Sunday, January 10, 2016

Serious Advice 3-5: Child Eyes, Gentleness, and Discipline

            #3  Here’s another one about seeing it from their point of view:  Get on the child’s level to see things through his eyes in order to interpret his behavior, to figure out why he might be doing something.  Many times, we misinterpret their behavior, and we discipline them unfairly because we aren’t seeing things from their eyes. 

            I was sitting there once watching a little boy who was watching his father wrestle with some younger kids.  I could see the joy in his face and the delight in his eyes as he bounced around on the couch, trying to figure out a way to get involved in the fun.  And what did he do?  He leapt up off the couch, ran over to his dad and punched him in the back, and then jumped up on his shoulders with all his weight. 

            This didn’t get the hoped-for response.  It got, “Why did you do that?  That really hurt.  Would you like it if someone came up and did that to you?  What makes you think you can do that to someone?  Go sit down on the couch.”  What this little boy wanted to be a sign of playfulness was interpreted as rudeness.  After all, no one likes to be assaulted out of nowhere.  And what was meant to be a way of connecting with his dad actually led to being punished and having to sit out of the fun. 
            Try to see it from their eyes before reacting.  Remember that kids have unexpected, childish ways of sending out messages.  They don’t think and act like little adults.  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.”  (1 Corinthians 13:11)  Discipline defiance and disobedience, but be more lenient and understanding of childishness.          
            #4  Along similar lines, respond gently to children.  Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Yes, this does include our children, too.  Why is it that we apply this to all other people but our own family members?  
            After my very demanding, difficult third child was born, I became rather . . . how shall I say it?. . . overwhelmed.  He was so demanding that I was busy most of the day just trying to keep him content enough so I could get anything done.  Or if he was sleeping, I would be busy trying to keep the kids super-quiet so that they didn’t wake him up.  The phrase often heard in our house was “Don’t wake the beast.”  (Meant in the most loving way possible, of course!) 
             I was a stressed-out mess.  I was stretched so thin between his needs and the Baby Bottle Tooth Decay crisis and all of life’s other trials that the last thing I had time for was a needy older child.  So when my other children would come to me and simply say, “Mom,” I would bark out, “What do you want?” or a long, exasperated “Whaaaaat?” 
            They would pick up on this frustration and walk away, as I breathed a sigh of relief so I could get back to the task at hand.  Or they would sheepishly make their request, and I would either rebuff them because I was too busy or I would grudgingly get them what they needed.  I can only imagine how it must have felt to be in need of something or to just want some Mom-time, only to be treated like a nuisance that Mom just wanted to shoo away.  They didn’t understand how busy I was or why I was so stressed.  All they probably sensed was that they were not as welcome as they used to be. 
            In fact, it always amazes me how we will do the very things to our children that bother us the most when it happens to us.  (Here’s a challenge: Think this over in your own life!  How do you hate to be treated?  Do you hate being called names, talked down to, made fun of, or interrupted?  Are you doing this to your own family?  This is a strong tendency that most of us don’t ever notice.) 
            One of my biggest fears was being a burden to anyone, and yet I was treating my children like they were burdening me.  I was very fortunate to catch on to my attitude rather quickly and to be repulsed by it.  I did not want to be that kind of mom, and I certainly did not want my children feeling like they were a bother or that their feelings or needs didn’t matter to me.  I might still be busy and unable to help them with what they wanted, but, my goodness, I could speak nicer to them. 
            Besides, carrying around all that stress and tension didn’t make me any happier.  I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my days at home like I used to.  I had to remind myself to just enjoy my children again.  And so I set out to make a conscious effort to respond with a welcoming and gentle response when the kids came to me.  But it took effort, and it meant delaying my response a few seconds so that I could check my attitude. 
            I occasionally fall back into my exasperated tone-of-voice.  But I feel much calmer and more pleased with myself when I treat my children as the wonderful blessings that they are.  After all, they are the very reasons I am home.     
            #5  Another dove-tail from that point is this:  Don’t yell at your children unnecessarily.  “Fathers, do not exasperate you children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)  Exasperate means to make someone frustrated or angry or to make them feel worse somehow.   
            This is something that I need to consciously mull over.  How do I make my kids unnecessarily frustrated or angry?  Or how do I make a bad feeling even worse?  There are parents who believe that children have no rights or special provisions in the family.  They are to obey no matter what, never question, never balk, never have a negative feeling about anything a parent does, and never, ever talk back.  “BECAUSE I’M THE PARENT, THAT’S WHY!”
            But even God made a special provision - special protection - for children when He commanded parents to not exasperate their children.  I think an easy way to exasperate them would be to never let them speak up about anything, not even when they have a valid point.  Never let them grow up!  Always treat them as though they are too young to ever know what they are talking about!  Treat them like their childish ways are a nuisance and that you would rather they just go away and leave you alone.  Don’t ever let them know that you enjoy them or respect the person that they are turning out to be.  These would be exasperating to me! 
