[From Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
So parents, here’s the scoop on tantrums:
They’re your fault.
Okay, okay, so maybe my toddlerdom contributes to them a teensy-weensy bit, but seriously…
You with the obsession with brushing teeth and bedtimes and matching clothes, enough already! Does it ever even occur to you that there’s another person (Yes, I am an actual separate person from you. Remember that whole cutting of the umbilical cord thing?) who might have an opinion about what goes in my mouth or when I’m tired or not or what I want to wear?
And you, the one who thinks carrots and kale are food. Really? You have all kinds of opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t, but I’m not allowed to have any?
And don’t even get me started on the rush-rush, hurry-up craziness that has me being snatched up in the middle of my most fantastic block tower ever and strapped into a torture device (Btw, where’s your carseat?!?) and dragged from one place to another right through snack time. I can’t have an agenda? Don’t my interests mean anything?
Okay, so maybe I don’t know everything yet, but how am I going to learn if you just force these issues instead of communicating with me about things? That whole learning by osmosis thing (a.k.a. passive learning) didn’t work for you in college, and it won’t work with me, either.
You keep going on and on and ooooon about wanting me to listen. “Why won’t you listen?” “If you’d listen for once!” “Would you just listen to me?!?” I’ve got three words for you…
Two. Way. Street.
Maybe instead of that whole failed learning by osmosis experiment you keep trying (You do know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, right? Okay, okay, just checking!) you could read the research and find out that I learn by active engagement (two-way conversation!) and imitation. Yep, that’s right. I learn from what you do, not just what you say.
So here’s the deal…
Want me to learn to listen? Then listen to me. Listen and respond to my cries when I’m a baby. Listen and reply to my babbling attempts at talking when I’m a toddler. Listen to my whining and respond patiently when I’m a preschooler. (I know it’s annoying, but whining is my last step, kind of like your ‘last nerve’ you complain I’m stomping on, before I have a meltdown. It’s my last-ditch effort to hold on to the tiny bit of self-control I’ve learned so far in my short life!) Listen and actually pay attention (a.k.a eye contact!) to my endless stories about snails when I’m in middle childhood and to my endless complaints and dramas when I’m in my teen years.
Want me to learn respect? Then show me respect. Show me that you respect my personal space by explaining the things you’re doing to me like changing my diaper or strapping me into a carseat. Show me that you respect others by not talking about them behind their backs (Yes, I can and do hear you!) or yelling at them on the road. Show me that you respect my opinions by asking for them and accommodating them when you can. (I know you won’t always be able to, but the times you do will help me to accept the times you can’t.)
Want me to learn compassion? Then show me compassion. Respond kindly and gently when I’m upset or angry or just out-of-sorts. Stay close when my emotions overwhelm me and I have a meltdown moment. (I need your presence and compassion the most when I seem to deserve it or even want it the least!) And model compassion by treating others kindly in front of me.
Want me to learn self-control? (This is a big one!) Then show me self-control. Take a parental time-out when you get tired or overwhelmed or angry so I learn how to handle those big emotions. Count to ten and take some deep breaths instead of yelling or hitting. And pace yourself in this big world. I need to learn that it’s okay to take care of myself and not feel like I have to fill every moment with plans and schedules and agendas. I’ll learn that from watching you choose wisely from the many opportunities and pressures life will offer.
Okay, so to wrap this up. My tantrums don’t just come out of nowhere. They are the result of tiredness, hunger, frustration, anger, etc. You can prevent them, or at least minimize them, by keeping me fed and rested, by paying attention to my preferences, interests, and attempts to communicate, and by communicating kindly and patiently with me about upcoming changes or things I might not like. And keep in mind, I’m always watching and absorbing everything that goes on around me, so make sure you’re living what you want me to learn!
[Portions reprinted from Gentle Discipline: Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
“Although the evidence against spanking is in the form of correlations (not direct causal proof), the effect is more robust than for the correlations that have served as the basis for other public health interventions, such as secondhand smoke and cancer, exposure to lead and IQ scores in children, and exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer.” (Scientific America)
Yes, you read that right. There is less evidence linking secondhand smoke to cancer, lead exposure to developmental delays in children, and asbestos to cancer than there is of the short and long-term detrimental effects of spanking. Study after study has confirmed that spanking (not just physical abuse, but any physical act of correction-smacking, hitting, swatting, slapping, paddling, switching, etc.) is directly linked to greater aggression and other behavioral issues, impaired cognitive development, and increased risk of depression and anxiety in childhood as well as long-term mental issues in adulthood. (See research here) And yet the American public is still reluctant to dismiss the physical punishment of children as an option for parents and school systems.
