Having young children means I have to keep them busy. When I’m keeping them busy, it’s usually at places where there are other parents trying to keep their own kids busy. All those kids and all those parents means I get to see a lot of different personalities and parenting styles. I hate to say it, but most of those parents don’t seem to have a lot of control over their children’s behavior. At home it’s not embarrassing and who knows how they handle it… but in public it’s a different story. They all seem to employ the same techniques… and none of them work the way you’d think they would.
The Technique: Dad is trying to get Billy to be good in line at Disney World. He says, “If you don’t straighten up, we won’t go swimming later!”
The Problem: Billy is six. He lives in the moment. He only knows how he feels right now… and he’s bored. Plus, he knows you’re not going to ruin the entire family’s plans. You’ve threatened before and never followed through.
The Proper Solution: Billy is bored… but that’s no excuse for bad behavior. Billy needs a time out until he can get his attitude straight. Leave the line, sit Billy down and calmly explain to him that Vacation is on hold until he can control his attitude. The moment Billy pulls it together, jump back in line. If Billy freaks because we’re now at the end of the line, explain that’s what happens when you’re not happy with what you have. If Billy freaks again… lather, rinse, repeat.
The Technique: Mindy won’t eat her McDonald’s and won’t sit still. Mom promises that we’ll get ice cream if she’ll eat her nuggets.
The Problem: Mindy is eating McDonald’s. You should never have to be bribed to eat McDonald’s. Mindy has learned that if she’s bad, she gets rewarded so she pulls this just about every time she can. Plus, she’s so focused on ice cream that she can’t possibly focus on finishing lunch. Also, Mom will probably get ice cream later anyway to keep Mindy from pitching a fit… so for Mindy, it’s a win-win.
The Proper Solution: Mindy gets a time limit. If she finishes, great. If she doesn’t she gets to see it go into the trash. If she pitches a fit, it’s nap time when we get home.
The Technique: Little Blake has lost his mind in the shopping cart because Mom walked past the toy aisle on accident and didn’t stop. Mom is embarrassed so she runs back and lets Blake pick out a toy which turns into an ordeal of it’s own.
The Problem: Like Mindy above, Blake has learned that throwing a fit gets results! He’s being rewarded for bad behavior. Plus, he’s young… and kids have a hard time making choices. Some kids enjoy whipping their parents into a frustrated frenzy. If they can’t get positive attention, they’re more than happy with manipulation.
The Proper Solution: Blake needs to be ignored. He doesn’t need a toy every time he sees one. It’ll be embarrassing. People will look at Mom like she’s being abusive… but eventually little Blake will run out of energy and accept his fate. He’ll learn that his temper gets him nothing!
The Technique: It’s time to leave Chic-Fil-A so Mom, knowing how younger sister Starla can be, sends older sister, Lisa into the playplace to get her.
The Problem: Mom is putting Lisa into an unfair position. She’s been charged with a task that is going to frustrate everyone involved. Starla isn’t going to listen. Lisa isn’t going to get the results Mom wanted. Mom’s hoping to avoid drama and she is… but only at the expense of her daughter’s stress level.
The Proper Solution: Before Starla goes to play, Mom tells her how long she’s got… and what will happen when we get home if there is a temper tantrum. When it’s almost time to go, Mom comes in to tell her she’s got 5 minutes left to play then it’s time to go. This gives Starla time to adjust and will help keep outbursts to a minimum. At one minute till Mom comes back to tell Starla to get her shoes on. If she has an outburst, Mom simply follows through with what the promised would happen once they get home. Mom is patient and doesn’t lose her temper. Eventually Starla gives up, puts on the shoes and leaves.
Even great kids lose it. The trick for parent’s is to stop caring how they’re being perceived in public. Do what needs to be done for the betterment of your child. That takes patience and self-control. If you get embarrassed and lost your temper… they’ve won.
When you think back to the special moments in your childhood, it’s the little things that were the most precious. If you had a rough time growing up, they’re even more so. One of my goals as a parent is to create as many of those special moments as possible. Below are a short list of some of the things we’re doing now. Note that none of them are very expensive or hard to do.
1. Weekly Movie Nights
This was Jenn’s idea. On Thursday or Friday night we set up blankets on the floor and eat our dinner and desert in front of a movie. We pause the movie to clean up after we’re done, then finish it up. We don’t watch a ton of TV in our house and none of it all together… so this is a special time for all of us.
2. Decorating Christmas Eve
We put up our tree and decorations after Thanksgiving like most folks… but on Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to sleep, I bust out a mess of white Christmas lights and hang them all over everything. The next morning the kids always find a single strand running from their doorway all the way through the house and to the tree where this brilliantly (gaudy) display of lights is waiting for them. To me it looks a mess… but to them it’s pure magic.
3. Daddy Dates
Taking my kids out one-on-one to a restaurant is something I do occasionally. It gives Mom a break gives the child my undivided attention. It’s also a time for me to take a different role. So much of the time I’m the comedy relief, the entertainer… this gives me a chance to talk to them and be entertained by them. Good stuff all around.
