Saturday, January 23, 2010

day twenty-four: begin empathy training early

“So how does that make her feel?”
-One of the most popular Reish family questions

The most popular post of Positive Parenting 3*6*5 so far has definitely been the one a couple of days ago about not allowing your children to strike one another. So many people want to know what to do if their preschoolers and school-aged children are already hitting or harming their siblings in anger or frustration. While there are many answers to that question, one thing that stands out more than anything about the topic of harming another person is the dire need to do two things: treat your children with the kindness, love, and gentleness that you want them to treat their siblings (and others) with and begin empathy training early.

When I say “treat your children with the kindness, love, and gentleness that you want your children to treat others with,” I am not suggesting for a minute that you be their “little buddy” or that you do not punish them as needed. I am suggesting, however, that you “do to them what you want them to do to others” when it comes to tone of voice, interaction, gentleness, etc.—from babyhood.

We have three boys, ages seventeen, almost fifteen, and eleven—our last three children, and I am convinced that the reason that they have such kind hearts, sweet spirits, and gentle actions toward others is because they were preceded by three girls in a row who doted on them, loved them, and treated them with great kindness. They also have an older brother (the oldest child in the family) who would never hurt a flea and adored them as well. From these boys’ earliest recollections, they were handled with kindness and gentleness (and yes, lots of discipline and punishment, as needed)—and they treat others the same way.

When I say begin empathy training early, I mean to explain to your children from babyhood that their actions have a huge influence on others. This begins with simple cause and effect explanations. “When you took that toy away from Joey, that hurt his feelings because he was playing with it first.” “When you called her Stupid it made her sad. We shouldn’t say things to others that make them sad.” And yes, even, “How do you think that makes her feel?”

We have a tendency as parents to be firefighters—always putting out fires instead of  preventing them. We grab the toy out of Timmy’s hands and say that Joey had that. We tell our little ones not to talk that way. And on and on—oftentimes in anger and frustration because we have allowed a behavior to become a pattern. If our children are mean or harsh with someone, we need to bring to their attention the effect that that type of behavior has on that person—not just tell the child to stop doing it.

I believe in punishment and discipline for children very strongly. But I also believe that if we would, from our children’s earliest days, treat them kindly and remind them how others’ feel, we can ward off a lot of unkindness, harshness—and even “striking”—while training them in empathy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

day twenty-three: hold on tightly to your children to keep the light burning

"The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out."
                                James Baldwin

Relationships are tricky things. And the closer the people are to us (i.e. the more they see the real us), the trickier they are. This is especially true in our marriage relationship and our child-parent relationships. We must work hard at keeping our kids close to our hearts.

Something that we have found to be true in our relationship with each of our kids—regardless of gender, personality, or age—is that we must hold tightly to it. We must never, ever cease to hold onto those sons and daughters. We must never, ever let loose and let the waves of the world (pressure, work, other relationships, daily living, responsibilities) engulf us and overtake us—and put out the light of that relationship.

It’s hard work keeping our relationships with our children fresh and in good standing. The quote above talks about ceasing to hold each other. We have found that physical closeness is one way to stay close to our children, not only in a literal, physical sense, but also in our hearts.

This isn’t so hard with the littles. Who can resist whisking them up in our arms, swirling around the room, snuggling them in Mama’s bed, rocking them in our lazy-girl chair? I remember when my older kids were little, I would lie on the sofa and read to them. I would make an arc with my legs—and they would “sit in my rainbow.” It kept us close—and for many years thereafter, if one of them wanted to talk or be close or if I wanted one of them to come and be close one-on-one, we would say, “Come, sit in Mommy’s rainbow.”

We had many other verbal cues that the child needed the physical closeness from their parents. Sitting in Mama’s chair, snuggling in Mommy and Daddy’s bed, sitting in Daddy or Mommy’s rainbow, cuddling on the couch….all of these were ways to draw the child close physically, which in turn allowed us to draw the child close emotionally and spiritually too.