            Here’s another way to exasperate:  Promise things that you won’t follow through on.  Break your word to them.  Tell them you’ll take them to the park, but then come up with some excuse why it’s not going to happen.  It’s especially effective if you find a way to blame them for why you won’t do what you said.  “Well, we were going to go to that park; but because you did such-and-such, now we can’t.” 
            We, as tired parents, oftentimes blurt out something that we don’t mean, usually to appease the child for the moment or to get them to stop bugging us.  But then, we don’t want to or can’t follow through, so we find some way out.  We excuse our unfulfilled promises, and yet still expect the children to respect us.
            Sometimes, there are very valid reasons for why we can’t follow through on something that we intended to - sickness, unexpected emergencies, etc.  Those are teachable moments about priorities and dealing with interruptions, but we should do our best to fulfill our promises as soon as we can. 
            My concern here is not those moments, but the times that we promise things that we really don’t want to do and have no real intention of following through with.  We need to become parents of our word.  We need to learn to not make hasty promises.  These kinds of things have an effect on how much our children will learn to trust us and rely on us; and this will affect how they view God, too.  For good or bad.  Once again, Matthew 5:37:  “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ . . .”         
            Another exasperating thing we parents do: punishing them unfairly.  I once heard of a mom and a dad who were taking their kids on an exciting vacation.  The kids were so excited on the drive that they were constantly kicking the back of the seat or something like that.  Out of frustration, the dad yelled, “If you do that one more time, you’re not going.  We’ll find you a babysitter, and Mom and I will go by ourselves.” 
            Well, as you would expect, sitting still the rest of the drive was too much for very excited children, and they did it again.  The mom and dad strongly believed that whatever they said, they needed to stick with.  So they had to follow through with this unreasonable punishment that was thoughtlessly blurted out.
            I think this is the kind of thing that exasperates a child: demanding unrealistic things from them.  I think it’s entirely appropriate for a parent who makes an unreasonable rule or punishment to take responsibility for it.  Maybe after a short time, that mom and dad could have said, “You know, I think we were wrong to punish you so harshly for that childish behavior.  So after thinking it over, we are changing the punishment to . . .”  Show them how an adult corrects their mistakes or apologizes.
            I counseled a mom once who, in a hasty moment of discipline, cancelled her daughter’s birthday party.  And then, although this mom felt guilty about doing that, she didn’t feel that she could go back on it because she was taught that you must stick with whatever you say.  While I do believe that we need to follow through on things we say, I also believe that if we make a mistake in what we say – dishing out an unfair or irrational punishment – we need to be able to say that we were wrong or unfair, and to change it accordingly.  Children shouldn’t be overly punished just because we said something stupid.    
            Other ways to exasperate are to expect more out of the kids’ attitudes and behavior than even you yourself can achieve.  You know, like when they get in trouble for saying something that you yourself have been known to say.  Or you call people names, but yell at them when they do.  Or you punish them for lying or cheating, when you do those things yourself.  That would be exasperating to me!
            Show them the right way to live and behave!  Model for them someone who lives with integrity; instead of just demanding unreasonable perfection from them, and then yelling at them when they can’t comply or when they are just following your bad example.  They won’t know the right way unless you teach them.  And they won’t care enough to follow it unless you live it! 
            Also, try telling them what you expect from them nicely, before you yell at them and treat them like they disobeyed you.  Try speaking to them first with a polite, respectful tone-of-voice before going for the punishing one.  “Would you please pick that up?” usually gets the job done, instead of “Get that off the floor!”  They will listen.  And you may find that yelling, scolding, or discipline isn’t needed as much as you think it is. 
            Or better yet, make up songs for what you want to tell them.  The kids act like they hate it, but I suspect that inside they love it.  So let’s say you walk in and find a game all over the floor.  You could scold and rant, or you could make up a song, for example, to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes”:  

                                    I’ll be tripping on your game soon and I’ll fall,
                                    I’ll be tripping on your game soon and I’ll fall,
                                    I’ll be tripping on your game soon
                                    then I’ll send you to your bedroom,
                                    so you better pick your game up, after all. 

            I just made that up of the top off my head and so can you.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it’s a fun way to get your point across and to help you stay relaxed.  (It drives our kids nuts that we are always singing.  They’ll probably turn out to be a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons just because we sang so much.)
            In fact, I made up a whole verse to the “Safety Dance” song by Men Without Hats.  For a long time, one of my boys would start wiggling and dancing when they had to go to the bathroom.  But they wouldn’t go until it was nearly (or totally) too late, despite my many attempts to encourage or push them to go.  And so instead of fruitlessly yelling at them to “Quick, run to the potty” when they began to wiggle, I made up the “Pee Pee Dance” song. 

