kinds of things to me. Again, well-intentioned, but a set-up for feeling perpetually overwhelmed. So, mom and dad, how can you get back on steady course for the right reasons?
First, recognize and use the pyramid of family relations. You are at the top of your relational pyramid. Above your pyramid is God. If you are not right with God, your relations with your spouse and family will be full of issues. Some parents build a prayer closet, literally, for time with the Lord. Others set aside 15 minutes per day for personal devotions. Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Take Him at His word.
Second, as you take time for yourself, you make time for your spouse. Jesus also said, “Love one another as you love yourself.” Self-care makes quality other-care possible. Healthy diet, sufficient sleep, exercise all facilitate healthy interaction with your spouse. Setting aside couple devotional time as well sets the tone. Further down the pyramid are your children, extended family, and friends.
The keys to multi-tasking and balancing self-care with other-care are prioritizing, delegating and setting healthy boundaries. In assessing the tasks, hand your toddler paper towels to clean up his mess, as you go to the baby to soothe her tears. These are the immediate priorities. You don’t have to answer your phone until you have the time. Your phone stores the call and it will be there when you are not so frantic. If the buzzer on your dryer loops to recur intermittently, take a moment to shut it off after you settle the baby. Help your toddler clean up his mess, telling him what a big boy he is to get started without you.
With immediate crises averted, sit and take a breath. Life will go on. Got is good, and so are you. Later, with your spouse, in a family meeting, you can set healthy boundaries by compiling lists of house rules and individual chores. Delegate chores to children consistent with their ages, but everybody pitches in. Build “me” time into your schedule. If you wait for a good time to take care of yourself, it will never happen.
Crash! Mom heard to sound coming from her 13 year old daughter’s room. “Now what,” she muttered as she dried her hands before leaving the dishes to make yet another kid rescue.
“Chad, look what you’ve done,” Jenny screamed at her 10 year old little brother. “Get out of my room, you jerk!” Mom hurried her pace, sensing her children coming to blows.
Sibling rivalry is only one of many daily challenges for parents of strong-willed children. It would be common for mom to storm into Jenny’s room and begin barking orders. “Jenny, don’t talk to your brother like that.” “Chad, pick up that mess. What are you doing in your sister’s room anyway?”
Unfortunately, such common occurrences will likely lead to hurt feelings, emotional distance, and continued power struggles. When you are able to trade in divisive “me against you” talk for “we and us” talk, you are on the right track.
First, without comment or criticism, separate your children in the moment. Take time to find out what happened, from each of their perspectives, using your active listening to understand the feelings behind the actions.
Second, when you sense your child’s emotional fever is going down after active listening, ask what they might have said or done differently to have achieved positive outcome.
Third, identify what each child did to add to the difficulty between them, and give each a time-out to formulate an apology to the other. Behaviorally and developmentally, the rule of thumb is to give times-out that are no longer than 2 minutes for every year of your child’s age. For Chad, at age 10, that would be 20 minutes. For Jenny, at age 13, that would be 26 minutes. In reality, such a brief time-out may serve its purpose, but also is an opportunity for you to step away, settle down, and bring reason to the conversation.
Finally, after these times-out, talk to your children together both to structure the apology/forgiveness piece and to jointly address specifics that could help avoid such encounters in the future. For example, Chad could knock before entering his sister’s room, and Jenny could make some time for her brother doing something he likes, like competing on a video game.
I don’t know any parent who can avoid those moments where they say “Uh oh. Here we go again.” However, taking these steps will turn those uh oh moments into teachable moments for your children.
Are chores a sticking point in your home? Do you get that “Ma, do I hafta?” refrain every time you bring chores up? Well, everybody who loves chores raise your hand. Nope. I didn’t think so.
Charlie was the wild child of the Miller’s 3 daughters, ages 2, 8, and 10. Her little sister was Miss Prissy and her older sister was all that, so Charlie got to do her own thing. She was a rough-house tomboy who would prefer tackle to touch football. It landed her in the principal’s office more than once for being too rough during gym class.
Mom Charlene, after whom Charlie was named, was firm to her daughter that Saturday morning, as the Miller family arose.
“Yes, sweetheart, you hafta.” She explained. “Saturday mornings around here are family clean-up, and, well, you’re part of the family.”
“Then…I want a divorce, you know, from the family. That way I don’t have to do stupid chores on Saturday mornings. Tommy and I are building a tree house today and we’ve got to get started, like, right now.”
Charlene chuckled to herself and then sighed, “Baby, you know it doesn’t work that way. Besides, we would all miss you terribly,” she added, as she moved in to tickle her daughter’s sides. Charlie squealed and then she got out of her bed.
