“We're done, mom!” Three children stand beaming at me from their version of a clean kitchen.
One glance around the room tells me they are far from done.
Now I have a choice. Do I berate them for being lazy and doing a sloppy job? Or do I calmly and kindly say, “Well, I can tell you all have been working hard, but mommy's going to show you a few things that can make the kitchen even cleaner, okay? First, you want to make sure you squeeze the water out of the cloth really hard so there won't be water dripping all over the table when you wipe it…”
I think we would all agree that it is only fair to remember that little children must be taught how to do things before they should be expected to do them the right way.
And yet, so often, we as parents forget that children are learning so many new things every day, and we could stand to cut them a little more slack. (Read: The Thing Most Parents Forget About Their Kids)
I have noticed some additional deficiencies in Christian parenting skills that most of us could stand to improve (myself included for sure!)
1.Laziness/inconsistency – We've all done it. We call our child and they don't come, so we call them again. They still don't come. We call a couple more times, more loudly each time, until finally they hear, “GET IN HERE, NOW!!!!”
If we would get up the first time they don't come and take care of the problem immediately, our children will never have to wonder if we mean what we are saying. We will never work ourselves up to the point of anger due to repeating ourselves and continuously being ignored.
We can more honestly teach our children that they ought to obey because God says to, rather than by our actions teaching them to obey because mom or dad will eventually get angry if they don't.
2. Lack of Thoughtfulness – Does God clearly teach children to obey their parents? Certainly. But never does God give parents permission to be slave drivers, never giving heed to the fact that the little person you are teaching is also a fellow human being.
What tone of voice do you use when speaking to your children? Would you speak to another adult that way?
Does “Be ye kind one to another” apply only to other adults?
Yes, we need to teach our children to obey. But we must remember that we have other jobs besides teaching – nurturing, comforting, helping. When too much focus is placed upon obedience, it's easy for things to get out of balance.
3. Lack of clarity – When you are giving a command that you expect your child to obey, don't phrase it as “Why don't you…?” “You should…” “Can you…?”
I've been reading Parenting is Heart Work (affiliate link), and they say that you need to phrase commands in a way that the child is positive it is a command and not a suggestion.
Use phrases like, “You need to…” instead.
Once again, if a child is not clear about the command, the child is not likely to obey, and the parent is likely to become angry – neither of which are the desired outcome.
4. Lack of Follow-through – Ouch! This is the area where I have the hardest time.
I tell the kids to clean their room and later see them playing. “Did you clean your room?” I ask. (Of course they answer yes!) At bedtime, when I see that their room is not thoroughly clean, I get irritated because their room is a mess, but I don't want them to stay up any later to clean it. I should have gone to check it immediately when they were finished.
Parenting is Heart Work makes it clear that there are 2 sides to the responsibility when a command has been given. The child has a responsibility to report to you when they are finished, and the parent has the responsibility to follow-through with making sure the job is done and done correctly.
5. Forgetting to teach them how to do a job – This goes along with what I was talking about at the very beginning of this post. We must remember that they are children, that they are learning lots of things, and that we must invest lots of time teaching (and reviewing) things before we can expect them to do it perfectly.
Sometimes teaching children is as simple as playing a role-playing game where they come to you when you call them. Parenting is Heart Work explains in detail how to do this.
6. Praise for a job well done – Should children be expected to obey? Certainly! But I think that because many parents expect just that, so when the job has been done they say no more about it.
I don't know about you, but I love it when someone acknowledges my hard work, whether it was something I was supposed to do or not.
Is it my part of the family responsibilities to put supper on the table every night? Sure, but it's so nice when people tell me thank you and that they enjoyed it.
Our children have emotions just like us, and we can provide so much encouragement to do right just by giving them some positive reinforcement.
Which of these mistakes do you need to work on the most?
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”
(Isn't that what God's word is supposed to do? It's sharper than any two-edged sword. Amazing that it does what God said it would do.)
