Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Only Trust Him

I love formula-free parenting! It's opposite is guilt-induced and fear-directed parenting.

It is so neat to wake up each day, and trust God as I take each step. It is easy sometimes when I am reading a book to little man instead of washing the pile of dishes in the sink to think that I am "wasting" my time. What a lie from Satan!!! It is easy when I am taking care of my son's needs, whether they be mental, physical, or emotional, to wonder how I will ever finish the never-ending list of household chores. But when I choose to trust God, to invest in my son, and not to worry, my tasks get completed without sacrificing my son's needs, and I don't even know how I managed to do it all.

Let us endure in trusting Him each day over the lies of the enemy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Before Whom Are We Parenting?

New Christian parents are on display, especially in churches. Whether or not it is true, they often feel as though they are being evaluated based on the behavior of their children. It is tempting to try to force children to behave so that other Christians think that our family is "Christ-like."

I had a funny thought the other day. Imagine if we evaluated God and His parenting skills based on the behavior of His children? How many Christians are there who are blatantly living in sin, or just living life as though God doesn't exist....while God patiently and graciously deals with them, inviting them back into His arms, the Prodigal's Father? He is so fixed in His character, so confident in His authority, that He allows us, His children, to be poor reflectors of Him sometimes...because He is patiently wooing us, training us, knocking on our door, seeking to dine with us. He is SLOW to anger, ABOUNDING in lovingkindness towards us.

What if we evaluated God's parenting skills by the way Jesus' disciples acted? They were often so foolish and immature! How many times have I found comfort in the fact that Jesus' disciples behaved the way I so often do, and yet Jesus was patient and gracious with them? If Jesus had treated His disciples the way most Christian parents treat their kids, here are some things he would have said to them: "You guys are bringing shame to my name! You need to start acting like you're more mature! Why can't you guys just grow up?! Shame on you!" Here is what He would have done when they acted foolishly and sinfully and faithlessly: "I am going to have to punish you for that! You deserve it! I am doing it for your own good, so that you will act better in the future!" Did he do this ever, even once??? What did Jesus ask of His disciples? Did He ask good behavior of them? NO! He said simply, "Follow Me." He called them to Himself, to learn from Him. He taught them, taught them, taught them, over and over. And He loved them. When He returned to heaven, He promised them that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would guide them and be with them all the time.

We parent before God, not before people. This realization has been so good for me! Immature behavior does not scare me or embarrass me...I expect it. I welcome it as a teaching opportunity, and more than that, as an opportunity to extend unconditional love and grace, an opportunity to walk by the Spirit, to draw the patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control that I need from my Father. I know that my little man will not be able to actually "do good" until the Holy Spirit lives in him and works through him, and furthermore, he is a child who does not understand things like an adult can. My husband and I talk often about how much we are just enjoying our son as he grows up because we are not worried about his behavior, and we have chosen to let go of what others may think because we love our son, and we want him to readily accept Christ and to see that this Christ, who died for his sins, doesn't require anything from him but a life walk of dependence and trust.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Motivating Good Behavior

I took Aydon to the doctor yesterday for his two year checkup (two months too late, but asi es la vida).

I was very nervous because our last doctor visit, at 18 months, was a disaster. I recall that I cringed as Aydon screamed and fought his way off the scale and pushed the nurse's hand away when she tried to take his temperature. I endured more crying as we waited for the doctor in a tiny room...luckily, he decided nursing would comfort him, finally, and he calmed down. I realized that he was just so scared and didn't realize what was going on. That was at 18 months.

This time around, I decided to "play" doctor with Aydon before we left the house for the appointment. First, we used the thermometer. I explained that it would tell me if he was sick or not as we put it under his arm. I let him hold the thermometer and examine it. We practiced what it would be like to be laid on the scale and measured (I'm not sure when they start letting him stand on the scale? but anyways...). We practiced several times, and I had him tell me the steps before I acted them out. I told him that then we would see the doctor, who would check his ears, mouth, etc. I told him that he would get one shot that would hurt a little bit. After all of this, he was super excited, LOL.

And....the appointment went swimmingly! He laid so calmly on the scale. He waited while the nurse took his temperature. He glared suspiciously at the pediatrician, but relaxed as the checkup progressed...he even gave the ped (who is incidentally very good with Aydon) five when he left. The shot wasn't fun...but it was over very fast...and the tears dried up quickly, with no hyperventilating.

Of course, I also made sure that he was well fed before the appointment, so no low blood sugar came into play. And all children are different, and all ages are different, so I may have to try something new to keep doctor's visits successful, but I was so excited about this appointment.

I realize how amazing being proactive is to motivate good behavior. It is so true that kids who feel good, usually act good.

This is just one small proof that rewards and punishments are not the best tools to motivate behavior. I have seen parents bribe their children at the doctor's office: "If you behave, you can have candy." The problem with this is that if the child misbehaves, the reward goes out the window, and the child no longer has a reason to behave. I have seen so many desperate parents pretend not to notice misbehavior so that they can still dangle the reward in front of their child...also diminishing the effect of the reward. I have also heard parents use the threat: "If you don't behave, you are going to get it." I have seen said parents pinch, slap, and yell at their misbehaving children during the appointment. This is also rarely effective...the parents are usually not consistent (perhaps they use empty threats or have too many children, perhaps they really don't want to inflict pain on their child but don't know what else to do). These parents are almost always at odds with their children, and leave the appointment at their wits end.