Obviously, teens and young adults do not fit in Mama’s rainbow anymore, but they still need our physical closeness, nonetheless. It’s not uncommon at all for my older daughters to be visiting and snuggle and watch a movie with me in my room, sit in Dad’s arms while we talk in the living room, or share my chair and a half while we look at pictures on the computer or talk about our days.

We need to look for ways to get physically close with our children—to make them feel safe, secure, and loved. To give appropriate physical closeness to them. An arm around the shoulder to the teen boy by Dad. Arm in arm walking from the car to the restaurant with my daughter or son-in-law. All of these draw us together….and “keep the sea from engulfing us” and putting out our light of love.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

day twenty-two: do not allow children to strike each other

"The only moral lesson which is suited for a child, the most important lesson for every time of life, is this: ‘Never hurt anybody.’”
                                          Denis Breeze

A question that we get asked a lot is “How do you get your kids to NOT fight?” Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of little things that go into siblings getting along. I would never pretend that our children always got along perfectly—or that they never had “their moments.” They are really good friends—both those at home and those who are grown, but seven kids and two parents living in one small fourteen hundred square foot house allowed for a lot of, well, relationship training! When our children didn’t get along, we tried to use the opportunity as a teachable moment, a time to instruct in interpersonal skills, problem solving, deferring, Christian character, and more.

However, one thing that we emphatically taught them concerning each other—from very young ages—is that you are not allowed to strike your sibling. I am sure that they did hit each other on occasion—or that “playing” got out of hand and what started as “normal” living room tackles became real pushes and shoves in anger, but I can’t say that I remember them, even as preschoolers, harming one another.

I think the whole not “striking your sibling” thing has to have three components to ward it off: (1) from the beginning of the child’s early memory, it needs to be ingrained within them that under no circumstances are they allowed to hurt others (siblings or otherwise); (2) it must be a “biggie”; in other words, it can’t just be a passing “don’t do that” or “go sit in the corner for that,” but instead must be a huge deal in your home, right up there with lying and other “biggies”; (3) it must be punished consistently if it occurs (while making a “big” deal out of this “biggie”).

Since this is a Positive Parenting blog, intent to give suggestions on Positive and Preventive Parenting, as opposed to Corrective Parenting, I will leave number three of the list above up to your personal discipline style. The other two, however, are taught through consistency and empathy training. Consistency in keeping appropriate behaviors in the forefront of their minds and hearts—and consistency in discussing these things all the time (as well as consistency in discipline). And empathy training by putting within their hearts that we must think of how others feel at all times.

I liken enforcement of the “biggies” of Christian parenting (lying, striking, disrespect, cheating, stealing, etc.) to a carseat analogy. People always say that they cannot “get” their kids to do something or to stop doing something, such as in the hitting scenario. However, those same parents somehow got their infant, then their toddler, to sit in a car seat every single, solitary time that child was riding in a vehicle. How could that be? Didn’t the child want out? Didn’t the toddler scream and throw fits? Didn’t you have to let him out and allow him to sit where he wanted to in order to have peace?

Of course, the answers to those questions are obvious ones. The child stayed in the car seat while traveling in the vehicle because there was simply no other choice. The same thing can be true of anything that is important to you in your parenting. If you truly want hitting (or lying or any negative behavior) to end, you must make it non-optional, just like you did staying in the car seat.

While I certainly do not agree with the above quote that the only lesson a child needs is not to hit someone, I do agree that ONE of the “most important lessons for every time of life, is this: ‘Never hurt anybody.’”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

day twenty-one: be the kind of parent you always dreamed of being

When I was in elementary school, I had a friend who came from a big family. When we were in sixth grade, I believe there were already eight children in the family—and my friend was the oldest. When I went to her house to stay overnight, three things stood out to me: how her parents made them recite and pray before bed (they were devout Catholics whose children memorized catechisms and the Lord’s Prayer, etc.); how hard her mother worked—from first thing in the morning until she tucked the kids in; and that her mother made homemade bread all the time.

