The obedience roller-coaster

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Meeting and spending some time with the Ezzos was a highlight for the children.

We have just returned home from a week away at a national parenting conference run by Growing Families Australia. It was a week of wonderful family memories, special events and outings, great teaching and time spent getting to know other like-minded families. We have come home so encouraged and inspired to stay the course with our parenting. We have also come home somewhat poorer, with mounds and mounds of dirty washing and VERY OVER-TIRED AND MISBEHAVING CHILDREN! One week of late nights, missed naps, little to no routine and too many treat foods have taken their toll. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes!

In a way, these breaks from our usual routine and environment underscore the necessity for the schedules and daily systems that we have in place. It highlights the need for daily consistency in our parenting and gives us a glimpse of what it would be like all the time if we didn’t do what we normally do. It can be easy in the day to day grind of Motherhood to feel like we are getting nowhere, but those little, repetitive, daily steps are building the young people of Godly character that we will eventually launch out into the world.

It’s amazing really to see how quickly behaviour deteriorates when the backbones of our parenting are removed. Particularly for the younger toddlers and children, the daily routine is a must. The good news though is that it only takes a couple of days to get everything back to where it was, but only because the hard work has already been put in.

When we first start out though, it isn’t so easy. It takes a lot of hard work, persistence, training and consistency to instil the behaviours and values we want our children to have. And we have to keep on doing it; day after day, year after year. So Mothers, do not grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9) because we are doing a worthwhile work.

 

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My toddler is not impressed with having Mummy back in charge. Her routine started again today and for this tired little one, table time was hard to face. (She dumped her activity on the floor because she wanted something else!)

So, having said that, what do I do with my cranky and disobedient children?

  1. Stay home for a couple of days – no stimulation, no visitors, no outings. Rest and recuperation only.
  2. Focus on regaining lost sleep – early bedtimes and long naps.
  3. Get back into routine. Start playpen time, room time, mat time, highchair time and all those other scheduled times in my day that bring order and stability while teaching valuable skills such as focussing and concentrating.
  4. Detox – get back into healthy eating and let their bodies settle back down.
  5. Remove all the choices – holidays are filled with choices, from buffet line dinners to kids club activities. My toddler quite enjoys directing every moment of her day and is not giving back control to Mummy without a fight.
  6. Give good instructions – eye contact, Yes Mum and all the other little strategies that help children choose to obey.
  7. Use isolation as our prime consequence for now. If the children cannot behave in a respectful and kind manner, they will simply not be free to spend time with others until they can.

I could wade back in with strict consequences for wrong behaviour but in this context it probably won’t work too well and isn’t necessary. With a few days of implementing the strategies above, most of the children’s behavioural problems will have disappeared and I can start work on the few that are left.

For more ideas, see my consequences series that starts here.

 

 

Guest post: Chore charts

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Kristy’s last post for a little while (but not for good I hope) is about her favourite chore system. Here she is…

I am a huge fan of this particular chore chart. My son was good at doing chores, but I felt I was always having to remind him and check he had not lost focus on what he was doing. This chart stays in my kitchen and the photos are what he needs to achieve in a certain time-frame. Angela gave us the idea to use photos of their actual stuff as it’s great to show them the standard you would like a chore to be completed to.

He comes into the kitchen after each job has been completed and then checks what else needs to be done. He moves it over to the completed side when done. This saves me telling him anything. It also gives me an indication of progress; if he has not come and reported a job done after 5 minutes has passed it generally means he is off doing something else.

It has taken me a month to get this going properly. He now does it off his own back, I am free of constant reminding him to do things and I can now add more jobs into his day at another time. At Office works you can make a collage that splits a print into 9. Then I just laminated, cut out and used velcro dots.

For more information on age-appropriate chores for children and a number of different chore systems see this post.

I caught on fire last night…

 

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Last night my husband was setting up in the lounge room for our stay-at-home date night. A table for two, tablecloth, ploughman’s platter, candles and more. As I stood there chatting I suddenly felt a sensation of heat on my back and realised that I was in fact on fire! Luckily my jumper was open at the front and I could simply slip it off and let it drop onto the nearby bricks without any harm to myself or the house, other than a small black charred section on the carpet. But it could have been worse and it happened so quickly.

As I talked about it with the kids today we reviewed our fire safety knowledge. Some time ago I realised that although I thought the older kids would be able to make sensible decisions if our house caught on fire, when we decided to do some role-playing it turned out quite differently. It bought home to me the need to discuss safety and emergency procedures with them, plan exit points and what to do if there was a fire and actually go through the whole thing more than once. Issues like younger children not being able to get locked doors open could become fatal in a real emergency.