Readers of this blog are hopefully familiar with the occasional audio recordings I do with my daughter called the JennaCast. I’ve been doing them every three our four months since November 2007. Jenna was 2 years old, almost three, when we started. I’ll be doing the same with my son, if he ever gets around to talking. The podcasts give my kids a chance to share in one of my favorite pastimes. It gives them permission to ‘play’ in Daddy’s world for a while. It also provides an audio scrapbook, precious moments in time, that we can all go back and listen to years from now. I think every family should have a podcast.
5. Watching The Rain, Eating Popcorn
Of all of these… this is my personal favorite. It’s the only thing from my childhood that I’ve decided to carry on to my kids. I don’t know how many times it happened… maybe only twice, but when it would rain, my mom would lay down a blanket by the glass-sliding door and make popcorn. We’d sit there, eating popcorn, and watch the rain fall. It’s one of my favorite memories. I just remember it being so relaxing… like watching a fire burn… there was always something different to see. Not to mention the sounds. To this day an overcast day makes me feel great inside… the opposite effect it seems to have on everyone else.
What traditions have you started or carried forward with your kids? Please share yours in the comments!
It’s funny to me how I have no struggles with how to keep my kids healthy. I know to feed them good things and make sure they get plenty of sleep and such. I’m even pretty confident about how to make them smart. I read to them, play with them and make sure they have constructive activities. I even know how to make them behave. I discourage bad behavior and encourage the good. Why is it that I feel confident about the physical and mental aspects of my children… but when it comes to the spiritual side of things… I suddenly feel incapable and maybe even afraid? Can anyone out there relate?
I believe that training up a child to know their Creator is one of the most important thing a parent can do for their children. The world is full of people who have great minds, great health and even great talent… but don’t have the spiritual fortitude to stand for anything other than their own wellbeing… and watch enough VH1: Behind The Music and you’ll see how well that works out for most of them. We can take our kids to Church but their primary source of spiritual input should be their own parents. After nearly 10 years of ministry to children I have seen that my lessons only last until they leave for home, unless what I have preached is reinforcing what has already been taught and lived out in the home. What I teach will only apply in their church. What parents teach reaches everywhere, both inside and outside the home.
How do we raise up our children spiritually? Most of it is actually pretty simple… there’s only one part that can be difficult.
The Easy Stuff:
1. Read to them.
Tell your children stories from the Bible. You don’t have to read them from the Bible. Get a storybook that is age appropriate. If your children are older, let them read it to you. Discuss the stories. Ask how the characters involved felt and what they learned. Tell them how the message applies to their life.
2. Share with them.
Tell them stories of times when God was there for you. Anyone who’s spent any time trying to live right has stories of success and failure. Don’t be afraid to share those moments with your child. I don’t think spelling out dark details of your past is healthy… but keep your sharing age appropriate and your children will see how your relationship with God has shaped the family they’re a part of.
3. Involve them.
Church is important. The older your child is the more important you will find it will become. Children have four main sources for friends: their neighborhood, school, church and activities. Where do you want the majority of their friends to come from? When you consider that Middle School and High School students put more trust in their friend’s opinions then their own parents’, then you will probably want those friends to have similar moral standards to your own. Find a church that cares about families and offers programs that provide opportunities for children to grow in their faith, character and dedication. I’m also a fan of churches who allow families to worship together once in a while. Kids learn by imitation. They can’t learn how to worship from you if they never see you worship.
The Harder Stuff:
4. Live out your faith.
The number one reason most families don’t discipline properly or raise spiritual children is because the parents are not disciplined or spiritual themselves. They know it’s ridiculous to expect behavior from their children when they aren’t modeling it themselves. Raising up children is like duplicating yourself. In many ways children will become what you are now. They will do what you say for only so long… then they’ll do what they see you do. Is your life worth duplicating? If not, work on that. Even if you struggle, it’s a better example than not trying to live for God at all. The only way you can really do it wrong is to quit.
5. Hold them accountable.
Living a life of faith requires living by a set of Godly standards. There is no reason to have them if we don’t enforce them. This is where proper discipline comes in. Proper discipline isn’t always punishment… it’s not trying to make a child be well behaved. It’s training up a child to become a person who prefers good choices over bad, who prefers Godly ways over sinful ones. When we model a Godly life, they get to share the benefits of obedience with you. When we properly punish bad choices we help them see the consequences of sin.
6. Let them choose.
The hardest thing a parent will ever do is let their child go to make their own way in the world. The Bible has a promise that we can trust in. It says that if we show our children the way they should go, then they are older they will go that way. That’s why it’s so important to model our faith for them. We’ll always be parents… but there will be a point where we are no longer parenting. We have to sit back and hope that what we invested in them will carry them through. I will never assume that my child will become a Christian. I will never force it on either of them. I will model a life dedicated to Christ and trust that if it is real, it will be attractive to them.
This article doesn’t have all the answers. It’s not really a how-to. This is simply a call to parents who may not have considered the importance of this aspect of their children’s lives. It’s also an attempt to take the ‘weirdness’ out of investing spiritually into our kids. I’d love it if you would share your feedback and tips on weaving faith into your own children’s lives.