Chores should not only be a part of the fabric of family life, they also help to form lasting bonds, build responsibility, and are a source of accountability, consistency, and pride.
As soon as your children are able to walk, they are able to help with house clean-up. At first, with a 2 year old, you pick up her stuffed animals with her and show her where to store them. With practice, you step away and she picks up more of the load. Not only does this activity have family benefits, it reinforces her worth, improves her eye-hand coordination, and gives her bragging rights on a job well done. With older children, use a targeted family meeting to outline Saturday morning chores and then divvy them up. Parents determine the quality of chore completion and can require a re-do if necessary.
Chore completion is outside of allowance or other pay. We don’t get paid for doing our part of family clean-up. Also, chores are outside of daily straightening, organizing, and order. Chore completion can be a part of the “yuck” factor in your family, or it can be a bonding factor. Regardless, yeah, ya hafta.
So it seems that the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears applies to effective parenting as well. You remember, Goldilocks found herself in the home of the Three Bears in the woods. The Bear family was not there. After helping herself to their meal on the table, Goldilocks got sleepy. She found their beds to be too hard, too soft, and then just right. I’m hoping that you are working on a parenting style that is just right.
“Patrick, you’re room is a mess. Stop what your gaming and clean it up.” “But, dad, I…” “I said, ‘now’ son.” “But why can’t I…?” “What part of ‘now’ don’t you understand?” “But why…?” “Because I am your father and I said so. So get to it. No more buts.”
Here is an example of waaay too hard parenting. Others would call this authoritative, or drill sergeant parenting. This kind of exchange is fear-based and power-oriented. There is no relationship here, only authority. Most children in this environment end up being bullies to their peers and can’t wait to leave the home when they come of age.
“Patrick, hey buddy. Your room is looking a little ragged here. Mind if I help you pick it up?” “Knock yourself out, Dad,” Patrick replied, with his thumbs flying, keeping his eyes locked on to the game. “Uh, do you mind putting your snack wrappers and soda cans in the trash can by your side there? I’ll pick up your dirty clothes.” “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of mortal combat, Dad?” “Well, sure, son. Okay, then, finish your game and pick things up before you come down for supper, okay?” “Yeah, whatever, Dad.”
Here is an example of waaay too soft parenting. Others would call this permissive. The child is left to his own devices, with no substantive direction. Who’s in charge? Patrick. Children are too young to be in charge. It just gets them anxious and hyper. They grow up feeling like they can do anything they want, with no consequences. They don’t play nicely with others. As young adults, they never want to leave home. Why would they? All their needs are catered to.
“Yo, Patrick. Dude. This place is a pigsty.” Dad moves to the gaming station and pushes the pause button.” “Dad!!! What are you doing? I’m in the middle of this.” “And you will continue to be in the middle of it after you clean your room. This room is a health hazard. You can be neat and stay healthy and still finish your gaming afterward.” “Aww, man…” Dad lingers and directs Patrick’s efforts, putting a few things away himself. As he is helping out, he active listens Patrick’s complaints and redirects to the positive consequences of his clean-up actions.
Finally, Dad got it right. This is just right parenting. It promotes relationship, responsibility, accountability, and reward. Kids with just right parenting play nice with others, are considerate, and plan well for coming events. They understand give and take, accept responsible freedom, and are launched successfully into young adulthood. Is your parenting just right?
Every good parent feeds their children regularly, 3 meals a day if possible. Sometimes meals consist of a sandwich or two. Meals help our children grow physically. A sandwiched comment can help our children grow in character emotionally and spiritually.
Alec is 6 years old. He gets frustrated reading out loud. When left to his own devices, he takes hints from the pictures and guesses the content of passages. His daddy is trying to help him read at bedtime.
“Okay, son. You read the first paragraph and I’ll read the next,” daddy coaxes his reluctant son, making the task a joint effort.
“You read it all to me, daddy. I don’t feel like it tonight.”
“Aw, son, you know your teacher told us to help you keep up with your reading. I understand how hard it is for you at times, but maybe we can struggle through it together. Okay? Let’s give it a try.”
Adam turned his back to his dad and grumbled to himself. Dad saw the emotional fever mounting and tried active listening. “It’s tough trying hard things, huh. You’re frustrated.”
Adam turned back to his daddy. “What do you do when you’re frustrated, daddy?” His dad told him a relevant story that happened at his work this past week and concluded, “Well, even though it was tough, I tried. I didn’t do it perfectly, but trying and getting more of it right helped me want to try more.” His dad then tickled his son and encouraged him to try reading. After struggling through the storybook, dad noted, “Look at you. You tried even though you didn’t want to. You missed a few words, but you used your phonics rules to sound them out. Let’s keep trying every night until you get it, okay son? I’m so proud of you.”
