Saturday, January 16, 2010

day seventeen: become a problem solver

"When a child is allowed to do absolutely as he pleases, it will not be long until nothing pleases him" (Anonymous).

If you don't want your kids to get muddy, don't let them play in the mud! But if you're like us, and think there are many more important things in life than if kids get muddy, go ahead and let them play! The key is to be proactive--decide ahead of time what you can and cannot tolerate!

One of our favorite Preventive Parenting tips is that of becoming a problem solver. As parents, we can complain that we do not like how something is going or how our children are behaving--or we can decide to solve the problem at hand. 

We have found that many things that seem insurmountable--getting kids up and around on time in the mornings without too much stress, having the evening meal on the table at a certain time, and being sure that our kids are reading a lot--are easily taken care of when we decide to solve the problem--rather than just complaining about it or wishing that things were not as they are.

Let me give you some real life scenarios that I have recommended or heard of lately to get your "thinking skills" and "problem solving strategies" working:

1. Kids up running around in the morning, getting into things, etc.,  before Mom has had a chance to get herself ready--and prepare for their rising! Make a "nobody up until you are told you can get up" rule. Our preschoolers were not allowed to get up whenever the pleased. Just like they had to go to bed at a certain time, they also were not permitted to get up at random times. We had tape players in their bedrooms with radio dramas and talking books available--and also had them put their favorite books on their headboards. They were allowed to read or listen to tapes in the mornings, but they had to wait for me to get them up before they got out of bed.

2. Kids outgrowing their naps but fighting with each other when Mom and other littles are trying to rest. We can come out and referee fights, yell at our kids for waking the baby, etc. or we can make a quiet hour--a time in which only quiet activities are allowed. For us, these quiet activities were in a tub marked Quiet Hour--and were items that did not need any assistance to use. In the case of fighting after outgrowing naps, the two who are fighting must have Quiet Hour in separate rooms--and if Quiet Hour is violated, it's back to naps for them.

3. Kids not ready in the morning on time, stress and fighting, etc. Implement morning routines. A set list of things that each child does from rising times until breakfast, or whatever the end of morning routine time holds. Figure up the amount of time needed to get those things done, subtract that from leaving or ready for school time--and make that time the Morning Routine time. (More about morning routines tomorrow!)

The point of this post is that so many things that cause us stress, fights, poor relationships, nagging, etc. can be handled through problem solving--preventive parenting--parenting in a way that we prevent those times, as opposed to always putting out fires because we did not prevent them to begin with.

Preventive Parenting provides a much more peaceful environment in our homes. It allows us to work on the discipline issues that are really crucial--and to ward off punishment, etc. for situations that can be handled ahead of time, rather than the heat of the moment. As an added bonus, Preventive Parenting teaches our kids how to solve problems, come up with options, get a handle on things before they become too big, etc. as they watch us model these skills for them.

day sixteen: think of more surprising fun ideas

I emphasized yesterday that we always wanted our home to be filled with fun, as well as spiritual input and educational excellence. And anytime we could do that fun with surprise and creativity, it was even better!

Here are some ideas of “surprising” fun that we have done:

1. Told everybody to gather around to say good-night only to tell them to go get their shoes on, we’re going to town for ice cream or other sweet treat! (I have heard some families who do this frequently—and call if their family’s pajama run!)

2. Watched the first installment of a movie at home whose sequel was on at the theatre and at the end of the movie, said, “Wow. That was so good. I wish we could see the second one. Wait…we can see the second one. Let’s go to the ten o’clock showing!” and loaded everybody up to go to the movies.

3. Told the kids we were having a family work night, but then when it’s time to start working, have pizza delivered—and have a family game night instead.

4. Secretly packed their overnight gear when we went to visit my dad and step-mom, and then when my dad said (as he always does) that he wishes the boys could stay overnight, I said that sure they could, we already have their stuff packed—to the kids’ amazement.

5. Wake them up in the morning for school like usual, but then surprised them with a “free day” instead (since we homeschool).

