“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.” – John Wilmot
I pretty much find that quote to be true. Obviously, there are very few parenting truths that apply to every child. Different personalities demand different methods. These are a few things that have worked well for us (so far in our relatively brief stint as parents); and, a few words of wisdom from parents we respect who have gone before us.
1. When you have multiple children, spending quality time with each child individually is very difficult. We have started allowing 1 child per night to stay up 15 minutes later than the others for one-on-one time with Mommy & Daddy. This has been surprisingly difficult to be consistent with, but has been well worth it. We get frustrated some days when this 15 minutes may be the only 15 minutes that our son or daughter has had alone with us all day; but, as a wise friend pointed out: God can do a lot with a little.
2. In discipline, as in most things kid-related, consistency is key. We’ve found that behavior is worse when punishments vary. For example, we might put our son in timeout for hitting his brother one day. He might get a spanking another day. He might get a warning another day. His behavior is always better when the punishment is consistent. We now have a rigid process: 1. Head thump. 2. Tell your brother you are sorry and ask him to forgive you. 3. Give him a hug. We do this every time….in public and in private.
3. Counting to 10 is of the devil. Yes, we are guilty of this at times. “You have until I count to 3 to stop _________.” We are inadvertently teaching our kids to wait until we get to 3 to make a good decision. The same is true for escalating vocal volume when giving kids instructions. “Junior, stop playing in the water…..JUNIOR, stop playing in the water…..JUNIOR STOP PLAYING IN THE WATER NNNNNOOOOWWWW!!!!” When we are in public, people often (no, not always) marvel at my kids’ behavior. People are amazed when my kids quickly exit a play area the first time that they are asked. My wife has trained my kids to listen the first time. We haven’t inadvertently trained them that it is ok for them to wait to obey until we are yelling. Are our kids perfect? Yes. Just kidding, but this is one area that they-more often than not-excel in.
4. Your word-Again, consistency is key. Every kid, through some inexplicable inborn knowledge, knows how to ask the question “5 more minutes pahleeeeeeeeeeeeessseeee?” Our kids are learning almost everything from us…including time management. If you tell your child “yes, you can have 5 more minutes” you need to make sure it is a true 5 minutes. Why this is important: You will inevitably find yourself uttering the phrases, “you have 5 minutes to clean your room or else ________.” and “we have to leave for church in 5 minutes junior”. I know that I have punished my kids for failing to complete a task within a given time frame….which was a huge mistake because I have taught them that “5 minutes” sometimes means 1 minute, sometimes 10, sometimes 45.
5. Apologize to your kids. I screw up. A lot. Sometimes my punishments don’t fit the crimes. Sometimes I raise my voice too much. Sometimes, an hour after the fact, I remember that I had sent my daughter to her room. Sometimes I instigate a game of household-item-breaking living room dodge ball. There is no better way for my kid to learn about apologies and humility than to witness one of their God-given role models (I know, scary isn’t it?) in the process.
6. Reminder: someday, your kids are likely going to treat you the way that you treat your parents. Do you want your kids to come home for the holidays with the grand kids? How much of an effort do you make to let your parents see their grand kids?
7. “Teachable moments” are all the rage in parenting books these days. Take every teachable moment that you can. For example: your child has saved up some allowance money and wants to buy something at the store. 1. Junior has a great opportunity to learn that $1 bill won’t buy something that is priced $1 thanks to the evils of taxation. 2. If your son wants the $9 Transformer and he only has $7, think twice before pitching in the extra $2.74. You are inadvertently teaching him that $7 is really worth $9.74 when dad is around. You’ll be amazed what your son will learn by this simple act of refusal on your part. For example, maybe he’ll start asking about prices of items he wants. Maybe he’ll start calculating taxes and despise them. Maybe he’ll learn how to work toward a specific goal financially. Great life lessons.
8. Your kids watch your every move. Sometimes they even watch you while you sleep. Have you ever opened your eyes first thing in the morning to see your 3-year-old standing beside the bed and staring at you from a couple inches away? This happened to me a few times. I don’t know how long she had been there, watching me sleep; but, it creeped me out. Anyhow, kids see all. If you order water at a restaurant and fill your cup with Sprite, your kids will blur lines of morality as well. If you talk on your phone while driving, your kids will also. If you answer your phone during family dinner your teenagers will answer theirs during family events also. Life would be much easier if kids would do as we say not as we do…unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
9. Read a parenting book. We just went through Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, which I would recommend.
10. Best advice I have received this year: don’t let guilt interfere with your parenting. For me, it is easy to get caught up in the “coulda woulda shoulda’s” of parenting, and to get caught up in the guilt of my mess-ups. I have to remember to take things one step at a time. If I screw up a hundred times, just put it behind me and try to do better going forward.