“Awww, mama, do I hafta?” As parents, how many times a day do we hear that plea, or one like it, from our children? Give most children a direction or task that takes away from what they are doing in that moment, and expect the fuss and resistance. In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I devote an entire chapter to this fact. Children will always test the limits. Children want to be helpful and cooperative, but their direction is oftentimes elsewhere. By setting healthy boundaries, with expectations, we can help our children turn those have-to’s into want-to’s.
“Sweetheart, it’s almost time to go to bed. You need to put all of your toys and stuffed animals back into the toy box, and then I’ll help you get ready for bed.” Megan’s mama was well-intentioned with this direction, but she left Megan with some wiggle room and frustrated with one more have-to task that she’d rather not do.
So, what are the possible outcomes here? If Megan wants to stay up longer, she can stall by not getting down to the clean-up task. Mom did qualify that she would put her to bed after the cleanup. Megan could also ignore her mom’s direction, drag her feet, or do the task poorly. Any of these options could lead to mommy getting mad and Megan having upset right before bedtime. This could lead to restless sleep, nightmares, or other disruption to her health.
How can mom encourage Megan to turn what she sees as a have-to, unfun chore into a want-to? There are several options. Young children typically respond positively to challenges. “I bet you can’t pick all this stuff up before I count to 50.” They are also appreciative of help. “Come on, sweetie, you take that side and I’ll take this side of your playroom.” Reward works as well. “Megan, if you get this chore finished before your bedtime, we can spend more time together, and I’ll read you a second story.”
Any of these options help your child turn a have-to into a want-to. Always active listen their feelings, frustrations, reluctance. Remind them of the benefits of doing things they might not want to do at first. Turning have-to’s into want-to’s have a way of becoming teachable moments.
Teachable moments…So, what’s the big deal? How do you know when you’ve had one with your child? Here I have a radio spot encouraging them. My book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, gives you a road map to encourage them. The results of having teachable moments with your children is closer, more nurturing relationship, and emotional intimacy. Yeah, teachable moments are a big deal in healthy families.
Jenny comes bursting in the back door, sobbing and hopping around on her left foot. “Sweetheart, what happened?” mom asks as she drops everything to come to her aid. “I stepped on a bee, and he didn’t like it. Not one bit,” Jenny gasped between sobs. “He stung me, Mama.”
Her mom knelt down, folded Jenny into her arms, and let her sob into her shoulder. She softly soothed her little girl and active listened her feelings. “Aw, baby, that hurt lots, huh?” Jenny calmed and then declared angrily, “mean ol’ bee. What did I do to it?”
Mama saw a teachable moment. “You know, sweetheart, that’s a good question.” Jenny looked at her mom, puzzled. Mom continued, “If a big ol’ giant came into our neighborhood, and even accidentally stepped on our home, what do you think you would do?” Jenny thought a moment. “I’d scream and then run fast away.”
“Uh huh,” pondered mama. “And if you could, you might just take a bite out of that giant’s big toe to show him who’s boss.” Jenny’s mom tickled her little girl’s belly and they both laughed. After a pause, mama continued, “You know, sweetheart, to that bad ol’ bee, you were a giant. You didn’t mean to, but you probably stepped on Mr. Bee’s house in the ground, and he just got you good, huh?”
Jenny nodded her agreement and sniffed. “Here,” mama reached for Jenny’s right foot, “Let me kiss that bee sting all better.” And she did. Jenny then asked, “What’s for dinner? I’m hungry.”
Teachable moments are those times when you calm your child’s upset, convey wisdom to your child, and you share a time of kindred spirt. Jesus said that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Teachable moments help us on that journey in our families from surviving, having life, to thriving, having life more abundantly.
It’s true! Parenting is a 24/7/365 job, with no time off, no vacation, no breaks. Remember when that little new born was laying on your chest right after their birth? Despite the pains of childbirth, and don’t let anyone try to convince you that it’s just “pressure,” new parents feel an understandable mix of joy, terror, excitement, pressure, relief, and dread.
Jody was sweating, her hair matted, and her heart racing after just having given birth to Hannah. She reached out to the nurse who held tiny Hannah and extended her to place in Jody’s awaiting arms. New daddy, Tommy, leaned in smiling, witnessing the blessing of their new family. Jody looked back and forth from Hannah to Tommy. Terrifying questions flooded her mind. Oh… my… gosh, what have we gotten ourselves into? Can I do this? Am I ready? This little bundle of human being is totally helpless and completely my responsibility.
It’s also true that raising children takes a village. We lucky parents have the available resources of our children’s grandparents, extended family, neighbors, co-ops, play groups, day cares, church groups, and many other, personalized resources. Being “alone” with your newborn is avoidable, but you have to reach out. You have to ask. When our children were home, Maggie and I developed the concept of what we called tag team parenting. When one of us was done, exhausted, at our wit’s end, we could reach out and tag the other, “You’re it.” Tag other people in your lives when there’s too much to do.