Fast forward several years later, and I had another friend whom I would stay overnight with in junior high. This mother had a home business (beautician in a shop attached to their house), and she, too, was a diligent mother, but that isn’t what stood out the most to me. The thing I remember most about this mother is that she sang all the time. She would be washing someone’s hair in her shop, and I would hear her humming away; however, when she was in the house doing chores, she would sing at the top of her lungs—beautiful, melodious, life-giving songs.

From these early experiences, I formed a picture in my mind of the kind of mother I wanted to be—a spiritual-teaching, hard-working, bread-baking, beautifully-singing mother. I wanted to be part Mrs. Leugers and part Mrs. Kessler.

And I admit it. I started out mothering that way—minus the “beautifully singing” part—however, I did sing all the time around the house, beautiful or not. These images stayed with me forever, and occasionally they would pop in my mind—remember the kind of mom you wanted to be?

I rarely bake bread these days since we only have a couple of kids at home and my writing and teaching are demanding of my time; however, I do remind myself often that when I was but a child, I knew what kind of mom I wanted to be. I go back to those ideals and look at my current situation: how am I measuring up?

Maybe you have mental snapshots of what kind of parent you dreamed of being when you were a little boy or girl. Or maybe your grandiose parenting ideals stemmed from when you held your first baby in your arms—and vowed in your heart to love him, impart God’s truths to him, be patient with him, play with him, teach him right from wrong, and much more. Whatever your “parenting dream” may have been—it’s never too late to go back and be what you wanted to be—to follow your mom or dad heart.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

day twenty: establish and follow up on morning routines with “older” children

"Our children are not going to be just ‘our children’—they are going to be other people's husbands and wives and the parents of our grandchildren."
                                                    Mary Steichen Calderone

I think of the quote above often when I am working with my eight to eighteen year olds on “life skills.” All of the character, skills, routines, relationship abilities, work ethic, and education that they develop now will follow them all throughout their lives—and will have a profound influence on the kinds of spouses, parents, workers, citizens, and Christians that they will be as adults. Every life skill that we teach our children—and better yet, model for them---has the potential to help them be successful in many areas of life—even the morning routine.

If you find yourself chasing your preteen around with a toothbrush and hair brush or following your teen around, helping him find his shoes and stuffing things in his backpack every morning, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! Again, a huge part of successful parenting is being a problem solver. We can continue chasing every morning, or we can implement routines and schedules that help us “prevent” that morning chaos.

Here are some tips for developing morning routines with older children (beyond preschool):

1. If your family has been of the mindset that chasing, stuffing bags and backpacks, cajoling, etc. are part of Mom’s job description, you will want to change that way of thinking quickly! Allowing our children to be irresponsible because we feel guilty if we do not do everything for them is not going to help us parent our children to become independent.

2. Partner with your older child to decide what he needs to do each morning. Let him suggest a doable list with your input.

3. Make a chart or list on the computer—or have your older child do that, so he can monitor his own progress on accomplishing his morning goals.

4. If mornings are extremely hectic now—with older kids on the computer, rising late, etc. and part of the family waiting in the car beeping the horn, etc., you will want to be firmer about establishing the morning routine and what order things are done, etc. We have done this for so many years that our boys, for the most part, know that this is what you do in the morning. When these items are done, I can do something else I want to do, start my school, etc.

5. If your children go to school, I recommend just putting in the morning routine those chores that pertain to that child, such as making his bed, straightening his room, putting his pajamas away, cleaning up messes he made, etc. Save other family chores for after school or before bed. (More on chore charts, appropriate ages for various chores, etc. in upcoming posts!)

