Robert came crashing through the kitchen door and ran through to the family room, where his mom was watching TV while folding laundry.
“Mama, can I go with Adam to the skateboard park? A bunch of us are meeting up there.”
Jodie stopped her folding, paused, and said, “Nope.”
“What? Why not? We won’t be gone long. Adam’s mom can take us. Pleeease,” he begged.
“Robert, I don’t like Adam, and his mom has a sketchy past before she was married. Find someone else to play with.”
“Aww, man, you never let me do anything,” Robert groused before turning on his heel and slamming the door as he stomped outside.
Good parenting is about making good choices. Jodie’s choice was hers to make, but was it a good one? an informed one? Likely not. Had she met Adam? Had she talked to his mom recently? Robert was basically a good kid, good grades, no outstanding warrants (lol). So why did she shut his request down?
Obviously, Jodie was trying to protect her son from possible harm, but at what cost? She’ll likely get the silent treatment from her son for a while. Jodie chose power over relationship with Robert, at least this time.
Kids often try to unconsciously manipulate their parents by coming up with urgent requests at the last moment. Jodie’s first bad choice was responding directly to her son’s request at all. She would have promoted a teachable moment and gotten more information on which to respond by saying something like, “Hold on, son. Take a breath. Give me some details so I can make a good decision.”
She then could have guided Adam through rational decision-making, where he might change his behavior or at least be more informed about the request he was making. Jodie’s not liking Adam at all is really not a part of the equation. Friendships are a human right, not a parental right. Choosing your child’s friends can lead to emotional distance from your child and subterfuge, where he ends up going behind your back. Helping your child make wise decisions, and then being there to catch him if/when he falls, is effective parenting.
My daughter had such a friendship dilemma when she was a teen. After our talking through her needs and feelings about this girl, I told her that she could have a positive influence over her friend, but, the friend could have a negative influence over her. Rachel tested the waters, but the friendship was short-lived.
Can you choose your child’s friends? No, not without risk you your relationship with your child. You can influence his choices by active listening and giving him wise counsel. The end result is a teachable moment from which you both benefit.
Your phone is ringing. The baby is crying. Your toddler just spilled his juice all over the floor. The clothes dryer is buzzing and you haven’t even put up the clean clothes from last night. Is your head exploding yet? Mine is.
Feeling overwhelmed can be a normal, common state for well-intentioned parents. My parents were never there for me, so I’m gonna put my all into being the best…parent…ever. My mom and dad sacrificed everything for us kids. That’s just what parents do. The Bible teaches me to be submissive to my husband and a servant to my kids, so that’s what I’m doing.
Wow! I’ve actually heard parents say these kinds of things to me. Again, well-intentioned, but a set-up for feeling perpetually overwhelmed. So, mom and dad, how can you get back on steady course for the right reasons?
First, recognize and use the pyramid of family relations. You are at the top of your relational pyramid. Above your pyramid is God. If you are not right with God, your relations with your spouse and family will be full of issues. Some parents build a prayer closet, literally, for time with the Lord. Others set aside 15 minutes per day for personal devotions. Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Take Him at His word.
Second, as you take time for yourself, you make time for your spouse. Jesus also said, “Love one another as you love yourself.” Self-care makes quality other-care possible. Healthy diet, sufficient sleep, exercise all facilitate healthy interaction with your spouse. Setting aside couple devotional time as well sets the tone. Further down the pyramid are your children, extended family, and friends.
The keys to multi-tasking and balancing self-care with other-care are prioritizing, delegating and setting healthy boundaries. In assessing the tasks, hand your toddler paper towels to clean up his mess, as you go to the baby to soothe her tears. These are the immediate priorities. You don’t have to answer your phone until you have the time. Your phone stores the call and it will be there when you are not so frantic. If the buzzer on your dryer loops to recur intermittently, take a moment to shut it off after you settle the baby. Help your toddler clean up his mess, telling him what a big boy he is to get started without you.
