My weekly shopping is often a culture immersion experience where I get to see and hear what I would have thought was only possible in movies. Case in point: Today there was a young family cruising through the aisles, minding their own business, except for their little daughter who played the perfect whiny kid role. Her tantrums were so classic that I couldn’t help but wonder at her startling ability to fluctuate her voice to those undulating squeaks, screams, and pouts which are capable of sending half the patrons to the pain relief section. How…does…her…parents..stand it? I wondered. As I passed, her legs swinging in momentary triumph, I smiled benignly and she told me,”You’ve had enough!” The image of an irate parrot came to mind. How many times has she heard that phrase? Or was my cart a little too full for her comfort?
Years ago, on one of our routine visits to the doctor, I can’t remember which pregnancy it was, the sixth or seventh, I remember one nurse telling another – “Oh wait till you see this family. The kids are so well behaved.” They had better be, I thought to myself, or I won’t survive. When the nurse stopped us in the hall, beaming, she asked me how I did it. I was weary beyond words, and I knew that as good as the kids were at that moment, I was pushing their limits, as well as my own. So my answer was short and to the point. “Reward them when they are good, punish when they are bad.” I didn’t add any specifics. I figured she would understand. A few years later, when passing down that same hall with another baby in tow, the same nurse stopped us, with yet another soon to be believer. They both beamed. The younger nurse asked the inevitable: “So how do you do it?” But before I could give my standard answer the older nurse explained for me: ” Oh, it’s easy, threats and bribes.”
Needles to say, I was crestfallen that my original advice had been so completely misunderstood. But as I leave my little world of order and gentle civility each week and enter into a world which struggles so painfully, I feel the cost of our culture’s misunderstanding about raising kids.
So here are a few humble clarifications – just for old times sake:
#1 Kids are not toys. They are not meant to be fun. Kids are a LOT of work. Wonderful, fantastic, irrepressible bundles of kinetic energy – but worth everything you can give.
#2 Expect to be exhausted, don’t expect anyone to pity you and do your work for you.
#3 Make rules that make sense. And keep them yourself – but not to your self. Let your kids know the rules. If you say that your child should be in bed by 8:30, make it a routine and stick to it. Don’t break your own rules. Even when you are tired. Reeeealy tired. Being predictable has great advantages, namely, everyone knows you will follow up. Being wishy-washy sets the stage for power struggles every moment.
#4 Catch your kids being good and reward them simply – hugs, kisses, and verbal praise are better than candy. Less expensive too. And they don’t rot your teeth. Kids will do a lot to get a sincere hug.
#5 Discover little ways of giving children responsibilities. Even small children can carry a book to Mama, help set the table, wipe down a chair, pick up some toys and throw them, gently, into a box. A sense of being invaluable raises a child’s sense of worth. And if they do their jobs right – they soon will be invaluable.
#6 If a child is intentionally misbehaving, even if they are merely worn out from your overly long conversation, distraction, hunger, hurt or trauma, take action. Stop your child from repeating the offending action even if you have to leave the store, church, friend’s house… If you let it go, it will grow.
#7 Do something to let the child know what they did was wrong, and encourage them to feel sorry for doing it. Take specific action appropriate to the situation: early to bed with no story time, favorite toy taken away for a specific time, having to apologize to anyone hurt, having do extra work to make up for their misbehavior. I know, some people feel it is cruel to do anything that inflicts discomfort on a child, but allowing them to be disruptive, selfish, cruel or naughty, is hardly the mark of a loving parent.
#8 Be the parent. Make the hard choices. It can be painful to put our kids’ needs first but when they are young, they need parents who will leave a party before they are exhausted, who will feed them healthy food, not the junk that they crave which leaves them shaky and unbalanced, who will speak kindly but will not put up with sass or being commanded around as if the child were the parent. Parents have to remember: They have been given their authority from above – and some day they will be held accountable for it.
#9 Let God be God and pray for your kids. Teach them to pray for themselves – and for you too. No one is perfect. Forgive yourself when you blow it. Ask for forgiveness when you need it. Move on. Try again. Keep loving. Raise your kids and God will lift you both up high.