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Archive for February, 2013

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In my last post I recounted many of the graces Dana and I received throughout our parenting years that helped to train up our children’s parents in the way they should go.  Continuing on the parenting theme, I recently read a blog-post written by Pastor Steve McCoy entitled Advice for Parenting Young Kids which I found to be concise and useful.  In it, Dana and I recognize some of the same teachings we received in our own season of micro-parenting and we are believers in many of the philosophies from which his advice springs.  McCoy prefaces his advice with this:  “This isn’t exhaustive, ordered, etc. It’s not my top 10. There are some crucial ones that most who read this already believe and do to some extent, so I’ll assume them (read Bible, pray, etc).”

This is as good a list as any I’ve seen compiled.  Except for a few noted caveats (added in brackets below), there really isn’t much with which I disagree (except maybe the 100% sharing rule, the hugs and kisses for friends, or the need for infants and young toddlers to sit with their parents in church).  With most, though, I heartily agree and recommend.  Many would certainly be on Dana’s and my list of things that worked for us too.    McCoy says, “At its core, this list is a quick mind-dump of the practical advice I want to give parents with young kids after years of doing it.” 

Advice for Parenting Young Kids by Steve McCoy

Believe Kids Are a Blessing | Our world sees kids as a burden.  The Scriptures tell us they are a blessing from the Lord.  In your thinking about your children, in all you do as a parent, remember and trust that God has given them to you as a blessing.  It will change how you see them and how you parent them.  It hopefully will even change how many of them you have.  Who wouldn’t want MORE blessing?

Read The Jesus Storybook Bible to Them | A tool we didn’t have while the kids were really young, it would have been a staple of their Bible story diet.  Honestly, it still was.

[The Jesus Storybook Bible is for younger children.  The Gospel Story Bible for older children carries on and develops the theme of pointing out Jesus throughout the Old and New Testament.]

[To add a kinetic link to Bible story time, I recently heard it suggested that children act out their Bible stories when they’re done listening.  This would have been so much fun for them… as well as their watching parents.]

Pray with Your Kids Concerning Taking Risks | Yes, pray for needs and give them models of prayer, etc.  But pray aloud with them about the kinds of risks God wants them to take.  “God, if my boys see someone being bullied at school, give them strength to stop it even if it means they get hurt.”  Something like that.  We also regularly pray that God would use them mightily, even if that means persecution, going far away as a missionary, etc.

Teach “First Time Obedience” | When Dad or Mom says do it, they do it.  We are the parents.  They are kids.  Why is this important? Do you want them to obey God the first time, or to put it off?  Also, if they don’t obey us there are often major consequences in the future.  Sometimes if they don’t obey there are major consequences in the very near future.  Example: We taught our children to “stop” when we say stop.  We didn’t chase them around at parties or baseball games or at the park.  We say stop, they were taught to stop or face discipline.  One of our kids was bad about running through parking lots on the way in to a store.  Our “first time obedience” teaching probably saved his life or at least bodily harm more than once.  But the everyday, simple things will create disciplined and respectful kids…

ALSO, don’t use the counting rule.  When you count you are telling your kids they can delay obedience.  “Johnny, get your coat on. Johnny! One…twooooo…”  Not obeying now is disobedience.  Period.  Well, almost period

[I’d agree with his last statement…“almost period.”  First-time obedience has a lot of good grounding (“delayed obedience is disobedience), but there are parents who might be tempted to take a dictator-like position with this one.  When a child delays obedience, we usually felt it important to not simply demand obedience, but to explain again and again why this rule is so important for their safety and for their readiness to obey God.]

Give Rules for Respectful Disagreement | Some call this an “appeal.”  Sometimes the demand of “first time obedience” lacks information that might change our parenting. Example.  Me: “Kids, close your books.  It’s time for bed.  Lights out.”  Daughter: “Dad, can I appeal?” or more simply, “Dad, can I finish this chapter?  It’s only one more page.” Me, to all, “Yes. When Sarah’s done, it’s time for bed.”  I’m Dad and what I say goes, but I also realize my call to obedience can be adjusted.

[This is grace in action.]

Give Rules for Respectful Interruption | You are at a party or with your small group and kids are constantly saying “Dad! Dad! Dad!”  You are teaching them to be the center of the universe.  We tell our kids that when we are in a conversation with someone, they aren’t allowed to interrupt rudely.  The rule is, put your hand on my arm and I’ll tell you when it’s ok to interrupt.  [We would usually try to put our hand on theirs so they knew we would get to them just as soon as politely possible.]  Sometimes I keep talking with someone for 45-60 seconds before I say to my son, “What do you need, buddy?”  Don’t let your kids interrupt rudely.   You are the parent.  Teach your kids to respect your conversation and the conversation of others…

ALSO, when on the phone DO NOT allow your kids to interrupt you.  It’s very disrespectful when on the phone with someone talking about something important (or not) and their kids have no [awareness] that Mom or Dad is doing something important that shouldn’t be interrupted.