6. Stopped to do go karts or lazer tag on the way home from church or some other event near those places.

7. Biggest surprise ever: We traveled to Tennessee with Ray on business when we only had four kids eight and under (and only one who was reading). When we left Tennessee, we headed south rather than north—and went to Disney World for a couple of days. At one point in the night as we traveled, Joshua lifted his sleepy head and saw a sign for Florida—and it was all we could do to keep him quiet until we got there. The kids who remember this one still talk about it!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

day fifteen: be creatively fun—and surprise your kids

Several years ago our son Jonathan, who was ten at the time, went to a minor league baseball game nearby with a friend and his dad. When Jonathan came home, he had quite the story to tell:

“After the game, Mr. Simon was driving, and all of a sudden, the car started acting funny. He pulled into Atz’s Ice Cream, with the car chugging and gurgling, and said that he guessed we had to get ice cream since the car broke down in front of the place. Then, you know what, Mommy? We went in and got ice cream  and came back out—and it started right up. It wasn’t broken after all. Mr. Simon just did it for a joke—to take us to get ice cream!”

I smile every time I think of that story—and of the surprising creativity or creative “surprizisity” of that dad. Of course, it would have been easier, faster, and cheaper to just go home from the game. He had already put in his evening of “dad time,” after all. But he knew that it would warm two little boys’ hearts to go get ice cream—and the car “breaking down” would just add an element of surprise and fun to top off the evening.

We have tried to make our home almost as fun and entertaining as it is spiritual and educational. We have always felt that if we want our kids to want to be here with us, we need to be fun and, yes, even entertaining, at times. (Or at least provide fun and entertainment for them.)

Surprises do not have to cost money. Sometimes they are as simple as doing something ordinary in an extraordinary way—like making pancakes with cookie cutters or eating dinner on the living room floor. Other times, when funds allow, something more elaborate is surprising and fun (and even more surprising if it is something that you do not normally do or cannot usually afford). Being creative, spontaneous, and fun will endear our children to us tremendously. There is no reason why a Christian home should not be filled with love, stability, joy, spiritual emphasis—and spontaneous, surprising fun.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

day fourteen: practice “proactive parenting”

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”
                                                    Winnie the Pooh

In our books, workshops, and articles, we describe three types or aspects of parenting:

1. Corrective Parenting--which includes (a) consequences for character training and (b) punishment for disobedience and disrespect

2. Affirmative Parenting--which is what much of this blog is about—it includes relationship building; developing family unity; having fun with your children; giving your kids a healthy, Christ-centered self esteem, etc.

3. Proactive Parenting--which, in a nutshell, is warding off problems before they develop

Proactive Parenting, as we define it, could also be titled “Organizational Parenting.” The quote above by A A Milne sums it up. Proactive Parenting is all of the things you do “ahead of time” so that when you do things (i.e. live life with your children), “it isn’t all mixed up.”

In other words, plan ahead a little through pre-teaching, explaining expectations, household organization, character training before it is needed in action, and more—and you have just parented “proactively”—you have parented in such a way as to prevent problems that are not necessary.

We will be discussing Proactive Parenting in this blog dozens of times throughout this year. I will give you a short list today to get you thinking about it, though each of these items will be posts in themselves, so check us out often!

1. Explain expectations ahead of time—adults do not like to work in situations in which the expectations are not clearly laid out, and children are no different. This is our number one Proactive Parenting strategy—and is one that we have used our entire twenty-seven years of parenting and still use on at least a weekly basis, though we often use this daily.

2. Discuss character all the time—what is acceptable behavior for your family members? How should a son or daughter behave in various situations?

3. Follow schedules that provide predictability and stability—this is especially crucial for young children, but even adults and teens function better when they know what a day will hold.

4. Create chore charts, morning routine charts, after school charts, menus, cleaning plans, etc., so that your children have visual reminders of their responsibilities,

5. Develop routines for weekday mornings, after school, and any time in which it is important that the same things happen over and over (i.e. dressed, teeth brushed, pj’s away, bed made, morning reading, etc.) and prioritize these over “extra” activities. (Get to the place where you "Delight in Dailies"--then teach your children how to "Delight in Dailies" too!)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

day thirteen: give the time that is needed during certain times and seasons

Two years ago we were experiencing one of those times—a period of time in which one child, Cami our third child and second daughter, required an inordinate amount of time and attention. She was beginning a relationship and eventual engagement to a young man who now is her husband of one year. We weren’t new to this time squeezing—we had already married our oldest (a son) three years prior to this, and had many months of intensive time spent with older teens in planning for their futures.

