First up, thank y’all so much for your response to last week’s child-training blog. It’s impossible to predict how people will react to that kind of post, and I really appreciate your kind comments and encouragements!
So, I actually wrote most of the below at the same time as the first post but ultimately decided to split it up because–dude–that thing was long, and also, there seemed to be a natural break in the “methods.” I think you’ll find today’s post a bit more…specific? Practical? Nitty gritty? Something like that.
Disclaimer: I am sharing some very specific practices of ours because I have been asked what we do. I do not share them because I think they are the only way or are the gold standard for child-training. If you get something encouraging or helpful out of this post, great! If not, carry on. You are the best mama for your kids because God chose YOU and no one else to fill that role.
Okay, enough intro. Onward and upward.
6. We praise generously
Or at least we try to. If my children do something kind or thoughtful, I heap praise on them in spades. I’ll sing and dance about it if I have to. If they are unselfish, I tell them how proud I am of them. I try to look for ways to affirm their efforts to do right without it becoming some sort of Pavlovian system. As with every other area of motherhood, I fail mightily in this one. But this I can tell you: when I genuinely praise my children for their true successes in character, they beam with joy. When I point out to them ways in which they have grown, they are so excited to realize that the Lord is making progress in their hearts.
7. We don’t tolerate whining
Compassion is not my strong suit. And while it’s yet another mothering goal of mine to be more empathetic with my children, my naturally no-nonsense personality definitely lends itself to shutting whining down quickly. Shaun is very similar in this regard, so we have a saying in our house: “Fussing never gets you what you want.” And it’s true. I don’t think we’ve ever given into a request that was presented in a whiny or entitled manner. We don’t give our kids things to “shut them up” or to make our lives easier at that moment (because it pretty much always makes things harder later on).
That said, there are mountains I’m not willing to die on. Potty training? I’ll do it when they show they’re ready, thanks. Taking the paci away? Theo has just gotten to the point where he can really deal with being told, “That is ONLY for bedtime or naps,” (he’s the only child so far who’s been interested in a paci this long, but we have had finger-suckers too), and pretty soon, after we’ve adjusted to the new house a little more, he won’t have it at all. Right now, his paci at bedtime makes my life simpler, and that simplicity itself is not necessarily a bad thing. However. He NEVER receives his paci if he demands it or asks for it in a whiny way. He is always required to be kind in his wording, no matter how tired or frustrated he is…or no dice.
8. We are really, really big on respectful speech
Speaking of asking kindly, we do please, thank you, you’re welcome, yes/no ma’am/sir from pretty much 1 year on. With near constant repetition and reminding (yup, all day, every day), by 2, our kids have it down 50% of the time. By 4, they’re pretty solid.
So what, Abbie? I mean, all you’re doing is training them to be little parrots, right?
I don’t think so.
By emphasizing kind speech and then modeling specific phrases that show respect, we are cultivating not just the mechanics of the behavior but the attitude behind it as well. (We explain how these phrases demonstrate honor to people and are a blessing to them as well).
We also quickly shut down any form of disrespectful behavior toward each other or anyone else (I don’t think it would even occur to our kids to be mouthy to any adult at this point). Even in joking form, they are not allowed to call each other names or use phrases like, “You’re not my friend anymore” or “I don’t like you.” And if they do, they are required to ask for (and give) forgiveness.
Again, it goes back to doing things “as unto the Lord.” Don’t like your sister right now? Oh well. I can’t force you to like her, but you still have to be kind in your words and actions. Because the Lord first loved us, even in our unloveliest states, we have no excuse.
The other day, I told Theo that he was “acting awful.” Not my finest mothering moment, but there had been a whole lot of pretty awful screeching and demanding going on from the backseat. His response? “No, Mama, YOU awful.”