What dad used is what’s called “The Sandwich Effect.” When helping your child with hard things, or with making needed changes, start with a praise statement. Follow that with a critique. Conclude with another praise statement. This learning sandwich goes down much better for children. The credit you give them helps reinforce the learning. When looking for change, give your child a sandwich.
If your answer to this question is “no,” forgive me, but either you are lying, clueless, or gullible. All children lie. Some just better than others. The question is, what do we as parents do about it?
Four-year old Mandy slips unnoticed into the family living room, as her mom is in the kitchen finishing clean-up from supper. Mom pauses in her work and just listens. She hears nothing. “Mandy, sweetheart, what are you doing?” she calls out. After a longer than expected silence, Mandy responds, “Nothing.” Mom puts up her drying towel and goes to find her daughter.
In the living room, Mandy was attracted to the shiny, glass figurine of a ballerina that had been up on a too-high-for-her shelf in the bookcase. She had slid a plastic play chair over to the bookcase and was reaching for the figurine when her mom rounded the corner to the living room.
“Mandy!” The little girl froze at the sharp call of her name, losing her grip on the figurine. It fell to the floor and crashed into little pieces. Mandy teetered standing on the chair. Mom rushed to catch her, saving her from spilling to the ground as well.
“Ooh, baby. It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Soothed her mom, assuring that her preschooler was all right. Mandy sat in her mom’s arms and began to whimper. Mom rocked her gently until Mandy calmed.
With crisis averted, mom is at a choice point. Is this about power or relationship? Is this about mom’s authority or Mandy’s choices? If mom goes the power route, she scolds her daughter and punishes her. “What were you thinking, young lady?” Mom begins to pick up the pieces of the figurine. “You grandmother gave this to me after I won a dance contest as a teen. Now look at what you’ve done.” Mom vents at her daughter’s expense. Mandy cries softly, but pulls away from her mama, feeling distant and guilty.
If mom goes relationship and choices route, she calms her daughter and they carefully pick up the pieces of the figurine together. As they do so, mom asks, “Honey, I’m glad you’re okay, but what were you thinking? This isn’t like you. What else is going on?” Mom’s observations and questions open the door to understanding Mandy’s feelings through active listening. When settled, mom can address Mandy’s poor choice, set healthy boundaries, and give her a brief consequence to help her make better choices in the future. A crisis averted becomes a teachable moment.
“Awww, mama, do I hafta?” As parents, how many times a day do we hear that plea, or one like it, from our children? Give most children a direction or task that takes away from what they are doing in that moment, and expect the fuss and resistance. In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I devote an entire chapter to this fact. Children will always test the limits. Children want to be helpful and cooperative, but their direction is oftentimes elsewhere. By setting healthy boundaries, with expectations, we can help our children turn those have-to’s into want-to’s.
“Sweetheart, it’s almost time to go to bed. You need to put all of your toys and stuffed animals back into the toy box, and then I’ll help you get ready for bed.” Megan’s mama was well-intentioned with this direction, but she left Megan with some wiggle room and frustrated with one more have-to task that she’d rather not do.
So, what are the possible outcomes here? If Megan wants to stay up longer, she can stall by not getting down to the clean-up task. Mom did qualify that she would put her to bed after the cleanup. Megan could also ignore her mom’s direction, drag her feet, or do the task poorly. Any of these options could lead to mommy getting mad and Megan having upset right before bedtime. This could lead to restless sleep, nightmares, or other disruption to her health.
How can mom encourage Megan to turn what she sees as a have-to, unfun chore into a want-to? There are several options. Young children typically respond positively to challenges. “I bet you can’t pick all this stuff up before I count to 50.” They are also appreciative of help. “Come on, sweetie, you take that side and I’ll take this side of your playroom.” Reward works as well. “Megan, if you get this chore finished before your bedtime, we can spend more time together, and I’ll read you a second story.”
Any of these options help your child turn a have-to into a want-to. Always active listen their feelings, frustrations, reluctance. Remind them of the benefits of doing things they might not want to do at first. Turning have-to’s into want-to’s have a way of becoming teachable moments.
As parents, we are charged by God to “raise our children up in the ways of the Lord so that, when they grow old, He will not depart from them.” (Proverbs 22:6). That’s the signature verse for my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting. That verse challenges us to love, honor, respect, guide, teach, and be there for our children in all circumstances. It also challenges us to set healthy boundaries, confront, restrict, and, yes, even say “no” at times to our children’s requests. Saying “no” is a vital part of healthy, Christian parenting.
