Monthly Archives: February 2009

Credit card parenting

No, I’m not about to start giving you financial advice. But there is a lot we can gain by looking at our parenting in terms of our culture’s need for immediate gratification. Think about your parenting in the same way you do with your finances. One of the first things we learn when managing our money is that we should never buy something that we can’t afford. Yet this is something the credit card industry has allowed us to do. Buy it now and you can pay it off at some distant point in the future…with interest.

The term credit card parenting refers to a parenting style that attempts to reap all the rewards of parenting now without putting in all the work to build character in our children. It means we strive for immediate gratification in our children without taking the time to teach them our moral values. It means we strive to be our child’s peer rather than his parent. It means our parenting has no clear direction or parental intent and we assume that our children will learn our values just by being around us.

When we abuse credit cards, our interest rate goes up, we are slapped with fines of all kinds and we could even end up filing for bankruptcy. We have seen this in the recent mortgage crisis with people buying homes they couldn’t afford. Foreclosures have become rampant

The same is true with our parenting. By not taking the time and effort to establish parental authority and teach our children to obey our authority now, we ultimately end up in moral bankruptcy. We may get immediate gratification, but boy do we pay for it later. High interest rates and penalty fees take the form of children who disrespect their parents and who are solely motivated by their own selfish desires.

Don’t minimize the importance of early parenting. Teach your child now and let him make mistakes now while the stakes are still low. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start teaching your child. And don’t let him stumble his way through life learning only by losing friends, getting fired and getting into huge debt. Your job as a parent is to teach him appropriate behaviors and moral values so he has a firm foundation upon which to build the rest of his life. Give him this benefit and richness will follow.

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Intentional parenting

Intentional parenting is of the most important ideas behind the Ezzo parenting philosophies. It requires that we think about where we want to go with our children and what we want them to be like in two, 12 or even 20 years. We spend the time now to think about what moral values we want to instill in our children and how we might do so. We think about what behaviors or attitudes we don’t want to see in our children and be mindful of them in our daily parenting.

“Some parents simply exist. They have no direction, no goals, no plan other than what is pressing at the moment… Not only do they not know where they are going in their parenting, they’re usually not aware that they need to be headed someplace,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 89).

Set your goals
Start by sitting down with your spouse with a pen and paper in hand. Talk it over and write down your goals. They could be moral values like respecting adults or more mundane ideas like staying in bed in the morning until you allow him to get up. I have a big white board in our kitchen where I have listed our house rules and the moral lessons I want my kids to learn. (I also have a few reminder notes for myself, like “don’t repeat yourself”.) I can erase and rearrange these goals as I see fit.

Decide how you will achieve your goals
Once you have your goals in mind, you can figure out how to get there. Say for example that you want your child to sit quietly in restaurants when you go out to eat. That is your goal. Then you think through what it takes for a child to be able to do so. You practice good manners at home and when visiting friends. You decide that they will need to stay in the highchair the entire time. You teach them to speak quietly, not throw their food, not be crawling all over the restaurant, etc. Ultimately, in order to achieve your goals, your child will need to learn to obey you and submit to your authority. (See “Yes, mommy” and Eye contact.)

Be aware of any actions that lead you away from your important goals. Even taking the child out of the highchair just once could lead you down the wrong path, away from your goal. There is a quote from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (a wonderful complement to Babywise) that says, “Start as you mean to go on.” If you decide that you want your child to sleep in his or her own bed, you wouldn’t start by co-sleeping. You may choose to have a bassinet near your bed for those early weeks, but you will still be mindful of your goal and move him to the crib as soon as you both are ready.

Teach submission
To achieve your goals, you must establish your parental authority and teach your child to submit and obey you.

“Let us assure you: Parental authority is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary. It is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the balance between personal freedom, responsibility and obligation. Parental authority represents the right of parents to insist upon conformity and compliance, especially in these three vital areas of life: morality, health and safety, and life skills,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 48).