As I read those words I knew exactly what God what telling me. And I could do nothing other than to bow my head and say, “Yes, Lord. You're right. I haven't been very long suffering or kind to my children lately.”
Oh, I'm very familiar with I Corinthians 13. I know that it's saying that it's pointless for a person to do great things to spread the gospel if they don't have Christ-like love for people while they're doing them. Then it goes on to describe exactly what Christ-like love is.
It starts with the words, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”
The reason that hurts so much is because I was hit with the realization that spreading the gospel isn't something that just happens “out there somewhere.”
And if I'm not being long suffering and kind with my children, all my efforts to spread the gospel to my children are pointless.
“But, Lord, it's so hard! My physical issues make it seem impossible to be longsuffering some days. My anxiety and stress levels are through the roof, especially when the kids seem determined to get on my every last nerve!” (Read: Why your physical health affects your ability to be a gentle parent.)
“My precious child. This is my will for you, and I will not require anything of you that I will not give you the strength to do.” (Philippians 4:13)
All I can do at this point is to humbly thank God for his living Word. It shines a light into the dark corners of my heart to point out where I'm wrong. And it gives me hope that I can do right through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So today I'm asking him to give me the strength to be long suffering and kind with my children.
This post is part of the Parenting with Gentleness series.
“Your kids sit so still during church! Mine are so wiggly!” she told me after church.
In my typical fashion, I couldn't think of anything non-dorky to say in the moment, but after the fact I thought of all the things I could have said to encourage this other mom.
Instead of making a lame joke, here's what I wish I would have told this sweet mom:
First, thank you. I sincerely appreciate the compliment.
I'm sure you know as well as any other mom how it feels to work day in and day out to teach your children all the things they need to know and feel like you're not getting anywhere. It's lovely when someone with an outside perspective can step in and let you know that you actually are getting somewhere.
Also, don't worry about your wiggly kids because I'm going to tell you a little secret. When you commented on how still my kids were, what you didn't know was that I had already finger-motioned my youngest child up to where I was at the piano three times before the service so I could tell him to calm down. What you didn't see was how many times he really did wiggle during the service. What you didn't hear were my whispered admonitions to my older children to open their Bibles and stop daydreaming.
I'm sure I would have noticed if your children were a distraction during the service. They weren't.
I wish I could tell you that I have some kind of fancy routine where I sit them down at home and have church practice sessions. Or that I always review with them before we go to church exactly what is expected of them. Or that I always remember to follow through with talking to them after we get home about any ridiculous stunts they tried to pull during church.
But I'm just a normal mom. A mom who tries to give my kids a heads up about how they need to behave but forgets to do it a lot too. A mom who has whispered, “Sit up and pay attention” more times than she can count. A mom who has a hard time paying attention during every single service because a little guy wants on my lap. Or off my lap. Or back on.
And my kids? Oh, I think they're pretty super, but I guess they're pretty normal too. They have a hard time sitting still just like all kids do. They have to be reminded of things countless times before they actually start remembering to do them.
No, mama. Don't you worry a bit about your wiggly kids. It takes so much patience and repetition to teach kids to sit still in church. But as they get older and start understanding what the pastor is saying a little better, it will get easier. Keep teaching. Keep reminding. Keep insisting that they pay attention, even when they can't fully understand all that's being said. Eventually it will stick. But for now, you're doing fine. It feels so much worse when you are the one responsible for making sure they don't turn around and make silly faces at the lady behind them or get ink on their dress from the pen you let them use or announce very loudly that they need to go potty.
But in reality you're doing great and so are they.
Other resources you may find helpful:
“How many times do I have to remind you to take out the trash?” My frustration mounts as I turn and notice his bare feet. “And why do you not have something on your feet? You know you're not supposed to go barefoot in the winter.” As I spin around and walk out of the kitchen, I catch a glimpse of his room. Oh my! I start to hit him with another reminder of what he hasn't done properly, but decide against it. I can't take credit for this; I can only thank the Lord for showing me this through something I read somewhere, but — it's hard to be a kid! So as I caught myself beginning to let my son have a piece of my mind for everything he'd messed up on that day, I stopped and let him focus on emptying the trash instead. And then I thanked him for his hard work.
