Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Perspective Shift on Child Training

Several months ago I had the privilege of attending a local church's parenting conference with Tedd Tripp {author of Shepherding A Child's Heart}. Though I'd read his book before, hearing him in person and connecting with other parents was a great blessing to me.

This conference, combined with a number of other smaller factors {reading Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe, chatting with other mama friends, and taking time to reflect on our family life}, have brought a blessed shift in my attitude towards life with small children.


In the past {and if I'm honest, I still forget my new perspective at times and land back here} I've felt very frustrated with the wildness and noise and the frequent, blatant disobedience my children display.

Am I just a horrible parent? Why is it so hard to be consistent? Are my children the only little hooligans who behave this badly?

Well, I sure as heck am no perfect parent. It is very hard to be consistent {especially for this laid back mom who struggles with inherent laziness}. And sure, ok, I see other kids acting out in public... but I'm with my own kids the most, so their foibles and childish going-ons are more front and center in my brain.

At any rate, here are the realizations that are bringing me fresh encouragement and peace:

Communication is key. Even very small children have the capacity to understand much more than we realize. The vast majority of my frustration in parenting comes from my own failure to clearly communicate with my child.

For example, my son tends to get extremely cranky while I am preparing dinner. He clings to my leg and begs me to pick him up while I'm busy in the kitchen. I say, "no," but he continues to hang onto my leg and cry, making me a little stressed out and crazy, and hampering our dinner plans.

I've realized that if I just explain my reasoning to him, he is often much more receptive to my "no."

"Honey, I would love to pick you up and hold you right now, but I need both of my hands free to stir these pots on the stove. I know that you are hungry and want to eat, so I am doing my best to get your food ready. Could you please go read a book with sister until it is time to eat?" Or something along those lines- my answer, the reason behind it, and an alternate suggestion. Sometimes I bend down and show him exactly what I'm working on, so he can feel involved and have a better sense of what mommy is up to.

He is almost two, and while this strategy is not always effective, I've been surprised at how much of a difference it can make in diffusing the situation.

Also, sharing my expectations for my kids with them before we arrive at an event or place is invaluable for a successful outing. I first learned this while reading Rachel Jankovic's Loving the Little Years, but was reminded of it recently. So often we take our kids out, feel surprised when they start running around wildly or acting in other inappropriate ways, and then go into frenzied-mother-reaction mode.

Really, kids are just being kids. You know how they should act in this context, but you haven't clearly expressed it to them, so they just do what comes naturally. Before we go to a restaurant, or sit in church, or head to a friends house, I am learning to have a brief and friendly little chat.

"S, we are going to the library, and we are going to have a good time. When we are at the library I expect you to listen and obey me. We do not run or shout inside of the library. We can play with trains, look at books, and play quietly with other kids. Do you understand?"

I'm trying to get her (at almost 4) to repeat my instructions back to me. I'm also trying to keep it light and positive, focusing on the blessings and good things that will result from obedience in the library. When she follows through on my instructions, I am trying to remember to praise her for it.

This proactive communication is far more pleasant than frantic reprimands once we get someplace or after an outing turns sour. Again, this doesn't produce perfect behavior or complete parenting bliss, but it does go a long way in improving things.


Training is a process. One of my friends has had kids for a good 4 or 5 years longer than me. In my pre-motherhood days I use to think that her boys were kind of wild. So much fun to be around, but things always seemed a little out of control.

Now they are in their mid-elementary years... and I cannot believe the transformation. They are still energetic and interesting and fun- but they are also perfectly polite, well-mannered, helpful, and under control.

Watching them grow has made me realize that immaturity is so much of what makes parenting little people hard. Toddlers and preschoolers are immature, they are young. Growth and training is a process. It takes time, and while progress may seem slow or insignificant, it is constantly under way.

Every time I communicate an expectation, correct a misbehavior, and train in kindness or sharing or other Biblical truths; these little seeds are being planted, taking root, and starting to grow in my child's heart. Over time this hard, mundane, and often thankless work will show fruit in the lives of my children.

My task is to faithfully sow, weed, and water. To not lose heart. To remain patient and loving in the process.

Maybe they are obvious truths, but realizing the necessity of communication and seeing training as a process has felt like the dawning of a new era in my parenting.

Here's to God's grace at work in our hearts as parents. And here's to hoping I will always remember and live in light of these truths.


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