It is not unusual for public opinion to evolve slowly. Until recent years husbands hitting their spouses in the US was considered “reasonable chastisement of wives” and “a private family matter” by the courts and by law enforcement even though it has technically been against the law in all fifty states for decades. Now domestic violence in the US is viewed with outrage and abusers with disdain.
While the tide is ever-so-slowly turning regarding public opinion of the physical punishment of children, in excess of 80% of Americans still believe spanking is a necessary part of raising a child according to a survey cited by a UN report. And in the 19 US states where corporal punishment is still legal in the public school system, wooden paddles are used on children as young as preschool, and parents’ permission and/or notification is not even required. By contrast, in every branch of the US military and in the US penal system, physical punishment has long been outlawed as it was deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ and a ’use of excessive force.’
Clearly there is a disconnect when it comes to physical punishment of the most vulnerable and defenseless of our citizens, our children. Even in the face of study after study detailing the detrimental effects of physical punishment on young children, more than 90% of American parents still admit to spanking their toddlers and preschoolers. The responses to a recently released study linking a significantly increased risk of mental illness in adulthood to being spanked as a child point to some possible reasons for that dichotomy:
- ”I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, but why take the risk?
- “I don’t want to raise a rotten brat!” Studies link spanking to increased aggression and other behavioral issues, not decreased.
- “I spank my kids because the Bible commands me to.” Spanking is not one of the Ten Commandments. (See here)
- “They’re my kids, and nobody has the right to tell me how to raise them!” Our laws are civil agreements as to what is and is not acceptable in our society. We once agreed that slavery was acceptable. Now we know better, and our laws reflect that. As research continues to reveal the detrimental effects of spanking, public opinion will begin to shift and our laws will naturally follow suit. It is the way of a democratic society.
- ”Nothing else works!” Thoughtful, proactive parenting works. Here are some positive parenting ideas to try.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of parents not only deeply love their children, but are also making the best parenting decisions they know how to with the information and experiences they have to work with. That is why it is vital that the discussion and flow of information remain open and civil when it comes to spanking. Change does not come easily, but to happen at all it must have an atmosphere of honest, open communication in which to blossom.
Life with kids is messy. Just ask God. He’s got a whole planet of them, and the scrapes they get themselves into are the stuff of legends, literally! Luckily for us, He’s the best. parent. ever.
That’s one of the things I like best about Easter, celebrating the Original Gentle Parent, the Author of Intentional Parenting, Unconditional Love in Person, and I love sharing and implementing what I learn from His example.
I had a perfect opportunity to implement some of that gentle, intentional, unconditional parenting last night when I headed into the kitchen to color Easter eggs with a clingy, tired baby on one hip and an over-excited six-year-old dancing around my legs, only to find a tidal wave of sudsy bubbles exploding from every crevice of my dishwasher and covering my newly cleaned floor. My Renaissance Girl had used dishwashING liquid instead of dishwashER liquid…sigh.
Now, just to set the stage, we have a home church and, in anticipation of the extra family and friends we were expecting for the Easter service, I had spent the entire day cleaning and scrubbing and organizing and still had more cleaning and setting up to do as well as coloring eggs and settling little ones in bed for the night before filling Easter baskets.
So I stood there, staring at the billowing disaster and adding a slew of new tasks to my already too-long list, and winged a quick prayer up to my Role Model. Then I threw down a towel levee, plopped my little people down for a good old bubble romp, and grabbed my camera. Disaster-misaster, what we had was a fun Easter memory in the making!
That Old Rugged Cross on a lonely hill is a testimony to triumph…life conquering death, good conquering evil, hope conquering fear…justice served and grace given. And that Empty Tomb we celebrate isn’t about death. It’s about life…messy, muddled, mysterious, mistake-ridden life, the kind we live every day…even Easter!
[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
~~Who are you raising, parents, Pinky or The Brain?~~
Steven Spielberg’s short-lived spinoff of the popular Animaniacs series in the 1990’s was a farcical tale of two mice and their ill-fated attempts to take over the world of men. The Brain was a maniacal manipulator and dastardly deceiver who plotted endless ways and means to get what he wanted. Pinky, by contrast, was a guileless and childlike mouse, who continually foiled his counterpart’s plans with his trusting and good-natured ways.
The Brain…master manipulator, diabolical deceiver, cunning conniver.
Pinky…innocent ingénue, naïve neophyte, artless amateur.
Both small, both mice…mirror images, one evil, one good.
So, parents, are you raising Pinky or The Brain? A sweet, innocent child or a cunning, manipulative liar? It’s vital that you decide, because your perception of who your child is and what motivates them will influence not only your attitude toward your child, but your response to your child as well.
“My two-year-old is a little dictator.”
“That kid is going to be a handful when she grows up.”
“My newborn pitches a fit when I change him.”
“Gotta go. The brat needs me.”
“My six-month-old is so stubborn.”
