September 15, 2010

teaching obedience (with examples).

i promised to give real life examples of teaching obedience, and so i will do my best.

1.  Believe in your child.  I hate labels.  Hate them.  I hate when a teacher labels a child, and most especially when a parent labels a child.  He's hard.  He's a picky eater.  Oh, that's just Drew.
Children are all different, but I KNOW they can all learn the life skills they need to thrive.  BELIEVE in them.  Believe they can eat food they don't want to eat.  Believe they can crawl.  Believe they can say please.  Believe they can behave as well as their sibling.  Believe they can potty train.  Believe they can enjoy reading.  Believe they can get 100% on their spelling test.  Believe they can sit quietly through church.  They can dress themselves AND rinse the shampoo out of their hair.   

example.  My oldest child, Jakob, never "crawled".  He did an army crawl where he just pulled with his arms until he walked.  My youngest child, Lily, also army-crawled.  I thought it was cute.  She was older than one and had made no attempt to walk or pull herself up.  (I knew it was different, but I wasn't worried.)  My pediatrician recommended that we see a physical therapist.  At our first visit I said my goal was- teaching lily to walk.  The physical therapist said our goal was teaching Lily to crawl- up on her hands and knees.  I laughed.  This sweet, young therapist spent an hour crawling besides Lily, putting her hand under Lily's belly and pushing it up, forcing her to be on all fours.  Lily SCREAMED.  Like she was dying.  The next week, the therapist came again.  Lily started SCREAMING when she walked in the door.  Again, an hour of coaxing and crawling right beside her pushing her belly up to show her how to crawl.  NOTHING but SCREAMS.  The third week, Sadie, our sweet therapist, walked into my home.  Lily looked at her, smiled, and began crawling up on her hands and knees.  I was SHOCKED.  I didn't think Lily could or would... and she proved me wrong.  Her therapist believed in her, and she was right.  

I have been in MANY therapy situations... with Lily, and with my oldest daughter, Anna, when she completely burned the palms of her hands.  I have watched therapists work with other children who need to do hard things.  They cry, sometimes SCREAM... it is heart wrenching.  But.. the therapists continue to soothe with their words, love with their whole souls, and require the child to do the thing that is hurting them.  BECAUSE, in the long run, that is what's best for the child.

example.  Leah is my "pickiest eater."  (See that label?)  Since she was born I have known something was wrong with her.  She hated textures.  I could not get her to eat rice cereal, baby food, frozen peas... nothing.  She coughed and gagged and choked and it scared me.  I remember telling my mom, something is wrong she just can't eat.  My mom insisted she was fine... I just needed to take time with her.  To teach her.  Over one vacation, my mother spent hours feeding leah.  She always reminded me not to show Leah my FEAR.  She remained calm when leah coughed, smiled and continued to help her eat.  Doing the airplane, praising, singing... not giving up when she spit out her food.  My mom, taught her how to eat.
Leah still takes more food time than any other child.  I have to sit her right by me. I have to explain every color on her plate.  I have to bribe her with dessert.  I have to count and coax most bites into her... one for her foot, one for her other foot... four bites because she is four.  I constantly remind her "You LOVE this."  Sometimes we start with, "just lick it."  Then, "just one bite."  Then, "wow, you're so brave, can you show dad how you eat one more bite?"  And, she does eat.  She will eat anything I ask her to eat.  Yes, it takes effort.  If I don't spend time with her, she will pick at her plate the whole meal and not eat one thing. 

2.  Use daily tasks.  Teaching doesn't have to be something you do at "teaching time."  Teaching naturally happens while you're living life.  Four of the best activities you can use to TEACH are 1. Eating.  2. Potty time.  3. Bed time.  4. Getting Dressed.  Sometimes, we practice spelling words while we eat dinner, or have scripture time while we eat breakfast.  We sing our ABCs when we get dressed.  We practice naming and pointing body parts while we're changing diapers... it's a perfect distraction.

example.  Lily is stubborn.  (See that label?)  Around 14 months, she would not talk, and she would only scream when she wanted something.  With her speech therapist we made the goal that she would say "Please" or "more" when she wanted something.  Our goal was to get her to do something we wanted her to do... again, I smiled.  We sat Lily in her high-chair and scooped a bowl of ice cream.  Lily screamed.  She wanted the ice cream.  I smiled and said, "Say please." (while i rubbed my chest showing her the sign language for please.)  Lily screamed again.  Another HOUR battle... if we took Lily's hand and forced her to sign the word please so we could stick ice cream in her mouth, she would push her hand away showing she could not be broken...  It took one hour.  I did NOT give her the ice cream.  Later that day, I sat her in her chair and offered her a drink.  She smiled, and said "PLEASE!" while signing it happily.  Did I torture her?  Yup.  Was it worth it?  Yup.