At least a part of me wanted to laugh. I mean, I pretty much set myself up for that one, right? Plus, his scrunched up brows, puckered lips, and lisp were pretty cute. But his words and attitude were not. So, I told him that he does not get to say disrespectful words to Mama and that he had to apologize. Of course, he didn’t fully understand the word “disrespectful,” and I will be working to use more constructive terms to describe his behavior in the future. But he got the gist (because he had definitely been trying to insult me), and he hasn’t tried it since. We’ll see if it sticks.
Again, I hesitate to share all of this with you because it may sound like I am bragging that, “My kids don’t backtalk.” It’s certainly not because they’re not capable, though. But, because it’s never even been an option in our house, they don’t tend to go there at this point.
9. We are careful of what we watch/read/listen to
Another reason my kids don’t do “attitudes” is because we don’t consume media in which kids have them.
Same with profanity or ugly language.
One of my favorite “my kids” anecdotes of all time goes a little something like this:
One day at the gym, a little boy called another child a “dumbass.” Simon, who was 6 at the time, literally tackled him with his hand over his mouth and said, “We do NOT say that!”
The childcare workers told me that he didn’t seem like he was trying to hurt the kid, just full of zeal to keep him from saying anything else crude.
Here’s the best part, y’all. Simon didn’t know the word “ass” at that point. He had no clue what the compound word meant. He was just horrified at the kid’s use of “dumb!”
And therein lies the tension of “being in the world but not of it” that we try to maintain in our family.
If my goal were to guarantee that my kids never hear a curse word or suggestive song lyric, we would never go to the gym (or most restaurants or, well, much of anywhere). The other day, the girls at the gym’s front desk informed me regretfully that they’d had an incident in which a mother became very upset and dropped an F-bomb or two in front of all the kids.
Here’s the thing: as much as that didn’t thrill me, neither did it concern me too much (if for no other reason than that it was only the twins, Theo, and Honor there that day, and they’ve never heard that word).
Our goal is to use Philipians 4:8 as our guide for what we watch/read/hear. As we do, I am trusting that, with the Holy Spirit as their guide and a firm foundation in the fruits of the spirit, merely witnessing occasional profanity or immodest dress or snotty behavior or whatever will have very little effect on my children’s character. Especially as we take the time to address the heart attitude behind it.
However, a constant inundation that we invite into our home? That’s a different story.
Because from the overflow of the heart, the lips speak. And we plant things in our hearts through repetitive exposure and embracing of them (in other words, we train our hearts to love them, and, boy, does it not take much training to get our hearts to love sin).
Because of this, we are pretty picky and intentional about the movies, books, and music we consume in our house.
There have been a few times we’ve been a little more careless (and by “careless,” I mean that we had some reservations but looked up the movie on Plugged in Movie Reviews and commonsensemedia.org, and it seemed “fine”), and our kids have totally called us on it.
We mostly stick to classic and “old-school” movies, but a few weeks go, we watched the first 15 minutes of a current “kids'” movie for family movie night, and, even only half-watching from the kitchen where I was making dinner, I found myself cringing at the foolishness of the dialogue. I was about to ask Shaun to turn it off when Simon said, “You know, Mama, this is really not godly at all. He is being super disrespectful. I don’t think we should watch this.” Word, kid. (Can you tell Simon is a truth-lover?).
Because they are encouraged to use respectful speech on the daily and exposed so little to snarky, sarcastic, “comeback” laden dialogue, they are able to recognize the folly of it when they do encounter it.
(And this is from a girl who has to watch her own sarcastic tendencies on the daily).
10. We limit screen time and encourage reading
My children get 30 minutes of game play a week on our Wii. Well, the three oldest do. The younger ones get none at this point. We don’t do individual screen time at all. No tablets or phone games, unless we are making a very specific exception for vacation.
(Oh, the joy of 30 whole minutes of Mario Kart!)
Whenever we have introduced any kind of consistent individual screen time, it has fostered selfishness, competition, whining, and addictive behavior. Maybe that’s different in your house, but it just doesn’t go well in ours.
