Sometimes it takes a while for parents to change in ways that lead to deeper respect from their kids. Sometimes it can happen fast. When Dan attended our weekend workshop he saw an immediate change by practicing what we call a “do-over.” Here’s his report:
An hour before we left for your seminar I was getting ready to go. Our 12-year-old son Will was sitting on the steps. He asked why we needed to go to the seminar. I explained that his mom and I were going so we could learn to control some of the chaos in our household. His reply was, “If you think that’s going to work, you’re retarded!”
Brian and Jana were very concerned about how much work it was to get their 8-year-old son, Brady, to do much of anything – look up from his book when they talked, get ready for school in the morning, get dressed for baseball, take a shower… Just to get the kid to tie his shoes was an aggravating power struggle.
Brian observed, “I need to out-think him to get him to do something. And it has to be creative, or it doesn’t work.”
To help Brian understand and feel the impact of the “outfoxing game” on his son, I asked Brian how it would feel if his boss needed to outmaneuver him or threaten to dock his pay to “get him to perform” at work. Brian answered, “Pretty unmotivating.”
Scene: I pace the entry at our house, arms crossed, brow furrowed, occasionally glancing at the clock on the wall. After what seems like an eternity, my daughter walks in the house. I aggressively say, “Where were you?” (Not that it matters.) “You’re late, and now we’re all going to be late, too. Wash up for dinner and let’s get going.” My tone tells her she’s an annoyance and someone who deserves my harshness and belittling words. Then I put the cherry on top: “You’re grounded from going to your friend’s house for the next two days!”
With a flurry of stomps, my daughter marches toward her room. There’s a two-second pause, followed by the ever-maddening door slam. That door slam is enough to send me over the edge! I sit and stew. And she sits and stews. Our relationship is damaged and both of us are now upset — not because of the initial issue, but because of how we’ve treated each other. We are stuck. I am stuck. And I don’t know what to do.
It seemed like this was the consistent cycle in our house. Every time my daughter was late, things just went poorly.
As I glanced at my watch and noticed that she was late AGAIN, I felt mad — but also resigned. Were we really going to ride this merry-go-round again? All five people in our family needed to get out of the house, ON TIME! And now it wasn’t going to happen, AGAIN.
Somewhere, deep inside, I began to long for this interaction with my daughter to go better than I knew it would if I did what I always did. But how?
At parenting workshops we often ask the question, “What is the goal of your discipline?” The basic answer we most commonly hear is best summarized like this: “To make bad behavior stop and to teach immediate obedience.”
In Hebrews 12:10-11 the Bible gives us a different vision for discipline. We’re told “God disciplines us…in order that we may share in his holiness” and so that “later on (there will be) a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Do you catch this? God’s discipline is not intended to have immediate results, and those results are not about right behavior but about God’s righteousness and peace. Imagine how things might be different with your children if every time you disciplined them, your goal was for them to experience God’s holiness, with an eye for God’s righteousness and peace.
Recently I attended a family reunion. We did lots of catching up, including reminiscing over family memories. A conversation that continued to pop up over the weekend was prompted by the question, “What is the maddest you ever saw your mom/dad?” Some people shared memorable stories of pure rage, like one relative who, after saying “Shut up!” to his mom as a teenager, had his father’s hands gripped around his neck with the understanding that he had a choice to pack his bags or show his mom the respect she deserved.
Some people shared touching, heart-felt stories of undeserved grace, like another relative who hid in the closet for what seemed like hours after she broke a lamp while building a fort in her living room. She was terrified of what her parents’ reaction would be — but felt so relieved when her parents responded to her clear remorse with gracious kindness.
Every parent wants obedient children. But the parent who wants an obedient child without putting in the hard work to earn that child’s trust is on shaky ground. You see, true obedience grows out of the soil of trust. Compliance, though it looks like obedience, grows out of the soil of fear.
Sadly, most parenting literature emphasizes the importance of gaining obedience without imploring parents to do the hard work of earning their children’s trust. This sets parents up to work far harder on fear-based compliance than on true obedience. Kids who are punished for misbehavior tend to either comply out of fear, rebel out of resentment, or some combination of both responses.
There is a better way. We call it “Discipline that Connects.”
When our kids hurt their siblings, our sense of justice compels us to punish them. But sometimes punishment is not the best way to teach responsibility and wisdom. Check out this story from Jess:
Most parents make it their goal to get kids to stop lying. It’s a good goal. But often the way parents approach it tends to pit parents and children against each other from the start because children are bound to lie as they grow up and parents are bound to catch them.
Over time, the struggle over lying can become a contentious hide-and-seek match. Kids get better and better at hiding their lies, while suspecting parents grow less trusting and work harder to catch them and punish them for their lies. Resentment on both sides grows and sometimes snowballs until kids and parents utterly despise each other.
So if your child lies to you, it may be that a different approach could help re-orient you both. This isn’t necessarily the only change needed, but we’ve seen this sort of approach be really helpful:
At Connected Families, we get really excited about sharing our stories and the stories of the parents we meet.
Whenever we publish a tip, we think, “Now THIS one they’re going to love!” But sometimes the tips that go viral are not the ones we expect, and sometimes some of our personal favorites remain low on the traffic list. Today, we’d like to shine a spotlight on a few of our favorites that haven’t gone viral. But we love them anyway.
As some of you know, Lynne and I provided a home for a single mom and her baby boy for his first three and a half years.
As you might imagine in that setting, we had numerous learning opportunities with this strong-willed little fella. On one such occasion I caught my two-year-old little buddy in my emerging garden. I was surprised and yelled at him to “get out!” (Yes, I still yell without thinking sometimes too!) Then I realized I had a Flipcam in my pocket and I taped a little experiment. You can watch it below — pay close attention to Eli’s change in attitude as I go from stern and demanding to gentle and inviting him with choices.