3. PRAISE.  Even if your child acts like they don't care what you think.  It is a facade.  Every child wants their mother to be happy with them.  The most sensitive children are the kids that act like they don't care.  NOTHING works better than praise... smiling, tickeling, touching.   Pick a skill... reward the good behavior, remove the reward for the negative behavior.  Praise works the BEST.  Praise, touch, joy... these work better for rewarding good behavior than a check on the chart, a piece of candy, or even a toy.  Sometimes I get into a life rut and I have to force my face to show my child JOY.  It is a very conscious decision.  Anger comes easily to my face, JOY I sometimes have to focus on.  When they do good things, they should feel and see true joy in my face, in my eyes, in my countenance.  And this is the BEST motivator.

example- When Drew was little I wanted to teach him his colors.  I came up with a great idea, skittles and M&M's.  I had a big bowl of candy I would tell him... this is red and have him pick a red one, or say "red" then he could eat it.  Good idea, huh?!  Nope.  Drew looked at that bowl of candy, and wanted to eat it.  All of it.  I would say "RED."  and he would scream "CANDY!!"  or "NO! This is GEEEEN."  Yes, this was a teaching moment, but not for drew.  I learned that sometimes physical reinforcers are a distraction, not a reward.  If you are trying to teach potty training, and every day it is just a fight because your child wants to play with the dumb toy that is hanging in a cute basket above his head for an incentive, then you are not teaching potty training at all... you are teaching child torture (or delayed gratification... which is a good skill, but it's NOT potty training).  If your child goes potty and you give him ONE skittle and he screams because he wants more and you say NO because it's not good for him, your focus has changed... you are teaching him HEALTH, not praising him for getting his pee in the toilet instead of in his undies.  See?  Praise works best without distraction... you can give a whole handful without feeling guilty about sugar intake.  And, praise can be specific.  "I'm so happy you kept your undies dry.  You did a GREAT job getting those poopies in the potty."  This is why my FAVORITE reward for potty training kids, is the POTTY DANCE.  You just dance and make up words to a silly song.  It works.  

example- when i was in high school i worked as a behavioral therapist for an autistic boy.  We did Lovaas behavioral therapy.  (No, not something I would recommend, but it taught me good principles.)  One of the things we did, was focus on getting him to do something we would tell him to do.  For HOURS, I would sit... him in a chair with his knees touching mine.  We would have a table to the left with silverware in it and a pile of silverware to put away.  (He was learning to match the silverware and to obey.)  I would say, "do this" then show him what to do.  I would wait.  If he did nothing, i would say, without feeling. "No... Do this."  I'd show him again.  The third time, I would take his hands and help him to do what I was asking him to do, then I would smile and praise him.  I usually took his hands and had him rub on my cheeks (he loved physical touch) and continually tell him what a great job he'd done.  Then I'd start again, "Do this."  If he attempted to do what I was asking, I'd erupt again in praise and touch.  If he didn't, I'd say "No."
Children respond to praise and training.  Pick one skill and try it out.  (This principle works even with older children... take 5 minutes and show them how to clean a toilet.  When they do it say, No, do this and show them again... or praise them.  It works.)