It is only by teaching submission that we can achieve our goals. If you want to teach your child to share and ask him to give a toy to his sibling, it is only if he is submissive to you that he will do this. Otherwise, his me-ism (selfishness) takes over and he has no reason to hand over the toy. Submission is needed everywhere we go in life.

Avoid the opposite viewpoint: reactive parenting
When you don’t set goals for your children or for yourself as a parent, you find yourself in reactive parenting mode. Your existence as a parent is reacting to what your child says and does rather than guiding and proactively directing his behavior. This idea is also discussed in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer with the term “accidental parenting”. By not starting as you mean to go on, you end up parenting from the hip and find yourself with kids who you cannot control and who you don’t enjoy.

“For some theorists, parenting is a matter of facilitating a child’s natural and impulsive way, rather than actively directing the child’s ability to make right decisions benefiting others. Reactive in nature, this nondirective approach seeks to manipulate a child’s environment in hopes of making parental supervision non-adversarial. Yet, leadership by nature requires that you make decisions based on what is best and right, not what is perceived as most pleasing in the moment,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 92).

Our parenting objective should be to teach our children our values and appropriate behaviors whether that makes them happy in the moment or not. (See holiness vs. happiness.) We should teach our children how to operate in this world as it exists rather than change the world to suit their needs. For example, we teach our children how to behave in the grocery store rather than avoiding taking them to the store. We teach our children how to behave with babysitters rather than not going on dates with our spouse. We teach our children to respond to the call of their name rather than allowing them to ignore us.

If you are an accidental or reactive parent, start with the simple step of thinking through your goals. Even a list of your top five goals is enough to start. Then be mindful of these goals in your daily parenting. If five goals is too much to focus on, start with just one. Write it down in a conspicuous place and consistently follow through on it for a week or until your child seems to get it. Then move on to your other goals.

Parenting with intent might require a big shift in your mindset, but again, with practice it will become easier. Do this work now, before your child has already established bad habits, and you will soon enjoy the benefits.

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Only you can establish parental authority

In recent posts, I have discussed several Ezzo techniques that can help you establish authority over your child. While these techniques will work if you apply them consistently, it’s important to realize that each parent has a unique relationship with the child. How you interact with your child is up to you. When establishing parental authority in particular, both parents (and other authority figures in a child’s life) must use these techniques to build their own credibility in the eyes of the child. While one parent may spend more time with the child, it is still important for your spouse (or grandma or auntie) to establish his or her own authority over the child.

Not long ago, I operated under the assumption that if I worked on applying the Ezzo principles in my parenting, I would prepare my kids for every situation they encountered in life. I figured that if I taught them to respect my authority, they would naturally respect all other authority figures. Not true.

Soon after he started preschool this year, William began displaying a “wise in his own eyes” attitude problem. It was immediately obvious to me that his tone was disrespectful and that he was challenging my authority. I quickly spotted the problem and nipped it in the bud, telling him that he could not speak to me the way he did. The second I noticed his attitude shift, I stopped him in his tracks and told him to rephrase his words and speak to me nicely. It worked well, so problem solved, right?

Well, it occurred to William that while he may not be able to talk to me disrespectfully, maybe it would work on daddy. When I heard William speak disrespectfully to my husband, I jumped in and used my technique to get him to change his tone. I stopped him and told him to speak to daddy nicely. But it didn’t work this time. The disrespect continued. What William needed was for my husband to exert his own authority and tell William himself that he wouldn’t accept his disrespectful tone. I couldn’t change their relationship. My husband alone had to establish his authority over William.

We each have our own unique relationships with our children. Mom may be the disciplinarian. Dad may be fun and games. Mom may prefer to quietly read to the child. Dad may prefer to hold nightly wrestling matches. However you define your parenting roles, you must realize that your relationship with your child is unique and that your child is well aware of the differences.

