In 2016, a parenting researcher, Maria Goeveia and her colleagues, introduced us to the concept of mindful parenting. This is the best mindset within which to find teachable moments in your parenting journey. In short, being a mindful parent involves savoring every moment.
Mandy was baking cookies one Tuesday morning. Her 3 yr old daughter, Cindy, was helping. Mandy got the milk, eggs and flour into the mixing bowl and showed Cindy how to mix them together. She carefully helped her get started. Mandy then turned to get something out of the fridge and left Cindy a few feet away mixing up the ingredients. She turned back when she heard a squeal of delight from her little one, just as Cindy was flicking mixed ingredients from the whisking wand in all directions. Some of the gooey mess struck Mandy right on the cheek.
Mandy has a choice here. She could focus on the mess, scold Cindy, and banish her to her room. She would then grumble to herself while straightening the kitchen. This is all too often the response.
Or, she could wipe the batter off her cheek and quickly get to Cindy’s side before more mess is made. Then Mandy could fold Cindy into her arms and squeal in delight with her daughter, as they spin around together. Was Cindy too young to help mom with baking cookies in the kitchen? Maybe, but she was having the time of her life. Was a big mess made? Definitely, but messes are temporary, laughter and playfulness is forever.
After being playful with her daughter for a while, Mandy found a teachable moment and directed Cindy in helping her clean up the mess and get back to baking cookies, with Mandy’s more attentive supervision.
As a mindful parent, you active listen with full attention to your child. You are non-judgmental and accepting of your child in the moment. You have keen emotional awareness within yourself and for your child. You encourage self-regulation through your teaching and sharing. And you have compassion for yourself and for your child. Mindful parenting is indeed savoring and learning from the moment.
Behavior management is in your job description as a parent. Some parents don’t like this job, and their kids run wild. Other parents see this as their only job, and their kids are rigid, uncreative, and often fear-driven. In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I offer step-by-step directions of a relational, interactive version of behavior management centered on what I call The Good Kid Chart.
Eight year old Dante was bossing his little sister around and getting her to do his chores. “Son, you know better than that,” growled Dad. “How would you like me to do that to you? Go to your room.”
Well, yeah. That’s exactly how Dad was treating Dante. Where do you think Dante learned to boss his sister around and get her to do his work? Is he going to learn not to boss his sister by being sent to his room?
The Good Kid Chart is the focus of a productive, positive, change-oriented version of standard behavior management. The name itself is a directive on helping your child become a good kid. After you and your spouse identify the target behaviors you want your child to work on, sit down with him to review the procedures. Target behaviors, by the way, are always positively oriented. No one wants to work toward a negative. So, “Don’t be bossy to your sister” becomes “Play nicely and treat your sister with respect.”
There are four components of the system. During a family meeting with your child, orient him to The Good Kid Chart. Active listen his protests and prompt his working on meeting the target behaviors. Then compile three lists of 6-10 items each. A list of daily rewards, of weekly rewards, and of consequences. The more involved your child is in creating these lists, the more he will buy into the process. Daily and weekly rewards are always within your time and resource limits. Consequences occur with severe outburst. If you want Dante to play nice with his sister and he yells at her and pushes her down, that’s severe. He not only does not get a sticker on his Good Kid Chart, but also gets a punishment. Allowing him to pick one of 6-10 consequences helps him own his punishment. If he refuses, you get to pick two.
The Good Kid Chart. What a great way to create teachable moments and help you child become the person you want him to be.
As you continue your parenting journey, how do you want that to go? Will it be trial and error? Just repeat how you were parented? Leave it up to somebody else? My preference is for you to fill every moment of your parenting journey, every interaction with your child, with grace.
“Billy, you careless blankity-blank, spilling your glass of milk again! Go get me that hickory stick. You need a whuppin’” Not much grace there. Billy was careless, but not likely on purpose. Accidents happen. Where’s the grace?
“Cassandra, again? What’s with you and milk? Can we get through one meal without you spilling something? Here, let me clean it up.” Not much grace there either. Shaming is just internal punishment.
“Maggie, come on. Don’t just look at the mess. Go get paper towels and help my clean it up. What am I gonna do with you, girl?” Now that’s grace in action.