With immediate crises averted, sit and take a breath. Life will go on. Got is good, and so are you. Later, with your spouse, in a family meeting, you can set healthy boundaries by compiling lists of house rules and individual chores. Delegate chores to children consistent with their ages, but everybody pitches in. Build “me” time into your schedule. If you wait for a good time to take care of yourself, it will never happen.
Do you wonder if your child has a weight issue? Overweight? Underweight? If you wonder at all, don’t wait to help them do something about it.
Nine year old Jenny never liked it when the teacher told the class to line up for the two captains to choose sides. Not only was she never selected to be a team captain, she was always chosen last, whomever of the captains was stuck with the last pick. Jenny had battled overeating as far back as she could remember. She just couldn’t help giving herself heaping portions and asking for seconds. Munchies? Forget about it. It seemed like there was always something sweet-tasting close by. Because of her weight and being uncoordinated, she was always chosen last.
Six year old Bobby didn’t have Jenny’s problem. He was athletic, slim, and had an abundance of energy. In fact, too much energy. The doctor had told his mom that he was hyper, whatever that meant. Now he takes pills to help him slow down. But he likes going fast. He just doesn’t like getting into trouble and forgetting to slow down enough to do his schoolwork. He hates it when he hears the boys calling him “stupid.”
These children have weight issues that both need to be addressed by their parents and by their pediatrician. Physicians encourage parents of all children to get them regular check-ups monthly after birth, every 6 months sometime later, and at least annually up to age 10. There are medical charts that indicate average weight for children according to age and height. There’s also an average range for body mass index. If these numbers are in the average range, but your child has body image issues anyway, use your active listening to help her understand her feelings and plan activities and encourage positive self-worth and social interaction. If your child is getting medicine for being hyper, watch his weight carefully. This kind of medicine can have a side effect of children losing their appetite. Keep your child healthy with a high protein, high caloric diet to encourage weight maintenance.
Stay on top of any weight issues your child may have. Include them in your discussions, at an age appropriate level. Don’t wait. You may just help them avoid both physical health and mental health concerns in the long run.
So, fancy words for a very simple tool that needs to be in every parent’s parenting toolbox. You use a cognitive reframe when you take something negative that your child says or does, and flip it to draw a positive outcome from it.
Fifteen year old Adam takes the pillow off his bed, holds it up to his face, and lets out a muffled scream into it. Mom comes charging into his room. “Adam, are you okay?” “Leave me alone, Mom,” he replies as he falls onto his bed and turns away from her.
Mom moves to his side, sits next to him, and begins rubbing his back. “Pre-algebra kicking your butt again?” She asks. “I don’t get it…and I never will,” Adam grumbles. He sits up facing his mom and continues, “Just give me the F now and be done with it.” Mom gathers her son in her arms, “Aww, baby, I’m sorry it’s going bad for you just now. Come. Sit at your study desk and show me what you’re stuck on.” After a big, dragged out, sigh, Adam joins his mom at his study desk.
This could be every parent’s journey with their child. Thankfully, mom didn’t dismiss Adam’s words and actions, or scold him. Rather, she used both verbal and nonverbal active listening to help him lower his emotional fever. After he was calmer, she offered help. With her help, Adam had a clearer path to pre-algebra success. After the crisis, Mom could then offer a cognitive reframe.
“I guess, Son, you needed to blow off steam and clear your head so you could think through that math problem. Nobody got hurt. You calmed yourself down. You got the job done. Way to go. I’m proud of you. Another thing. You know, you can ask Mr. Stevens questions when you don’t get his explanation of the class material. In the Old Testament, when Joseph confronted his brothers, after they had tried to kill him, he commented that, “what Satan intends for evil, God can turn to good.” Think about that. How can you make a problem into a blessing?
“Yeah, well,” Adam added, “Mr. Stevens is pretty satanic.” They both laughed. “I guess I’ll get this stuff eventually.”
When you can re-state the problem as part of the solution, you are using a cognitive re-frame and creating a valuable teachable moment for your child.
“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.