We now have several little games that we play occasionally to remind the children what to do and keep the plan fresh in their mind.

Stop, drop, cover, roll

If your clothing catches on fire, this is the immediate and recommended response:

  • stop (stay still, don’t run or it will feed the fire)
  • drop (lay down on the ground)
  • cover (two hands over your face and eyes)
  • roll (roll back and forth to extinguish the flames)

Every now and then when we are out for a walk I randomly call out stop, drop, cover, roll and the children drop to the floor and practise rolling back and forth. We also add ‘come to Mummy’, ‘get out quick’, ‘sit down’ and ‘freeze’. We never know when obedience to these simple commands will be the difference between life and death.

The house is on fire.

On random occasions we deliberately set off one of our smoke alarms. We make a pile of our wooden blocks in different places in the house and the kids know that this is the “fire.” They have to practise yelling to alert us, “get down low and go, go, go!” (crawling under the imaginary smoke) and get their brothers and sisters safely our of the house to our designated meeting point. Sometimes we make the fire right at their bedroom doors so every child must exit their own room through the window. Sometimes it is at the end of the hallway and they can rehearse collecting everyone including the baby of the family and getting out the laundry door safely together. We add complications like setting the “fire” at each bedroom door to block the exit and turning the power off so that the roller shutters on their bedroom windows won’t open, leaving them no exit options. (Don’t hide, lay down on the floor, yell and wait for help.)

We also talk about never playing with matches, practice making emergency phone calls, learn their address and phone number, basic first aid responses and anything else that comes up along the way. We remember the time we accidentally left a Christmas candle burning for the whole night and came out in the morning to find that it did not appear to have burned down at all in the 12 or so hours it had been lit. Slow burning candle? Maybe. God’s miraculous protection? We gave Him the credit.

Running these pretend scenarios helped us to talk through the what ifs that we otherwise may not have thought of. The child who would have stayed stuck in their room because they didn’t realise it would be ok to break through the fly wire window. (We take these off from the outside when we practice so we don’t really break them.) The child who can’t reach the windowsill and didn’t think to drag over something to stand on. The little ones who know how to open our sliding glass doors and security doors in theory but couldn’t actually do it in practice. The kids who got outside but couldn’t reach the meeting place which was out the front – through the LOCKED back gate.

I’ve heard stories about children who hide in fear, making it difficult for fire-fighters to find them and other children who are accidentally forgotten in the rush to get out to safety. The possibilities are endless and we pray that we will never actually face any of these situations but hopefully the kids will know what to do if the worst ever does happen.

 

 

Siblings as best friends

 

Sibling relationships and how to help brothers and sisters get along is something that we Mothers will be focussing on a lot as our children grow up together. The more children you have, the more opportunities there are for conflict to develop. In our family we talk about brothers and sisters being best friends and are constantly reminding the children that their friends will come and go but their siblings (their best friends) will be there for them always. When there is conflict, we ask the children if they would treat their friends outside the family in the same way they are treating their best friend (brother or sister.)  I have a couple of posts on this topic (see sibling relationships and spoilt walls) but today I wanted to give you some links and recommended resources for addressing conflict. The fact is, our children are sinners and will get into conflict; we as adults still find ourselves in conflict situations! The question is, how are they going to handle the conflict that IS going to arise?

Are they:

  • able to display enough self-control to talk calmly through the issue?
  • beginning to use negotiation and compromise in sorting out their problems?
  • learning what to do when disagreements arise in times of non-conflict; perhaps through role-playing various situations that they are likely to face?
  • re-playing a situation that has arisen from the beginning, practising saying and doing what they should have done in the first place? (This is essential for toddlers.)
  • playing with appropriate supervision? (Leaving a toddler and older sibling unsupervised for long periods is a recipe for disaster, unless the older child has the moral maturity to handle the toddler.)
  • being given direction as to what and where to play as part of a flexible routine, without too many choices?
  • speaking respectfully to their brothers and sister? Taking too many verbal freedoms?

Teri Maxell of Titus2.com has 2 sets of posts on the subject that are excellent. Here are the links to the first article in both series. Follow her links to find the other articles in each set.

Carla Link has also produced a brilliant resource with her Mom’s Notes. They are all well worth a listen, with the Dealing With Sibling Conflict part 1 and part 2 messages available as MP3 recordings that you can download immediately or purchase as a hard copy. While not free, the talks are reasonably priced and well worth the investment.

