Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Few Tools That Have Worked With Our Sweet Little Guy

My little guy is a little older than 2.5. I have noticed that he seems to feel more content and secure when we do what we say. In order to always do what we say, we try to have very few boundaries. With our little guy, we do not want him throwing any toys except balls or stuffed animals, we do not want him to hit, bite, or kick us or others. Those are two of our main rules. We enforce them be being with our little guy, and by constant reminders and do-overs (not in a nag, nag way, just kind, and firm and consistent). We also redirect him to things that he CAN do. The other day, he picked up a car, and was about to throw it, then looked questioningly at us. "No, cars are not for throwing," I said firmly. He ran over and picked up another toy, looking at us again, his eyes saying, "what about this one?" "No, that toy is hard. It gives owies!" I replied, "But, you can throw your ball." A look of relief came into his eyes, and he said, "Where is it?" and trotted happily into the bedroom to retrieve it.

I also love routines, and so does my little guy. They help so much with behavior issues. For example, I limit TV and sweets. He is allowed a small sweet treat and 20-30 minutes of TV in the am when he wakes up, and the same thing in the pm after his nap. He loves this routine!! It keeps me from having to constantly be answering requests for more TV or more sweets all day, and it gives him something to look forward too. Routines are boundaries, but they also give kiddos something to look forward too. Oh, and we go to the park after I do dishes every day (being outdoors a ton lets out nervous energy too).

I also like to think of my words as "gold." They are so valuable, and if I mean what I say now, then it sets a foundation for my little guy's later years too. So, if I ask my son to do something, and he flat-out refuses, then I repeat, "You need to....". If he still refuses I say, "You need to..., or mommy will help you....". This is magical. Little man would prefer to do things on his own, to assert his independence, so 9 times out of 10, he chooses to do what I asked him on his own. If he does not, I pick him up immediately, and help him do what I asked. If he throws a fit, I will allow the fit some space (unless we are in the middle of the road, then I would move him to the side), and allow my little guy to calm down, and then we still follow through with what needs to be done. If he is tired, hungry, angry, lonely, then I do not request things of him, but deal with his needs first.

Another wonderful tool, is to give your little guy an exciting, beneficial-to-him reason to do something (this is not a bribe, as it is what we would do anyway, it just reminds him that something good is coming after he does what is not so fun--this motivates me too, with my household chores). My little man hates getting his diaper changed, but when he hears, "First get diaper changed, then we can go to the park," he is very quick to lie on the floor for me to change it. Or, if he won't wear his shoes, "Ok, no shoes! Then no playing outside," (said with empathy and kindness)...this takes patience, a willingness to wait for your child to decide on his own that he is ready to get his shoes on so that he can go play outside, etc.

GD means that we choose to parent with grace and empathy, to help our children, with gentleness, do what they need to do, to get down on their level and try to understand life from their perspective. It is far from permissive; it is a TON of work, because you cannot be a couch parent who yells out orders to your kids. If you say something, you need to be able to KINDLY and LOVINGLY enforce it. You have to be willing to endure tantrums and learn how best to soothe and encourage your child through the tantrum. You have to realize that you are parenting before God and not before others.

When I write things out, it always helps me to see areas that I need to work on, so this exercise has been good for me! More than anything, a walk with God by us parents is essential. Without His strength working through us, we would be unable to be both firm and gentle, wise and patient.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Growing Up

We went the mall yesterday to do some Christmas shopping. Usually, at the mall, we let our little guy walk without holding our hands as long as he stays close. But yesterday the mall was unusually crowded, so we told him that he needed to stay right beside us, and sometimes he would would need to hold our hands. Marvelously, he reached up and held my hand the whole time. I reminded my husband how a few months ago, we had to endure meltdowns because our son did not want to hold our hands; because he wanted to go a different direction/speed then we were going. At one point, our son exclaimed, "Look at that!" He started to run, and I said, "Aydon, wait! Show mommy what you want to see." And he did! Communication is wonderful.

Then later in the day we went to Barnes and Noble to hang out and let our little guy play with the wooden train there, which he loves. I smiled as I watched him interact with the other children, not take their trains away, and walk around them, rather than shoving them, when they were in his way. How many grueling days we have spent teaching our son to walk around the kids who are in his way, teaching him to give one of his trains to children who have no trains! Then, as we were leaving the bookstore, our son surprised us by throwing a tantrum because he was not ready to leave. The beautiful thing was that both my husband and I understood that he was overtired, and we understood what it was like to have to leave an activity that you love, and we were able to respond with empathy without giving in (not to say we weren't tempted to be embarrassed, but when we stand in confidence in God's acceptance of us, we don't need to worry about what others think!).