You may remember as a child knowing which parent to go to with a specific request. You knew dad would say no, so you asked mom instead. Our children do the same with us. They have figured us out. They know us better than we know ourselves.

Examine your individual relationship with your child. If you feel confident that your child respects your authority, then well done. Sit back and let your spouse do the work to build his own parental authority. Don’t feel like you need to do it for him. You can’t.

If you feel your parental authority could use some work, then the responsibility is on you alone. Your spouse cannot fix this for you. The same goes for grandparents, teachers and other authority figures in the child’s life. Every one of us must do our own work to establish our authority over the child.

Growing Kids God’s Way has a chapter titled “The Father’s Mandate”. I will go into the specifics later, but it’s interesting that the authors felt the need to call attention to dad. They thought it was so important they devoted an entire chapter to it. Typically, as moms, we spend more time with our kids. I stay home with our boys and devote about 90% of my day to them. My husband, on the other hand, is consumed with work and only thinks about the kids maybe 10-20% of his day. This is as it should be.

But this does not let dad off the hook. He must still cultivate a relationship with the child and develop his own parental authority. You can guide him and show him by example how you would treat a particular situation, but be careful not to step in and take over. And don’t critique his parenting in front of the kids. This will only undermine his parental authority. Support every decision your spouse makes, even if you disagree with it. Find a time later when the kids are out of earshot to discuss it. You might even develop a signal (a tug on the ear or a “look”) that says, I disagree with what you just did; please change your tactic.

Do your work to establish your own authority with your child and offer your spouse (and grandparents and others) the tools they need to build their own authority. Offer your support and guidance and then sit back. Give your spouse the freedom he needs to establish his own authority over the child.

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“Okay?”

It’s a simple word. It’s universal and is used in many different languages. It’s casual and comfortable. But I recommend you remove it from your and your child’s vocabulary. Here’s why.

Don’t use “okay” when giving an instruction
There are two problems with a parent using the word “okay”. First, it is often used at the end of an instruction, which turns the instruction into a request.

Instruction: Evan, clean up your room.
Request: Evan, clean up your room, okay?

Instruction: Sophia, mommy needs you to wash your hands before dinner.
Request: Sophia, wash your hands for mommy, okay?

If you really want your child to respect your authority and obey your instructions, you must not phrase them in the form of a question. When a child hears your inflection go up or hears that “okay” at the end of an instruction, he truly thinks you are asking him whether he agrees or not. He thinks he has the option to say no. Don’t give him that option.

You will also want to be cautious when saying “please” when you give an instruction. It is certainly polite and you want to model polite speech for your child, but you need to be sure you use an authoritative tone when you use the word.

Good: Evan, please put your toys away.
Bad: Evan, put your toys away, please?

Good: Sophia, please share your ice cream with your brother.
Bad: Sophia, share your ice cream with your brother, please?

If you’re not sure whether you sound authoritative when using “please,” don’t use it when giving an instruction. Model polite speech for him at other times of the day. Save it for later when you ask a simple request like pass the salt. Or if you do honestly have a request (not an instruction) for your child, say “please” then.

Don’t use “okay” when answering your child
Here is another time when you will not want to use the word “okay.” Whether your child asks you for a glass of milk or wants to watch TV, you are far better off saying “yes” or “yes, you may” than “okay.” In these cases, the word “okay” can have an ambiguous tone. Your “okay” could sound like, “alright, I don’t really want to agree, but you’ve convinced me.” You never want your child to believe he has the power to convince you to do something you don’t want to do.

You also want to avoid using “okay” in this instance because you want to model polite speech for your child. You want your child to respond to you with a “yes, mommy” or “yes, daddy” so give him the same courtesy. Here’s how it works in my house:

William: “Mommy?”
Me: “Yes, William?”
William: “Can I watch TV now?”
Me: “Yes, you may. Go find the remote and I will turn it on for you.”