Imagine trying to learn English as a second language. There are so many spelling and grammar rules! And once you learn them all you find out about all the millions of exceptions to those rules and all the nuances that make a rule not apply in that instance. (How about spelling tough, through, though, and thought?)
What if you were working as hard as you could to memorize all those rules, but your teacher yelled at you every time you forgot one? Or worse yet, when you tried hard to apply a rule, but got in trouble because it wasn't supposed apply in that instance? How frustrating would that be? Wouldn't it be a lot more reasonable for the teacher to remind you of the rule or to explain why there was an exception? Marking your grade down a little will probably help you recognize your weaknesses and work on cementing those particular areas in your mind a little better. But it would be ridiculous if your teacher gave you an F on a quiz for missing one answer.
Now, what must it be like to be a child? So many rules to learn! For the record, we don't really teach kids that there is a great big list of do's and don'ts and that they have to learn them or else! But nevertheless, there are general principles of living that everyone must follow if they're going to grow up to be a decent adult.
To name a few basics:
If it's not yours, don't touch it.
If you get it out, put it away.
If you've been given a job to do, do it to the best of your ability.
Unless it's hurting them or someone else, don't tattle on other people.
Now, think about all of the nuances to those rules!
“Well, yes, honey. You're not supposed to touch things that aren't yours, but when you saw your sister had carried mommy's phone into the bathroom and set it on the back of the toilet, you could have brought it to me before it got knocked in.”
“Well, no. You're not supposed to tattle, but when your brother is drawing on the chair with a sharpie, you should definitely tell me about it.”
“i know you need to put your toys away, but we're going to be late! You should already be in the car!”
I wonder how often I've perceived my children to be disobedient, when all they're trying to do is remember all these confounded things they're supposed to be doing!
How much more gentle would I be if I placed myself in my children's shoes more often?
I surely don't want to exasperate their little hearts. But when my vision is too narrow to see things from their perspective that's exactly what I will do.
If something is not defiant rebellion (i.e. you know for certain they heard you tell them something and they just flat out ignored you) then gentle reminders are going to go a lot further than stern discipline. Overreacting to the fact that your child forgot to take out the trash is only going to make him feel angry or discouraged.
Maybe you're thinking, “But how is he going to learn to cement these principles into his head?! It's important that my child learn to ____ (fulfill responsibility, treat others properly, etc.)”
You're right! I'm not saying that treating our children gently when they forget something means that we overlook the problem. Sometimes there are natural consequences that will teach a better lesson than harsh discipline ever would.
When my son neglects to take out the trash, the job gets nastier and nastier. It piles up higher and higher and begins to spill out into the trash pullout. By the time he finally gets around to doing his job, the bag is so full that it's difficult to pull out of the can, spilling even more trash onto the floor. Now he has to pick up the dirty diapers, food remnants, and who-knows-what-else that has fallen all over the place. He has also added to the work because he has to sweep the floor around the trash can, clean out the trash pull-out, and even scrub off all the dried on food that fell down there. It's not a pleasant task. And hopefully he's saying, “Note to self: Take out the trash before it gets to this point next time!”
When there is willful defiance involved, you may need to look for other means of correction (as well as determining if there is an underlying emotional need that is not being met so that it can be remedied.)
But otherwise, just remember that it's hard to be a kid!
Often on particularly difficult days when there have been a lot of reminders needed and I can sense my kids beginning to feel discouraged, I tell them, “You're doing a great job being ___ (9 or whatever age they are)! There's a lot of stuff to learn and remember, isn't there?”
I know how easy it is for me to feel like I am failing at life and to berate myself for not being more organized or getting dinner on the table on time or keeping the house cleaner or whatever. And that's without anyone jumping all over me about it.
Our kids probably feel the same way sometimes. On top of learning times tables and spelling words and being tested over it all, they also have to learn how to think of others before themselves, how to keep their things neat, and which items in the house they may not touch; they must remember to wash their hands after they use the bathroom, say please when they ask for something, and put their dirty clothes in the hamper when they change.