example- One more Lily example... Lily started spitting everything out of her mouth.  Everything.  It ws funny, lots of kids would laugh.  It was a mess, but she was just a baby.  She did not have the gagging reflex leah had, she is just strong-willed.  It was getting to be a repeated pattern, every meal.  I tired gently discouraging her, but she got more and more stubborn and spit with more and more defiance.  What did I do?  I recognized this was a behavior that needed to be stopped, and I  prepared myself for battle.  The next meal, when she spit out her food and laughed, I looked her in the eyes, said NO, and pushed the food back into her mouth.  She freaked.  You would have thought I was killing the child.  She became a spitting, kicking machine.  Every single thing she would throw or kick or spit.  She didn't eat, she cried.  My kids thought I was horrible.  I would give them the eye warning them not to say anything.  It took 2 days of this spitting battle.  If she kept the food in her mouth, I smiled and praised and told her what a good girl she was, if she spit it out, I said NO.  And, I pushed it back into her mouth.  Mean?  Yup.  Worth it?  Yup.  Once, I gave her a bite, smiled and praised her for keeping it in her mouth.  She smiled at me with a confused look, and pointed to her tray where she had spit the bite out.  I laughed at her confession while she picked the bite up and put it back in her mouth.  Two days, and she decided to eat nicely and happily.  She would often take a bite and then point to her mouth and clap her hands.  The whole table would erupt in praise for a swallowed bite.  After our initial battle, Lily would test every now and then.  Looking right at me, she'd spit her food out.  I ALWAYS put it back into her mouth and say "NO."  Today, she is an EXCELLENT, HAPPY eater.  People look at my kids and say, "You're so lucky all your kids are such good eaters."  Sometimes I wonder if my kids really are just easier, but most of the time I want to tell them...  LUCK comes from EFFORT...  I spent many HOURS earning these good eaters.  NOTE- this has NOTHING to do with food.  i was NOT teaching Lily to eat.  I was teaching her to obey.  And, she is HAPPY when she obeys.

4. Think of the LESSON not the TASK.  Look for life skills that your children have not yet aquired, and then focus on a task or a behavior that can help them learn that life skill.  Alternately, when they are doing something that drives you crazy, narrow in on the BEHAVIOR, and then figure out the PRINCIPLE behind it. It's not just that I'm bothered because my child talks disrespectfully to ME, I want her to LEARN to Humbly Recieve Instruction.  It is MUCH more effective to have a discussion about Humbly Recieving Instruction, than it is to yell back and forth... "Do NOT talk to me that way, I am your MOTHER."  When you have narrowed down your principles, you will not doubt yourself in the heat of the battle  you will know, it isn't about a back pack. It is really about being responsible.  This is a life skill that my child CAN and SHOULD learn.  Yes, it would be easier for you to just pick up his back pack every day, but it wouldn't be BETTER for them.

Our kids do not have to work hard, farm, help support our family... there are so many skills that kids used to learn just because they had to or they would die.  We have to choose specific tasks to teach them specific skills.  When a child pitches a royal battle because it is just too hard for them to make their own bed, do you just make it for them?  Please say no.  It is good for kids to learn life skills... even when they don't want to.

Children will initially resist most opportunities for growth.  If you stick with it for a short time, they will comply and be so much happier because they know they are doing what is expected of them. When a dog gets hit by a car, he needs help.  But, when you go try to help him, he will snarl and bite at you.  An un-tamed horse will buck and kick, but ultimately the horse will be happier once it learns that you are not trying to hurt it, you are trying to work with it.  Kids are the same way... they will initially buck at any new skill... if you are encouraging and happy and teach them, they will LOVE what they can do.  Sometimes you are hurting when you think you are helping, and you have to be tough when you want to help. 

example- For my older kids, it's Piano.  I felt a very distinct impression that my children needed music in their lives.  They are very smart.  I choose piano to teach them certain life skills that I think are invaluable.  Discipline, practice, endurance, as well as the lifelong skill of being able to read music.  Piano is a great foundation for any other instrument.  But, to me it is NOT about the piano... it is about SELF DISCIPLINE... about working hard... about doing something you might not want to do now, because it will be good for you later.  Before we started the piano, i pulled out yearbooks.  I showed the kids the pages of Seniors... where it showed everything they did through their years of school.  We recognized that some kids did nothing, and other kids did TONS of stuff.  It seemed that the kids in band, also ran track or played on the football team, and were on the Honor Roll.  I taught my children why as their mother, i felt piano would always be a blessing in their life.  That it would bless their life more than SOCCER or even SCIENCE (hah- the professor might not agree with that one).  How it would be hard and they might not always want to do it, but that I would expect them to play the piano until they were in high school and could choose a different instrument.  The kids each wrote out their own 10 year plan... things they wanted written about them when they finished high school  Each of them included music.  Mostly they wrote Piano till I can play guitar or drums or flute... but, they did understand WHY i felt piano was so important.  I reminded them that when they were parents they could choose whether or not their kids played the piano, whether they did sports, whether they had to study their spelling words.  When we're the parents... we get to choose what we think is best (yes, they do get input, but as parents, we have the eternal perspective that they are still learning, we drive the boat).
Now, I'm not saying Piano is right for every family, or every child.  I'm not saying that sometime down the road I might change my mind on this ultimatum.  But, I will tell you this.  I have 4 children who have taken piano for 5 years now.  They are really good.  They practice on their own without complaining MOST of the time.  I don't sit with them, I don't nag them, I don't argue with them.  To me, it is NOT about piano.  I am choosing to use PIANO because I do not have cows for them to milk.  I don't ever doubt my decision... and they don't ever doubt my commitment.  The SKILLS I am teaching are obedience, self-discipline and endurance... the TASK I am using to teach it... PIANO.  