It does not sound like this:

William: “Mommy?”
Me: “Huh?”
William: “Can I watch TV now?”
Me: “Okay.”

Do you see how the first example is more polite? It is also more authoritative and respectful.

Don’t allow your child to use “okay”
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, you will want your child to respond to you with a “yes, mommy.” He will do so in two instances: 1) when you first call his name, and 2) after you give an instruction to show he will comply. You should not allow an “okay” in either case.

You should also discourage the use of “okay” when you are having a general conversation. If you ask him how school went or how he feels about a particular situation, he shouldn’t reply with “okay.” You should require him to think it over and reply with a complete answer. When we answer someone with an “okay” we are telling them we don’t value the question and don’t want to put any effort or thought into our answer. Now, if your child says he doesn’t feel like talking about a particular subject right then and tells you why, you may allow that. But don’t allow him to brush you off by answering your questions with an “okay.”

It might take constant effort on your part to remove the word “okay” from your vocabulary, but it will be well worth the effort. After a week or two, it will become second nature.

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Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Trite as they may be, these eight simple words have great power to change your relationship with your child. They are particularly effective for parents who lack consistency. But they are words that every parent should remember. The underlying principle is that you clearly communicate to your child what you expect of him and follow through on every word you say. If you live by these simple words, your child will respect your parental authority.

“Never give a command unless you intend for it to be obeyed. Therefore, when giving instructions, be sure to say exactly what you mean and mean precisely what you say,” (p. 126, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition).

Say what you mean
Applying these first four words to your parenting will be an exercise in self-control. You will say what you mean and nothing more. Many parents fall into one of two categories: yes parents and no parents. The yes parents allow their children to do what they want, frequently responding with a “yes” to their requests. The no parents prefer to restrict their children’s freedoms and will often impulsively answer with a “no”. With either group, we see that it’s easy to spout out an answer without truly thinking through the child’s request or our own response.

Make a commitment to think through every single word you say to your child. Stop before you speak. Silently count to three if it helps. It won’t hurt him if you cannot answer right away. You may even want to tell him you will think about it and get back to him later. Take the time, make a rational decision, and say what you mean. This act alone will fill you with resolve. You will be able to follow through much more consistently when you know you have given thought to what you have said to your child.

If you don’t say what you mean, your child will know it. While you need to consider context in every situation, 98% of the time, you should not change your mind after giving an instruction. Your opportunity to change your mind is before you say anything to the child. If you change your mind constantly or allow your spouse (or the child) to talk you out of a command already given, he will learn that your words are meaningless.

By not allowing yourself to change your mind, you will take those four little words (“say what you mean”) very seriously. If you commit to following through on every word you say, you will quickly realize that there is nothing worse than having to follow through on an instruction you regret giving in the first place.

Mean what you say
This is the second component of consistent parenting. By meaning what you say, you follow through. You take your own words seriously. You discourage your spouse from allowing a freedom you previously said no to. Or if you previously decided to allow your child an unexpected freedom, you don’t take it away just because common sense suddenly got the better of you.

“There is no better way to teach a child not to obey than to give him instructions that you have no intention of enforcing. A child quickly learns the habit of disregarding his parents’ instruction. This habit may become so strong and contempt for instruction so confirmed, that all threats will go unheeded,” (p. 126, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition).

Not meaning what you say could look like this:

  • You let your child ride his bike in the street after you told him to stay on the sidewalk. You think, what’s the harm just this one time?
  • It’s 20 minutes past your child’s bedtime and you ask him if he wants to go to bed.
  • You don’t buy your child a cupcake after you previously agreed to the idea. Earlier you thought, why not? Now you think, no way.
  • You allow your toddler to climb the stairs by himself after your spouse has told him not to.
  • You tell your school-age child he is responsible for remembering his lunch and then bring it to him when he forgets.