“Here comes trouble.”
“She’s spoiled rotten.”
“My two-year-old is a little genius.”
“That girl is going to be somebody special when she grows up.”
“My newborn cries when I change him, poor little guy.”
“Gotta go. My little angel needs me.”
“My six-month-old is so smart.”
“Here comes my little man.”
“My little lady knows what she wants.”
Look at the contrast in descriptive phrases: little dictator, a handful, pitches a fit, brat, stubborn, trouble, spoiled rotten…little genius, somebody special, poor little guy, little angel, smart, little man, little lady. Let’s face it, parents, we’re human. And, as humans, we are far more likely to respond kindly to someone who we see in a positive light. No one likes to feel used or lied to or manipulated, and the words we use to characterize our children’s behavior not only reveal what our feelings are toward our children themselves, but also will strongly influence our responses to them.
- A baby cries in the night. The parent who hears the cry as communicating a need will respond quickly and consistently. The parent who hears the cry as angling for attention will likely ignore the cries.
- A toddler has a meltdown. The parent who sees a small child overwhelmed by big emotions and unable to articulate his needs will respond with empathy. The parent who sees a stubborn little dictator pitching a fit because he didn’t get his own way will typically ignore or punish the toddler.
- A preschooler complains of a stomach ache every morning before being dropped off at daycare. The parent who hears a vulnerable child with limited language skills trying, in the only way she can, to express the loneliness and anxiety she feels at the daily separation will respond with understanding and comfort. The parent who hears a lie and feels manipulated will likely react with anger or impatience.
- A child comes home from school and has a meltdown when asked if he has any homework. The parent who sees a little person overwhelmed and struggling will respond with compassion and assistance. The parent who sees a lazy spoiled brat will typically react with yelling and demands.
- A teenager screams, “You don’t understand me!” The parent who hears the hurt and need behind the words will stop talking and start listening. The parent who hears rebellion and disrespect will likely respond with anger or a lecture.
Parents around the world and across the ages have listened to the cry of a baby, coped with a toddler’s meltdown, confronted a child’s will, and faced an adolescent’s attitude, and in each and every case the motivation that the parents attributed to the behavior has been the single most determining factor in the parents’ response. But the impact of the parents’ perception is even more powerful than just a momentary appropriate or inappropriate response.
Hear this carefully, parents…Who you think you are raising is who you will raise.
If you call a child a liar often enough, they will become deceptive. If you treat a child like they are manipulating you often enough, they will become conniving. If you label a child a spoiled brat, they will become impudent and rebellious.
By the same token, if you treat a child like a priceless gift, your own special angel to care for until they spread their wings and fly out on their own one day, they will become a blessing, not only to you, but to the world.
So who are you raising, parents, Pinky or The Brain? A sweet, innocent child or a cunning, manipulating liar? Remember, who you think you’re raising is who you will raise!
You entered your teen years with a bang a few years ago, and the explosions have been shattering our home ever since. I’ve begged, threatened, and bribed; cried, shouted, and bargained; but I just can’t find a way to reach you anymore. You constantly say I don’t listen to you, but how can I when you won’t talk to me? You say I don’t understand you, but how can I when you push me away? You say we aren’t a family, but then spend every day with earphones in your ears, blocking us out. You ask me why I hate you, then roll your eyes when I tell you I love you. How did it come to this? We used to be such a happy family. Please, let me be there for you during this huge transition in your life. Let’s really try to communicate with each other. I’m just lost here, honey, and I need you to reach out and help me reconnect with you. I love you.
Happy family? Are you kidding me? No, I guess not. You never did get it. Okay, you asked, so I’ll tell you. You were always happy because you were always in control. Want to know why I don’t talk to you now? Because you never listened when I was little. When I was scared in my room at night and called you, you either ignored me or threatened to spank me if I didn’t go to sleep. I’d lay there, crying so hard I’d almost throw up, terrified of the sounds and shadows in my room, but even more terrified of you. So, sorry, but I don’t buy that you’re ‘there for me’ when it’s only ever been at your own convenience. When you were mad at something I’d done and I tried to explain myself, you’d call it backtalk and smack me in the mouth. So forgive me if I don’t really believe you when you say you want to ‘communicate’ with me now. When I’d try to show you a dance I’d made up or tell you about how someone had pushed me on the playground, you couldn’t even be bothered to look away from your stupid computer while I was talking, so if I’m wrapped up in my electronics, I learned that little trick from you, father dear. Oh, and ‘reconnect’? Really? That implies that we were once connected. But when I was a little girl and invited you into my world and asked you to play with me, you were always too busy. So if you don’t understand me, sorry, but that invitation expired years ago. Want to know why I think you hate me? Because your actions told me so. Your ‘love’ is just words.