example- Kids are sassy.  You can do a lot of things to stop it... and I have.  Hot sauce, soap, cayanne pepper... all of these things kinda work and kinda don't.  One thing I don't like about things is that you often end up fighting as you try to force their mouth open, they aren't learning not to sass, they are learning that you are physically stronger than they are.  And, maybe that is a good lesson?...  First, what is the principle.  Think before you speak.  Be humble.  Be quick to obey.  Love one another.  Receive instruction with a humble heart.  I don't know what you are trying to teach... with my little kids, I simply tell them what I want them to say.
I say, "Let's make your bed."
They say, "NO!"
I repeat, "OK mother!  I will obey."
They copy, "OK mother!  I will obey."
This works.  Even with older kids.
 I also like "change your tone."  (I learned this from a good friend...)  Talk to your children about how it's not what they are saying, but how they are saying it.  I give them lots of examples of statements that mean different things depending on how it is said (sorry, please, cool, etc.).  Remind them to "Try again and check your tone of voice."
Often I will notice one child becoming more sassy, in the morning or at bed time or with their siblings, and I'll think of how I want to teach them their specific thing.  You see, I'm right with them.  It is hard for me to "change my tone" or to always respond humbly to instruction...
Drew is currently struggling with this, he's 10.  I noticed that he was teasing his sisters and laughing as they became more and more frustrated.  I also noticed that whenever I corrected his behavior he would argue for ten minutes insisting he NEVER does anything wrong.  And, he really is a pretty great kid.  But, when he was at school one day, I pondered, and came up with two principles... 1. We need to be peacemakers... add to the peace and harmony of others.  2. We need to be humble and recieve instruction.  When he got home from school that day, BEFORE he said one sassy word or teased one person, I sat down with him and told him what I had been thinking.  I told him why these skills were important to learn.  Also that he wasn't BAD, most 10 year old boys tease little girls and not many people love to hear things they can do better.  I told him scriptures and also, that if I didn't help him to learn these principles now, it would just get worse.  I actually said, "If you continue to yell at me when I try to teach you, and I let you do this, when you're a teenager, you will punch me in the face... that is what sassy teenagers do.  We must learn this skill now so that it doesn't get worse."  I asked him how i could help him learn these skills.  We drew a chart  1. Conflict with siblings  Peacemaker/Troublemaker.  2. Conflict with parents  Humble and Teachable/Prideful and Contentious.
He puts a little dash under peacemaker or troublemaker whenever he is in a conflict situation.  And, he decided if he gets 20 good dashes, I will buy him some new stretchy bracelets.  Deal!  Now, he catches himself, looks at me and goes to mark his chart.  It is a life skill, not a fight between me and him.

And... now i must start my day.
I know this was too long and maybe not helpful.

I remember being at a conference once where a woman told a story about something she did with her child that I felt was VERY extreme.  (Her child actually had to miss prom because he snuck out and went to General Conference with his friends.)  I asked her later if she ever regretted that decision.  She said, "If you are doing your best to parent and listening to the promptings you recieve, you will not regret the decisions you make."
I agree with her.
As I wrote out my examples, some seemed more extreme than others.
Don't do what I do... But, do THINK about HOW to teach YOUR child what you feel THEY need to learn.
and TEACH them.

there are many ways to teach the same principle.
i tried to use extreme examples.
don't get frustrated... this is a journey, not a destination... none of us know everything we need to know.
We are not finished yet, and neither are our kids.

