As parents, we do a lot of directing, instructing, and correcting with our children. It comes with the territory. But, my question to you today is this. Are you also grateful for your child and do you affirm him? All of these qualities can lead to teachable moments.
Twelve year old Buck lived up to his nickname. Being Henry, Jr. just didn’t cut it, so his folks went with Buck. Boy, did his nickname ring true. He seemed to try to buck all the rules.
“Buck, I showed you how I wanted the icing on the cookies. Why are you doing it differently?” asked his mama while they were preparing cookies to the party. “I don’t know,” pondered Buck. “I just wanted to try it this way.”
Now, mama has a choice. She can assert her rightful parental authority by telling Buck to start over and ice the cookies the way she had told him. Even saying it nicely would lead her to direct, instruct, and correct her son.
Or, she could think, “It’s only cookies. How they look is not the point.” This thinking might lead her to be grateful for Buck’s help on the project and to affirm his creativity in adding his own touch.
The mindful parent is aware of both her own needs and feelings, as well as those of her child in the moment. When you look for the bigger picture, you may capture a teachable moment.
Mama saw Buck’s tentative look, like he expected to be scolded for doing something wrong. “You know,” she decided how to handle the situation, “there are lots of ways to decorate cookies. No right way.” She reached over to hug her son, even as he jokingly tried to pull away. “I like your creativity. It’s your personal touch on the cookies. Good for you.” Buck lit up and beamed, as he went back to icing the cookies.
Are you grateful for your child’s efforts, even if they are different than expected? Are you affirming his individuality and creativity? You are creating teachable moments he will remember forever.
So it seems that the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears applies to effective parenting as well. You remember, Goldilocks found herself in the home of the Three Bears in the woods. The Bear family was not there. After helping herself to their meal on the table, Goldilocks got sleepy. She found their beds to be too hard, too soft, and then just right. I’m hoping that you are working on a parenting style that is just right.
“Patrick, you’re room is a mess. Stop what your gaming and clean it up.” “But, dad, I…” “I said, ‘now’ son.” “But why can’t I…?” “What part of ‘now’ don’t you understand?” “But why…?” “Because I am your father and I said so. So get to it. No more buts.”
Here is an example of waaay too hard parenting. Others would call this authoritative, or drill sergeant parenting. This kind of exchange is fear-based and power-oriented. There is no relationship here, only authority. Most children in this environment end up being bullies to their peers and can’t wait to leave the home when they come of age.
“Patrick, hey buddy. Your room is looking a little ragged here. Mind if I help you pick it up?” “Knock yourself out, Dad,” Patrick replied, with his thumbs flying, keeping his eyes locked on to the game. “Uh, do you mind putting your snack wrappers and soda cans in the trash can by your side there? I’ll pick up your dirty clothes.” “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of mortal combat, Dad?” “Well, sure, son. Okay, then, finish your game and pick things up before you come down for supper, okay?” “Yeah, whatever, Dad.”
Here is an example of waaay too soft parenting. Others would call this permissive. The child is left to his own devices, with no substantive direction. Who’s in charge? Patrick. Children are too young to be in charge. It just gets them anxious and hyper. They grow up feeling like they can do anything they want, with no consequences. They don’t play nicely with others. As young adults, they never want to leave home. Why would they? All their needs are catered to.
“Yo, Patrick. Dude. This place is a pigsty.” Dad moves to the gaming station and pushes the pause button.” “Dad!!! What are you doing? I’m in the middle of this.” “And you will continue to be in the middle of it after you clean your room. This room is a health hazard. You can be neat and stay healthy and still finish your gaming afterward.” “Aww, man…” Dad lingers and directs Patrick’s efforts, putting a few things away himself. As he is helping out, he active listens Patrick’s complaints and redirects to the positive consequences of his clean-up actions.
Finally, Dad got it right. This is just right parenting. It promotes relationship, responsibility, accountability, and reward. Kids with just right parenting play nice with others, are considerate, and plan well for coming events. They understand give and take, accept responsible freedom, and are launched successfully into young adulthood. Is your parenting just right?
Does it feel sometimes that you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off? Do you wish you were an 8-armed octopus, just so you could keep up with the many and varied demands on your time and help? You know what? Me too,
sometimes. There are, however, ways to keep yourself and your family more organized.