Every evening seemed to be taken up with this relationship—Mom with Cami; Dad with Cami; Dad with Joseph (now our son-in-law); Mom, Dad, Cami, and Joseph. And the “little boys” decided that enough was enough. Finally, the then-twelve-year-old came up with a plan: “I know how to get more of Mom and Dad’s attention. I’m gonna get a girlfriend!” We assured him that, that would, indeed, get him attention—though it probably wasn’t the kind of attention that he wanted!

We have found in our parenting that there are definite times and seasons (and these will vary child-by-child, gender-to-gender, and in other ways) in which we just need to set aside unusual amounts of time to tend to a child’s social, emotional, and spiritual needs. And preparing for marriage is certainly one of those times!

Of course, we all recognize this as a general concept. Case in point: I was either nursing, pregnant, or both for fourteen years out of a seventeen year period. Now that’s a lot of time meeting needs! But there are many others—newborn babies take a lot of time feeding and diapering; toddling toddlers must be under nearly constant watchful supervision; pre-teens must be observed closely for those days of hurt emotions; teens need Mom and Dad extensively to help them prepare for their futures. And we have found that young adults need their parents more than ever.

We have always felt that to follow the “fairness” model of parenting—same number of presents per child at Christmas, same amount of money each birthday, same amount of time devoted to needs, etc. could cause us to potentially miss out on some “biggies.” It has been our experience that we need to discern our kids’ needs carefully—and be ready to give whatever it takes to meet them, even if it seems unbalanced at times.

We encourage parents to oversee their kids carefully, paying special attention to relationships, emotions, spiritual peaks and valleys, and more. Be ready to put other things on the back burner in order to meet needs as they arise.

Monday, January 11, 2010

day twelve: teach children that the world does not revolve around them

As much as we spend time, money, energy, and love on our children, one thing that we did not do is let them think that the world revolves around them. We have always taught them that the earth’s orbit consists of 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds—and that it does NOT orbit around them!

A major aspect of teaching children to be others-minded is instilling in them this true fact: it's not all about you. In our self-absorbed society, this is harder to do than ever. We have lost our basic consideration of others.

In child-controlled homes, the children are often set up to think that everything actually is about them. After all, they whimper, fuss, roll their eyes, or throw a fit, and things around them change. The world must revolve around them with that kind of power at their disposal.

The initial way to stop this is to avoid or dismantle that child-controlled home and put the family members in their proper places. But even if we do instill proper, biblical child-training from babyhood, a part of that foolishness may still remain. The monster of selfishness continues to rear its ugly head.

This is where a change of mind--a different way of thinking, and acting, and talking--comes into play. From our children's earliest years, we have told them that it is not all about them. Oh, we love them, affirm them, encourage them, play with them, train them, give good gifts to them, and many other loving parental acts. I adore my children! But the world does not revolve around them, and until they understand that other people are more important than they are, they will never fully be able to live a God-first, people-second life--for they will always put themselves in that first place slot.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

day eleven: teach children empathy*

 "'...if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'"
                                                         To Kill a Mockingbird

If I could only instill one character quality in my children out of all of the dozens of qualities they could acquire, it would be empathy. You see, once a child has empathy, he has a much higher likelihood of utilizing all of the other character qualities we desire for him to have.

Sure, a child can be diligent, but without empathy causing him to feel that someone needs something done, diligence might not help him much. A person can be extremely kind, but without the ability to see others' needs and extend that kindness, that quality can literally go unused. A Christian may be as loving as can be, but without the ability to see the unlovely ones, that love will not be spread as high and as wide and as deep as it could be.

Empathy may be defined as "a consistent consciousness of others." An awareness of others' needs with the desire to meet those needs. Walking in another's shoes--and a deep longing to act upon the knowledge gained from walking in those shoes. Or, simply "seeing others' needs and truly wanting to meet them."

 In Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout's father, Atticus Finch, teaches his young daughter about empathy after she had a confrontation with her teacher. He says it in such a way that one cannot help understand the very heart of empathy training, that of getting into someone's skin and seeing life from his perspective: "'...if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'" That is truly the depth of empathy training our children need.

*Note: We feel that empathy training is at the heart of Christian living and parenting! We will have literally dozens of tips for teaching children empathy in Positive Parenting 3*6*5 throughout this year—so “stay tuned” and look for the tag “empathy training” in the labels beneath the posts.