Today I took my son to the grocery store for a quick trip. Usually, he rides in the cart, but if I have a small list, I let him walk. It is good practice for one day when I cannot fit him and the baby into a cart. I told him ahead of time, "No candy and no chocolate today." I also told him that he needed to stay close to me; then we could go really fast and get home quickly so that he could play. He held onto the cart the whole time, staying close (this is really nothing short of miraculous!), "helping" me push it.

I take very little credit for my son's great behavior these last few days. He is growing up, and he is able to communicate with me; that solves so many issues. We have definitely had two mottoes with our son: always follow through with what we say, no matter what, with kindness and empathy AND repeat, repeat, rinse, and repeat when we are teaching him a skill (like walking beside the grocery cart at the store). But I am definitely not a perfect parent who knows it all! I will not be shocked if, in a week or so, some new and challenging behavior surfaces, and I am left muddled and confused and running to God for direction.

So why am I writing this post? To remind myself that children go through stages as they grow up-some of them pleasant, some of them not so pleasant. Sometimes we will fell worn out and want to give up. Sometimes we will wonder if what we are doing is really working. I want to look back and remember that children grow up, quickly in fact! Many difficult-to-deal-with behaviors just fade away (not to say we ignore harmful behavior, like hitting other children). I hope that someday when we are old and our children are grown, we can look back with joy at the days our children were growing because we took growth in stride, enjoying our children for who they are. May God continue to remind us/give us the strength to parent with patience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Story of John Law and John Grace

"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!""      -Romans 8:15

When I first shared with my mom some of the things we were striving to do as we raised Aydon, she said, "That reminds me of the story your dad always tells about John Law and John Grace." I have been thinking a lot about this story lately...I will share the reason after I tell the story:

There once was a lonely, sad, and dejected woman. She was married to a man named John Law. John was harsh; he had a lot of standards for his wife. He demanded that she keep their house perfectly neat and tidy. Every day, she would wake up and carefully make the bed, sweep the floor and cook breakfast. And every day, her perfect husband would find flaws in her work. If there was a wrinkle in the bed, he pointed it out to her. If the eggs were not cooked perfectly, he gave them back to her and demanded that she make a fresh batch. It was not that John Law's standards were flawed: they were perfect! It was just so discouraging because she could never live up to those standards. She woke every morning feeling hopeless about herself; knowing that she would never be perfect.

One day, John Law suffered a heart attack and died. A few months later, the former Mrs. Law met another man named John Grace, whom she married soon after. The first morning after their wedding, this woman awoke and began the tiresome task of straightening out the house and cooking breakfast. Her new husband greeted her with a hug. Glancing at the bed, he said, "Oh, look, there's a wrinkle in the blanket." Sighing, the sad woman began walking to the bed to straighten the wrinkle, but was surprised by another hug from her new husband accompanied by, "Honey, you look tired, let me fix that for you." The rest of this first day of wedded life was bliss for the tired woman, for though John Grace had as high of standards as John Law, he did not demand for her to reach those standards; rather, he reached them for her. He showered love and compassion on her. He was her helper, there by her side, fixing the messes that she made.

Imagine the transformation in Mrs. Grace, formerly Mrs. Law, after several months of Mr. Grace's kindness!

This story illustrates the incredible gift of grace that we believers have been given, as the verse at the beginning of my post so aptly states.

If we, as believing Christian parents, are given this incredible gift of grace from God in the person of Christ, who reached all of God's perfect standards for us, then how is it that most Christian parents are urged to raise their children under the law? The New Testament makes it very clear that when we strive to reach God's standard on our own, we will always fail: that is why Christ died for us; that is why we have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and empower us daily. I am astonished that Christian parents, having been given a grace-system under which to operate, demand that their little children, who are still developing and growing, reach a certain standard of perfection, or else. If little two-year-old Johny does not pick up his toys immediately upon being asked, he is punished. If he dumps water on the floor (probably as some sort of two-year-old experiment), he is shamed. I have heard some Christian parents rationalize this treatment of their children by saying, "We are training him," or, "The punishment relieves his guilt; we are doing him a favor," or, "He knew better!"

Graceful parenting means that we have high standards for our children. It also means that we are there to help our children accomplish what we ask. We do not want to lead them into hopelessness. So, if I want my little guy to pick up his toys, I get down on the floor with him on eye level, and kindly tell him that he has a few more minutes to play, and then we will have to pick up the toys. And then, when it is time, I actually help him clean up. If he is angry and does not want to, I give him some time and space, and when he is ready, we pick up the toys. The standard never changes, the means to reaching the standard does. This is raising our children under grace. It is far from permissive. It breeds in our children a spirit of hope, and a knowledge of love. It nurtures our children, teaches them what it means to listen to their parents as we work side by side with them.