Friday, April 2, 2010

day ninety-three: using “teachable moments” the old testament parenting-way

“Mommy read out loud from a chapter book while we ate. I’m starting to kind of like chapter books, even though they don’t have any pictures; I can make the pictures in my head now.”*

I love the instruction we received twenty years ago about teaching your children everything all the time! It is based on a passage in Deuteronomy about when you should talk to your children about God (what he’s done for you; about his love, justice, mercy, etc; everything about him!):

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes" Deuteronomy 6:5-8 (NKJV)

It essentially lists four key times, times that might be considered “useless” for instruction, but yet are actually very “teachable moments”:

1. When you rise up—in the mornings before the busy-ness of the day begins

2. When you sit down---anytime you are just sitting around with your kids (while you’re waiting, driving, etc.)

3. When you walk by the way—again while just walking through life (at the grocery, taking a walk, going to your next event or appointment, etc.)

4. When you lie down—bedtime!

In the “Jonathan’s Journal” passage for today, Jonathan enjoyed listening to a chapter book being read aloud while he ate breakfast—the first two opportune times in our Deuteronomy verse—when you rise up and when you sit down.

These Old Testament verses are obviously not law or commandments. But like many other passages throughout the Bible—they are good, common sense ideas that yield tremendous fruit. (Doing things the Bible says has that effect!) Incorporate teaching times—via talking, reading aloud, listening to audios together, etc. into times that are already part of your life.

We are all our children’s first—and most important—teachers, whether our children are homeschooled, private schooled, or public schooled. We have the four opportunities listed in Deuteronomy to use as teaching times—times to tell our kids about the importance of good character, to talk about God and His ways, to reiterate the sacrifice Christ made for us so that we could live forever in heaven, to emphasize the importance of people and relationships, to instruct in how to get along with others, and so much more.

The next time you are “with your children in the way,” or you “rise up in the morning,” or you “sit down with them for a meal,” or you “lay them down for sleep,” consider the “teachable moments that are before you—and teach your children the Old Testament, common-sense, heart-reaching way.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

day ninety-two: making preschoolers part of the family routine

“My big sister made yolky eggs for breakfast. I had to butter the toast—which is the worst job ‘coz it takes FOREVER. It’s worth it when I push a corner of the toast into the yolk, and the yellow puddle oozes out. I love yolky eggs.”*

Preschoolers can be so dramatic (as evidenced by Jonathan thinking that it takes FOREVER to butter the toast in today’s excerpt!). But you know, that is part of what I love most about them. One of my best friends has grandchildren. Specifically, she has two granddaughters from two different sons that are within a month or two of each other in age, both five years old. I could literally sit for hours and watch them talk to each other—all the drama that two darling little girls can manufacture, pulling their hair out of their face, eyes wide with expression, whispering…oh the drama of preschoolers.

Today’s passage from “Jonathan’s Journal” makes an important point about preschoolers—make them part of the family routine! They love to do. To be a part. To feel important. And incorporating them into the daily routine of chores, schedules, and family doings helps them feel a part—and feel important.

We liked to give our children as difficult of jobs and as much work as they could reasonably handle. We never gave them token jobs. (More on this in a few days, honest!) I can remember Jakie, when he was five, coming home from a family’s house and exclaiming: “Do you know what Stevie does for his chores? He unloads the SILVERWARE! That is humiliating. I would be so embarrassed if the only job I could do was unloading the silverware!” 

We have laughed about this story over and over—but he makes a good case for not giving children token jobs only! We have found that the more challenging the jobs, the more training the children receive to do those jobs, the more they rise to the occasion. And they are so proud of their accomplishments when they do tackle harder work.

We stressed from early ages that our family needed each member. That each one contributed to the family in important ways. We always pointed out the ways that each child made our family successful—the chores that they handled way beyond their years, the load that was lightened by each one’s contribution, the vast amounts of work that could be accomplished thanks to each person. Make your preschooler part of the family routine—but not just any part. Make him an important, needful part—and let him know that he is!

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

day ninety-one: avoiding “too many choices too early”

Next we had to get dressed and groomed. I had to brush my teeth three times before I got them good. I threw a TEENY fit because I wanted to wear my new blue shirt that’s for going places, and today is a stay at home day, so Mommy wanted me to wear play clothes. My little fit didn’t do any good—I wore the play clothes.”*

One of my favorite training topics with preschoolers (training—not the complete wonderful-ness of them, which is my fave!): avoiding too many choices too early. Why? Simply because this one simple training tool when understood and practiced religiously by parents can make a huge difference in how much you (and others!) enjoy your preschoolers.

In our story, Jonathan threw a TEENY fit because he didn’t get to wear what he wanted to wear that day. And, of course, his little fit did no good; he wore what I wanted him to wear.