Parents, you’re building your relationship with your teens while they’re still toddlers. Listen always. Respond gently, quickly, empathetically. Laugh and smile and hug and play. Give them your undivided attention. When they invite you into their world, it’s a huge deal to them, and how you respond will set the tone for your future relationship. Accept and enjoy! This season of their lives is as short as they are, but its impact will last a lifetime.
[Reprinted with permission from the introduction to The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
Challenging behavior in our children can be really…well, challenging! How do you ‘handle’ a child who suddenly refuses to wear shoes or sit in her carseat/seatbelt or eat, period? Here are some tips to help you regain that snuggly, loving relationship you used to enjoy before your baby became a…shudder…PERSON!
1.) Remove the word ‘handle’ from your parenting vocabulary entirely. Your child isn’t a lion to be tamed or a dog to be trained! He’s a person, an individual with thoughts, interests, concerns, wants, and needs that are totally separate from yours. Respecting him as a separate individual not only models the value we need to place on others in our homes and communities, but also sets the stage for a mutually respectful relationship in his teen years and beyond.
2.) Slow down! Often simplifying our lives is the key to simplifying our parenting issues. Rushing a child from one activity to the next doesn’t expand her horizons; it stunts her creativity and inherent zest for life, which are the building blocks of a life-long love of learning. When she digs her heels in, pay attention! She’s trying to communicate a very deep need for time and space to learn about the world, to play and grow, and to just ‘be.’
3.) Small children have very little control over their lives, and the more powerless they feel, the more likely they are to make eating, getting dressed, going to the potty, etc. a battle of wills. Giving choices, engaging your child in making plans, and being flexible and responsive on a daily basis are good ‘proactive’ parenting, but little people are notorious for their awkward timing in deciding to suddenly assert their independence! Be prepared for those challenging moments by deciding ahead of time how you will respond. (See below for some ideas!)
4.) Listen, listen, listen! The first question parents ask me is almost always, “How do I get my child to listen?” And my first response is usually, “How well do you listen?” As Ralph Waldo Emerson so aptly put it, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” In other words, our children learn best by imitation. If every time our little ones ask for our attention we say, “Just a minute,” then we cannot expect instant attention from them. If when they speak to us our eyes constantly stray back to our computers and iphones, we should not be surprised if they have a hard time looking at us when we ask them to. Listening is a two-way street that starts and ends with us, the adults.
5.) Boundaries are our friends! Many people believe that Gentle Parenting is a form of un-parenting, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gentle Parenting is involved parenting~interactive, engaged, active parenting. It takes focused attention, planning, participation, research, and so much more to be an empathetic, responsive parent who is in tune with their child’s needs and who is prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to meet those needs. That said, in any home, like in any civilized society, boundaries are necessary for everyone’s safety and comfort. It is in the choosing and enforcing of those boundaries that Gentle Parenting distinguishes itself. In a Gently Parented home, boundaries are focused on guiding rather than controlling children and are enforced through empathetic and creative resolutions rather than harsh punitive consequences. (See below for some ideas!)
6.) Watch your attitude! Do you have angry eyes? A sharp tone? Do you issue commands and demand compliance? Do you sigh and roll your eyes when frustrated with your little one? All of these things contribute to creating resistance in children. Really, who wants to cooperate with someone who is demanding, impatient, sarcastic, angry, etc? Does feeling like a burden or a failure ever motivate anyone? Is a desire to please rooted in correction or connection? Think about how you like to be treated by authority figures (supervisors, law enforcement, etc.) and then treat your children the way you want to be treated! This not only reduces challenging behavior, but also models The Golden Rule~Do to others as you want them to do to you…an excellent life lesson!
Here are some ideas for your Gentle Parenting toolbox:
- Little one refusing to put on shoes before leaving the house? First, ask him why he doesn’t want to wear them. A toddler most likely won’t be able to/want to explain, but you’re modeling courtesy and opening up a dialogue, both good connection points. A three year old, though, might just surprise you with a very logical, in their own mind at least, response! Second, don’t react; just scoop the shoes up, and take them with you. If the refusal to wear shoes continues at the park/in the library/at the doctor’s office, etc. calmly tell him he can sit in your lap or in the stroller and hang out with you until he’s ready to wear his shoes.
- If a tantrum results, remember to stay calm (deep breathing, counting silently, and saying a quick prayer for guidance are all helpful!) and remain present. Some children respond well to a parent quietly talking, offering words to express what the child may be experiencing (i.e. “It’s frustrating when we have to do things we don’t like. I can see that you’re angry, and that’s okay. Let’s just sit here together for awhile.”), while other children become more upset when a parent attempts to interact with them during a tantrum and are comforted simply by your quiet presence, a gentle back rub, or playing with a Calm-Me-Jar . Getting to know your child is an important part of Gentle Parenting and will help you to ‘read’ these situations so you can be responsive to their unique needs.