[Use the same technique as above.]

Give Rules for Being Respectful in Public | My kids were not allowed to be loud or run around restaurants while people are eating.  It’s disrespectful.  Climbing on the booth next to me and annoying those around me while I tune them out is not ok.  If my kid disobeys in public, I don’t discipline in public.  I take them to the car and when we get back inside the restaurant (or wherever) they have changed their tune.  We have had humbling and amazing comments about our parenting in restaurants.  Especially older adults, grandparents, can’t believe how well behaved our kids were, sitting, eating, talking in acceptable levels of loudness, not being a spectacle.  The spectacle was how respectful they were to others.

[Amazingly, we’ve had similar comments.  Our children were not behaving in any way other than how Dana and I were expected to behave when we were growing up.  However, in this child-centric wave of parenting, it seems children are not trained to consider how their actions might affect those around them; here, how other diners wish to enjoy themselves and do not wish to be disturbed.

To this advice, I’d add, be sure to follow through with consequences.  Do not be a “threatening, repeating parent” as others have put it.  There were times, say in McDonalds or the grocery store, when our child(ren) had not obeyed us or put up a fuss when leaving or the like.  Later, we would find legitimate opportunities to pass by McDonalds, etc., and comment about how we wished we could stop there, but reminding them that the last time we were there, the child did x.  This was usually followed by promises of right behavior by the child if we’d only give them another try.  Instead of “do you promise?” and then turning in; we’d make sure to keep going and say something like, “Well, maybe next time, we’ll see.”  The next time we chose to give it a go again, we’d event prep (see below) with, “We’re going to see if you are able to x this time and that will tell us if we can do this again.”  That was usually the last time we had that particular problem again.  I remember employing this after poor behavior in restaurants, grocery stores, and in the mall once, when one of my children (thankfully I don’t remember which), laid down in the middle of the floor and wouldn’t budge because he/she didn’t want to leave.  Funny now, not so great then.]

The Five Minute Rule (Warning) | One of the GREAT pieces of advice was using a 5-minute rule for preparing your kids to transition.  Example: Kids are playing at McDonald’s Playland.  We don’t just say “Let’s go.”  We give them a 5-minute warning.  This, to them, is permission to play longer as well as preparation that the end is near.  That way when expecting “first time obedience” we aren’t creating frustrated kids who were having a blast and then had parents drop the bomb on fun time.  We almost never had an issue leaving something fun while other parents struggled and yelled.  Such a helpful rule.  This rule also works for bedtime, before leaving for something, etc.

ALSO, after doing this for a bit all I would have to do when one of the kids would look at me from the playground is hold up my hand with 5 fingers and they would call out to each other “FIVE MINUTES!”  So, so helpful.

Pre-Event Preparation/Conversation | When going to meet with other people, go to a party with other families, go to a movie, whatever, we would have a short talk in the car.  It was our way of preparing the kids for what was coming as well as setting our expectations for how they would act when they arrived.  Example: Heading to a small group Bible study.  We’d tell the kids where we were going, to remember to say “Yes Ma’am” or “No Ma’am” when asked something, to be quiet during prayer time, to be generous and let other kids play with toys, and so on.  Set them up for success by reminding them of your expectations just before an event.

Titles of Respect for Adults (No First Names) | Never, EVER, let them call an adult merely by their first name.  If an adult insists, you tell them (in front of your kids is fine) that’s not how you are parenting them.  Don’t allow others to change your parenting.  This is more obvious for family (Aunt Jennifer or Grandpa), but will show much fruit for everyday interaction.  A member of our church will be called “Miss Gail” or “Mr. Ryan.”

Use Timers | This may be what you use as a parent or what the kids are taught to use on their own depending on age. There is no “go watch TV” for an undetermined amount of time.  You get 30 minutes (or whatever).

Sharing Is Not Requested, It’s Essential | My kids would always share.  That was the rule.  If another kid is throwing a fit, you give it up.  You take the hit.  You make the peace.  This wasn’t about bullying, but about making it easy for the adults teaching Sunday School, babysitting, whatever.

[I wonder if this might not unnecessarily provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6:4).  My opinion is that those in childcare are there with a bit of an expectation that they will need to be peacemakers on behalf of the children.  If not, they probably shouldn’t be with children.