“Mommy,” pleaded 10 year old Allison, “can I please, please, please have Sara spend the night tonight?”
“Yo Mom,” called 16-year old Buck from his bedroom, “is my green shirt washed yet? I’m taking Cloe to dinner tonight.”
“Sweetheart,” called Nick as he left for work, “don’t forget we’re meeting my boss and his wife for dinner tonight.”
Whew! What a whirlwind of activity in the Lawson household. Mom, Mary Lawson, has her hands full, if she lets her brood get away with it. She wouldn’t have all of these demands on her if she were more organized, if she delegated, and if she revised house rules.
First, a good rule for families with young and teen children is that every request for entertainment requires at least 3 days’ notice. Sleepovers, going to the movies, car keys for dates, all fall into the entertainment category. This not only gives you planning time, but also teaches your child responsibility and consideration as to how their requests affect others around them.
Second, as soon as your kids can do for themselves, teach them and let them. Buck’s green shirt? His job. His responsibility, not yours. If he complains and cajoles, active listen his frustration and encourage a plan B that he can undertake (another clean shirt, maybe?)
Third, a habit of weekly family planning meetings and a family calendar placed in the common area of the home, say the kitchen or family room or hallway, covers a multitude of logistical problems. Mary can and should be ready for the work dinner with the boss if it’s been on the family calendar.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but being all things to all people at every moment is not an option. There are ways to keep yourself and your family organized.
Even the best of children have their moments. Younger ones will cut their eyes at you while testing your limit. “Will she catch me?” “Does she really mean that ‘no’?” Even the worst of children have their moments when they want to do and be good. What’s your best course of action? Always choose first to catch ‘em being good.
When called to the table, 13 year old Alec groused that he didn’t feel like coming to eat dinner with the family. He shuffled out of his room, earbuds in place, wanting to be anywhere else but eating supper with his family. As he sat down, dad gave him “that look.” Alec huffed and whispered, “This is such B.S.”
At that point, Alec’s folks had a choice to make. They could focus on their son’ attitude. “Enough, young man. Lose the attitude. Eat your dinner.” Such a parental response is very common. Parental authority and family values are being challenged. They would have every right to chastise their son for his disrespect, behavior, and language. If they chose this option, however, they would be trading relationship for power. Do you want your family interaction to be based on your power, or on quality relationship?
Or, Alec’s folks could choose to focus on his compliance, even when everything else screamed rebellion. They would start the meal by holding hands and blessing the food. Alec might offer his pinky finger to another at this point, or nothing at all. Mom and dad would make small talk, engage other children at the table, and draw Alec into the conversation in some small way.
Assuming the meal goes well, considering, then at conclusion, mom or dad could catch Alec being good. “You know, Son, you made a good choice coming to the table and eating with the family even though it was the last thing you wanted to do. I know you are trying to find your way, and family doesn’t seem to mean much to you right now. Family means a lot to us, obviously, and I thank you for joining us for dinner.”
When given options, choose nurturing the relationship over exercising your power. Your child will remember that lots longer. Pay attention to what you want to grow in your child. Catch ‘em being good.
We’ve all been through the “Hormone Wars,” both our own and our children’s. Some of us have been through the wars more than once. It’s true that hormones will wreak havoc with our bodies, our families, and our relationships. Because these wars are a given, it’s important to identify, own, and plan for them.
Mandy is 13. She’s been having menstrual periods regularly for a couple of months now and she is perpetually annoyed by them. Her mom had prepared her, but going through it and talking about it seem to be two different things.
“Mama, this is gross. Yuck. Can I just do something to stop my period?” Mandy pleaded with disgust. “Aw, baby, I know it’s unpleasant, but you know, it’s just part of being an adult woman.” Mandy protested, “But I’m only 13. It’s not fair. I don’t like it.”
Her mama had given her the Biblical reasoning for women’s periods, the Adam & Eve story. She had also given her the medical reasons. They hadn’t, however, really talked about the mood and attitude changes with having her period. Now was the time for that talk.
Mandy’s mom agreed to be aware of the time of the month for her daughter. She would give her discreet prompts and encourage preparations. Medical research concludes that the emotional impact of menstruation can be improved when teens and women increase their physical activity and use a hypoglycemic diet, which is low sugar/low caffeine intake the week before menstrual flow begins. Mom suggested her daughter jog, walk the dog daily, or get into sport or workout as regular health conditioning. She also agreed to have healthy low sugar/low caffeine snacks and meals for that preceding week.