Nowadays, we hear so much about self-actualization; self-esteem; etc. in children. And while we are all for building a healthy, godly self-esteem in children (God is great and we are small!), we have never bought into some of the ideals hailed in parenting magazines and from many “experts” (who had 1.2 preschoolers per person and a nanny!) concerning children needing to make so many decisions at early ages in order to be able to make decisions later. It simply isn’t true.

Children learn decision making by being GUIDED in decision making early—and then gradually being able to make decisions when they are older and wiser, have all of the information needed to make a decision, and are ready to suffer any consequences from decisions. In the case of always letting them decide what to eat, what to wear, when to go to bed, how much television to watch, etc., they have none of the aforementioned qualifications to make those decisions: not older, not wiser, lacking information needed, and not likely to suffer the consequences (at least not as much as Mom and Dad have to when they do not eat right, do not get enough sleep, etc.!).

We have found that one of the greatest training tips we can utilize in the preschool years is to avoid giving children too many choices too early. Instead of, “What do you want to wear today?” Our children are much better off with, “Do you want to wear the red play shirt or the blue play shirt?” Instead of, “Which drinking glass/cup do you want to use?” We have found it better to ask, “Do you want the skinny plastic cup or the short and chubby one?” (No reason for them to decide to use glass glasses or expensive mugs.)

And oftentimes, we have found that it is even appropriate to limit choices altogether. We have discovered that if our preschoolers are consistently unhappy with the choices, they are probably not ready to make choices. A discontent preschooler usually signals to us that we have given that child too many choices—and that we need to “bring in the boundaries” and limit choices until he is happy without them.

It is far better in raising preschoolers to make “choosing” a gradual process—one that is earned by the child, rather than a right that a little one gets simply because he or she is loud! Our method was to keep tight reins on our littles during the toddler years and into the preschool years—then to gradually loosen the reins as the child showed readiness. Whenever the child began throwing fits, being unhappy with the choices, etc., we knew that we had expanded the boundaries too far too quickly—and we brought them back in until more maturity was reached by the child.

Back to the “preschoolers need to make decisions and have choices in order to be a decision maker later on”: by holding tightly at first, we are not saying the child will not learn to make decisions. We are saying that the parents can tell when the child is ready for each step of decision making---and that is when that privilege should be given.

Think about it—we do it all the time with important things. We do not let the child wander outside where ever he wants. He is not mature enough to make that call. We do not let the toddler sit in the vehicle in any seat. We know, as wiser and more mature adults, that the car seat is the safest place. And guess what? The child accepts those decisions that are made for him because he has not been given choices in those matters.

In the case of little daily decisions, we have found that giving a child too many choices too early is the number one reason for discontentment and difficulty. Our benchmark for allowing the little one any choice was this: is he or she happy without getting to make the decision? If not, chances are good that it is too soon for that little one to have that freedom.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

day ninety: first thing in the morning with toddlers and preschoolers

“I woke my little brother up GENTLY, and we wrestled a little before Mom came and took us into her bed to snuggle. Mommy and Daddy’s bed is so warm, it must have some kind of special heater in it. Mommy says it’s warm because they’re so in love. Does love really make things warm?

Mommy read us our LITTLE EYES BIBLE, and I knew all of the answers when she asked the questions at the end. I let Josiah answer the really easy ones, so he would be happy. Mother read us our blessings, then held us close and sang Josiah’s favorite song that Mommy made up: ‘Precious Baby.’ Josiah said that song is Jakie’s now, but Mama said it is still ours, too.”*

If you have four children or more, you are probably very aware of how helpful older children can be with the younger ones. We trained our older children thoroughly in child care (parenting classes with us; babysitting training through the Red Cross; reading aloud family living books; listening to teaching tapes about relationships; etc.)—and they enjoyed helping with the littles. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that when my small ones first got up in the morning, they did not want Brother or Sister. They wanted Mom!

So my plan to have an older child each take a little and help him or her with morning routines, chores, grooming, etc. soon backfired on me. It worked out okay at that moment most of the time, but my putting the littles off until I was done with some critical subject in school (which I tried tackling right off the bat) came back to haunt me about nine or ten o’clock when I had demanding toddlers and preschoolers who did not appreciate being “scheduled” later in the morning!

Thus, I revamped the schedule (I did that a lot in the past twenty-five years!) so that the babies, toddlers, and preschoolers had me first thing in the morning.** As the excerpt today shows, once the littles got up, I usually did something with them right away. We would often do our own little Bible/character lessons or reading before they even did their morning routines. I found that by nursing, rocking, reading, talking, singing, etc. to the six and under crowd right off the bat, they were more cooperative in their morning routines when the older kids helped them or dressed them, etc. –and they played more contentedly longer in the morning while I did other things (i.e. schooled the older kids).