What’s more, if it’s my child who is throwing a fit, you are not helping me teach him/her that they are not the center of the universe if they can whine or bully and get what they want.  That’s not “doing unto others what you would have them do to you.”

Sharing is great if it’s something both children can play with, otherwise, we taught our children to say something like, “When I’m done with it, you can have it next.”  Interestingly, this usually was enough for the child who wanted the toy, to be content to find something else until my child brought the item to them later.  We might remind our child once in awhile, “Remember, so and so would like to play with that too, so let’s not keep it forever, o.k.?”]

Boys Treat Girls Differently Than Boys | Boys are to be tough and rough and playful with boys.  Treat girls with a kind of respect.  Hard to describe this one, but talk to your boys about how to treat girls with honor.

Play Rough and Teach Kids to Get over It | This one has done wonders for us.  I played rough with the kids.  Not hurtful or harmful, but lots of wrestling, throwing kids on beds playfully, etc.  I still do it, even now that they are big enough to play rough back!  When you do this and then someone at church or school is a little rough with your kids they won’t whine, cry, tattle.  They won’t act hurt for attention.  Teach them to handle rough play.

ALSO, my kids were taught that they were never as hurt as they thought they were.  It was almost always true.  “Get up.” “You’re fine”…Many parents gasp and run to their kid on the ground who really isn’t hurt all that bad but loves attention.  My kids were taught to get up and keep going.  Elijah got hit by a very fast pitch and it hurt him badly, but he tossed his bat aside and ran to first base.  Later he told me how bad it hurt, but he had learned to be tough and get over it.

[I’d add the reminder from the author’s previous advice: treat girls differently than boys.]

Kids Sit with You in Church | Some will disagree, but we taught our kids to sit with us in church from birth onward.  Some will think it impossible.  It isn’t.  We saw others do it and we did it.  They were minimal distractions at their worst and often no distraction at all.  I could give you a lot of tips on this, but the main one is to demand “first time obedience,” which means disobedience draws consequences.  That’s also why you prepare them in the car ride before church of how they will sit quietly, etc.

[I guess the reason for very small children needing to be in church is a bit lost on me.  I appreciated when my young toddlers could be well-cared for and I (and those around me) could put all of my attentions on worship and the Word.  To be honest, there were times, regretfully, when this was the first time that week I was able to do so.  I do agree, though, that when children are ready for preK or kindergarten, they are ready to learn the habit of sitting in church properly.]

Ask Your Kids to Forgive You | You will fail.  Often.  Tell your kids…when you do, and ask their forgiveness.  We’ve asked our kids several times to forgive us for not requiring “first time obedience” (when we’ve grown slack), for example.

[Of course apologizing and asking forgiveness when we did not act Christ-like in a situation was also needed…often.]

Kiss Your Spouse in Front of Them | It blesses your kids beyond measure to know their parents love each other and want to show it.  Comforting.  Brings a confidence in your marriage when many of their friends’ parents are getting divorced.

Talking Back to Mom Is Talking Back to My Wife | I tell my kids that if/when they talk back to Mom, they are talking back to my wife (not merely their Mom).  She was my wife before she became their Mom, and that means something.

[Dana has done this more than once for me and it is a bit embarrassing in the moment as I often fret if it sounds like Dana is setting his love for me up against his love for the kids.  It has taken great discipline on my part to not jump in with “it’s o.k.”  But I have always appreciated Dana’s courage in these situations, as I know his heart has been to develop this sense of honor in our children (Ex. 20:12).]

Hugs and Kisses to Friends | Teach your kids to be affectionate with others.  Just this Sunday I told my youngest two to give Miss Deb a hug before we left church.  No questions, they did.  We don’t just hug Mom and Dad, but a lot of people.

[This one just doesn’t sit right with me.  We teach our children to trust their feelings of wariness when with others, but then force them to kiss friends just because we want them to? I am just uneasy with this one altogether.]

Disagree in Front of Your Kids | You will have to ask their forgiveness when you do it sinfully, and there are times to separate and talk when we are struggling as a couple, but it teaches your kids that no disagreement will separate us from each other.  It prepares them to get married one day and see what a marriage really looks like.  Messy.

Keep/Give Away | Our kids have been taught to regularly do a keep/give away day.  They go through all their toys and decide what to keep and what to give away.  It de-clutters things as well as teaches them how to move on, how to be generous, how to not hoard, etc.

[Maybe employing FlyLady’s 27 Fling Boogie?]