Another reason that rewards and punishments don't work is that these fail to address the underlying causes of the misbehavior: too often the children are tired, hungry, fearful, and/or bored, and the parents are not willing to stand up and actively, gently, firmly steer their children in the right direction, reassure them, or just hold and cuddle them. Now, as a mom who has held onto a screaming 18 month old during an appointment, I am not judging these parents. But I do wish that they realized that their toolbox could exclude bribery and threats and punishments. Although my 18 month old screamed, I held him, cuddled him, endured embarrassment. I do not have any regrets about dealing with him harshly, trying to coerce him when he was just incredibly fearful.

I am happy that my heavenly Father does not deal with me using rewards and punishments either. It is His love that lead me to repentance, His always open arms that draw me to Him. He is not embarrassed by my childishness, and longs to meet all of my needs.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gentle Discipline

A fellow mommy put "Gentle Discipline" into beautiful words...Click here to read her thoughts.

I was thinking about "Bear Hugs" tonight. This is my term for "The Five Steps" tool. I think it is amazing at teaching toddlers how to have self-control. With Aydon I have used a condensed version: "You need to stop kicking the wall" (he was doing this at bedtime tonight). Then, when kicking did not stop after a repeated warning, "You need Mommy to help you stop kicking the wall," and holding him close and tight until he calms down. The funniest thing was that after I helped him, he was laying there holding his teddy bear, telling it, "Teddy bear no kick wall, Mail Man no kick wall, Daddy no kick wall...etc.". So cute! When he is a little older, I will extend the length of the script, and ask if he needs help as detailed in the five steps.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Teaching Toddlers About God

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is what to teach Aydon about God. I've been thinking about how child development fits into the picture of my teaching. The Bible urges us to always be talking to our children about God, when we wake up, when we play, when we lie down.

I think that something that is different between children and adults is that children, especially little ones, will accept anything their parents tell them as true. They don't need proof; they just accept it. They also have overactive imaginations, and cannot understand everything the way that we understand it. When Ryan (my husband) was a little boy, his church showed a series of end-time videos. He did not understand the context of these videos, and for many years he had a terror that birds would attack him and peck his eyes out (this was on the videos).

Sometimes without meaning to, we try to "scare" children into heaven. We tell them how bad they are. We pound into them that they will go to hell if they don't believe in Jesus. This sort of emphasis with young children can cause them to have intense fear that if they don't really see how terrible they are, they will never be able to trust in Jesus for salvation.

Have you ever noticed that when the gospel is shared in the Bible, the focus is always on Christ and what He did and how that was enough to save us? When Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the focus is on Christ and what He did! Now, that is not to say that the Spirit does not use the law to convict us of our sins so that we see our need for Christ. I think that an understanding of God's law is essential for us because that is what shows us our brokenness. But I think that the way we share the gospel with our wee children might look different than the way we share the gospel with our children as they grow older. The gospel message should always stay the same, of course: Christ died for our sins. Accepting his death on our behalf is the only way for us to enter heaven and for us to have a relationship with God.

Aydon is a two year old. He believes what I say. When I say that Jesus died for our sins because He loves us more than we could imagine, Aydon believes it. Right now, that is my focus. It is on Christ and what He did.

Another thing that I am teaching Aydon is that there is a right and there is a wrong. Hitting is wrong, for example. As Aydon grows, I will teach him more and more rights and wrongs. (As an aside, this does not mean that I have to make him feel bad for doing wrong, just that I need to teach him. Furthermore, I need to be careful not to deceive him into thinking that when he acts "good," he is more acceptable. My acceptance of him/love for him should never change. I deal with him through the eyes of grace. The Bible says that even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.) These rights and wrongs will help him to understand what sin is, and why Jesus had to die for sin. It is important to remember, though, that while I teach him what right and what wrong is, it is God's spirit who will work in his heart.

Finally, I am teaching Aydon who God is. I teach him that God made everything we see outside. I teach him that He made us. I tell him that God is everywhere, and that God knows all things. I instruct him that God is more powerful than anyone. I teach him that God is equally loving and fair. I tell him the story of Adam and Eve.

Again, toddlers believe what their parents tell them. We need to think about the picture we are portraying for them of who God is through both our words and our actions. Are we showing them a God who loves them so deeply that He was willing to die for them, or are we inadvertently telling them that God is scary and mean, ready to destroy them if they make one misstep? As they mature and begin to ask "why" questions, they will want to know things like why there is only one way to heaven. They will ask why Jesus had to die for their sins; why that was the only acceptable payment. We can share with them stories of how before Christ an animal always had to die for someone's sin, but now that Christ has come there is no further sacrifice necessary.

As we teach our children, we need to keep in mind that God created human beings with a will because He wanted us to freely choose Him. He did not want us to be like robots, forced to trust Him. While God gave the law to show us our sinfulness, He has never and will never use scare tactics to get us to trust in Him for salvation.We need to look to God for discernment as we teach our children spiritual truth; we need to share this truth with them without inducing fear. Only God's spirit can give us wisdom in this matter.