Grace is a quality of calm understanding, a safe haven for your children in their storms of life. It involves gentle guidance and meaningful direction. It involves strategic firmness and clear understanding of choices, providing reward for good choices and consequence for bad choices. It results in a very meaningful teachable moment.
Billy’s dad showed anger, power, and control, not grace. Cassandra’s mom showed exasperation, burden, and frustration. Maggie’s mom was purposeful but calm. She involved her daughter in the clean-up, demonstrating meaningful consequences to Maggie’s actions. After the mess was cleaned up and dinner completed, she likely sat Maggie down to go over what had happened, active listen her feelings, and prompt her daughter to identify ways to be more careful in the future. The responses from Billy’s dad and Cassandra’s mom were about them and their feelings. The response from Maggie’s mom was about Maggie, getting the mess cleaned up, and making a teachable moment for her daughter. This is the heart of grace-filled parenting.
Every parent wants their children to get a good night’s rest. Our sleeping time is when our body’s immune system is most efficient. It’s when our body’s physically grow and heal from injury. Sleep is the best form of stress management. But, for moms and dads, as you are putting your children to bed, there’s an art to the process.
Five year old Mandy wants to stay up as late as her 10 year old sister, with whom she shares a bedroom. Daddy cuddles her as she tearfully protests going to bed before sissy. He active listens her feelings and she calms. He asks, “Can I share some things with you that I know because I’m so smart and you don’t because you’re just a squirt?” Mandy giggles and agrees to hear him out.
Dismissing your child’s protest, yelling at her, and demanding in bed, lights out, no talking, is the worst way to put a child to bed. Their adrenaline spikes, stress levels elevate, fear sets in, and the absolute last thing they can do is fall asleep. They will eventually fatigue and their eyes will close, but this is not a restful sleep.
Studies show that newborns will sleep upwards from 15 hours/day. Toddlers up to age 5 need at least 12 hours for growth and calm mood. School-age children benefit most from at least 10 hours of sleep a night. Teens and adults are recommended to have at least 8 hours/night. The average sleep time nationally for teens and adults, however is 7 hours, 28 minutes. So, as a whole, we are sleep deprived.
To give your child the best bedtime routine, focus on routine and look for teachable moments. Usually, a rule of thumb is allowing 30 minutes of calming activity before lights out. Calming activity includes, depending on age, rocking, bedtime stories, singing lullabyes, and talking about day’s events. These are all teachable moments and emotional bonding time. Multiple requests for more drink, multiple bathroom breaks, forgetting to brush teeth, one more, pleaaase requests are all excuses and stalls, which need to be firmly shut down. Consistent routines and creative, personalized rituals make for pleasant childhood memories and sweet dreams.
You remember the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This little girl was playfully skipping through the woods when she came upon a cabin. She looked through the windows and around the cabin, finding no one to be at home. The door was unlocked, so she went inside. It was about lunchtime and she found bowls of porridge on the kitchen table. Since no one was there to stop her, she helped herself. Of the three bowls she tasted, one was too hot, one too cold, and one just right.
The process of setting boundaries for your child has a bit of the Goldilocks story in it. They need to be just right in order for your child to grow in security, worth, and responsibility.
Mom meant well when she dressed 7 year old Jody to go outside and play. She layered her clothes, lathered her with sunscreen, and gave her a laundry list of what she could do and not do in the yard with her friends. As soon as Jody wiggled from her mama’s grasp and ran outside, she jumped into a mud puddle, got wet and filthy, and ruined her play clothes. That earned her a spanking, a bath, and quiet time in her room.
Mom’s boundaries for Jody were too strict. At Jody’s age, mom could have asked what she thought she should wear and do outside today. Take her suggestions, active listen her feelings, and problem-solve with wise counsel. Jody may have known what to do, but with her mom’s overparenting, Jody’s response was a resounding “I’ll show you!!”
Seven year old Tim’s mom handled the same situation differently. “Mom, I’m going outside to play with my friends.” “Okay, son,” his mom called out from her computer where she was paying bills. “Just be careful and be back for dinner.” Tim’s mom’s boundaries were too lenient, giving him too much responsibility and putting him in charge of his actions. This underparenting is a recipe for anxiety, insecurity, and limit-testing.