Teach Your Kids to Sing | Music has always filled our house, and we aren’t musicians or singers by any artistic standard.  But singing is a part of worship and so we make it a part of life.  Doesn’t mean it’s always worship music.  Hardly.  But we are singing.  It’s common to be working in my home office and have a child start belting out a song at the top of their lungs upstairs.  It teaches them to be loud in public worship singing too.

Teach Your Kids God Loves Them More Than You Do | It doesn’t mean I love them less than I should, but that God’s love is beyond comparison.

Get in the Pool | Play with your kids.  Don’t just watch them play.  They want it!  While on vacation last summer I got in the pool and would throw a ball as the kids would leap into the pool while trying to catch the ball.  Kinda like a dog.   🙂  Another family we met there saw us doing that and became our best friends while there.  Every day the kids played with us as if I was their Dad.  Their kids wanted to play.  Their Dad eventually decided to stop reading and join us in the pool.  His kids kept nagging him until he did!  Playing teaches your kids they are important to you.  It’s fun.  It has helped us to befriend others and bless families who don’t have Dads and Moms in the pool.

One item missing that worked so well for us.  Please allow me (kYr) to add a 25th piece of advice…

Give Limited, Defined Choice | Give children two limited, equally-acceptable choices as to how they will obey.  For example: “It’s time for bed.  Would you like to walk or would you like to be carried?”  “It’s time to clean up.  Do you want to clean up the blocks first or the Legos?”  “It’s time to leave the park.  Would you like to have one last slide or one last swing?”  This worked very well for us; almost like we were playing a trick on them.  I like this strategy because obedience is a given and the means to obeying is defined by the parent, but the child is given a sense of ownership to his or her obedience.

Pastor McCoy is careful to add, “By no means do we do all of this perfectly.”  In regards to parenting, Dana and I would have to echo a resounding, “Ditto.”  As McCoy states, “I assume you know that already.”

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Dana and I have had a lot of opportunity in recent years to look back in gratitude and marvel at the teachers and ministries that have mentored us in the various stages of our parenting.  The Lord carefully placed us under their tutelege at just the right time in our lives to both receive and apply the lessons we were learning.

Our first few parenting graces came to us before we had even begun our family.  Firstly, we received God’s calling to repentance and faith in our college years.  Then, after graduating from college, I had the great privilege to teach at the young, budding Christian school in our community.  The school’s initial name (which has since changed) was Shema Christian School.  It was chosen by those early pioneer parents who embraced Christian education as a means of fulfilling the Shema even under the New Covenant.

The Shema is the “Hear, O Israel” passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

As we began to rub shoulders with those dedicated school parents and observe the intentionality in which they parented, we were unwittingly being mentored.  These parents helped to grow us up quickly in the faith and gave us a vision for the future family we hoped God would grant us someday.

After beginning our family, we were blessed to have our parenting philosophy shaped by Dr. James Dobson and the guests that graced his radio program, Focus on the Family.  Dr. Dobson is a godly man who has championed families for 30 years.  One of his most influential books he wrote was Dare to Discipline (now under the title The New Dare to Discipline).  From his teaching we learned early on that children can and should be disciplined within the context of love and affirmation and that even spankings can and should be grace-filled.

Another gift of a different nature came to us in the form of a pamphlet which was offered free in the pediatric department of our clinic.  As I brought my firstborn in for a routine check-up, I caught sight of the brochure which promised help in getting one’s child to sleep through the night.  I have come to know that the method is now called the Ferber Method created by Dr. Richard Ferber. This method helps parents establish progressively longer and longer intervals with the goal of training one’s child to soothe themselves and to fall asleep on their own. Dr. Ferber is careful to guide parents to wait for child-readiness before implementing the technique, usually around five or six months of age.

Dr. Ferber’s Method worked like a charm for each of our four children.  They learned how to put themselves to sleep usually by the third night.  I won’t deny that the first day or two were very difficult as we set our timer and sat outside our child’s door—he or she was crying inside and we were crying outside.  If we did not have the conviction that we were doing this hard thing for the ultimate good of our little one, we would have lost our resolve.  No doubt, the relatively quick results of 3-4 days helped us embrace this technique and dare to apply it to all of our children.  Parents, baby, and other siblings all win when the baby learns to lie down at a healthy time for bed or nap and put themselves to sleep in a fairly short time frame and sleep through the night.