A newspaper cartoon that I grew up was called “The Family Circle.” Several children and parents, and occasionally a ghostly character named, Not-Me lived in the home. Does Not-Me now live in your home?
You come into your family room and see that it is a mess. Susie is on her phone. Joey is locked into a World of Warcraft computer game, and little Emily is talking to her dollies around their tea table. After surveying the mess, you bark, “Okay, you guys. Who made this mess?” In unison, without looking away from their respective activities, your crew responds, “Not me!” That poor fella, Not Me, gets blamed for lots of messes around the home.
So, how can you delegate getting the room straight again, while also creating a teachable moment about taking personal responsibility? Several things come to mind. First, you might conclude that assigning individual blame is pointless, and the priority is to get the room straight again, to your standards. If that’s the case, have your children stop all activity and take 15 minutes to collectively straighten the room, with you delegating each responsibility. “Okay. Enough griping. The sooner we get the room straight, the sooner I’m out of your hair and you can get back to your activities.”
Second, you might conclude that everybody having fun is more important in the moment than how straight the room is. If the room’s messiness does not directly impact you, then no big deal. However, if you are having friends over in 20 minutes and you want to use the room to entertain them, then the messiness does impact you, and you ride heard to get the room straight in a timely manner.
Finally, if you want to use the circumstances as an object lesson for the kids, then the Not Me defense needs to be addressed. After the room is straightened, either sooner or later that same day, have a brief family meeting where you address the subjects of taking personal responsibility and lying. When my son accepted personal responsibility and took the time to make the circumstances right, I heaped praise on him and gushed my pride and his consequence was less. When he tried to dodge the circumstances, I asked him how much trouble he wanted. One trouble is making the mess. Two troubles is making the mess and then lying about it, and his consequences were double.
If Not Me lives in your home, use it to create a teachable moment for your children.
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.
In all homes, even in Christian homes, trouble comes in all shapes and sizes. Big trouble, little trouble, parent trouble, kid trouble. The question is not about how to avoid trouble. Rather, it’s, “How much trouble do you want to buy?”
Five year old Joey leaves a mess in the family room after gaming on the TV for a while. Cookie crumbs, spilt milk that the cat is now licking up, jacket thrown on the floor. Well intentioned moms might think, “He’s just a little boy and boys will be boys,” as she cleans up his mess. Of course, mom’s thoughts are exactly right, but how much trouble is she buying both immediately and down the road?
In the present, mom has to either look at the mess and accept a new normal, or take time from what she was doing to clean up Joey’s mess. She might even rationalize that she is being a “good mommy.”
Down the road, Joey becomes a pre-teen with feelings of entitlement with impunity. That is, “I can do what I want with no consequences.” As a teen, has Joey been set up to blow off his studies, get poor grades, come and go as he pleases, and find trouble with the law? Now what kind of a mommy has his mom been?
Imagine my left hand is the point in time when you recognize that there’s a problem. This is a finite point and you can tag the problem to that point in time. My right hand is in motion and represents the time at which point you address the problem. It can be inches from my left hand or as far away as I can reach. You have control over when you address the problem. The distance between my hands defines the amount of trouble you are buying with your response. What to do? What to do?
When I see it this way, I’m want to address the problem as soon as I recognize it, inches from my left hand. I’m not going to hold off and see how it comes out. Holding off just buys more trouble.
My granddaughter has the habit of using the bathroom, and then leaving the lid up, toilet unflushed, and light on in the bathroom. When I notice this, I call it to her attention. Since we have repeatedly had this discussion, all I need to do now is call her name, with “that tone in my voice,” and she goes, “Oh, yeah. I forgot again,” before going back to the bathroom to correct the problem. Hopefully, I am slowly encouraging her to develop healthy, responsible habits. I could yell at her or grumble under my breath as I clean her mess up. However, both of those options are power-related and only lead to anger, frustration, and emotional distance.
Addressing problems as soon as we are aware of them minimizes the trouble and creates a teachable moment while also encouraging emotional intimacy and healthy relationship. How much trouble do you want to buy? For me, as little as possible.