On Memorial Day we remember those who currently serve, and have served, in the military to protect our freedom. Each year I seem to grow more grateful for the sacrifices military men and women have made to grant us the freedom to raise our families in peace. Benjamin Disraeli once said that “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” We enjoy a wonderful inheritance of freedom passed on through great sacrifices. We have the responsibility to follow the example of those heroes who helped make that inheritance possible…the responsibility to live a life that keeps freedom strong. In a way, we all need to live the life of a hero—a life that passes that legacy of freedom and example on to our children and our grandchildren; a life that gives our children a great name and a great inheritance; a life that accepts the responsibility that promotes freedom. Today, as we enjoy our families, take a moment to watch this Memorial Day Tribute entitled We Gave Our All—remember those who have made great sacrifices so we can celebrate with our families in peace, without fear. And, contemplate how you can pass this legacy along to your children and your grandchildren.
“No, you can’t have a cookie. We’re eating supper soon.” As soon as the word “no” came out of my mouth, my daughter’s eyes watered, her lower lip protruded, her chin began to quiver and a tear gently rolled down her cheek. I watched…my heart went out to her…what should I do?
“Give me your cell phone. We told you not to text past 11 pm and you did. Now you’ve lost your phone for the weekend!” My daughter heard the words and gave me the death glare. “Fine,” she barked before throwing her phone onto the table, turning away and stomping up the stairs. “I guess I’ll never talk to my friends again.” Her anger was palpable. What is the best response?
Each scenario brings the parent to a decision point…how do I respond to my child and their emotion? We hate to see our children suffer. We do not like to see them cry, miss out on something they really want, or hurt because of unfulfilled desires. We dread the times when our children become angry with us. We don’t want their anger to jeopardize our relationship. We just want “everyone to get along.” We long for close relationships filled with joy and untouched by moments of anger or disappointment. Unfortunately, emotions happen, and not just happy ones. We will experience our children’s sadness, anger, disappointment, hurt…. The question is: how do we respond when those negative emotions arise? Do we allow those emotions to control us? Manipulate us? When our children poke out their lower lip and fill their eyes with tears, do we give in and let them have what they want so we don’t have to watch their hurt and disappointment? If so, we have allowed their emotion to manipulate our actions. Do we yell after our children, filled with anger because they reacted to our discipline in anger and stomped away? If so, their anger has manipulated our response. When we allow our children’s emotions to manipulate our response, we teach them that we are more concerned about their “feeling good” than we are about their character and integrity. We teach them that their emotions are more powerful than us. We teach them that their emotions are more powerful than truth and discipline.
Or, do we accept their negative emotions? Do we acknowledge their emotions, empathizing with them while still upholding our limit? When our children pout and cry, we can accept their disappointment and hurt by simply saying, “Yes, I know it’s disappointing not to get your cookie now; but you still have to wait until after supper.” When our children throw down the phone and stomp up the stairs, we can accept their anger. Let them be angry and realize that they have still complied with the limit by giving you the phone. Later, after they have calmed down, you can talk to them. You can acknowledge their anger, empathize with the frustration of losing privileges when rules are broken…and explain that a natural result of breaking the rules is losing privilege. As we accept our children’s negative emotions we allow them to learn how to manage those emotions. We teach them that there are uncomfortable, even painful, consequences to misbehavior. We teach them that the truth, their good character, and our love are all stronger and more important than “feeling good” or “getting my way all the time.”
So, which do you do? Do you allow your children’s emotions to manipulate you? Or, do you accept their emotions—acknowledge and empathize with their negative emotions while still holding the line and responding in love? Acceptance may be the harder route, perhaps even the gracious path, but it produces the priceless fruit of a self-disciplined, maturing child.