Mrs. Elisabeth Elliot was another saint who came along via her radio program, Gateway to Joy, to mentor me as a young Christian woman and mom.  Gateway to Joy has been off the air since 2001 (replaced by another of my heroes, Nancy Leigh DeMossRevive Our Hearts).  I was thrilled, though, to find that I can get a handful of transcripts from those old broadcasts here.  In her motherly, no-nonsense manner she shared her stong opinions and teachings.  Her wisdom was born of a life of discipline, suffering, and submission to the Lord.  It was Mrs. Elliot who set our parenting expectations early on in reminding us that children are “little barbarians” who need to be civilized…that they come into this world with no thought or care for another’s needs or feelings; they need to be taught and trained to care for others and to sometimes defer their own needs for those of another.

She really is one of my heroes and one evening we packed up our young family and traveled an hour away to a small church to hear Mrs. Elliot speak.  Her book and tape series, The Shaping of the Christian Family, which recounts her own parents’ wise parenting, helped Dana and I flesh out our vision for our children and our family.   We fell so short of the ideal that Mrs. Elliot laid out, but she gave us a standard in which to calibrate our parenting.

During those early years the music of Steve and Annie Chapman reminded us of the eternal purposes we were engaged in as we parented our little tribe.  Their music may sound dated now, but back then it reminded us of how important it was that we take our parenting job soberly and seriously.

Then, during our children’s elementary years, we found Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.  Their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum helped us teach and train those post-toddlers.  I’m not sure if I could have embraced their On Becoming Baby Wise program.  I had tried a similar structured scheduling with one of my newborns as I followed a book promoted by dear Mrs. Elliot entitled My First Three Hundred Babies by Gladys W. Hendrick.  I just could not well up the disassociation needed, though, to “follow the plan” even if it promised happier babies, parents, and families in the not-so-long run.  However, God brought the Ezzo’s “Growing Kids” teaching to us at the perfect time when we were able to apply it in the lab of our home.

The Ezzos encouraged us to train our children so not only we enjoyed them (that’s usually a given for parents), but so others might enjoy having them around as well.  They spoke of fanning a “love of virtue” (vs. how close to sin can one get without sinning) and the concept of the “preciousness of others.”  Identifying the preciousness of others was key to our children’s understanding of how their actions affect others’ feelings, time and/or domain.  Our directions began to include the “why.”  Our children took small “thank you” servings of foods they disliked to show gratitude for the cook’s efforts.  They heard such things as, “Please pick up your napkin so the waiter won’t have to” or “Hands off the window, someone has to clean that.”  They were guided to think of others when they encountered conflict–“Oh that was an accident, I can see that, why don’t you say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,'” etc..

Our children learned that they are a welcome, necessary part of our family, but they are not the center of the family around whom their parents or siblings revolve.  We learned strategies to help our children be respectful and we learned that when our child acts up in front of others, it’s o.k. to say, “This is something we’re working on, would you excuse us for a moment?”  In this way our intentional parenting didn’t have to get derailed just because we were out in public. 

Dr. Randy Carlson’s old radio program, ParentTalk, offered us daily, practical guidance in handling an array of parenting situations and a single phrase from Josh McDowell gave us guidance as our children began to grow older.  It’s true in the early years, if we concern ourselves only with our parent-child relationship and fail to establish and enforce rules and boundaries, the result is sure to be chaos.  However, it was Josh McDowell who gave us the following equation for the middle and older years:  “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”    Since Dana and I are parents that deal best in black and white (rather than gray), it was difficult for us to make this transition.  We did not do this as well as we would have liked.  However, we found our best approach was to just talk, talk, talk to our kids, as we walked by the way.  Nothing was off the table and we talked often about difficult subjects as we tried to develop in our children a discerning biblical worldview, hoping the result would be a personal moral compass.

It wasn’t until our children’s middle school/high school years that we first heard of Jim and Dr. Charles Fay’s Love and Logic.  Soon after, Dana and I took a community course on this approach to parenting and child accountability.  This is the one teaching that I feel came too late for us to practically apply, but we were impressed with the philosophy and tried to use what we could, even in small ways.  Interestingly enough, Love and Logic is the classroom management approach favored by the Christian school in which I teach.  We have regular training to give us tools to apply this philosophy—a philosophy that discourages adults from swooping in to rescue children from the consequences of their behavior, but, instead, presses them to take responsibility for their actions and to come up with solutions when predicaments arise.

Acknowledged…Dana and I made A LOT of mistakes throughout the years.  We did knock heads with our older children at times when Dana and I (mostly me) attempted to lay down the law without regard for the relationship we were hoping to develop.  We did not achieve the ideal we carried inside us.  But, for the most part, our home was fairly argument-free.  We attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit in all of our lives and God’s grace in putting us under the godly, timely teaching and mentoring that we received over the years.  No doubt our pleasurable home-schooling years benefited from these influences as well.

Over all, we enjoyed each other’s company and found our children fun to be around…we still do.

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