When I was still in the hospital after delivering my third born, the pediatrician came to visit and before leaving, she handed me a little blue book. “Our patients always comment about how they wish children came with a manual,” she said. “So we wrote a manual.” And with a wink, she turned and walked out the door and I looked down at the book in my hands as if I were holding the keys to the Universe.
I tore into it immediately, ready to soak up all the how-to’s and wisdom this treasure had to offer. But after 10 minutes, I tossed it aside in utter disappointment. It was chock full of information, yes, but not the information for which I desperately yearned. It told me little nuggets like when to call the doctor, medicine dosages, how to potty train and so on.
What it did not tell me, however, was how to deal with a beligerant two year old who refused to comply with the simple directive of putting on her shoes. Or the feisty four year old who melted into disappointed tears when life didn’t quite go his way.
Upon bringing our third bundle of joy home, my husband and I set out on a quest to learn all we could about this thing called parenting. We were, of course, already working hard to teach our children obedience and respect, but we constantly felt as if we were fighting a battle. And being outnumbered, we decided it was time to get a firm handle on the rug rats in our midst.
After reading many books and participating in one stellar study, we now feel like we’ve gleaned at least a little wisdom on how to effectively train our children. It’s not easy, that is for sure. It takes work and discipline and grace and patience – and some days are much better than others. But we’re working on it. And we are seeing the fruits of our labor as our children grow.
There is a sign in the Magic House that says the average four year old asks 437 questions every day. And I would venture to guess that about 80% of those questions are “Why?” For awhile, I thought the acceptable response to this question was, “Because I said so.” I’m the mom, I said do it, so do it. Don’t question me.
But one of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the last few years is that if I constantly demand compliance from my children without telling them why, then I will only set them up for failure. Nobody likes to follow arbitrary rules. I certainly don’t like it, and I don’t know why I thought it was an effective way to parent my kids.
So I began to practice telling them why I was asking for their obedience.
Don’t pick the neighbor’s flowers, honey, because she worked really hard to plant those so that we could enjoy them and if we pull them up no one will be able to see how pretty they are and how nice they smell.
Stand up, honey, and let your grandmother sit in that seat. Because we want to respect those who are older than us and by standing up you will show her respect.
You can’t run inside the mall because there will be lots of people there and if you run away I might not be able to find you, or you might accidentally run in front of someone and trip them and make them fall. That would be so sad wouldn’t it?
It sounds silly and trivial, but it’s helped my children understand that I have reasons for the directions I give them. And when there is a reason, there is motivation to comply. It also teaches them an awareness of the world around them and an understanding that the universe doesn’t actually center around them.
Of course, there are still times when they simply need to obey what I say without question. Sometimes a direction doesn’t have a moral implication and just needs to be obeyed. For example, if my son is standing in the street and I see a car coming, he needs to obey my order to get out of the street without questioning me. There will be time for explanation later, but in that moment, obedience is key.
The bottom line is that we all desire to raise morally responsible, obedient, respectful children. And we want to start working on this process when they are very young and we have the most impact on their character. Our job as their parents is to reach to the very heart of our children and instill in them the virtues and values that will help them make practical and moral decisions as they grow.
Raising children requires that we coach them through this game called life. When they are very young, we will be out in the field with them, constantly helping them understand how to succeed. As they grow older, if we’ve done our jobs well, we will be able to sit back on the sideline, cheering them on, offering advice when asked, and watching them cross victorious into adulthood.