6. If your older kids are poor prioritizers, you will want to use this opportunity to help them learn the art of prioritizing. If they consistently make bad choices when it comes to getting things done, you might have to “bring in the boundaries” some and give them step-by-step instructions on what to do for now. Once they gain responsibility and diligence, you can broaden that and give them more leeway. For example, if they get on the computer, text friends, etc. instead of getting their routine done, you might have to institute a “no electronics” rule until they show themselves more faithful. Remember, this entire process is a teaching opportunity—and some of our older kids need more lessons than others!

Monday, January 18, 2010

day nineteen: develop morning routines for your preschoolers

When "littles" have routines and consistency, every day can be a joy!

Yesterday I introduced the concept of the morning routine for all children. Today I would like to spend time on helping parents develop morning routines for their preschoolers. Tomorrow I will address older children and teens in this area.

I mentioned that a mom at a parenting seminar taught us about morning routines when we only had first graders and under. As she explained developing this routine, she showed her littles’ morning routine chart—a darling “board game” that she made on half sized poster board with every other square of the “Candyland” type of board containing a picture of something that the child needed to do in the morning—a child dressed; a child making his bed; a child putting his pj’s away; etc. It was so sweet—and we came home and promptly made “morning routine board game charts” for all of our kids who were old enough to follow the board and do a morning routine. (We used little people/animals with that tacky stuff placed on the bottom of them for the child to take around the board as he does his morning routine. These boards hung on the refrigerator, so it was important that the little pieces were lightweight and stuck well when the child put them on a square.)

Here are some additional tips for implementing morning routines with your little ones:

1. Timing each activity before setting the morning routine time is more important with this age group than any other. Small children can get discouraged if things seem to take too long—and a timer and reporting back to you while developing the time for the morning routine will help him see that this morning routine is truly doable.

2. Consider making a game board like the one described above, with pictures of children on them for your non-readers. (We wrote the task at the bottom of each picture, so the child had the picture as well as the words.)

3. You know your little ones better than anybody. Only put in the morning routine what your child can truly go do fairly independently. Start out small with just a few tasks and then increase as his responsibility and diligence increase.

4. If an entire morning routine chart would overwhelm your young kids, consider an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of tag board divided into four equal quadrants. In the upper two, put GROOM and ROOM; in the bottom two, put DRESS and MESS. Start with the upper left hand square and work towards getting that part done without complaining and dilly dallying. This GROOM one might include washing face and hands, brushing teeth, combing hair (or coming to Mom with brush and ponytail rings to have her fix your hair). Once that is well underway, add the ROOM one—and have him straighten his room and make his bed in the morning. Continue in this way until all four quadrants are part of his morning schedule. (You can laminate this and have him X each quadrant with a white board marker as he finishes it each day.)

5. Be consistent. If you say that morning routines will be done before breakfast—and before the television is turned on, then follow through. As soon as you start varying from the plan (letting him watch a cartoon when his morning routine isn’t finished, etc.), the morning routines will go by the way. He needs to see that you are serious about helping him learn diligence, responsibility, time management, obedience, and more by being consistent with his morning routine.

6. As mentioned yesterday, consider something fun, like a first-thing-in-the-morning story to get your little ones moving—then do the morning routines.

7. Only put things on the morning routine chart for this age that truly must be done in the morning. You do not want to fill the morning with so much activity that it cannot all be accomplished. Anything that can be done ahead of time, such as packing backpacks, laying out clothes, making sandwiches for lunch, etc. are better off done the night before rather than trying to cram too much into the morning.

8. Develop consistent morning routines for yourself. We can’t sit down with coffee and the morning show in our robe while expecting our children to be doing their morning routines. Modeling goes a long way in teaching thoroughness, time management, and much more.

9. Rewards and encouragement go a long way for this group!

I think back nostalgically to the days of five littles nine and under—all learning how to work, become organized, and more via morning routines. They were so proud of their morning routine game boards and would often take visitors to the fridge to show them and tell them what their early mornings consist of. Two of our little ones even did recitations at a “homeschooling expo” in which they showed their charts and told the audience what they did each morning when they got up. Wowsie…that makes me smile…with a few tears of longing mixed in.