Do you want a family filled with joy? I do. I want to build a family that plays together, laughs together, enjoys one another’s company, and looks forward to family gatherings with joyful anticipation. If you want to have that kind of family, there are two things you need to know. First, a joyful family has a history. They have memories of joyful times. Joyful families have intentionally created opportunities to enjoy one another’s company and build joyful memories with family. They may have built joyful memories by playing games with one another or going on day trips with one another. Perhaps they shared adventures or went on vacations (long ones or short ones) together. Their joyful moments may have been as simple as sharing a favorite song on the radio or a funny story about the day…or as complex as learning a new skill together. The family of joy may have built joyful memories on small things or big things…either way they intentionally seized opportunities to experience fun and joy as a family. This history of family fun grows stronger and more secure as they share pictures of their fun times together and retell the stories of their joyful history. Whatever they found joyful, they shared. Whatever joyful moments they shared created a history of joy; and that history of joy became a foundation of trust and anticipation upon which to build new joyful moments.
Second, a joyful family has a future. Having that foundation of joy builds anticipation for future joyful experiences. A history of sharing joyful moments builds intimacy and trust. Each joyful moment pulled family bonds tighter and drew family members closer. Building on a history of joy allows each person to remain vulnerable and transparent with one another, open to new experiences of joyful interactions. A family who builds on a history of joy looks forward to a future filled with more laughter and fun.
Sandwiched between a history of joy and the future anticipation of joy, joyful families enjoy time with one another today. This all creates a wonderful cycle of joy, doesn’t it? The joy we have as a family today becomes our history of joy tomorrow…and that history of joy lays the foundation we need to anticipate the joy we can have tomorrow. Start the joyous cycle today by creating moments of joy right now.
As parents, we play an ever-changing role in our children’s lives. We remain limit-setters and boundary markers throughout our children’s lives; but, our limit-setting role changes as our children mature. We want them to internalize “non-negotiable boundaries” and learn to establish more negotiable boundaries independently. So, we negotiate some boundaries with them. Yes, negotiable boundaries do exist. For instance, a non-negotiable limit may include: “Everyone has chores to do in our home. Everyone is part of the household so everyone does work in our home.” From that non-negotiable limit, you can begin to negotiate which chores each child will do, how often they will do it, when they will do it, and even in what order. At times, you may even negotiate a change in chores for a day or two based on schedules or some other circumstance. Another non-negotiable limit may include “Our family sleeps at home. We do not stay out all night at parties or our boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s houses;” and, “In coming home at curfew time, we respect other family members’ comfort and sleep.” From these non-negotiable limits, you can begin to negotiate the specifics of curfews—how late is curfew on a school night? Are there nights we want to stay home so we can have a family night? What about weekends? Can curfew be modified for special events like the prom? …you get the idea. There are non-negotiable limits and from those non-negotiable limits you can begin to negotiate specific boundaries.
I can hear some parents saying, “Wait a minute? I am the parent…. I do not negotiate with my child!” Yes, you are the parent. However, when we discuss some negotiable boundaries with our children, we teach them important lessons and skills. When we negotiate some boundaries with our children…
· We teach our children the reason behind the limits. Discussing the non-negotiable limits and leaving room for some negotiation on the specifics helps our children learn to think through limits and the reasons for the limits. Our children will gain a greater understanding of the importance of the limit and better internalize that limit. The limit changes from “something my parents make me do” to “a limit I choose to keep.”
· We teach our children the skills of planning and thinking ahead. Discussing negotiable aspects of limits helps them think about what might happen; the potential consequences of various decisions; and the impact of those consequences. Imagine how much pain and trouble our children can avoid by learning to think ahead as they navigate through young adulthood.
· We teach our children the skill of “give and take.” All conversation involves “give and take” as we share ideas and information. Living with a roommate or a spouse, having a successful work relationship with a fellow-employee, developing a positive involvement in the community…these all involve give and take. Negotiating boundaries helps a child learn the skill of “give and take” through parent-child interactions in a safe environment.