- A place for Time-Outs. Typically, I advise parents to use Time-Ins instead of Time-Outs in order to connect-to-correct, but there is one area that I advise the use of Time-Outs…the ‘Time-Out Toy Box!’ When a toy is misused (i.e. thrown, used to hit, drawn on, fought over, etc) and a gentle redirection has been given, the next step for the toy is to be put in the ‘Time-Out Toy Box.’ Little ones generally find the concept of a toy being put in Time-Out rather humorous and go along with the removal without a fuss (the toy can be returned after an exaggeratedly stern warning to the toy letting it know what is expected of it and that it must listen to ‘the boss’ ~the child, lol. They love that!), but remember to communicate, listen, and be flexible. If the removal of a toy brings about a strong negative response, it may be that the inappropriate behavior was more than just over-exuberance, in which case a Time-In might be needed. Again, being in tune with your child will help you to ‘read’ the situation and respond appropriately.
- The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! It is often the strongest-willed children who identify most closely with their parents, oddly enough. While there is no denying how difficult it can be to raise a strong-willed child, seeing the purpose behind the behavior can make the journey much more manageable. Try to view their seemingly constant testing as them doing ‘research’ on you, seeing where your strengths and weaknesses are, and discovering all the ins and outs of being you. Also, taking the time to explain why you make the decisions you do, why you said this, why you didn’t say that, answering the endless questions patiently and openly, can alleviate some of the challenging behavior by offering them insights into who you are without them having to ‘dig’ it out of you!
[Reprinted from Gentle Parenting: A Christian Perspective due to be released in 2014; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Throughout the Old Testament, He spoke through prophets, dreams, angels, and even a bush! He revealed His character in His commandments and in the Names He called Himself and in His interactions with that lovely, stubborn, chosen nation, Israel.
And, finally, in the New Testament, He just stuck His feet right in the dirt and somehow stuffed His infinite Being into the skin of a human.
GOD. With. Us!
Why in Heaven’s Name would He do that? Well, that’s been the subject of dusty tomes and esoteric debates for centuries, but in truth the answer is very simple: God is a Father, a Daddy who wants to connect with and build a relationship with His children.
In the Old Testament God revealed Himself as a Father who is Creator, Provider, and Protector. He showed Himself to be an involved Father, interested in every detail of His children’s lives, from what they ate to how and where and when they worshiped Him. And He revealed His purity, His incomprehensible Holiness that kept His beloved children hopelessly separated from Him and helpless to change that fact. All the rules for cleansing, all the rituals, and all the formulas, only served to highlight the pitiful fallen state of God’s beloved children.
And that ritualistic, external, temporal cleansing? It became internal and eternal.
Stones once thrown in righteous judgment were laid down in humble mercy. Punishment was replaced with grace as Righteousness Himself stood between sinful man and his dire fate.
And so we have Jesus, God Himself with us in the flesh, God’s heart in a very literal sense laid bare for all the world to see, the perfect Parent to model ourselves after.
We have the Father…not a father, but THE Father…to look to for guidance on how to parent our children.
So, let’s get practical. What does God’s parenting look like, and how can we model ourselves after Him?
Well, Jesus raised twelve children, so let’s take a look at how He did it!
Twelve of God’s children, all with different personalities, backgrounds, and talents, became Jesus’ disciples. The word disciple is the root word in discipline, so to discipline our children means to disciple them.
What characteristics defined Jesus’ discipleship? In other words, how did He treat His disciples? Was He harsh? Did He yell? Did He punish them? Clearly, He had the authority to. But since He came to take our punishment, it really wouldn’t make sense for Him to start meting it out, would it?
Was He distant, unresponsive to their needs? Did He make demands, insist on instant obedience, and toss around kingly commands?
No, no, no, and no! Jesus treated His disciples gently, tenderly. He listened. He responded to their needs, answered their questions, spoke their language. Jesus encouraged and guided and taught His disciples.
He drew them close to Himself, lived with them, ate with them, traveled with them. Jesus didn’t just say He loved His disciples. He didn’t simply feel love for His disciples. Jesus lived love for His disciples. And He lived that love daily, mercifully, sacrificially.
So, what are the characteristics that defined Jesus’ discipleship?
Gentle. Tender. Responsive. Available.
Listening. Encouraging. Teaching. Guiding.
God, Himself, intimately and empathetically connecting with His children.
That is perfect parenting.
I, however, am NOT a perfect parent. In the time it’s taken me to write this so far, I’ve failed at pretty much every single one of those perfect parenting qualities. I only say that to point out that we aren’t shooting for perfection here.
If perfection were possible, the Cross wouldn’t have been necessary.