IMPORTANT NOTE--  I DO NOT believe that EVERY fight is worth fighting.  I do NOT believe that parents should enforce 100% perfect behavior all the time.  I don't.  Kids, if left completely to their own devices will turn out OK.   They really will.  You can spend a day reading and let them destroy the house and they will not have any lasting consequences.  None.  Sometimes, I am NOT consistent... sometimes, I HATE consistency.   Most of the time children can be easily distracted and happily re-directed.  Most of the time you can say YES instead of NO.  Most of the time you can calm without conflict.  BUT... sometimes you need to TEACH and sometimes you need to fight the battle.  You know when there is something you need to teach.  And then, TEACH IT.  You can be a carefree, happy, laid back mother and a strict mother at the same time.  You have to PICK your battles and PLAN your strategy.  My FAVORITE primary leaders are not the ones who let the kids go crazy.  They are the fun, happy, STRICT leaders who expect obedience and still love the kids.  You can do both.  I promise.  But if you are not fun, or are not strict, you will loose out.  And, so will your children.  (See my previous post...)  Patient, loving mothers with bratty kids aren't doing it any better than beastly mothers with kids who can't wait to rebel the second they are old enough.  We must balance.  And, the way I think you find balance is...  PLAN what and how you are going to TEACH then just enjoy the other things.

Decide what you are going to teach, and BE CONSISTENT.  Just for a little while, till it gets easier.  I have found you can change ANY behavior in a week... potty training, bed time, eating, sassing, ANYTHING... if you narrow in and focus on ONE THING.  If you teach them, Kids will learn.  And, sometimes, you may need a break.  Change the scene for a little while.  Put on a movie, go to the park, and try again later...   TEACHING is something I do, but I am a very laid back parent.  I'm not uptight... but I do keep a mental list of what i want each kid to learn and try to plan when i'm going to teach them. (The only exception I have seen to this is NIGHT TIME bed wetting... i believe  most potty trained kids will not have accidents at night, but some do... I think bed wetting is genetic and they will grow out of it... it is not something that is taught.  In MY opinion.)  

Like the example about sassy drew... he was sassy MANY days before I came up with how I was going to teach him.  I just respond casually, "Drew, be kind."  But, when I had my idea, I felt inspiration... WHAMMO- we're going for the kill.  Does this make sense?    Don't stress for a year about potty training.  Think about it, plan for it, and when you are ready GO FOR IT.  Give it a week.  Kids can potty train in a week.  If it's a nightmare, If you are fighting battles not related to the toilet, rethink your strategy.  Put it on the shelf.  Take a deep breath.  Your child will not be 21 and wearing diapers.  Life is good.  All we can do is NEVER STOP STARTING.  Teaching is important.  It is a skill that you are learning as well as your child.  It requires mental preparation and effort.  Most of the time your efforts will be rewarded.  Sometimes they won't.  And, that's life.
the end.
of another book.


Shauna_Rae said...

Loved reading your thoughts! My four oldest kids all take piano. Both my husband and I play and feel like it is such a good basis for ANY other type of instrument or vocal. It is also such an awesome outlet to just go and sit and play. I remember doing that quite a few times during college.

ANYWAY, I have never thought of it as work to practice. Even though it is totally hard work to master a piece or do techniques over and over. It just brought a light bulb on to me that teaching work also comes through music, art, dance and sports lessons. You really learn so much more than just the hobby or talent itself!

Kerri said...

Loved the examples, loved the thoughts. It's so nice to have loving, consistent, firm parenting reinforced. I have needed an attitude readjustment, and I am grateful for your willingness to share your experience and philosophy.

Jenni Taysom said...

I appreciate the "books" that you write. They help me so much. The specifics and details that you share help me see principles in action and give me a visual of how it might apply to my situations.
I wrote a blog post today as a result of your posts, if you are interested it is at

Liza said...

You are grace defined! I thank God that he brought you into my life when I needed you the most!

corrie said...

You never cease to amaze me with your insight.
IMO the world can use as many of your kids as you can give it. They will be great parents because they have great examples.

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