Friday, April 25, 2008

Aim for the Heart

Have you ever been faced with a rule that you didn’t want to obey? Or a situation with someone in authority that frustrated you? Have you ever had a boss, teacher or authority figure for whom you had no respect or trust? What made it difficult to obey the rule or follow the direction of that person in authority? While in seminary, I worked at the UPS warehouse (Hub) in Portland, OR. I had some good supervisors there, but there was one that I remember who would scream and yell and belittle his workers. I noticed that it didn’t really work to improve the efficiency of the operation and only caused resentment and lack of enthusiasm for the job among his employees. In the same way, we as parents often sabotage our own discipline! To prevent this we need to aim for the heart in teaching our children. Here are some examples:

Sabotage: Having rules that are unclear or seem to have no basis.

Aim for the Heart: Teaching them the moral principle behind the rule, make the rules clear and enforce them consistently.

Sabotage: Sending a mixed message with our actions. For example: If I tell my kids to obey the rules, but I routinely break the speed limit. Or if I tell my kids to respect their teacher, but I bad mouth the cop who just gave me a ticket. These send a real mixed message between what I say and what I do.

Aim for the Heart: Set an example for your kids of adherence to the rules.

Sabotage: We lose their respect when we lose our temper and fail to be in control of our anger. We lose their trust when we make rules or give commands or discipline out of selfishness. For example: we say, “You are driving me crazy with your constant whining!” Wait a second. Should your child not whine because it bothers you? This statement makes your comfort and happiness the reason for the request to not whine.

Aim for the Heart: We gain our child’s respect by being in control of our own emotions. We gain their trust when they know we have their best interest in mind. Trust times respect equals influence (remember that formula). We teach our kids not to whine because it is a self-indulgent and ineffective form of asking for a need or want to be met. We need to teach them to ask politely for that need or want to be met, and then how to take “no” for an answer.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fear of Punishment or Love for what is right?

When a 1 year old reaches for an electrical outlet, a slap on the hand and a stern “no” is how we teach her that this outlet is off limits. With consistency she develops an association between what is off limits and the pain of discipline. This is fine for very young ages, but as the child gets older, we hope for something better.

Aim at the heart. The goal of parenting is to instill a desire and ability to love God and obey him. Our primary job is to motivate our children to obey God out of a love for Him and a love for what is right. Our secondary job is to equip them with the tools to be able to accomplish this with success (like helping them build a strong “self control” muscle, see this post). We must be careful not to train children only in the avoidance of punishment, that’s not reaching the heart; we want them to be motivated by convictions that are based on biblical principles. Note the connection between parental teaching, the heart, and the rest of life as described in Proverbs 4:20-23 …

My son, pay attention to what I say;
listen closely to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to a man's whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life
(NIV, emphasis added)

There are several things we do as parents that sabotage our training of the heart. For example, when we tell our children to do something, “because I said so” or “because I’m the dad.” Or when we threaten punishment if they do the wrong thing instead of giving them the moral principle behind the rule or command. Throwing garbage out the window of a car is against the law and can result in a fine … if you get caught. But if I teach my kids that littering is disrespectful to the environment that God has given us, it is disrespectful to the people who have to look at it, it is not honoring the people who will have to clean up after me, and it says, “I am more important than them, they can pick it up,” they will begin to see the moral principle behind the rule. There really are moral implications to littering and they tie back to those foundational rules of life: love God and love others. Now that I understand this, it’s no longer a matter of getting caught, respecting others and God’s creation is part of my inventory of values.

Next week: More tips on Aiming for the Heart

Friday, April 11, 2008

See Discipline as Teaching

Can you imagine a teacher yelling as he teaches the times tables to his fourth grade class? Or getting red-faced and frustrated as he diagrams a sentence on the board? That’s absurd! And the students, although not particularly excited about multiplication and nouns and adjectives know that these things are really just part of school and school is part of life. A good teacher tries to keep a good attitude as she hands out assignments. The effective instructor sees himself as an ally to his student, using creativity and effort to do all he can to reach his apprentice with the knowledge he seeks to impart.