· We teach our children to “get control of themselves.” As we take the time to negotiate specifics around limits, we teach our children to respect our perspective and to respectfully consider other peoples’ perspectives in the future. We teach them how to show that respect in giving of themselves in areas of negotiable limits, not on the non-negotiable boundary…to control the impulse to give in and stand firm in the non-negotiable limits and values of life.
Take a moment and consider the non-negotiable limits you have for your children. Then, think about all the specific, negotiable boundaries that support that limit. As your children mature, take the time to negotiate those changing boundaries and watch your child grow.
Children are smart. I may be preaching to the choir, but I have to say it again, “Children are really smart!” They are like little scientists, observing everything and figuring out what makes it tick. They study the properties of objects by banging, shaking, throwing, and squeezing them in order to discover what is hard or soft. Children study flight properties by hurling objects through space and laughing with glee at the one that goes the furthest. They are keen observers of people…little sociologists that watch the reactions of people around them and shape their own behavior in response. Case in point: my baby nephew. My wife held him while I hid behind her head. At “just the right moment” I would peak around my wife’s head and say, “Boo.” My nephew giggled each time my face appeared and I sounded the battle-cry of “boo.” We had a fun time. Little did I know how carefully he was observing my every action, soaking it in and remembering my face. The next day, we went to a Chinese buffet. I sat at one end of the table, my nephew, in his high chair, sat at the other end. Between us sat his mother and my wife. I turned to speak to my wife at one point during dinner and saw his little head at the other end of the table peaking around his mother. As soon as I made eye contact, he ducked behind his mother…and laughed. Moments later, his head appeared again and, with the same stealth, quickly disappeared amidst a giggle. My nephew remembered the game we had played the day before. He could not say my name yet, but he had studied me and the game we had played. A day later, he used that game to get my attention.
Our children study our every move. Realizing this truth will impact how you teach and discipline your children. My nephew remembered to play that game with me after only one playful interaction. When it comes to discipline, children learn quickly, too. They learn how many times you will repeat yourself before they really “have to” listen. They study you to determine how long they can hold your attention while you refuse something time and time again. Their keen observations quickly lead to accurate conclusions about when your “no” really means “no” and when it simply means “keep asking and I’ll finally give in.” When a parent does “give in” to a nagging child after 4 or 5 repetitive questions, that child learns to continue nagging in the future. If a parent says “no” but then gives in to stop a child’s temper tantrum, the little scientist will reach his conclusions about the benefit of temper tantrums. Children are geniuses when it comes to figuring us out. So, even in the midst of discipline, realize that your little Einstein is studying your every move and basing his next plan of attack on your response. Knowing the genius of your children, keep these tips in mind:
· Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Do not change your answer simply because your children nag, persist, persuade, or cajole. Let them learn that your word is good! If you are unsure of whether to offer a “yes” or a “no,” tell them you have to think about it before making a decision. Just be sure to get back to them and give them an answer. Teach them that your word is good!
· When your children misbehave and a consequence is appropriate, act immediately. When you act immediately to discipline misbehavior, the consequence becomes linked to the misbehavior and will help your children think twice the next time.
· On the other hand, when your children behave well, let them know right away. Link the consequence of attention, acknowledgement, and validation to positive behavior by responding immediately and specifically to good effort and behavior.
Disciplining children can prove challenging. By acting quickly, remaining consistent, and responding in a way that promotes positive behavior, your little scientist will learn that good behavior gets them want they want more often than not…and with that knowledge they will behavior more often, too.
If you are looking for the most powerful discipline weapon known to man, you have come to the right place. It will sound simple…too simple. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed to even mention this disciplinary tool. Still, it is powerful. This disciplinary weapon is powerful enough that most adults still recall how their parents used it. No, it is not the paddle or “time out.” It is not “spare the rod spoil the child.” The most powerful discipline weapon known to man is… (drum roll please)…Positive Attention! I told you it would sound simplistic; but, before you quit reading, consider these few important facts about the power of positive attention.