For issues of mood and attitude, mom offered to cut her daughter some slack, as long as Mandy did not cross the disrespect line and corrected her slip-ups. As with all emotional fevers, active listening is your go-to response when your child has mood or attitude issues. Mandy did not like the bottom line. It is what it is. She did, however, appreciate her mom’s efforts to understand and to adjust.
We all live in a fast-paced era of computers and electronics. Many families struggle with the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Is that your home?
“Jason? Dinner, son.” His dad called out from downstairs, while Jason continued gaming on his computer in his bedroom. A pile of homework lay untouched on his desk next to his bed.
“Jason! Come on, son. Don’t let your dinner get cold.” Jason could hear frustration in his dad’s voice. He called out, “Okay, Dad. In a minute. Just let me get to where I can pause this game.”
“No, son. Now! Put the game up and get down here.” Jason paused his game and started downstairs. “Geez, Dad. Don’t get your panties in a wad.”
This kind of hassle and disrespect on both sides can be eased with a few additional house rules. Computers, cell phones, smart phones all have great, unbelievable benefit to our lives. Research, information, and fun are all easier, faster, and more readily available. The question is, though, at what cost? When electronics interfere with, or take the place of, relationships, especially in your family, it’s time for a family meeting. Talk about the impact, the trade-off, the needs and feelings, and find a way to safeguard family and relationship while also benefitting from all of these electronics.
Currently, there is a Wait Until 8th movement that encourages parents to not get their younger children smart phones until at least they are in the 8th grade. Some phone services offer contract plans with GPS, texting and calling only to specified numbers, but no apps. A Colorado physician who instigated Parents Against Underage Smart Phones (known as PAUS) found that 13-15 million kids in the US are on devices without content restrictions. Parliament in the country of Ireland passes a law this year, The Internet Access for Minors Law, 2017, where parents can be fined when found that their children under age 14 are on internet enabled devises unsupervised.
A couple of suggestions for kid-friendly, family-friendly use of electronics. First, limit gaming to 1 hr/day for children and only after homework and other duties are completed. Second, have as many family meals together as you can, and have them without electronics. Finally, collect electronics from your children at bedtime, so they can enjoy more and longer quality sleep. Return them in the morning.
Consider these rules for electronics in your family and you will find both respect and relationships dramatically improving.
“Aww, Ma. Do I hafta? We just did all this stuff in school today,” 8-year old Adam complained. “Can we just skip homework tonight? I promise I’ll to all of it tomorrow night.” Mom raised her eyebrows, looking skeptical of Adam’s assurances.
This kind of parent-child exchange is typical of what is frustratingly referred to as “the homework wars.” Almost all families with school-aged children have some version of this. Doing homework becomes a nightly battle, a test of wills with your otherwise wonderful, loving youngster. It is a test of wills, an opportunity to set healthy boundaries with your child, and a pathway to successful academics.
In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I caution that children will always test the limits. This is not because they want to be free of them. It’s to be sure that they are there. What child says, “Oh boy. I have lots of homework tonight. I can’t wait to get started and practice what I’ve learned today in school.” Shall we say…not many.
In this test of wills, your child wants you to set the firm boundary. The answer to his question, “Do I hafta?” is a resounding “yes.” However, the wars ramp up when each side digs in for battle. Do you want to avoid the homework wars? Then don’t engage. Doing the homework is not an option. How your child does it is negotiable.
Have this discussion outside of homework time. Engage your child in a curious discovery of what works best for him. Decide on a designated homework spot, e.g., desk in his room, kitchen table. Talk about the time that works best for him, e.g., right after getting home from school, after dinner. For elementary school-aged students, sit beside your child and coach/tutor as needed, but without doing any of it for him. For middle school students, be in the proximity of where they are doing homework. Be available. Encourage with “how’s it going in there?” For high schoolers, encourage their good work habits. Where low or failing grades are the outcome, homework time becomes study time to bring the grades up.
When the process is well-defined, put it into place for a short period of time, a week or two, with reward or consequence in place for after the time frame is over. Revise as needed, but be firm with your limits. You can survive the homework wars by negotiating a peace treaty that involves your child successfully getting his homework finished.
