Empathy in action with a family “night” activity

IMG_9720Family nights (or mornings, afternoons or whenever!) with our children are important to us and we try to do something special at least once a week. It need not be fancy or expensive, as long as the family enjoys some time together as we seek to build a strong family identity and close relationships.

With colds passing through the family, we didn’t have the energy for a physical activity the week so we decided to do one of the ideas from those we have been discussing and using to build empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness during our Easter circle time.

Each child was given $2 to spend at a secondhand shop. The catch was that they were not allowed to spend it on themselves. Each person drew the name of another family member out of the hat and endeavoured to find something special for them within their budget. We all helped with spotting good ideas and all purchases had to be approved by Mum and Dad first. (No, our oldest son does not want a Barbie doll!)

While many broad hints are given as to what might be a great idea for themselves, we usually manage to keep most of the gifts a surprise and smuggle them home without the recipient seeing them or at least without them being sure of what they are getting. Each child wraps their gift and we all get together for the presentations.

We took the opportunity for a review of gift giving and receiving etiquette  and how to show thankfulness when receiving a gift, which is so important.

Today our gift exchange morning led to a spate of tidying out desks and wrapping up even more gifts for each other which was lovely to see as these ones really did come from the heart. Those children who’s love language is gift giving were particularly over the moon and were seen dancing about with huge smiles on their faces for the rest of the day.

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

7 kids at park

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

7 in sandpit IMG_6369

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!!

Consequences series – What? When? How? Part 2 Finding the cause

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So you have read through the consequences series introduction and your parenting “ducks” are all in a row. You’ve booked into a GFI parenting course, ordered some good quality parenting books, your husband/wife relationship is flourishing, your routine is on track, the children’s love tanks are full and you are training their hearts. With all this in place you have seen dramatic improvements in their behaviour and many of the problems you were dealing with previously have all but disappeared. And yet… there are still behaviours that need to be worked on!

Our children are sinful creatures (like us!) and yes, no matter how perfect your parenting is there will always be issues to deal with. Today we are going to take a brief look at finding the root cause of the problem, also know as the “besetting sin” or underlying cause that will help us to see where some of those behaviours are coming from.

Having a good understanding of basic personality types will help immensely as these are often very closely tied with the areas that our children struggle in. A highly choleric child will tend to be bossy and impatient, the sanguine child can be impulsive, disorganised and easily detracted, the phlegmatic child struggles with time management and diligence. While it is not helpful to put our children in a box as some critics would say, having some idea of their underlying motivations, needs and approach to life will help you to better parent them. My favourite book for those who have yet to explore this area is “Personality Plus” or “Personality Plus for Parents” by Florence Littauer. Who knows, you may have a whole new understanding of why and how you relate to your child as you do.

Secondly, grab hold of a list of character qualities or virtues. This will help you to categorize your children’s areas of struggles and start to see the connection between them. There is a free printable version here or here.

The “Working With Your Child’s Besetting sin” series of messages by Joey and Carla Link from Parenting Made Practical is brilliant for understanding and identifying your child’s personality type and working to improve their sin areas.  But I warn you, you will want to listen to the rest of the Mom’s notes series as they are the best parenting resource I have ever come across after the GFI parenting courses.

The idea of your child’s besetting sin or root of the misbehaviour is that many different wrongful behaviours can actually spring from the same underlying motivation or lack of character/virtue. The example Carla uses in her Mom’s notes message is that of patience. A child who constantly interrupts others when they are speaking, pushes past siblings to get out the door, shows frustration with anyone or anything that holds them up etc. is demonstrating a lack of patience. As a parent, you could come up with a bunch of different consequences to suit every different occasion that you see it demonstrated, but you really need only one – for the lack of patience itself – as this is the underlying cause or besetting sin.

So how do you start to find this common link between behaviours?