Children crave their parents’ attention. They will do anything to gain their parent’s attention. And, children are careful observers of their parents. They observe what it takes to gain their parent’s attention. If parents only attend to loud behavior, then children will engage in loud behavior. If parents only attend to misbehavior, then children will engage in misbehavior. If children have to pursue a preoccupied parent’s attention, then they will pursue it by any means necessary. I actually knew a child who tried several strategies to gain his mother’s attention before lighting a roll of toilet paper on fire and tossing it into his mother’s lap while she stared at the TV. He did gain her attention…but at what cost!
The point is: children crave their parents’ attention. With this knowledge, parents can prevent a lot of negative behavior simply by attending to their children’s positive behaviors. When children learn that their parents attend to helpful behaviors, they will engage in more helpful behavior. If parents attend to polite requests, polite requests will increase. When parents respond and attend to simple requests for interaction, children learn to make simple and appropriate requests for interaction. So, as the old saying goes, “Catch ’em being good.” Pay attention to “good behavior” and more good behavior will follow. Show appreciation for the behavior you desire. Offer specific praise when your children put effort into the behaviors and tasks you value. The behaviors you acknowledge, and respond to with positive attention, will increase!
To honestly pinpoint how you attend to your children, spend a week recording two aspects about your interactions with your children. For every interaction or attempted interaction, record:
1. How your children attempted to gain your attention, and
2. What was the focus of your interactions with your children–discipline or relationship building, correction or acknowledgement, frustration with them or fun with them.
At the end of the week, review the results. What did you do more: praise positive behavior and effort or punish negative behavior? Did you put more effort into acknowledging positive behaviors…or punishing negative behaviors? Were your interactions centered on positive attention and sharing encouragement…or were your interactions centered on correction and discipline? Be honest with yourself. Then, start utilizing the most powerful disciplinary weapon known to man…positive attention!
We lived in a second floor apartment and I had fallen down the stairs. I remember sitting on the bottom step, about four-years-old, crying and holding my leg as my mother sat next to me. With gentle words and a soft touch, she comforted me and assured that I was not hurt too badly. My mother’s gentleness convinced me I would survive and empowered me as a young child to get back up and play. I had survived, empowered by gentle words and gentle touch. As an adult, I have watched my wife offer the same gentle words to our children when they were hurt, scared, or upset. In each instance, our children were strengthened and empowered to overcome the obstacles…all through their mother’s gentle words and gentle touch.
Perhaps the whole family can learn from the example of a mother’s gentleness. The power of gentleness enables a person to keep their emotions in check, controlling those emotions so they do not overwhelm the other person. Gentleness learns to bring up sensitive issues with kindness–softly and carefully in order to avoid overwhelming the other person. It avoids harshness, critical statements, and sarcasm. Gentleness speaks the truth in love, in a tone and manner that enables the other person to hear it, understand it, accept it, and act upon it. A gentle answer even turns away anger and rage (Proverbs 15:1). It prevents many an argument and encourages strength in relationship.
Gentleness also means knowing when to step back and allow a person to learn some truth on their own, even though we know the answer already. It is a “strong hand with a soft touch;” a hand that guides without pushing and leads without pulling; a hand that simply rests on a shoulder to offer support and strength to the journey.
All in all, a gentle person has great power—the power to comfort, strengthen, encourage, calm, and soothe; the power to turn away anger and find restoration; the power to have the truth heard. Isn’t that the kind of power we want to wield in our family? Isn’t that the type of power we hope our family members develop? Those who have had the privilege of living under a gentle mother know that power. We have benefitted from the rippling effect of that gentle power in our own lives. But, the power of gentleness is not confined only to mothers. We can extend gentleness to every family member. Families can strive to make gentleness a staple in the whole family—so mother, father, son, and daughter alike will exhibit that powerful trait. Let us all endeavor to practice gentleness and, as we do, watch how it promotes a stronger, more intimate family filled with the joy of peace!