|Kara (4.5) and Jonathan (almost 3) doing their sibling Bible verse for a special at church: "How happy it is when brothers dwell together in unity!"|
The next tip after trying to set your toddler's taste for kindness is the following: Decide ahead of time what your "behavior absolutes" are going to be.
1. These are the behaviors or negative character that you absolutely will not allow in your home. What you allow now will become the “acceptable behaviors” to your child. These seemingly innocent actions include “fibbing,” hitting, being mean to others, running the other way when called, etc.
2. For us, these “behavior absolutes” included the following:
a. Talking back (no toddler saying “no” without being punished)
b. Lying or deceit
c. Temper tantrums
d. Striking (hitting, pulling hair, throwing things at someone, etc.).
e. Being mean
Obviously, we wanted our kids to learn to obey and submit to us and to learn the many character qualities that are crucial to living a Christian life, but these five things were things we never wavered on—and things that we made huge deals out of when they were not adhered to by the toddler/preschooler.
|Kara (now 23) and Jonathan (now 21) have been best friends since they were very young.--honest! ;)|
One question we frequently get when discussing the idea of behavior absolutes is "How do we make a certain behavior an absolute?"
Before I delve into a couple specific tips for this, I do want to say that keeping sibling fighting to a minimum, helping brothers and sisters love each other, and instituting and enforcing a no striking policy is more a way of life than it is a list of do's and don't's.
Obviously, we believe that there are some key things that accounted for our children's very limited fighting and not harming each other, but more than that list of things we did is the idea of being "that family." Not weird or trying to outdo others with our "uniqueness"--but rather our children knew that though others might fight all the time, we were"that family"--the family that doesn't allow that. Though other children may raise their hands to harm their sibling, we are "that family"--and we do not permit hurting each other.
A way of life--one that begins with "setting tastes" for kindness and good character and one that has certain expectations always in place. Not expectations that "do this or you're toast" but expectations that Mom and Dad taught us this way, and this is how we live.
But on to that list--a few things that we think can help a family develop certain behavior absolutes (including loving and being kind to siblings):
1. Behavior absolutes begin with a mindset.
This mindset is one with faith in what you are doing. Faith that making behavior absolutes that our children will learn to follow is what is truly best. Faith that these things that we are saying are not allowed in our home are things that God would have us do. Faith that God will bless our family's consistency, efforts, and desire to please Him. Faith that consistency and godliness in our home really will work.
It is also a mindset that says, "What I am trying to do here is so important that I am going to put the time and energy into it that it takes to accomplish it. I am not going to let things slide that I know will cause us not to meet our goals for our children's behaviors. I am not going to look the other way when I know something is not right. I am not going to downplay something that we have deemed as important from the beginning."
That is a tall order. But it is one that can truly be carried out. When we go into this parenting endeavor with an idea of what we truly want our homes to look like--and the determination to follow through on it--it is very possible.
2. Your reaction to behavior absolutes being broken is crucial.
My husband has an annoying saying (it used to be; now that our kids are mostly grown, I agree with him!): "We are getting the behavior that we want. if we wanted something different, we would do something different."
While that isn't one hundred percent accurate, the concept is true. If we want our children to be kind to each other and not strike each other, then those behaviors have to be treated as terrible behaviors. We can't just say, "Be nice" and hope that their behavior changes.
We liken behavior absolutes to sitting in a car seat. We can say over and over, "I just can't get him to quit hitting his sister."
However, we somehow (eventually) get our child to quit screaming in the car seat and sit in there until he is five or six! How is that? It is because sitting in the car seat is a behavior absolute. We would ever consider letting a child have his own way and sit up front between Mom and Dad. It is the law. It is the way it is--and it can't be changed.
So it is with behavior absolutes. We have to feel so strongly about those behaviors that we will not budge on them. When one of our kids is mean to another one, we will not just say "Be nice" and send him to his room. We will instead respond as though he just did something very, very bad. Because if meanness is one of our behavior absolutes, it is a very, very bad thing.
I have to inject a note here about spanking--because many "modern moms" are either against it or believe that it doesn't work. Or buy into the philosophy that spanking a child will make him mean or will make him strike others.
I know that a family of seven children is not a full-blown case study. However, I don't see how the whole "spanking causes children to be violent" could possibly be true when all of our seven children were spanked (not carelessly; not in anger; not for frivolities or childishness) for the Four D's --and yet they are seven of the most peaceable adults you will ever meet. As children, they didn't often fight with each other--and seldom (if ever) struck another child (or bit, pulled hair, pushed, hit, etc.) after age two or so. (I'm sure they probably did as toddlers--but we treated it very seriously and nipped it in the bud.)
So yes, we spanked our children if they were mean or if they hurt others (as well as for other defiant behaviors). But we didn't have to do it often. Peace with each other and not harming others was a way of life, so it didn't take a lot of discipline for it.
Thus, the way we respond to our behavior absolutes will have a huge bearing on how "absolute" these behaviors become. Don't take them lightly. Don't put kids in their rooms with video games or televisions because they were unkind. Don't tell children who hit that they shouldn't do that--and they should be nice. Respond with the level of unacceptability that you would for something really bad--if you think it is really bad.
3. Don't make too big of deal out of things that aren't important.
If we truly want to develop behavior absolutes in our homes, then things that are not that big of deals can't be made into big deals.
We see this all the time. A parent responds to a child leaving his socks on the living room floor in the same way that she responds to his backtalking or being unkind to his sister. While we recommend that the things you feel are behavior absolutes be given a high priority and level of response, we also believe that in general parents need to "lighten up" when it comes to childish behaviors (being too loud, making a mess, forgetting to pick up his socks, etc.) and focus on behaviors that are truly important (and from the heart)--such as direct disobedience, meanness, disrespect to parents and other authorities, etc.
When everything our kids do is the same level of "wrongness," they will not learn the difference between sins and mistakes. When everything our kids do is punished in the same way, they will feel that they can never please us--that no matter what they do, we will find fault in them.
I won't spend a great deal of time on this as we have several posts about this under the character training label and we teach about it extensively in our parenting seminar, but just examine your parenting and see if you are placing too much emphasis on the wrongness of a behavior that is just a kid being a kid and not enough on something that is coming from a child's heart.
I will move on to older kids--including punishments that are appropriate for fighting, helping kids learn how their behaviors affect others, and teaching our kids to love and respect each other--very soon. Thanks for joining us!