Sit down and make a list. List everything that your child does that you would consider less than virtuous! Once you have done this (and if they are anything like most children it will be quite a long list) take your character chart and note down next to each problem the character quality (virtue or vice) that they displayed. Perhaps they lack diligence, honesty or generosity? Sometimes it is easier to find the vice being displayed rather than the virtue and vice versa. Hopefully, by the time you have finished you will be starting to see a pattern. Maybe your toddler is simply showing a lack of self control and this is showing itself in a variety of ways. (Just a tip – most toddlers are lacking in self control and need to do lots of work in this area 😉 ) Perhaps an older child is not showing the responsibility necessary and appropriate for their age.

Once you have identified the areas you need to work on you have a starting point. Spending time actively working on the positive side of the vice is going to be vital. If your child is impatient then you need to be focussing on training them in patience, not just correcting for impatience. If they are lacking in responsibility then they are going to need lots of training and encouragement in this area. To ignore this training will mean that you are continuously ‘cleaning up’ the result of the lack of virtue but doing little to build the corresponding character that you want to see. Yes, there will be a place for correction (after all, that will be a major part of what this series of posts is all about!) however, without the balance you will be struggling uphill.

Consequences Series – What? When? How? (Introduction)

me and R IMG_6277

Today is the beginning of a series springing from the discussions I have been having with the Mothers I meet with on a monthly basis. It is not meant to provide you with everything you need to know in order to discipline and train your child effectively, but will hopefully give interested parents some valuable advice and strategies for dealing with some of the more common battles we face with our children on a regular basis.

Consequences is a hot topic for many parents. We all want our children to obey, but if we jump straight to a whole bunch of punishments as our single and only method of achieving this then we are bound to fail. The consequences that we give our children should aim to achieve heart change, not just outward conformity. We can alter the behaviours that annoy us the most, but our aim should be to change the heart of the child, to train them in Godly character and prepare them for a relationship with God inasmuch as it is possible for us to do so.

So where do we start? Parenting is a multilayered affair and without a solid foundation underpinning the consequences we do use we will not achieve the best possible outcome. While just using our common sense will take us a long way, parenting is a difficult task and even the best of us can improve and develop our parenting skills.

As a first step I would recommend taking the Growing Kids God’s Way parenting course.(AustraliaUSA  and elsewhere.) There is so much to learn and know and while we can glean a tip here and there, a solid base is better laid with some intensive training.

Read some good quality parenting material. There is an abundance of parenting information out there and not all of it is good so again, I personally would recommend staring with gfi material. The Childwise series, Terrific Toddler books 1 & 2 and other gfi material contains a wealth of information to get you started. Check the gfi website in Australia and growing families USA for recommended titles.

Work on your husband/wife relationship. Without harmony in the home and parents who are on the same page, parenting will be an uphill battle. Use the concept of couch time from the gfi material, set a time to discuss your parenting together and make a plan of attack. Single/divorced/remarried parents can still work to achieve the best parenting practice possible within the situation they find themselves. Blending Families by the Book  is an excellent resource, as is the single parent supplement that goes with the Growing Kids God’s Way course.

You must be filling your children’s love tanks. Children will act out to gain attention/time/focus (even if it is negative) if they are not getting enough love in the way that they receive it. Different children have different love languages and different level of needs.) See Filling Their Love Tanks – The Five Love Languages of Children.

We need to train our children’s hearts, setting aside time to teach what we expect from them (proactive parenting) rather than simply reacting when they do something we don’t like. We need to work on their character and fill their moral warehouse by explaining the moral reason why for the instructions that we give.  We should be doing everything possible to prepare their hearts to know God.

It is essential to have a flexible, consistent routine in place. One that includes time where our children are with us and time where they are learning to play happily alone. A balanced routine will include activities that teach children to sit, focus and concentrate and involve only age-appropriate choices. Mum and Dad, not the child, should be in charge. Even babies need a good routine. 