I have failed and will fail again as a parent. But even my failures have great value because they lead me back to the Cross, time and time again.
My failures remind me to turn to my perfect Parent, God, and trust Him with my children. And my failures offer me the opportunity to be transparent with my children, to ask for forgiveness, to show them it’s okay to be human and make mistakes.
In short, my imperfections are perfect for demonstrating God’s unconditional love. I call this particular parenting ‘technique,’ for want of better wording, “If you mess up, ‘fess up!”
So, what are some ways we can reflect Christ-like qualities in our never-perfect-but-best-effort parenting?
1.) Build your relationship. Everything, absolutely everything in raising children, is dependent upon a secure parent/child relationship, and the foundation is trust. We talk all the time in Christian circles about needing to trust God more. Why? What’s so important about trust? Trust is the secure knowledge that we will be cared for, that the person we are dependant on is who they say they are and will do what they say they will do. Without trust, there is no relationship. You build trust in your children starting from day one by responding faithfully and quickly to their needs, day or night, even if their ‘need’ is simply reassurance that you’re there.
2.) Be there in the moment. This isn’t about quality time or quantity time. This is about actually being with your children when you’re with them. I’m talking about muting the television and making sustained eye contact all the way through the story of how they had the piece of string first and how it was taken by a sibling when they only set it down for a minute and…well, you get the picture. Jesus showed He cared by listening and responding to what was important and relevant to His children.
3.) Encourage, don’t discourage. Jesus built up His disciples, giving positive directions, allowing time and opportunity for them to try, helping when they needed it, and forgiving them when they failed. Never, not once, did He lash out at His disciples in anger. He taught them gently and encouragingly, often in stories that related to their daily lives, and He was always available to discuss or clarify or answer questions.
4.) Practice what you preach. This is foundational, right along with trust. If you don’t live out how you want your children to turn out, you can be pretty much guaranteed they’ll go an entirely different way! Listen to your children if you want them to learn to listen. Respect your children if you want them to learn respect. Model compassion, kindness, honesty, forgiveness, and a grateful spirit if you want your children to grow into adults with those character traits. Jesus lived out every one of those qualities for His children!
5.) Don’t make excuses. If you fail (and you will) apologize! Nothing penetrates hurt more deeply and with more healing power than an honest, open apology.
6.) Give grace. The unconditional love of God is beyond human comprehension. Even ‘veteran’ Christians resort to trying to earn God’s grace when they’ve already been given it freely. We all fall into that trap, time and again, because we just can’t wrap our little human brains around something as awesomely simple as unconditional love. We think it MUST be more complicated, and we end up complicating it by trying to pay for something that is free! So help your children while they’re looking to you, their earthly parent, for an example of how their Heavenly Parent operates. Give them grace. Guide them gently. Forgive them when they fall, and get down on their level to help them back up again.
7.) Enjoy your blessings. Your children are a reward, a blessing, a gift straight from the heart of your Father to you, His precious child. He wants you to feel what He feels, to experience Him through your children. He wants you to delight in your children so you’ll understand how He delights in you. He wants you to feel the depth of concern He feels when you stray into danger, the heights of joy He feels when you run trustingly into His arms, the pangs of compassion He feels when you are hurting or scared. Take the time to enjoy your children, and you will find yourself closer to the heart of your Father than you can possibly imagine!
Sometimes little people need a visual to help them grasp abstract subjects. When tackling subjects like attitude, gratitude, giving, and forgiving, it can be difficult to translate explanations into concrete language a child can understand. Here are some ideas on taking the abstract into the concrete:
Blessings Jar Ideas
1.) Attitude issues~Cut out some pictures from magazines of things representing your child’s blessings (pets, friends, family, home, food, the park, etc) and keep them in the Blessings Jar. When your little one is having problems appreciating their blessings, let them dig around in the Blessings Jar and find three blessings to share with you. Bonus: Modeling good life habits such as focusing on the positives in life and remembering to share our gratitude for the good things in life with the source of those good things!
2.) Sibling and/or cooperation issues~Next to the Blessings Jar, keep a small bowl with game pieces such as Operation or Perfection or some other game with lots of pieces. Let your children know that every time you see them cooperating with each other (sibling issues) or with you (cooperation issues) they’ll get to put a game piece in the Blessings Jar, and when all the pieces are in the jar you will all play the game together as a family. When you play the game, talk about how difficult it would be to enjoy the game if any of the pieces were missing and how it’s the same way with family…everyone matters and working together makes the ‘game’ more fun for everyone! Note: The novelty wears off quickly if used to control behavior (i.e. as a reward system) instead of as an occassional object lesson or fun family activity.
[Sometimes us parents are the ones in need of an attitude adjustment! Here are some ideas on shifting gears when our little blessings begin to feel more like huge burdens.]