Teaching our children how to give and receive love while they fill each other’s love tanks is also important, as is a good understanding of the different personality types. Learning to give each other the 5 A’s will help us all nurture each other and above all else, a solid relationship with God will be the foundation on which all else rests.

 

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Couch time and secure children

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Do your children know you love each other? Making your marriage a priority benefits your children and helps you to build a happy, secure and stable family. Much of your child’s sense of security comes from them seeing the relationship between you and your spouse functioning smoothly. When they can see that Mum and Dad really do love each other, they can rest in the assurance that the two most important people in their life are there to stay.

One tangible way we can give our children this assurance is by implementing couch time. Couch time comes from the Growing Kids God’s Way parenting course by Gary and Anne-Marie Ezzo. The Ezzos explain couch time this way: “When the workday is over, take ten or fifteen minutes to sit on the couch as a couple. Couch time is to take place when the children are awake, not after they go to bed. Couch time provides children with a visual sense of your togetherness. It is one tangible way your child can measure Mom and Dad’s love relationship and have that inner need satisfied. In addition, couch time provides a forum for Mom and Dad’s personal and relational needs to be met.”

Many couple will respond that they do not need couch time because their children know they love each other. They do not fight and get along just fine. That may be true, but if we step back for a minute and take a look at it from the child’s point of view, the children may not be getting the tangible reminder that they need. Many of us spend the evening after Dad gets home getting children fed, clean and into bed. Once the work is done, Mum and Dad sit back, relax and have some time together. But our children are not here for this together time. They have seen Mum and Dad working together but not operating within a husband/wife role that demonstrates their love relationship with each other.

Benefits:

Couch time is good for the whole family, but is particularly useful if you have children who are regularly waking at night or just seem to be misbehaving for no good reason. You will be amazed at how the simple act of talking together for a short time every night will help bring peace to your home. Sometimes the simple things really are the best things. Don’t knock it ’til you try it! A word of warning though; don’t expect any behavioural changes until you have been consistent for at least a couple of weeks. They are watching to see if this is a new flash in the pan thing that will disappear or if it’s permanent.

What:

10 minutes or so to sit and talk together, not engaging in any other task, otherwise children perceive that you are “cooking” or “washing dishes” etc. even though you know that you are sharing and catching up.They need to see you just talking and loving each other. Eye contact and full attention necessary!

Have Dad be the one that announces “It’s couch time, I am going to talk to Mummy because I love her and you need to play here with …. and not interrupt until we are done.”
Expect kids to test your resolve initially – in the longer term they will probably start reminding you to have it! Have Dad be the one who tells a child who is trying to interrupt that they need to wait until couch time is over to talk. Why? Mum is in charge all day and this is one way to demonstrate that Dad is head of the house. Otherwise your child may perceive that Dad is only doing it because Mum is making him as she is in charge of all else in the child’s world for the rest of the day.

When:

Any time of day when the children are awake and present. When Dad first walks in is a good time but not always practical. Does your husband get home late? Have the kids fed, teeth done, ready and in bed. You two sit on the end of their bed and chat before hubby spends some time reading a story and spending time with the children. Perhaps have it first up in the morning while Mum and Dad have a coffee together. The time is not important, consistency is.

Where:

Somewhere the children can see and hear you but not interrupt. Not while you do something else. The exception here is dinner. If your children do not need help during the meal, you may announce after grace is said and the food is served that it is Mummy and Daddy’s talk time now so please eat your dinner in silence until it is your turn to speak. The added bonus here is that with nothing to do other than eat, dinner gets eaten in record time! If you are still having to help little ones or be constantly interrupted, then dinner is not the time for you to practise couch time.

 

How often:

Every day if you can when you first get started, but once the habit is established then 4 or more times a week. The younger the children are, the more important it is to do every day until a pattern is set. Remember they will try to interrupt and you are training a new skill so be consistent until expectations are well established.

Preparation:

Teach toddlers to have blanket or mat time so that they will stay within the boundary set by you with a few toys to keep them occupied while you talk. Set aside a bag or container of toys that are just for couch time to keep interest high. Pop small children into their playpen while you talk. Direct older children to find a book, some cars or whatever will be interesting to them while you chat. Sometimes children will want to have their own “couch time” while you are talking.

What to talk about:

While with young children it really does give you an opportunity to share and develop your relationship, with older kids the situation is a little different because it becomes a filtered conversation. It’s not a true reflection of our day because we still have to watch what we say in front of the kids. I can’t really share what my day has been like because that involves talking about the children in a way I would not do in front of them or in front of their siblings. Now we use the time to communicate to Dad areas we are working on with the children, their successes from the day, academic achievements and other non-moral happenings. I would not embarrass a child by reporting their misbehaviours in front of their siblings.