You are expecting, or just had, a newborn baby. From my own experience, I can tell you that I was equal parts thrilled and terrified, excited and overwhelmed. Even with extended family around, there’s a feeling that the buck stops with me and that I’d better get this right. Do we always get it right? No. Do we understand all of our child’s baby talk? We try, but, no. What’s a new parent to do?
Despite the best intentions of those who’ve been there, done that, first born parenting is by definition a task of learning on the job. Our first borns are always our experimental child, because we are just trying out what we think is the right way to parent, without really knowing what the heck we are doing.
With our first born, I was determined to be the best dad ever. That meant rocking her each night until she was fast asleep in my arms. Then I would transfer her to her crib. Within 30 seconds of putting her down, she would let out a scream that would curl the paint on the walls.
After many nights of rocking her for over 3 hours to no avail, my wise and lovely wife challenged me. She suggested I take the stopwatch out of my testing kit, put our daughter down after 15 minutes of rocking her, and time how long it would take for her to fall asleep. I was aghast! How could I let her cry in her bed for hours on end until she fell asleep? Well, the time is embedded in my brain to this day. 6’36” and she was fast asleep for the night. I learned my lesson. What I thought was her cry of protest was a cry for attention. The more attention I gave her, the longer she stayed awake.
Take heart, new parents. You will soon learn the difference between your child’s “I’m hungry,” “I’m poopy,” I want attention,” “I’m mad,” and the most used, “I’m just messin’ with you” cries. If both parents are available, take turns both to help your child respond to each of you and also to spell each other on the job. And especially, if at all possible, when newborn is down for a nap, so should you be as well. Ask for help. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Learn to translate your child’s baby talk to tailor your response for both your needs and those of your child.
Eleven year old Cindy lays sideways across her bed, doodling on a large, blank pad. She starts with a dot in the middle of the page and then swirls outward until she is making big, sweeping marker strokes. She presses so hard at the end that she rips the paper. She balls it up and throws it at her bedroom door before falling back on the bed in a heap of tears. Shortly thereafter, her mom knocks on her bedroom door.
“Go away. Nobody’s home,” she fusses at the sound. Mama quietly opens the door and peeks in.
“Well, Nobody’s just the person I was looking for.” Her attempt at humor falls on deaf ears.
“What do you want, Mom? I’m busy.”
“Well…I can see that,” she replies as she reaches down to retrieve the balled up paper at her feet. She unballs it and flattens it out. “Honey, what’s going on?” She slips onto the bed beside Cindy.
“Nothing. Leave me alone. Everything,” Cindy spits out in rapid fire. Mom let the silence between them linger. “Why did she have to ruin everything, Mama?”
When Cindy called her mom “Mama,” she knew her heart was heavy. They stayed in the room and talked for a half hour. Mom used her best active listening and, as she saw Cindy’s emotional fever come down, she offered some adult perspective and wise counsel.
At Cindy’s tender age, Mom wants to consider several factors. First, where is Cindy in her dawning menstrual cycle? Moods often magnify as a woman’s body begins her monthlies. Second, where is Cindy in her development? Erik Erikson tracks psychosocial development. At age 11, Cindy should be struggling with doing well and getting things done, called industry, or developing a sense of not-good-enough, called inferiority. Arnold Gesell tracked developmental, cyclical moods and found most 11 yr. olds loving but defiant. Third, how long has her daughter been in a funk? I follow what I call “the six-week rule.” If a difficult behavior occurs for less than 6 weeks, then it’s likely just a mood. If it occurs for more than 6 weeks, it might be a symptom.
With her tenderness, compassion, and active listening, mom is on the right track. But she needs to monitor whether Cindy’s behavior identifies a mood or a symptom.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory? I have three. As a small child, I would get up early on Saturday morning. My dad got up with me and made some breakfast. Then, magically, he would ask, “Wanna go for a walk?” That was a special dad time for talking, walking, and exploring. Also, we would usually find some wild flowers to bring back to my mom.
I also remember spending two weeks at a summer YMCA camp as I got older. I think I was 7 when it began. Being a “big boy” on my own, meeting new friends, and learning new skills was all great. One time, after camp, my mom helped me unpack my trunk and discovered that none of the clothes I had brought home were mine. “Where are all your clothes, Jonny?” “Well, Mom, I traded them with the guys, you know…” She was put out and fussed at me, but at least my trades all fit me.
