I got an email today from a reader who was feeling weary and battle-worn by her kids’ attitudes and their constant bickering. She asked me for ways to encourage kids towards right. I thought her question was an excellent one– believe me, as a mom of 10, I really understand that battle-weary feeling. Here are some general things that have helped me over the years.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Mom needs to model calm even when addressing misbehavior. That doesn’t mean letting bad behavior slide– no way, no how. It does mean addressing problems with gentle firmness instead of anger. Kids hear me best when I sound calm and in charge. When I’m in the ‘calm mom zone’, you’ll hear me say things like:
- Would you like a redo?
- Why don’t you try that again respectfully?
- What would have been a better choice in this situation? Let’s practice that.
- I’m sure you meant to say, “Yes, mom, I’ll be glad to do it.”
Let me be honest: with 7 kids at home, there’s almost always someone needing a bit of redirection. The sheer repetitiveness of the job grinds me into dust some days, and there are times I majorly lose my cool. When I do, my ensuing bad attitude makes it even harder for my kids to make good choices.
This past week has been a good one for me in the self-control department. (Praise God! Somebody must be praying for me!) And — no coincidence at all– my kids have had a good week too. Not perfect, but in general, better than usual. John even remarked happily on the level of tranquility in the house.
What helps you stay calm? Think about it. Because if you can figure it out, that’s a huge stride towards victory in the battle. For me:
- Sleep. When I stay up late too many nights in a row, we all suffer.
- Exercise. Even a ten minute walk helps.
- Bible time. Again, even ten minutes in my bedroom alone can help.
- Chocolate. I neeeeeeeed it. 🙂
- Friends. Decompressing with a friend who understands is a huge blessing. Even a quickly texted complaint and a ‘hang in there’ reply can help.
- Crafting. Even a couple rows of knitting in a day while a child is reading to me helps me feel more happily productive.
Once we’ve done our best to calm our own minds, it’s time to come up with a game plan. Different households have different standards, of course. But one of the questions that clarifies my goals is to ask myself how a child’s behavior is going to look on the adult he will someday become. Teasing unkindly? Avoiding work? Lying? Arguing with authority? None of that is an asset on an adult, so all of it is addressed with consequences in our household.
Here are some consequences that kids ‘earn’ for misbehavior at our house:
I filled my job jar with lots of little jobs that I’d like to get done but that don’t often happen: things like washing window tracks and scrubbing out kitchen drawers. If a kid needs a consequence for ‘tude, then at least he can bless me by being useful, which in turn helps me feel more gracious toward him.
A teen boy who argues might earn 20 push-ups. A pair of younger kids fighting might get to run around the house 3 times, or run up and down the stairs 5 times. A kid who is being argumentative and/or distracting during school hours is sometimes sent on a run to the stop sign and back. It’s 3/10 of a mile- not excessive, but enough effort that the kid won’t immediately be inclined to repeat the behavior. Often the physical activity allows the child to return with a clearer head. In the case of fighting kids, it can also allow a bit of separation between warring parties.
Often a few minutes of time alone is helpful. But you have to consider the child. One of my kids would be in heaven if I sent her to bed for a half-hour time out– she’d just sleep. In fact, she doesn’t even mind being put to bed early at night. Another sees lying in bed to be a fate worse than death, which means she comes away from a ‘rest’ with a renewed determination to try harder. Do what works.
When children have wronged someone, I often try to think in terms of restitution. What can they do to make up for their unkindness or disrespect? Sometimes I ask kids to make someone’s bed, fold their laundry, or assist them with some other chore. Other times, especially when it is obvious that a child needs more time with me, I will ask him or her to read to me while I am cooking or knitting.
Our aim as parents is to give our kids tools for dealing with the inevitable stress of life. So much of the struggle in life happens inside our own minds. One of the things I often try to think through with kids is what happened in their mind that led them to get off track and head towards bad behavior. To aid with this, several of my kids have a notebook used just for thinking through problem moments. This idea would work for kids as soon as they are able to write a little on their own. Here are the three questions I ask kids to answer for me on a page in their notebook:
1. When___________________________, I felt ________________.
(This is basically a brief description of the event/fight/problem, and how it made the child feel.)
2. I handled it by ________________________________________________________.
(Child explains his reaction, trying to be factual and honest. Another person may also be at fault, but I want my kids to be ready to admit to their own part in an argument.)
3. A better way to handle this problem would be to _________________________________.
(Child describes a way to handle this problem better.)
Once the child has written out his answers, I sit down with him and talk it through, giving additional ideas as needed. Usually just the act of writing things down is a good way to help a child settle down and think through the issue. It is a good chance for me to listen to the child’s feelings and frustrations, and get reconnected. (And frankly, just the thought that they might have to write in their journal and TALK to me about their FEELINGS is enough to deter some of my kids from misbehavior in the first place! And that’s OK with me.)
That brings me to my final point in this whole issue: the heart. Certainly it is important to have a variety of consequences ready and waiting for kids who choose wrong. But it is also important to make time to hear and acknowledge their feelings and to connect with them on a heart level. When we have our kids’ hearts, they will be much more interested in pleasing us, which will make discipline much LESS necessary on a day to day basis.
And remember: “Do not be weary in doing well, for in due time you will reap your reward…”