If your answer to this question is “no,” forgive me, but either you are lying, clueless, or gullible. All children lie. Some just better than others. The question is, what do we as parents do about it?
Four-year old Mandy slips unnoticed into the family living room, as her mom is in the kitchen finishing clean-up from supper. Mom pauses in her work and just listens. She hears nothing. “Mandy, sweetheart, what are you doing?” she calls out. After a longer than expected silence, Mandy responds, “Nothing.” Mom puts up her drying towel and goes to find her daughter.
In the living room, Mandy was attracted to the shiny, glass figurine of a ballerina that had been up on a too-high-for-her shelf in the bookcase. She had slid a plastic play chair over to the bookcase and was reaching for the figurine when her mom rounded the corner to the living room.
“Mandy!” The little girl froze at the sharp call of her name, losing her grip on the figurine. It fell to the floor and crashed into little pieces. Mandy teetered standing on the chair. Mom rushed to catch her, saving her from spilling to the ground as well.
“Ooh, baby. It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Soothed her mom, assuring that her preschooler was all right. Mandy sat in her mom’s arms and began to whimper. Mom rocked her gently until Mandy calmed.
With crisis averted, mom is at a choice point. Is this about power or relationship? Is this about mom’s authority or Mandy’s choices? If mom goes the power route, she scolds her daughter and punishes her. “What were you thinking, young lady?” Mom begins to pick up the pieces of the figurine. “You grandmother gave this to me after I won a dance contest as a teen. Now look at what you’ve done.” Mom vents at her daughter’s expense. Mandy cries softly, but pulls away from her mama, feeling distant and guilty.
If mom goes relationship and choices route, she calms her daughter and they carefully pick up the pieces of the figurine together. As they do so, mom asks, “Honey, I’m glad you’re okay, but what were you thinking? This isn’t like you. What else is going on?” Mom’s observations and questions open the door to understanding Mandy’s feelings through active listening. When settled, mom can address Mandy’s poor choice, set healthy boundaries, and give her a brief consequence to help her make better choices in the future. A crisis averted becomes a teachable moment.
P.T. Barnum, the great circus entrepreneur, was right when he suggested that you can please some of the people some of the time, but never all of the people all of the time. That bit of wisdom can help families plan for vacation. Whether it’s a weekend trip to grandma’s or a week or two at the beach, vacations go better with full family planning.
“Okay, guys,” barked dad, “I called this family meeting to jointly plan the best…vacation…ever for our family. I told you about this a couple weeks ago and asked all of us to come up with realistic fun ideas for a vacation that all of us can enjoy.”
With this opening, the Clarks gathered in comfy chairs in the family room. Nine year old Emily was enthusiastic, while teens Donnie and Alex tolerated her and the meeting. Mom had baked fresh cookies for the event and dad had asked all to allow for no more than an hour to come up with something.
“Alex, Donnie, put your electronics up. No distractions, just good ideas,” chimed in mom, “Who wants to suggest something?”
This would be a great beginning to a productive meeting. If you’ve never had a family meeting before, use this as a template, but expect a bumpy ride until you get a rhythm.
Mom and dad are in charge. They active listen the griping, confront the off-task behavior, and encourage helpful ideas. First, they tackle brainstorming all ideas. Be ready for someone to suggest something totally off the wall. Even so, write all ideas down without comment. After compiling a list, the parents encourage the kids to look at each item carefully within the restrictions of time and money. Some will feel constrained, even defeated. Active listen again and help them get back on track. Make sure each family member’s needs and feelings are addressed and that the list has at least one activity geared special for each family member. Also, everybody does their part in getting ready for, packing, unpacking, and sharing in the chores needed for all to have a great time. Finally, a parent or older child is directed to write down the outcomes of the family meeting and everybody gets a copy of it. This curtails the “yeah, but’s” and “you said’s” that can sabotage the outcome.
If the process bogs down, don’t go longer than an hour. Just schedule a follow-up time to pick up where you left off. There will be foot-dragging when you try something new like this in your vacation planning. However, the rewards of sharing, fun, and letting loose will be the result of keeping at it and getting it done. The process of planning vacation time as a family can, in itself, be a teachable moment for all.
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.