“But Mommy, why not? Huh? Why not? You said ‘yes’ the last time. Mommy, pleeeease!” Eight year old Amy was not going to give up her request that her mom accept being her 3rd grade classroom mom. Denise had hesitated in answering her daughter just long enough for Amy to hope her no could be turned into a yes. Reminding her mom that she was her 2nd grade classroom mom last year was Amy’s effort to play the guilt card.
“Sweetheart, it’s time for another mom to step up. I’ve got too many things to do as it is. I can’t add something else to that list.” Amy stuck her lower lip out and pouted, adding, “You don’t love me anymore.”
Denise could have given in or fussed at her daughter for accusing her of not loving her. Instead, she saw Amy’s emotional fever rise and active listened her hurting daughter. “Aw, baby. I know you’re disappointed.” She gathered Amy into her arms for a big hug. Amy pushed her mama away and stomped her feet. Denise began to feel manipulated and that angered her. “Young lady, enough. What part of “no” do you not understand?”
Had Amy persisted, a brief time-out would have been in order. In Chapter 3 of my book, I challenge that children will always test the limits. Saying “no” strategically eases your child’s anxious and fearful feelings. They need for you to be in charge. They just will never tell you that. You have needs and feelings too, and you balance yours with theirs. Saying “no” builds character and resilience, and can be another path to teachable moments.
Behavior management is in your job description as a parent. Some parents don’t like this job, and their kids run wild. Other parents see this as their only job, and their kids are rigid, uncreative, and often fear-driven. In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I offer step-by-step directions of a relational, interactive version of behavior management centered on what I call The Good Kid Chart.
Eight year old Dante was bossing his little sister around and getting her to do his chores. “Son, you know better than that,” growled Dad. “How would you like me to do that to you? Go to your room.”
Well, yeah. That’s exactly how Dad was treating Dante. Where do you think Dante learned to boss his sister around and get her to do his work? Is he going to learn not to boss his sister by being sent to his room?
The Good Kid Chart is the focus of a productive, positive, change-oriented version of standard behavior management. The name itself is a directive on helping your child become a good kid. After you and your spouse identify the target behaviors you want your child to work on, sit down with him to review the procedures. Target behaviors, by the way, are always positively oriented. No one wants to work toward a negative. So, “Don’t be bossy to your sister” becomes “Play nicely and treat your sister with respect.”
There are four components of the system. During a family meeting with your child, orient him to The Good Kid Chart. Active listen his protests and prompt his working on meeting the target behaviors. Then compile three lists of 6-10 items each. A list of daily rewards, of weekly rewards, and of consequences. The more involved your child is in creating these lists, the more he will buy into the process. Daily and weekly rewards are always within your time and resource limits. Consequences occur with severe outburst. If you want Dante to play nice with his sister and he yells at her and pushes her down, that’s severe. He not only does not get a sticker on his Good Kid Chart, but also gets a punishment. Allowing him to pick one of 6-10 consequences helps him own his punishment. If he refuses, you get to pick two.
The Good Kid Chart. What a great way to create teachable moments and help you child become the person you want him to be.
As you continue your parenting journey, how do you want that to go? Will it be trial and error? Just repeat how you were parented? Leave it up to somebody else? My preference is for you to fill every moment of your parenting journey, every interaction with your child, with grace.
“Billy, you careless blankity-blank, spilling your glass of milk again! Go get me that hickory stick. You need a whuppin’” Not much grace there. Billy was careless, but not likely on purpose. Accidents happen. Where’s the grace?
“Cassandra, again? What’s with you and milk? Can we get through one meal without you spilling something? Here, let me clean it up.” Not much grace there either. Shaming is just internal punishment.
“Maggie, come on. Don’t just look at the mess. Go get paper towels and help my clean it up. What am I gonna do with you, girl?” Now that’s grace in action.
Grace is a quality of calm understanding, a safe haven for your children in their storms of life. It involves gentle guidance and meaningful direction. It involves strategic firmness and clear understanding of choices, providing reward for good choices and consequence for bad choices. It results in a very meaningful teachable moment.
Billy’s dad showed anger, power, and control, not grace. Cassandra’s mom showed exasperation, burden, and frustration. Maggie’s mom was purposeful but calm. She involved her daughter in the clean-up, demonstrating meaningful consequences to Maggie’s actions. After the mess was cleaned up and dinner completed, she likely sat Maggie down to go over what had happened, active listen her feelings, and prompt her daughter to identify ways to be more careful in the future. The responses from Billy’s dad and Cassandra’s mom were about them and their feelings. The response from Maggie’s mom was about Maggie, getting the mess cleaned up, and making a teachable moment for her daughter. This is the heart of grace-filled parenting.