Preschoolers and toddlers do not require large amounts of time as much as they require well-placed periods of time. “Mommy time” first thing in the morning for just a few minutes gave me a better morning with the other kids—and a more productive morning as well.

We have done our first thing in the morning time different ways through the years—sometimes I had the youngers wake up to morning reading times. This gave them a chance to wake up gradually, snuggle longer, and not have to rush into the day.

I also placed morning reading time directly after the morning routine time. This gave the kids incentive to get their morning routines done as diligence and promptness on their morning chart yielded more reading time with Mom.

Experiment with your preschooler’s and toddler’s schedules to see what works best in your scenario. (I found that what worked best often changed with the number of children, the personalities of them, the season, etc.) But see if more “Mommy time” first thing in the morning doesn’t make your entire day go more smoothly.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

**Keep in mind an earlier post in which I suggest that parents, not children, determine when little ones go to bed and get out of bed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

day eighty-nine: when preschoolers do not cooperate!

Mama picked me up, and we swirled and swirled ‘coz she was so happy I remembered to make my bed without being told.” “Jonathan’s Journal”*

No swirling—time to take action. Our preschooler simply will not cooperate with the morning routine. He dawdles. He gets sidetracked. He “forgets.” And on and on.

Chances are pretty good that this little guy is not being menacing, willful, or rebellious. He probably just needs more training, more practice, more guidance—in a nutshell, he needs reality discipline.

Here are the steps that I would likely take with this little one, based on the preceding teaching about childishness versus willfulness.

1. Be sure the expectations of the morning routine (or any routine/scheduling type of thing) are not too vast or inappropriate for his age/level.

If you have previously allowed your little one to go from the bed to the television, with a possible detour to the Lucky Charms cabinet to fill his bowl to enjoy with his morning Barney, a complete change in that is likely huge, much less adding to that an entire list of tasks that he must now complete. If this is the case, I would take a step back and make baby steps with your preschooler. Start with changing the “first thing in the morning activities.” (As a sidenote, and to be discussed later, when I need to change things drastically in my life/schedule, I start with the first hour of the day and work forward. In this case, I would start with the first few minutes of your little guy’s day.)

If you want a more organized, peaceful morning, it will probably need to change from the beginning. I wouldn’t institute an entire morning routine chart just yet. I would tell him that in the mornings, you are all going to start getting up and getting all ready for the day first—and tell him that you will tape his program for later when it is a more appropriate time to watch it. Then just get a handle on the first fifteen minutes of the morning, getting him up and walking him through it. Then move on from there once that is established.

2. If the chart and expectations are appropriate, then go back over the chart with him, check the time you have allotted, etc. Be sure, once again, that it is appropriate.

3. Tell him that you know that he can do that list and become responsible for himself like brother and sister (or Mom and Dad) do. Come up with a valuable reward and go for it.

4. If he still gets sidetracked, etc., break the chart up into sections (i.e. the four parts that I described a few days ago—mess, dress, room, groom)—and have him report to you after each “part” (quarter in that case) is done. Do not let him do anything else until that fourth is done.

5. If he still does not cooperate on each 1/4th of the routine, then tell him that you know that he can do his morning routine right—and that he will have to have consequences for not doing so. Devise appropriate consequences for this undeveloped character:

      a. If you do not get up and get ready for work in the morning, you would likely lose your job—bring this down to a preschooler’s level. If he does not cooperate, he will lose privileges that follow the morning routine.

      b. If it is “parent-imposed”—not feeding him nutritious food in the morning; allowing him to have a television in his room that he watches at night; not implementing and following through on a bedtime that allows him to get enough quality sleep; etc etc;--you need to change first!

After checking, rechecking, offering rewards, breaking it down into manageable chunks, having periodic reporting or follow up, etc. etc., a childish behavior can sometimes become a willful behavior—even in little kids. In this case, they simply have no regard for your position as their authority and their responsibility to obey you.

You will likely know when this happens with the morning routine (especially if you have followed all of the advice on this blog for the past week). At that point, my advice goes from a “Positive Parenting” type of advice into “punishing parent”—and we do advise that. Unpunished willfulness does not go away.

We have had periodic episodes of uncooperativeness in most of our children—especially after vacation, a week off for special events, etc. We give a little reprieve, but not for long. No morning routine? No computer time. No chore session? No video time. If that doesn’t do the job, Dad usually gets more involved—and it is solved fairly quickly.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

day eighty-eight: reality discipline/consequences—childishness vs willfulness day iv of iv

Reality Discipline

I love what I learned more than twenty years ago in Kevin Leman's book, “Make Children Mind Without Losing Yours.”* In that book, Leman describes reality discipline.

