“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 did remember the rule, but you still 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?
This post is part of the parenting with gentleness series.
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.
As we have worked our way through the Parenting with Gentleness series, I've asked what some of your hindrances to parenting with gentleness are. One common problem I've seen is that you feel irritable because you're constantly running late or you're overwhelmed with all that you have to do.
I can definitely relate!
There was a period of time where I hated it when we had to go somewhere because I felt so stressed with trying to get everyone ready on time. I was barking orders at my kids and huffing impatiently at them.
We would finally all get into the car and I would feel like the world's worst parent because I had been…well…not very gentle as I helped them get ready to go.
I knew we needed a change, and it didn't take much to make it. I just needed to SIMPLIFY and ORGANIZE our life.
We really didn't have all that much in our schedule, so I didn't have to worry about cutting out a ton of stuff, but our routines were not very organized.
I was not allotting enough time for the various activities in our day, and it made me feel rushed – which translated into stress – which translated into gruffness with my kids.
Simplifying required cutting out some things from our schedule.
I had to come to terms with the fact that I am not supermom. Actually I had to realize that I am not even remotely close to being able to pretend to be supermom.
I'm not talking about reducing from 3 extracurricular activities to 1. I'm talking about making my daily schedule something like:
1. Feed family breakfast.
2. Feed family lunch.
3. Feed family supper.
4. Possibly do laundry.
That might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much. I had to cut things down to the bare minimum because stuff just takes me forever. Dealing with chronic illness that makes just getting dressed and brushing my hair a chore sometimes. Having a baby that I have to stop to feed and change, homeschooling which we can't exactly skip, and trying to keep the house decently tidy, are just about all that I can handle.
I don't like it, and there is so much more I'd like to fit into my day, but I had to be honest with myself and admit that I just can't do it.
(Which is why I've been MIA for several days out of this 31 day series, by the way. 🙂 ) Plans don't always go as I'd hoped, and I'm learning not to cram stuff into my day just because I want to. It makes me grouchy, and that's not what my family needs! )
Along with SIMPLIFYING, I needed to be better ORGANIZED.
Trying to get somewhere on time was stressful partially because I was not prepared.
Instead of waiting until the last minute to get everyone dressed and ready, I needed to have clothing laid out, diaper bag packed, etc. well in advance. The more that I have prepared ahead, the more my stress level goes down. With a lowered stress level it's much easier to be the type of parent I ought to be, smiling and gladly helping a child buckle their seat belt instead of grumping at them (I think I just made that phrase up) for not getting buckled faster.
There are a few different tools that have helped me over the years to be better organized, and I highly recommend them to any parent who is constantly stressed out from feeling like life is chaotic.
(Disclosure: affiliate links are included.)
Flylady is fantastic! You will hear her ask often “Are you grouchy at your babies?”
She knows all too well that chaos makes you a not-so-gentle mama.
This book is short and sweet, but it packs a punch in terms of helping disorganized moms get their act together! It really helped me think through what all I could reasonably expect to include in a day. You can read more about it in this post.)
3. Make Over Your Morning
This is a fantastic course that will teach you how to start your days smoothly – which will make the entire rest of your day go better!
It's quick and easy (because you're already overwhelmed!) but yet the help it will give you will make a huge impact on your days!
Read more about it in this post.
Friend, if you're struggling with being too gruff with your kids simply because you feel behind all the time, you can remedy that!
You don't have to keep trying harder to be calm with your kids; you can remove the source of the stress that's making it so difficult in the first place!
This post is part of the Parenting with Gentleness series.
“Mommy, look at my picture!” “Mom, do you know where my book is?” “Mommy, can you braid my hair?”
Mom, Mom, Mommy, Mom, Mommy, Mom!
It was a caucaphony of sound, and my head was spinning as I tried to process all of the words that were being thrown my direction.
Thankfully, my husband was nearby to save me because I couldn't even think quickly enough to remind them not to interrupt one another.
He stated simply and calmly, “Hold it kids. You're all being rude to one another and rude to your mom.” Then he turned to me. “Why don't we demonstrate for them so they can get a better understanding of what they're doing and why they need to stop.”
So we both started talking at once to one of the children, each trying to talk over the other. Her eyes got wider and wider as she experienced what it was like to try to process all the noise and commotion.
She understood very quickly, as did the rest of the children, exactly how I felt when they were all talking at once to me.
“I can't even hear what you're saying!” she wailed.
“Yes. Now you understand how your mother feels when all of you are trying to talk to her at once,” he gently told her. “No wonder she feels like screaming ‘STOP IT!' when you're all talking at once. Do you see why you need to wait when someone else is speaking? You all have been thinking only of yourselves instead of putting others first. It's rude to interrupt, both to the person you are interrupting and the person to whom you are both speaking.”
We could have allowed the kids to continue talking all at once until I finally got to the place where I did yell, “STOP IT!”
And I could have become extremely frustrated when they continued to behave this way day after day, driving me to many more yelling moments.
But now that they understand the “why” behind the no interrupting rule, they will remember it a whole lot better. And I won't have to deal with the temptation to holler at them when they forget.
Or we fail to teach them ahead of time and our teaching is done gruffly and out of frustration.
The above scenario could have played out much differently had my husband not been around. It could very well have been a “teaching moment” of “BE QUIET! Don't you know it's rude to talk all at once and interrupt each other!!!”
And then they wouldn't have actually learned anything other than, “I guess we'd better be quiet now because mom's mad.”
And mommy would go feel guilty because I just tried to teach my kids not to be rude by yelling at them. Mmmhmmm.
But now that they've been taught why they shouldn't interrupt, the next time they forget, I don't have to say anything other than, “Wait a second. Remember how it felt when mommy and daddy were interrupting each other and talking all at the same time?” And that's probably all I'll need to say before they correct themselves.
I'm now empowered to deal with interrupting in a much more gentle way, all because daddy took a few minutes of teaching time to help them understand why interrupting is rude.
Explaining “why” isn't going to be the right answer in every situation, especially with very young children who won't understand anyway.
But once our children get a little older, explaining why they should and shouldn't do certain things can actually be a big asset to your efforts to be a more gentle parent.
(Not to mention, it will help your children learn to do right because it's right and not because they are little robots, mindlessly doing the will of their parents. What will they do when you're not around to “program” them if that's the case?)
If you're looking for a good resource to guide in teaching your children the “why” behind what they do, I recommend this little study called “Because I Said So“. It's a Biblically based study for kids that will help them to see from Scripture why they should obey.
If you want to be a more gentle parent, don't be afraid to teach your children “why”.
This post is part of the Parenting With Gentleness Series.