1.) Keep a bowl of little glass jewels like you’d find at a craft store next to the Blessings Jar and every time you ‘catch’ your child doing something kind or thoughtful, let them put a jewel in the Blessings Jar. (Make sure you ‘catch’ them often!) At the end of the day, count the blessings with your little one and sing the ‘Count Your Blessings’ song as part of your bedtime routine.
2.) If you’re feeling overwhelmed with life in general and parenting in particular, use the Blessings Jar to help you refocus on your own blessings. Keep a little notepad next to the Blessings Jar and write down one of your blessings every time you feel like you’re about to lose it. At the end of the day, pull out the blessings and share them with the whole family and write down any they’d like to add, then pray together as a family and thank God for all of your blessings. (Keeping these and pulling them out at the end of the year to make a Blessings Yearbook/Scrapbook would be a fun family tradition, too!)
Uh-Oh Jar Ideas
1.) Teaching children about forgiveness can be a challenge, especially when parents often feel the need to punish them for every mistake or bad choice they make. Giving our children the grace and forgiveness we’ve been given is the first and most vital step in teaching forgiveness. To reinforce that lesson, put a bowl of blank scraps of paper next to an Uh-Oh Jar. Every time your little one misbehaves, lies, etc, write what they did on one of the scraps and ask them to ball up the paper and put it in the Uh-Oh Jar. At the end of the day, ask them if they know what forgiveness is. After letting them try to answer, remind them that all day long they’ve been putting papers with their mistakes written on them in the Uh-Oh Jar. Then, one by one, pull out the papers, unfold them, erase the writing, and throw them away. Tell them that forgiveness is erasing someone’s mistakes and letting it go just like you erased their mistakes and threw the papers away!
2.) Another use for an Uh-Oh Jar is to fill it with scraps of paper with good choices written on them. (i.e. Play with playdoh. Color a picture. Build a block city. etc) When your little ones are are getting into things, fighting, and just generally making ’uh-oh’ choices, let them pick a good choice from the Uh-Oh Jar to redirect them.
“Spare the Rod…”
[Reprinted from Gentle Parenting: A Christian Perspective due to be released in 2014; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
One of the hot-button issues when it comes to discipline and children is spanking, and the more Christian and conservative the audience, the more hot the debate becomes. And yet there are no verses in the New Testament that support spanking, smacking, whipping, or otherwise hitting children.
In the Old Testament there are a total of five verses that have been interpreted to encourage, or even command, the use of physical punishment on children. All five of those verses are in the book of Proverbs.
There have been many books, papers, articles, etc. written debating the interpretation of those verses, so I won’t take the time to go into the linguistics other than to mention that the word translated ‘child’ and ‘children’ in those Old Testament verses, when literally translated, means ‘young man.’ (Note: This is not a translation error, simply a language barrier in that, while the original languages of the Bible~Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek~have many words for the same thing, each with a different specific meaning, in English we just have one word for child, so that one word must suffice for my ’small child,’ my ’adolescent child,’ my ’young adult child,’ etc.) So a very literal interpretation of the Bible in those verses means that when a young man stubbornly refuses all other corrective measures, then the punishment of the culture at that time was a lashing. So, applying these scriptures tochildren is not in line with a literal interpretation. It would actually make more sense to apply them to the disciples!
The main issue, though, that seems to get lost in the debate is that Jesus brought grace and mercy as His methods and message for a reason. The purpose of the law in the Old Testament was to highlight the need for a Savior because man simply cannot live perfectly.
Jesus came to fulfill the outward requirements of the law that highlighted man’s sinful nature and replace them with an inner heart change. He demonstrated in many ways that the law (outer governance and control through fear of punishment) was no longer to be a rigid yoke with its heavy burden of cleansing and rituals and sacrifices and punishments, but instead was to be a kingdom of the heart, of mercy not sacrifice, because the sacrifice was Himself!
Jesus stopped the people from stoning the prostitute (which was a command in the Old Testament).
He healed people and traveled on the Sabbath (punishable by death in the Old Testament).
He consorted with ‘sinners’ and ate with them (despite the commands in Proverbs, the same book in the Bible with the ‘rod’ scriptures).
He showed again and again that if we accept Him as our Savior, we are called to be “ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
We accept that Jesus brought a new and better way, a way of the heart (“Not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3b), but don’t seem to want to acknowledge that better way with our children.
We accept God’s grace and forgiveness for ourselves, but often don’t share those gifts with, and model them for, our children.
But we are our children’s first taste of God. Is it any wonder people have such a hard time understanding grace and mercy and unconditional love when they may not have been taught those things by their earthly parents and don’t exercise them with their own children?