When we begin to see discipline this way, then it changes the tone and climate of our parental discipline. I call my two year old over to lay down on the changing pad. He refuses. I call him over again and explain, “if you don’t come now, you will get a time out.” This is not an empty threat, it is the promise of a teaching tool. He still doesn’t come. I get up and move toward him … he comes running to lay down on the changing pad, but it’s too late. This is not first-time-obedience (we will talk more about that later) so the time out is administered. Please see the post from March 28 (Be Prepared with the Proper Discipline) for step by step instructions on giving a 2-year-old a time out. But this discipline is a normal part of the teaching process, it does not have to be a source of anger and frustration if you can see it from this perspective.

“But, I forgot.”

A very popular method of attempting to get out of a consequence is saying, “I forgot.” Let’s say you have a rule that homework left at school results in no TV that night. Or you that if you leave your cereal bowl on the table, you are charged a cleaning-fee of 50 cents out of your allowance. In each of these cases when the consequences are applied, the child says, “But that’s nor fair, I forgot.” You simply explain, “then hopefully this consequence will help you to remember next time. I know you forgot, I am not mad and you’re not in trouble, this is just to help you learn.”

This concept of “I’m not mad and you’re not in trouble, these are just the consequences to help you learn,” can alleviate a mountain of unnecessary screaming, yelling and arguing. By the way, once this has been explained, if the arguing continues, there is a consequence for the arguing separate from the original discipline.

Next week: Aim for the Heart … the true goal of discipline.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Fighting the Battle!

Do you ever feel like you are in a battle with your kids? From toddler to teenager there are many times when you may feel like your house is an all out war zone. If we can consistently apply today’s principle, we can change this trend!

The principle sounds simple: “Put the tension where it belongs,” but it is extremely powerful. Here is a recent example from our house.

A coat is left in the living room that belongs hung up in the entryway. Our kids get $2 per week for allowance and if they leave a coat out, they are charged 25 cents. We see the coat, we mark on the dry erase board on the fridge (if you don’t have one, get one) the child’s name and “-25 cents” and we put a post-it note on the coat laying on the floor that also says “-25 cents” and we don’t say a word. When the note is discovered, she tries to ask for an exception. I simply say, “The rule is: when a coat is left out, it is minus 25 cents.” I don’t lecture or scold or make any other comment. There is no arguing, no fighting, no bickering. The consequences speak for themselves. I am on her side, I don’t want her to loose any allowance, the tension is not between me and her, it is between her and the temptation to drop the coat where it doesn’t belong. I want her to win. I am using a logical consequence as a teaching tool.

Another example:

Let’s say the rule for your teen is to leave a note if he goes somewhere after school. He forgets. Let’s say the consequence for forgetting is not going out for the next two days. He comes home and you say very simply, with no emotion, no anger, no tension, “You didn’t leave a note as to where you were going, so, no going out for the next two days.” The battle is on, but it is NOT between you and him. You can honestly say, “I want you to be able to go to your friends house every day, but you didn’t leave a note, so you can’t go for the next two days.” Once you have explained this, there is no need to engage in an argument … and don’t let him draw you into an argument. “It’s not fair! You don’t understand! You can’t do that! I can’t miss the party! You hate me!” or worse. Don’t be drawn into the battle. You can say with calmness and sincerity, “I really think after these two days, you won’t forget to leave a note. That’s what I’m hoping for.” After that, you can be completely silent and walk away. He may follow you around the house hounding you. Don’t lecture, don’t yell, don’t get upset. Your self control will be frustrating to him at first, but it is an example to him in the long run. Don’t be afraid to simply be silent and not respond. Leave the tension where it belongs: between him and the tendency to forget something important.

Next week: See the Discipline as Teaching.