Reality discipline says that the consequences of a child's behavior should match the behavior. We should strive to make the consequences of our children's childishness to be as natural as those that an adult might encounter when he or she commits a similar infraction. I was a young mother, just over twenty, with only one child at the time that I read Kevin Leman's book. I remember thinking that reality discipline made so much sense. In part, I think I saw it as so appropriate because I was still an irresponsible kid myself in many ways! Regardless of why it made sense to me, it did, and Ray and I pored over that book until we understood the concepts Mr. Leman presented. We began implementing it immediately, as much as we could. (However, the majority of infractions committed by a three-year-old are disobedience and require punishment.)

At the time I first read “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours,” I also happened to be reading the book of Judges in the Bible. I remember reading portions of Kevin Leman's book about a consequence matching the infraction about the same time I read about what to do if you accidentally kill your neighbor's ox: replace it. I remember meeting Ray at the door at the end of the work day, excitedly telling him that reality discipline is biblical! Then I continued in Judges, and time after time, God's prescription for various infractions was reality discipline. If you do this, the natural consequence will be this. If this occurs, this will happen. Not only did reality discipline make sense to me, but it also seemed to be the way God treated us much of the time. For example, when we forget to deposit checks into our checking account, we get charged for being overdrawn (and incredibly embarrassed). When we don't clean out our junk drawer, it gets full, the drawer won't shut completely, we can't find anything, and it takes longer to clean out later when we finally get around to cleaning it. These are natural consequences.

For children, reality discipline means allowing natural consequences to have their effect or setting up consequences that are appropriate for the infraction. For our youngest, who looks at books instead of unloading the dishes after his morning routine, he might not get his computer time (his free time; he already took part of it), or he might not get to choose two stories during story time (he already looked at his books). For our older child who kept forgetting to kennel the dog three times in a row, he, perhaps, needs more kenneling practice. Maybe he should have dog responsibility for an entire week instead of two days a week.

Of course, there are instances in which grace is extended. Just like the bank occasionally calls to tell us that we are overdrawn and asks us if we would like for them to move money out of the newspaper-delivery-business account into the family account, we extend grace to our irresponsible children. Just like when my husband surprises me by cleaning out the junk drawer while I'm at a meeting, thereby thwarting the natural consequences I would have endured, so I extend grace to my childish little ones. But too much grace for my irresponsibility, and I become lax and more irresponsible. Too much grace for my seven-year-old's disregard for the dishwashing schedule, and he becomes more childish rather than less childish. Sounds like the Lord's prescription for working with us--a balance of grace and justice--grace because He loves us and justice because He loves us too much to let us remain as we are. As parents, it is our job to help our children transition from childhood to adulthood, from childishness to responsibility. We do this by making them responsible for their behavior. We do this by giving them consequences for inappropriate irresponsibility.

Notice I say inappropriate irresponsibility. I always try to remember that I sometimes forget to kennel the dog when the boys are at the disability ministry and it's my responsibility. I try to remember that I sometimes do not run the dishwasher before I go to bed if the boys are gone. I try to remember that there have been times when I have had a stack of checks in my purse to deposit for days, only to discover that I forgot to deposit them, and my checking account was overdrawn. I try to remember that I sometimes let my "junk drawer" accumulate until the drawer can hardly open--and it breaks.

And no, none of this is easy! We had one child who, for nearly a year (between the ages of one and three), had unbearable high chair behavior (among a myriad of other willful behaviors)-so much so that each night we had a designated "runner," someone who had to cart the little tyke upstairs to his crib when he screamed or threw his food. Every night it was a different person, so that at least some of us could enjoy the meal and interact with each other. This went on nearly every dinner for a long, long time. It was terrible. The older kids still tease the little guy about when they had to be the runner for him! However, they will not forget the endurance and determination it took to turn this behavior around--and hopefully, it will give them the motivation to persevere during difficult parenting issues themselves someday. If Ray had not been so determined, firm, and practical, I would have given up long before the results came about. I probably would have given him whatever he wanted to eat every night, just to keep peace. (And not have an eleven year old that I enjoy immensely today—well, I would still have an eleven year old, but I wouldn’t be enjoying him immensely. Something was dangling there!)

Raising children is a fine balance of punishment, consequences, discipling, affirmation, encouragement, and praise. It is the world's most important job--and that is not just a trite phrase for a parenting book; it truly is. We have the opportunity to help shape future adults by our faithfulness (or lack of faithfulness) to biblical child training.

Sorry for the length! I decided not to break this material up any more, but to keep it intact here so that we can get back to preschoolers specifically tomorrow—and back to my darling Jonathan.