Through Jesus’ sacrifice, He tore open the veil dividing man from God and brought a new kingdom, a kingdom of inner governance through the Holy Spirit who’s fruits are “peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Nowhere does Jesus say to follow Him except when it comes to our children. He doesn’t say to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone except our children. The Bible doesn’t tell us to show the Fruit of the Spirit to everyone except our children.
If we truly believe that, based on five verses in the Old Testament that may not even be interpreted correctly, we are being disobedient to God’s commands if we don’t spank our children, then we must take that belief and walk it out fully.
In other words, if we must obey that supposed command, then we must obey all the other commands such as an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers (but don’t we teach forgiveness?), and we shouldn’t feed the homeless because “if a man doesn’t work, neither shall he eat” (but aren’t we supposed to be the heart and hands of Jesus?), and we shouldn’t give Christmas shoeboxes of goodies to prisoners’ children because “the sins of the father are visited on the children” (but isn’t the “kingdom of heaven made up of such as these”?)
My point is summed up in this verse: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) In other words, if you feel bound by those five verses, then you must be bound by all.
If you truly believe that those five verses have been interpreted correctly and that “spare the rod, spoil the child” (Note: There is no verse in the Bible that says ”spare the rod, spoil the child.” That phrase is actually from a satirical poem called Hudibras by Samuel Butler first published in 1662.) refers to an actual physical rod (instead of a symbol of guidance and loving correction…i.e. discipleship) and that the word used for ‘child’ refers to a person under the age of eighteen (instead of the actual linguistic translation meaning ‘young man’), then so be it.
But do you really believe that Jesus’ New Covenant is for everyone except children? That grace, mercy, unconditional love, and forgiveness are for adults only?
The disciples made that mistake, and Jesus said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Up next in ~A September to Remember~ is The Peaceful Housewife with a ‘vintage post’ about modeling grace in our parenting. Lovely!
~~~To the Time Out Corner!~~~
As I’ve blogged about previously, we are on a new journey into grace based discipline in our house. I am learning so much about Christ from my children and about parenting my children from Christ. I am seeking to model my parenting from how my heavenly Father parents me. He is, after all, the ultimate parental figure.
In grace based parenting, your connection with your child is foremost. As a result of that connection and the relationship you build with your child, true loving obedience is born. This seemed strange to me at first, as one of the suggestions you often see is time-in’s, or loving your child during the undesirable behavior rather than sending them away to sit by themselves as punishment for their behavior. Sending them to time out can send the message that you will not love them or be connected to them if their behavior doesn’t please you.
In reflecting on this, I wonder if that’s part of why so many people are codependent. I also think that’s part of why I struggle with understanding how Christ can love me with my character defects. The manner in which I discipline, or disciple, my children teaches them about Christ and His love. I have a very sobering responsibility to ensure that I model Christ’s actual love and correction rather than a skewed version that is overly heavy on punishment or on grace.
So I asked myself how Christ corrects me when I am sinful. He convicts me and speaks to me gently but firmly, and then He waits for me to ask for forgiveness and make amends. He never breaks His fellowship with me or throws a tantrum. He doesn’t lash out at me in anger. He always has the end result in mind – when I am made perfect and whole in Him when my life here is done. He doesn’t demand that I apologize when I don’t yet fully understand why what I’ve done is wrong or try to make me feel guilt and shame in order to force me to behave. The connection is first. The relationship. I am not capable of being fully and constantly sinless for Christ. Praise God, my relationship with Christ isn’t dependent on my actions or character. He loves me and disciples me even when my character defects are rearing their ugly little heads. He is constantly reaching out to me, drawing near to me, guiding me, filling me with His Holy Spirit.
So how does this translate to my parenting? I need to be constantly drawing close to my children, guiding them, filling them with wisdom and grace. I need to remember that my relationship with my children is foremost and should not suffer because of their character defects. I need to disciple my children gently but firmly and help them to understand Godly character and the fruits of the Spirit. I don’t need to demand superficial apologies that aren’t sincere or try to control my children’s’ behaviors by making them feel guilt and shame. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to convict my children and be there to help them understand that conviction. I need not behave in anger and I must keep the end result in mind – I have been entrusted with the very important job of helping to raise up a servant of Christ.
I am constantly reminded of this in the 12-steps of Celebrate Recovery. In step 12, having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs. The verse that goes with this step is Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently, but watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” My children are children of God. They are my brother and sister in Christ. If they are caught in a sin, I need to restore them gently, using caution to ensure that I am not sinning against God by abusing the responsibility that He has entrusted me. It is a sobering responsibility. One day, I will be called to account for how I raised my children. Will I have neglected that responsibility by being overly permissive and not enforcing boundaries? Will I have abused that responsibility by attempting to control and change my children into what I believe that they should be? Or will I have done the best that I could with Christ’s help to model the love of Christ and give them a healthy understanding of God’s love, grace and conviction?