Other things to do when there’s too much to do include delegate, organize, make lists, plan ahead, streamline, and make time to chill out. Many new parents race around doing everything that was on hold while the baby was awake. Do those things with your new baby and she will get used to household routines and not scream for your attention endlessly. Rule of thumb for new moms. When Hannah is sleeping, Jody is sleeping, or at least resting, too. If you don’t give yourself time for your needs and feelings, called self-care, your time for your baby, called other care, will be less meaningful for both of you. When there’s too much to do, go for a balance between self-care and other-care.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Many years ago, a delightful woman who was a patient in one of my groups looked at an anguished man as he was talking and commented, “Ya know, sometimes we have more on our mind than we have a mind for.” Wow! How memorable, simple, yet elegantly put. To this day I still refer to this phrase as my Alice-ism. So, how do we help our kids keep their cool when they have more on their mind?
Of course, whenever you notice an emotional fever spike, your go-to response is to active listen. When your empathy helps his emotional fever drop, and he is ready to listen, then you ask permission. “Son, I have some thoughts about what you are saying. Do you want to hear them? All kids are impressed by being asked permission and much more receptive to your wise counsel.
Also, if you are noticing a pattern over time, bring that to his attention. “Son, you’ve been freaking out about upcoming tests all semester. Is all that worry a problem? Rule of thumb, if what you are noticing has occurred for 6-8 weeks or less, it’s probably a mood. More than 6-8 weeks, it might be a symptom.
To help your child keep his cool, offer two tips. First, worry comes in only two forms, constructive worry and destructive worry. The first form is worry about things over which you have control. If I want to do well on my vocabulary test tomorrow, that constructive worry will encourage me to study my words until I know the definitions cold.
The second form, destructive worry, is worry about things over which you have no control. If I’m hearing the news on my iPod and the world is heating up toward thermonuclear war, I have no control over that. I also have no control over my teacher’s mood, or whether my girlfriend is thinking of dumping me or not.
Research shows that about 80% of our worry is destructive. Only 20% of our worry is constructive. What to do? When you find yourself in the lock of constructive worry, do something about it. Get busy and calm yourself through productive activity to ease your worry. When you find yourself in the lock of destructive worry, give it up. Take it to the Lord in prayer and be calmed by His assurance that He has it all in hand. Constructive worry is something they have enough mind for. Helping your child figure out what kind of worry is upsetting him will help him keep his cool.
You know, some child development and parenting experts say that it’s vital for you to be there for your kids 24/7. Not me! If your emotional fever is high, and you’ve got something causing major stress in your life, it’s critical for you to take a step back and tend to your needs and feelings. Jesus gave us a commandment that covers this. In Matthew 22:38-39, he says, “The greatest commandment is to love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And the second greatest commandment is to love one another as you love yourself.”
So, what does that mean? God wants us to love and be there for our children in the same way in which we are there for ourselves. If you are out of gas, you’ve got nothing left to give to your children. You are, then, at risk for doing more harm than good. There’s a reason why airplane pre-flight instructions tell passengers to put the oxygen mask on themselves before putting it on their children in case of an emergency.
How can we be there for ourselves? Two resources come to mind for you. First, daily time alone, without distraction or pressure. This often takes the form of devotional time with God. Did you notice in Scripture that Jesus went off to pray before his miracles? Also, after a big day of teaching and healing, he frequently went into the mountains for respite and to pray again. Most devotional guides take about fifteen minutes of quiet time. Morning works best for me, as it centers me for the coming day. Some families extend devotions to include family devotions and couple devotions, but I would always include private time with the Lord.
All kids get into stuff. Tots and teens? It doesn’t matter. They all mess up. How you handle these mess ups is what really matters. Turn a mess up into a teachable moment by using the Sandwich Effect.
Because all kiss mess up, as parents, we can’t catch them being good enough. Every time your child does something right, obeys, shares, listens, organizes, sets up his own accountability system, and makes good lifestyle decisions, praise and reinforce his good choices. Teach them to use the What Would Jesus Do standard.
However, stuff happens, and that needs your attention as well. When stuff becomes a learning experience for your daughter, she will become more accountable and grow wiser. So, praise and consequence. Conflicting concepts? Not in the least. Behold the Sandwich Effect.
Fourteen year old Paul has a big social studies test tomorrow. It’s quiet upstairs and you anticipate Paul getting into his studies. You go to his bedroom door just to check on him and you see him with Ipod and ear buds, playing his air guitar and dancing around the room. Part of you wants to yell at him to get back to work, as you yank his Ipod from his hand. You take a deep breath and the wiser parent in you prevails.
“Aww, man!” you start as you walk into his room. Paul gives you that oh crap, deer-in-the-headlights look. You continue, “Son, you were getting some serious studying in tonight. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to keep the Ipod cranked up and dance around your room if you plan to ace that test tomorrow. Turn off the music for just another twenty minutes, and I will come in to quiz you on what you’ve studied. Gosh, some day you’re gonna make me a rich man with your music, ya know.”
Do you see what you just did? You started with a positive, serious studying, and followed with a negative, music distraction. You concluded with another, longer term, hopeful positive, benefits of his music. You sandwiched your negative between two positives. Start with a comment or affirmation, followed by constructive criticism, and conclude with more affirmation and encouragement. This is the formula for using the Sandwich Effect to create a teachable moment.