So much of our success with parenting depends on us to begin with. How we give instructions plays a vital part in the level of obedience we will receive in return. How we respond when our children disobey and how we train them for future situations will help to determine the outcome of the battles we face repeatedly. It’s a tricky business but one that is worth pouring our time and energies into. I hope that the information today and in posts to come will help you on your parenting journey.

Flowers of Godly character

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After holidays, sickness and general out of routine grumps hit our house recently, we needed something to lift the tone of sibling relationships. We have used several different systems for boosting kind behaviour and general character recognition in the past, but this time I wanted something similar to our praise plates; without a “prize” at the end. Our marble jar and treasure tree charts worked well although there was an end goal or reward that we were working towards – see the marble jar is full for a full explanation of the difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives.

Our treasure tree reward system.

Our treasure tree reward system with a slightly different ending than planned.

 

After reading “The Weed With An Ill Name” we have had a lot of discussions and prayer based on the concept of pulling the character “weeds” out of our hearts and replacing them with Godly character “flowers.” I decided to base our system around this idea and build on the interest that was already there by calling our chart “Flowers of Godly Character – Pull out those weeds!”

Each yellow centre is given the child’s initial who is “growing” the flower and as Godly character is displayed they are able to add a petal. Five petals complete a flower and another is started. Having each flower initialed means they are able to see the flowers they have grown, but the pot of flowers is something the whole family is working together to grow.

No reward other than being able to see the flowers you have planted being added to the pot is given, but even so, the children have huge smiles and are very happy to be awarded a petal.

For more ideas on building character and family identity see:

Sizzlers and grace

Filling their love tank: the 5 love languages of children

Spoiled walls; bickering and sibling conflict

101 family night ideas Relationships – joyful or difficult, they all need the 5 A’s

Praise plates, character and love languages

We occasionally use reward systems to boost the tone of interaction between siblings and reinforce good character. While our marble jar and treasure tree were an enjoyable way to focus on building positive family identity, they do come with a reward and as such I do not always use them. I do not want the children to get the impression (however subtle) that it is only worth displaying good character if there is something in it for them.

We have just reinstated our praise plate system which we have used and loved in the past. The children have in fact asked for it more than once. It is very simple to set up. Each family member uses one and a half paper plates to make and decorate a pocket (see photo above) using art and craft materials. A bunch of paper slips are cut up and left handy with some coloured pens and we are ready to go. Whenever I or one of the children notice another family member displaying positive character in any way, they write it down on a slip and pop it into that person’s praise plate.

The focus is on character rather than physical attributes and they are not allowed to write them for themselves or point out their own sterling qualities! Some examples are: G showed hospitality today when she greeted Mrs Smith with a lovely welcoming smile and hello. B showed kindness today when he tied his brother’s shoe laces for him. C was very helpful to Mummy and served our family by preparing a delicious salad for lunch. S showed initiative by putting away her ironing before she was asked to do it. The possibilities are endless and the children get better at writing their own as they hear more and more examples.

Older children write their comment and the younger children draw a picture and dictate their praise comment to be written underneath.

Occasionally when there are a few minutes spare before dinner or at an opportune time, all the children are instructed to sit down and complete at least one slip for every other person in the family. This insures nobody is left out and gives me a wonderful way to use those spare moments before a meal is served. My husband and I also take the time to write out several slips for each child and each other and slip them in the praise plates.

This great character chart helps us think of different qualities we want to commend and recognise and prompts us as we think of what we can write. Catching our children doing the right thing is such an encouragement to them.

On Sundays after lunch we stay at the table together and read each person’s praise slips out loud for all to appreciate. This is a wonderful way to fill love tanks and particularly speaks to those children who have words of affirmation as their primary or secondary love language. If you have never come across the idea of love languages, I strongly suggest reading Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages.” The 5 Love Languages website is also helpful, with diagnostic tests to determine the love language or your children, spouse or yourself. If you are someone who finds it difficult to speak encouraging words consistently, or tend to be critical with your words, this is an excellent way of ensuring that those ‘building up’ words are heard by your children.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Sizzlers and grace

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Sibling relationships