So, we’ve just done away with it all together. Even though they do get some of these privileges at grandparents’ houses, they don’t ask for it at home and are too busy doing other things all day. I’m sure this will have to be adjusted (as will everything we do) as they get older, but for now, it’s best for our family.
I usually require the three oldest to read for a minimum of 30 minutes in the afternoon, and if my children ever come to me bored (which is almost never), I give them the option to read or to help me with a chore.
We watch between 0 and 1 1/2 hours of “TV” a day (we don’t have channels or Netflix, but Peppa Pig, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, The Kratt Brothers, and Shaun the Sheep are our current go-tos on YouTube), depending on whether they’ve had laundry to do (I let them watch shows while folding as long as they actually are folding) or have been at the gym (where they almost always have a show going, which the kids usually watch at least part of).
We will never be accused of being hip at our house, but as far as I’m concerned, my children are incredibly uncool in the coolest way possible. They know very little about current trends, desirable brands, or hot games.
And I think that’s rad because I only get one chance to protect their innocence, and I choose to do that by shielding them from character-destroying influences while still making them very aware of the true evils that exist in this world.
We study other cultures. We learn Hebrew and Spanish. We read about what’s happening in Syria with ISIS’s systematic genocide of Christians and other “undesirable” people groups. We remember the Holocaust and don’t skip over the hard parts in the Bible. We read updates from Voice of the Martyrs. We don’t sugar-coat sin and death. It’s a part of this world we live in, and they are aware of it and its consequences.
So far, I am happy with how UNworldly my kids are while still being able to deal with some tough stuff (some of which I don’t feel at liberty to go into here but which has definitely given them a taste for real life hardships and hard emotional situations).
In other areas, though, I see lots of room for improvement. Both in them and me.
I haven’t figured out how to make our desire for incorporating more service projects and community outreach work in our family’s schedule.
Even with the fact that I almost never buy my children new clothes or shoes or toys (with birthdays and Christmas being almost the only exceptions), I still feel like they are too entitled (as am I).
I’d love to figure out how to foster more empathy for a hurting world in need of Jesus (in them and me). It’s just too easy to get caught up in all of this focus on training ourselves to the exclusion of truly seeing others (because the Bible does NOT say that pure and undefiled religion is well-behaved kids).
As much as we are an atypical first world family in some ways (lots of kids, lots of home businesses, DIY houses, etc.), we are typical in our love of first-world comforts. We can train ourselves out of that. I want to train us out of that.
I hope that you can hear my heart in these posts, y’all. I am all too aware of my shortcomings as a human and as a mother. I see mamas all the time that are killing it and want to pick their brains so that I, too, can excel in a certain area.
(One of the benefits of child-training? The 6-year-old gets the little ones snacks while the older boys lay flooring. Nap time for mama! Jokes, folks. Jokes).
However, as imperfect as we all are, I genuinely believe that I have remarkable kids who will be world-changing messengers of the gospel. And I know that I, by the grace of God, am the primary instrument in nurturing that.
Honestly? As many times as I fail each day, those last two sentences above should be a giant encouragement to any mama. BY THE GRACE OF GOD, I–a sinner, saved by Jesus Christ–have the privilege of having the most significant role in shaping my children into remarkable kids who, I believe, will be world-changing messengers of the gospel. A privilege which I exercise very imperfectly. But that’s the power of God’s word and his grace. And he has called me to share them with my children as I foster their hearts in discipline, in love, in word, and in deed.
I hope I can encourage you to view your role in training your children’s hearts toward the Lord as a high and holy calling. It’s pretty easy to see it as a chore (I do, sometimes) or to feel like we’re not making headway (we are!).
But we can’t grow wear of doing good! If we don’t, we WILL reap a harvest. That’s a promise.
Child-training is hard. But I bet you know what I have to say to that. Yup. Hard is not the same thing as bad. Not by a long shot.