                        You can dance if you want to
                        You can wet your pants, that’s fine
                        But if your friends find out
                        Then your friends are gonna laugh
                        When they see you got a wet behind
                        You can “go” where you want to
                        You don’t need to use the can
                        But if they get wet
                        Then I’ll be upset
                        Cuz I’ll have to wash your pants again

                        You can dance
                        You can dance
                        You can lose bladder control
                        You can dance
                        You can dance
                        Instead of just deciding to go – Oh – Oh - Oh
                        You can Pee Pee dance
                        You can Pee Pee dance          
                        That’s the Pee Pee dance – Hey

            And I have to say that it was much more effective, because they knew that if they didn’t go to the potty then they would have to listen to the whole song.  And I think it drove them even more nuts that I totally delighted in singing the “Pee Pee Dance” song.  Anyway, my point is to have fun with giving them instructions.  And then, if they don’t comply, you can up the ante.  Tell them that you are serious, and ask if they would like you to get mad and to yell or if they would like to obey you when you are being nice and calm.  If they still choose to disobey, then they are choosing and expecting discipline.  Don’t disappoint them, or they will lose respect for your authority!  But at least give them a chance to disobey before treating them like they did.
            I think, as much as possible, it’s best to have established rules ahead of time.  Then, when those are broken, they know that they are choosing discipline.  It’s not a surprise.  And I think that this is how God deals with us.  Read the Bible and see how many times He lays out the options: “Obey or disobey.  And if you disobey, this is what will happen.”
            Sometimes before disciplining, though, I do have to “check-in” with myself to see if I ever let them get away with breaking those rules before or if they did not know that it was an established rule.  In those cases, I choose to be a little more lenient or make it a warning, because I am partly to blame for the confusion.
            Let me stress one thing here, though, as we are talking about discipline.  We DO NOT have a right to discipline in anger.  We do not have any right to go off in a rage and start swinging or calling names or go on a soul-damaging tirade.  Do we ever read about God doing that?  Does He just go into a manic fit and begin squashing people left and right?  No, He doesn’t.  He is reluctant to discipline.  It breaks His heart that it gets to that point.  But when He does have to discipline, it is after clearly laying out the consequences and giving people chance after chance to repent and change their ways.  He is so slow to discipline harshly, but so quick to forgive. 
            Remember, our children are not really ours.  They are God’s.  What right do we have to lash out toward them in our anger, calling it “discipline”?  Abuse is never appropriate discipline.  God is watching how we treat His children.  And they will grow up into the adults that they will become, in large part, because of how we treat them.  Yes, discipline is necessary, but we need to be cautious and thoughtful about how and when we discipline.           
            Make your home and your family a safe place to learn and grow.  Don’t be unnecessarily harsh.  And don’t discipline them in front of their friends or other kids.  This is very crushing to children.  We wouldn’t want to be scolded in front of others by our spouse or boss, would we?  And yet, how often do we do that to our kids?  Acting as though they don’t deserve the same kind of basic consideration that we want for ourselves.  Take them aside at the appropriate time and discipline, not when it makes a show of them in front of others.
            And don’t discipline them in front of other adults just because you are trying to look good.  There seems to be a tendency among parents to show what good disciplinarians we are.  We savor the power that comes with parenthood, and we want to display it like a trophy.  And so we scold our kids in front of other parents simply to make ourselves look better, to look like we really have this parent-role under our belts.    
            I remember once, as a pre-teen, coming back from camp with our youth group.  While at camp, I had misplaced my money and had gone through everything trying to find it.  Well, when one of my parents came to pick me up, the leader told them all about how I turned the place upside down and, apparently, bothered everyone else while looking for this money.  And right in front of these people (and the boy that I had a huge crush on), I got scolded for being so inconsiderate and disruptive and all that. 
            I didn’t think it was fair.  I didn’t think the leader had been fair because much of the time that I was looking for the money, no one else but my best friend was in the room.  And I told my parent this when we got in the car.  They then backtracked and told me that they knew that I wouldn’t really behave that way, and that I wasn’t in trouble because it wasn’t as big of a deal as the leader made it seem.  So then, why scold me in front of others, taking the leader’s side and humiliating me in front of everyone?  (I’m sure that I have my own times when I’ve done this to my kids.  And when they get older, they can write about it, too.)  
            Make your home and family a safe place, especially when you have to discipline and correct misbehavior.  That is when kids feel most vulnerable.  You will be a more respected leader in your family if you still show respect for your kids while disciplining them.