Discipline:

Children who persistently interrupt may need to be removed from the room for that day’s couch time or given other suitable consequences. You may like to use a 10 minute sand timer so the kids can see how long they need to wait. Our 5, 10 and 15 minute sand-timers are always being used for something. They are great for little ones because they can see how much time is passing and how much remains

 

Consequences series – What? When? How? Part 4 First Time Obedience

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If you are new here, please have a browse through the first 3 posts in this series (part 1, part 2, part 3) before continuing on. For consequences to work effectively on your family, the foundations need to be in place, otherwise you will be running about cleaning up messes, rather than correcting the source of the problem.

We teach our children to obey for a number of reasons:

  • Physical safety (Will your child stop when you call them or run out into the road?)
  • The Bible instructs children to obey their parents and it is our responsibility to teach them to do so.   
  • Because we want our children to grow up wanting to love and obey God. God calls all of us to submit to His authority and to the authority He allows or places over us.  This applies to children also and the authority that God places over them is their parents. If they won’t obey their parents (whom they can see), it is less likely that they will obey God (whom they can’t see.)
  • It’s loving to do so (We obey God because we love Him.)
  • It helps our children grow in character, becoming those who bring pleasure to others around them.
  • It avoids anger and frustration in the parent that leads to escalation and inappropriate responses from us.

It is beyond the scope of the post to try and explain how to get first time obedience in your family. If you believe as I do that it is important enough to work on, there are some excellent resources available to help you in your journey.

  1. Growing Kids God’s Way courses from Growing Families International (US, Australia/New Zealand and other countries)
  2. Get hold of the Childwise books appropriate to the age of your child. See other titles at Growing Families US or Australia/New Zealand.
  3. Purchase a “First Time Obedience” chart and related downloadable audio sessions from Carla Link at Mom’s Notes. These are the best parenting resources. Well worth the money. Highly recommended. (No, I don’t get a commission 🙂 )
  4. This post at Large Families on Purpose is a good start if you are after a quick look at something to get you going.

I have not “arrived” when it comes to obedience. My children are far from perfect. And sadly, it is possible and even likely to achieve first time obedience with your children AND then lose it again over time! There are many factors at play here, from personality types, love languages, to parenting practice. But the job we have as Mothers and Fathers is the most important one in the world – one worth investing our time, energy and money into doing well, don’t you think?

 

Consequences Series – What? When? How? Part 3 Giving Instructions

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If you are new to this series of posts on consequences, please read through the introduction and part 2 first.

So you have layed a solid foundation of strong parenting practise and have made some headway to identifying the root cause(s) of your child’s problem areas. Before we take the leap to the consequences themselves, we need to take another look at ourselves. Yep, parenting is a lot about us, not just the children! This next step is to give instructions to our children correctly. It may seem very simple to just bark out orders and expect obedience, but there are things you can do to get a much higher level of obedience from your children simply by changing your approach. Have you ever been guilty of any of the following?

  • Giving an instruction that you are too tired to check up on and hoping your child will follow through.
  • Shouting instructions at rapidly retreating children’s backs as they tear off on their own pursuits.
  • Instructing a child while you are peering distractedly into the refrigerator, balancing morning tea in one hand and holding a spoon between your lips.
  • Directing instructions to a room full of children who are eating/playing or otherwise engaged that sound something like this – “Everyone, get you shoes, coats, hats, drink bottles, go to the toilet, pack your bag, make your bed, finish your morning jobs, find matching socks and be at the door in 5 minutes.”
  • Arriving home after everyone’s bed time and telling everyone to “Get ready for bed” as you walk in the door.

Perhaps these scenarios do not happen in your home but giving instructions across a crowded room or to an otherwise engaged child is just too easy to do and when we don’t get the obedience we are looking for we get angry, frustrated and disappointed in the child. Time to make some changes. Before you start work, you need to have a clear understanding for yourself of what obedience looks like. We teach our children that obedience is first time, straight away, with a happy attitude and a verbal response. (“Yes, Mum.”).

Step 1 Get hold of a “First Time Obedience” chart. It is a brilliant resource by Carla and Joey Link for teaching parents how to get first time obedience with their children.  It lays out all the steps in detail and tells you which behaviours to work on now, which ones to ignore for now and what the next step is. I thought I understood first time obedience until I listened to Carla’s talk Understanding First Time Obedience in her Mom’s Notes series but she really cleared it up for me. (It’s only $4.99 to download or get it if you are in the USA with the message, notes and chart for $12. In Australia, the charts are available here for $5 plus postage and download the MP3 message to go with it.) Her audio resources are gold and I cannot recommend them highly enough. (No, I don’t get a commission!)