Note: We used Choreganizer chore cards to develop our preschoolers' morning routine charts (available at Clip art programs would also work well for obtaining pictures to use on charts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

day eighteen: develop morning routines for your children*

“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” Anonymous

Image Blessed Femininity

One of the most valuable “Proactive Parenting” tips that we have followed is that of the “morning routine” development. Twenty years ago we attended a parenting seminar in which a young mom was discussing how we could make our mornings run more smoothly, teach our children to be more independent, etc. through this thing that she called morning routines. She even had darling picture-filled charts that she made to help her non-readers follow their morning routines. We began morning routines immediately upon arriving home—and we still use them over twenty years later.

I tell moms in our workshops that “morning routines will change the way your entire day goes.” This has been true for us as a homeschooling family, but I definitely think that parents whose children need to get up, around, and off first thing in the morning would really benefit from developing these routines. If you find your mornings extra stressful—and you drop your kids off at school in less-than-happy moods as a result of the hurried, nagging-filled morning or you homeschoolers start your school day off with kids still in pajamas or carrying Lucky Charms into the school room when it’s time to begin—then morning routines are for you.

Below I will give you some tips for starting this outstanding daily habit—and in days to come, I will address various age groups and the morning routine more extensively.

1. Decide how extensive you want your child’s morning routine to be. For older kids (especially girls), we have found that it can be a full ninety minute block that includes their personal morning habits, as well as chores, devotions, and exercise. For younger children, especially boys, we have had morning routines that were simple—and called “room, groom, dress, mess”—signifying that it includes straightening their bedroom, person grooming, getting dressed, and cleaning up any messes they have from the night before (i.e. water glasses, books upstairs, making bed, etc.).

2. If your mornings are chaos now, I recommend starting with a simple list of five to eight tasks that have to be done upon rising—the most basic things that must be done. For example, getting changed, grooming, putting away pj’s, making bed, packing bag for day, etc. This can be added to later once these daily habits are established.

3. Consider what you truly have enough time for in the mornings. We are flexible with our mornings in that Mom and all of the kids stay home and do school, so we have a morning routine time, a chore time, and a personal devotion time—all before breakfast. (When our girls were home, they usually had an exercise time, as well.) If you need to get your kids out of the house early in the morning, you will not want to try to do so many things in the morning as your kids’ rising time would likely be unbearable to get all of those things in before a seven a.m. school bus trip.

4. If your children are always sleepy in the mornings—and hard to motivate, consider starting your morning ten minutes earlier, and waking them up to a story or a chapter out of a chapter book. When our boys were younger, I would sit on their bed in the morning and read to them to wake them up—then they got up and started their morning routines. This seemed to give them some time to get used to getting up and moving.

5. Be realistic in how much time everything takes. When we first set up our preschoolers’ morning routines, we used a timer and had them go do each task, then report back to us. We told them how long that activity took—and wrote down that time plus ten or twenty percent (since they will likely move more slowly in the mornings). Then we added up the total list and came up with an allotment of time for morning routines. This way both of us knew that they truly could get that little list done in that amount of time.

6. Set up consequences or rewards, depending on your parenting style. If you are having really harried mornings now, I recommend that you start out with rewards and then move to consequences. For example, you might have a jar for each child and every morning that the morning routine is completed without reminding, complaining, etc.—and on time—you put a quarter or fifty cent piece in the jar for a treat at the end of the week. After a couple of months, you could remove the reward incentive, but tell them that morning routines are still part of your day—and that if they do not do them according to the guidelines, they will lose a privilege.

The goal of morning routines is that everybody is doing what they need to do in order to start their day—without fighting, coaxing, cajoling, stress, and yelling. It is, in essence, a step toward teaching our “children to get along without us.”

*Watch this blog for future posts on morning routines at different ages and stages, chore charts, and more.