Finally, summer vacations at the beach were super family fun. We all pitched in, planned stuff, and saved up so we could all have a great time.
Usually, good times roll to the extent that you include your children in the planning and preparation for them. Ask your child if she wants to do the activity. If not, have a talk about options. If it is a family activity, include her in the planning and talk up the parts that would be fun for her. Get her input. Active listen her feelings. As your children get older, ages 8 and beyond, think about their inviting a friend to come along on the vacation. Two kids who get along great are usually easier to handle than one, because they tend to occupy each other.
Good times roll because of good planning, including and delegating, and having something each family member is looking forward to. It’s summertime somewhere. Let the good times roll.
Mr. Adams heard a crash in the next room and got up to investigate. As he got to the door, he caught a look from his 10 year old son, Alex. “Boy! What did you do?” he bellowed. “It was an accident. I was going to watch TV and just touched it for a second as I came around the couch, Papa.” His dad began to take his belt out from the loops in his pants, steam seemingly swirling up from his ears.
Alex began to back away and he started to cry. “Papa, it was an accident.” “All accidents are preventable, Son. You weren’t careful.” Alex got to the door to the back yard and paused. He looked back at his angry dad approaching him. “Don’t you run from me, boy. You’ll just get more licks if you do. Take your punishment and learn your lesson. Be more careful.” Alex thought a moment and retreated back into the room, resigned to the licking.
I hope that is not a scene from the story unfolding in your house. Alex’ dad chose to parent by fear and power, under the guise of teaching his son a lesson in being more careful. But who benefitted from this punishment? Not Alex. Oh, Alex may have chosen to be more careful in the future, to avoid another beating. But that’s not a teachable moment. That’s survival.
A mindful parent, whose focus is on relationship, as well as accountability, would have handled this situation differently.
Mr. Adams heard a crash in the next room and got up to investigate. He found his son, Alex, standing over a broken vase on the floor. “What happened, Son?” “It was an accident, Dad.” “You didn’t mean to knock the vase off the table?” “No, of course not.” “Okay, what needs to be done now?” Dad then got a dust mop and a broom from the closet and handed them to Alex. As Alex cleaned up the mess, Dad noted that the vase needed to be replaced and asked how that was going to happen. He also noted that the vase was his mom’s favorite, in that it came from grandma’s home and matched the room’s décor so well. Alex and his dad agreed to dig into Alex’ savings account and dad would take him to the store to find a replacement vase. When mom got home that evening, Alex agreed to explain to her what happened, present her with the replacement vase, and apologize for his carelessness. That series of natural consequences not only captures a teachable moment between dad and Alex, it is way better than punishment.
God’s marching orders to parents come in Proverbs 22:6. There, He tells us to “raise your children in the ways of the Lord so that, when they grow old, He will not depart from them.” A popular version of Scripture elsewhere cautions us not to “spare the rod and spoil the child.” So, my question to you is this. Is your parenting style power-oriented or relationship-oriented.?
“My kid toes the line,” one parent told me gruffly. “If he doesn’t, I smack him. That’s what God says to do.”
“Well, Joe,” I responded, “That’s one way of looking at it. But tell me, how’s that working for you and your son?”
The rod can be a source of discipline in the home, but the outcome for your child is fear. Fear of being punished is a deterrent to being bad, but do you want your child to fear you? What about his behavior, choices, and relationship does your child learn from a good whipping?
If you are choosing physical punishment for your child’s misbehavior, never whip him while you are angry. Give both of you a time out of up to 30 minutes before the punishment, so that you can calm down. Some parents say, “You know, son, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” While such comment might help you feel less guilty, your child still feels the sting of the whipping.
When you choose power, it most likely comes at the expense of relationship. I choose relationship.
“Joey, what in the world were you thinking? Go to your room and think about what you did, and how you could have avoided this trouble by choosing something different. I’ll be by to talk to you in 30 minutes.”
When you talk with him, use your active listening to understand his feelings and actions. Prompt him to discover other, healthier options to his bad behavior. Find a natural consequence, rather than punishment, that fits the crime. Hitting your son because he hit your daughter just teaches him about payback. Having him apologize to her and do her chores for a week teaches him that actions have consequences. Instead of a whipping, where everybody feels bad, you have the opportunity for a teachable moment. Do you want power or healthy relationship in your home?