They're basically learning or reviewing new things from the time they get up until they go to bed at night!
Maybe if we can keep that in mind we'll be a little less hard on them when they slip up, eh?
And you're doing a great job too! Learn more about parenting with gentleness in my email series. You can sign up below and receive the first email right away.
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This post was sponsored by the Window Covering Safety Council as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central. All opinions expressed in my post are my own.
Before our first child was born, my husband and I were like any first-time parents. We read and researched and made sure we had all of our ducks in a row to keep our little one safe. I know that safety is of the Lord, and ultimately we depend on Him to protect our children.
But of course, we are to be responsible parents since He has placed those children in our care.
One of our first child safety updates around the house was to replace all the window blinds with cordless shades. I wanted to make sure that was taken care of before he got old enough to start toddling around. It was an extra expense that we really didn't have the money for at the time, but it was one that we found the money for because it was a priority for us.
You might not imagine that window blinds would be such a big deal. I mean, we all think about plugging the outlets, but replacing the blinds? I know I wouldn't have really even thought about it, except for the fact that I knew family whose toddler son suffered irreparable brain damage when his neck got caught in a window cord.
They loved him well. Oh, how they loved him! But his family went through a lifetime of trials from that accident. God used their son's life for His glory, for sure. But there was still grief and heartache intertwined. I know they would go through it all again if it meant that God would be glorified through his life and theirs. But that didn't mean it was easy. I'm sure I don't even know the half of all they suffered. And I'm sure they wouldn't desire other families to endure what they and their son went through.
The Window Covering Safety Council urges parents to install only cordless window coverings or ones with inaccessible cords if you have young children in the home.
I want to help get that message out. I happened to know this precious family's story, which helped me to be aware of what could happen, but not all parents are aware of just how dangerous a window cord can be.
October is National Window Covering Safety Month, so this is a great time to help spread the message.
Exposed and dangling cords pose a strangulation hazard to infants and young children. Please do not keep these types of window coverings in your home!
When shopping for suitable replacements, you can look for the “Best for Kids” label to help you easily identify cordless options. “Best for Kids” products are currently available at major retails across the country.
You can find out more about safe window coverings for kids at the Window Covering Safety Council Website.
The following infographic contains more ideas for keeping your children safe around window coverings:
“What are you doing?” I asked my son.
I saw the door of my husband's shed hanging open and smelled spray paint fumes, so I was little nervous to find out what was going on.
“Were you using Daddy's spray paint?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Are you allowed in Daddy's shed?”
“No,” he answered as he lowered his eyes.
“Do you think you should be using spray paint without permission?”
“Well, you need to go sit on the porch. You may not play right now if you're going to be using Daddy's things without permission.”
We both sat on the porch, just talking about whatever happened to strike my son's fancy at the moment. After I while I told him he could go back and play, reminding him to stay out of daddy's shed.
He enjoyed the rest of the afternoon playing and he stayed out of daddy's shed.
No drama. Just a mom remembering that her kid is…well…a curious kid and a son listening to his mother's reminder that he needs to follow instructions.
BUT. Let me be totally honest here, even though it's going to make me look really bad.
There was a time when my children were younger that I would have handled that situation MUCH differently.
Here's how it could have gone:
“What do you think you are doing, young man?” I asked with my hands on my hips and my eyes glaring a hole straight through my son's body. “Were you messing with spray paint? You were! Son, you know better than that! You know good and well you are not allowed in daddy's shed. And furthermore, if you WERE allowed in Daddy's shed, you certainly wouldn't be allowed to be using spray paint. Why are you messing with stuff you know good and well you shouldn't be touching? You are done. D-O-N-E, done! Get in the house. If you can't play out here the way you're supposed to you're not going to play out here at all.”
After I caught my breath after that tirade, I would have seen him into the house, a few more words of rebuke leaving my mouth as we went.