Step 2 Train your child to come when you call their name, answering “Yes Mum, I’m coming” as they do in fact come. It’s a very simple step but if you want compliance you need to get attention first. A child who will not come when you call them is not likely to obey an instruction you give them either. To get this started we like to institute treat training. I gather everyone around me and tell them that we are going to play a game. I tell them that they all need to go to different parts of the house and when I call their names, they should answer with “Yes Mum, I’m coming” and come running back to me. I let them know that when they do come, I will have a little surprise for them. (Do it) Once everyone is back and all have their surprise, tell them you are going to do it again.

At this point they can’t believe how easy it is to get the reward! (Do it again.) Now instruct the children to go back to whatever it was you had them doing before and keep an ear out. Some time soon you will call their name and they need to answer with those same words and come. Leave it a short time and then repeat. Over the course of the day, repeat this procedure several times until everyone is coming running the second they hear you speak. You will be surprise to see how amazing their hearing is from even the furthest corner of the back garden to the back bedroom when you barely speak above a whisper. I even had children calling out “Yes Mum. I’m coming” when no names had been called or coming when someone else’s name had been called “Just in case you said mine and I missed it!”

The following morning start off the day with 1 repeat of the same scenario to remind them of how it worked. From this point onwards you can explain that there will be no more rewards, or perhaps only occasional rewards but they still need to come when you call and answer “Yes Mum I’m coming.” For those who are wondering, yes, this is a bribe but a useful one a short lived for training purposes. As a general rule, I am not characterised by bribing my children for obedience so the occasional instance that I decide to employ one is useful and effective. See this post for the difference between bribes, rewards and incentives and why you shouldn’t bribe your child.

If they refuse to come then a consequences will be necessary. For little ones, a few minutes sitting in their cots to get ready to obey, followed by putting them back where they were when you called and saying “Let’s try again” as you call their name will probably be enough. Older children may need some further encouragement but ideas for this will have to wait until we get further into the consequences side of this series!  

Step 3 Get eye contact. Holding a young child’s hand while you do this may help them. Instruct them to look at Mummy’s eyes or “look at Mummy’s face” and wait until they do so. There is a big difference between a child who struggles with eye contact – that is it is difficult for them to do – and a child who won’t make eye contact. The former is disobedience and the first is developmental. How do you tell the difference? Choose a short phrase like “Eyes” and simply prompt the child to look every time they look away. If you say “Eyes” and they look back at your eyes immediately then they have an obedient attitude and will get better in time. A child who deliberately turns their eyes away from you when instructed to look in you face is telling you that they have no intention of obeying your instruction and you may as well deal with the disobedience then and there rather than waiting for them to not follow the instruction you are about to give and then give a consequence.

One caveat with this is that children with processing disorders and other problems will find it almost impossible to hold their body still and focus their eyes on you. When they do, all of their energy is poured into doing this and there is no attention left to actually hear the instruction! The purpose of getting eye contact before speaking is to get the child’s attention. If you know that you have it, regardless of whether they are looking or not then you can go ahead. Just make sure this truly is something they are unable to do, rather something they choose not to do. Sometimes asking them to look at your chest will help.

Step 4 Give the instruction. Keep it simple for little ones. Give the number of steps your child can cope with. For some children, one thing at a time is enough. They may need to be told to “Get your drink bottle and come back to Mummy.” An older child may cope with a series of instructions, particularly if they are familiar to them. Some children may prefer a written list if there is a lot to get through. I sometimes jot a list on my whiteboard and instruct the older children to work their way through it before returning to me to let me know there are done.

Step 5 Have them respond with “Yes, Mum” after you give the instruction. Hearing themselves agree to obey is often enough to help a child follow through with obedience. Often a child who does not want to obey will refuse to say “Yes, Mum” and again, you deal with the disobedience then and there rather than after they fail to obey. A good strategy for children who struggle to follow through with instructions is to require them to repeat back to you what they are going to do. “Yes, Mum, I will get my drink bottle.” There is no way they can say they did not hear, did not understand or forgot. It’s clear-cut obedience or disobedience – so much easier to deal with.

This is a very simplified overview of the whole process. There is a lot of supporting “if, buts and maybe’s” that should be included, but that’s why there is a whole parenting course on this. (See the introduction post)

Involved? Yes! Time consuming? Yes! Effective? Yes!!