And here's the sad thing. I would have thought I was doing what I needed to do to help my son turn out right.
“He's so rebellious!” I would have thought to myself. “He KNOWS not to go in the shed and he did it anyway! He's GOT to learn to do right! I hate having to be so strict with him, but he's got to learn!”
Now, don't get me wrong. Sometimes we do have to lay down the law and not budge in our stance. I'm not saying that we should let our kids get away with disobedience and there not be any consequences.
But I don't think that being so hard nosed about every little incident is the right way to lead our children.
I think we can actually create rebellion in our children that wasn't there to begin with. We tell them by our reactions to their childishness that they are rebellious. If we make everything into head-butting battle, they're going to butt heads back!
I wrote about this concept in What I'm Learning about Child Training from an Olive Tree.
Here's what I wrote:
“Extensive pruning…can actually do more harm than good to a young olive tree. One olive gardening manual warns that “A determination to form the perfect shape by excessive pruning will weaken the young tree and stunt its growth for a number of years.” For this reason, olive growers do not do much pruning at all for the first 4 or 5 years of a tree's life. The only shoots that should be eliminated are those that compromise the definitive shape of the plant.
Olive tree lesson: Nitpicking at my children is only going to discourage them and make them feel like it's pointless to even try. The only thing I should be removing from my children's lives are those things that are actually going to point them in the wrong direction.
Do you discipline harshly for childish things like forgetting to put clothes in the hamper or make their bed? Yes, they need to do those things out of obedience, but sometimes children genuinely forget these things and aren't being purposely rebellious. Gentle reminders will do more good than giving them the 3rd degree for every minor offense.”
I understand why a parent will bring the hand of judgment down swiftly. We want our kids to turn out right, so we make sure nothing slips by! We see so many parents looking the other way when their children disobey and we don't want to be like that, so we are dead-set to lay down the law every single time they commit an offense.
But that mentality leaves absolutely no room for grace. They are imperfect human beings (just like their parents, by the way.) They forget things they've been told. Their childish curiosity overrides their sense of good judgment. And yes, sometimes they even consciously choose to sin. But I'm not so sure that a conscious choice to sin is the same as rebellion. How do your children respond to a gentle correction? If they put their hands on their hips, look you straight in the eye, and defiantly say, “No. I'm not doing it,” then yes, that is rebellion. But if they realize the error of their ways and are repentant about whatever it is they did, then committing the offense doesn't actually mean they're rebellious. It just means they're a sinner.
Don't set up your parenting goal to be perfect behavior out of your child. Perfection is impossible, and trying to attain it will only frustrate both you and your child.
Instead your goal should be to see a tender heart in your child, willing to listen to correction and right themselves when they've gone astray. You want your child to be able to sit down with you and make a plan to overcome their character flaws. Do you think they will be likely to have a tender heart and be willing to work with you when you always seem to be working against them?
Imagine you've made an honest mistake at work. If the boss confronts you about it with his hands on his hips, glaring a hole through you, does it really make you want to listen to correction with a tender heart? No, it makes you want to do the exact opposite of what he says. But if he comes to you and calmly says, “Hey, I noticed you forgot to ____. Do you think we could talk about figuring out a better system so you don't forget in the future?” then you are much more likely not to get defensive and butt heads with his correction.
Swift, harsh judgment created an attitude of rebellion, while gentleness and understanding produced the desired result.
Likewise with our children, swift and harsh judgment will create an attitude of rebellion, while gentleness and understanding will produce the desired result (a tender heart, willing to heed correction.)
Again, I want to be careful here not to seem like I'm advocating NO discipline. There surely is a time and a place for it. But let's be careful not to create rebellious children by expecting perfection.
In closing, these are the two ideas I hope you'll take away from this article:
1. Change your goal from perfect behavior out of your children to instead an attitude of willingness to heed instruction and correction.
2. Don't be so swift to bring down harsh judgment for their mistakes. Your demeanor can make the difference between their willingness to work with you or to butt heads against you.
This post is part of the Parenting with Gentleness series.
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