When we don’t follow through, we cause confusion in the mind of the child. This confusion leads to pleading, negotiating and other verbal freedoms that your child will exhibit because he thinks he can change your mind. What’s worse, your child will begin to disrespect you for your lack of resolve.

Our children simply want to know what we expect of them. They want to know what the rules of the game are so they can play fairly. Lay out those rules for them clearly and consistently and they will comply.

The good news is that your child will have no problem with this principle. The onus with this one lies squarely on the parents’ shoulders. The bad news is that it is difficult to apply with 100% consistency. “Usually it is only mom and dad who struggle with it, because it calls parents to consistency. Children will rise to whatever level of parental resolve is present,” (p. 120-121, On Becoming Childwise).

Continually remind yourself of the importance of this principle. The more practice you get, the easier it will be. If your child tends to ignore you or whines and negotiates when you give an answer or instruction, start applying just this principle. This alone will change the way your child views your parental authority. Give it your all, and you will see results in a few short days.

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Holiness vs. happiness in action

Last weekend, we had two scenarios with my kids that illustrate the holiness vs. happiness principle. My mom came to visit to help me out since my husband was working. I appreciate her help and grant the idea that grandparents have an innate, perhaps undeniable impulse to spoil their grandchildren. So I allow my mom to do this with my kids to an extent (especially when she is visiting to help me). However, the following scenarios will show you what happens when you think only of the child’s immediate happiness.

Scenario #1: William (4.5 years)
Saturday night, we went to the mall for some shopping and dinner. We were out late and got home about an hour past William’s bedtime. I put him to bed and expected him to go right to sleep since it was late. He struggled because Grandma was here and she was going to be sleeping in his room. He wanted her to come to bed right then. She agreed because she wanted to please him, but it was maybe 15 minutes before she was ready. Next thing I know, another 15-20 minutes had passed, and they came downstairs for a snack. It was almost 11:00pm by this point, way too late for a 4-year-old to be awake. My mom thought he might be hungry. (He NEVER eats after dinner.) I didn’t want to fight it. They got their snack, and it was probably close to 11:30 before he fell asleep. He probably had a little smile on his face as he dozed off.

You can predict what happened the next day. He still woke up at his normal time, which meant he got 8.5-9 hours of sleep instead of his usual 11-12. He was whiny and argumentative the entire day. And he had a MAJOR meltdown at the grocery store. Only once or twice in his life have I seen him act the way he did in the store. I didn’t know what to do with him it was that bad. It happened in the late afternoon, and the lack of sleep had just caught up to him.

So you can see that by feeding his happiness (quite literally) rather than his holiness (the fundamental need for a good night’s sleep), he was far worse off. If he had just gone to sleep when I put him down, the day would have been much more pleasant for all of us and he would have been much happier in the long run.

Scenario #2: Lucas (16 months)
The same Saturday night, we had dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. Our reservation was for 6:45, and Lucas’ internal dinner bell chimes at 6:30, so I gave him a small snack before we were seated. Apparently, the small snack wasn’t enough, and he started to fuss. My goal was to ask our server for a small bowl of rice that she could bring immediately so we could get some food in his belly.

My mom, the grandparent that she is, thought he might like to be held while we waited. My first issue is that being held wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to eat and it wouldn’t make a difference if he were held. My second issue is that we eat out regularly and I did not want to start the habit of getting him out of the highchair at a restaurant. I teach him that the only place he can be while we are eating out is in the highchair.

Well, my mom’s attempts to hold him made things worse. It taught him that all he had to do was fuss and he could get out of the highchair. He did this the entire meal and his fussing escalated. I was embarrassed and finally had to take him away from the table to calm him down. (I hated that I even had to do this.) Once he was calm, I told him we were going to go back to the table, which made him fuss again. I immediately said “unh unh” to indicate that the fussing wasn’t acceptable. We did this two or three times, and then he initiated a game of peek-a-boo with me. It was a huge shift in his attitude. He clearly wanted someone to tell him that his fussing wasn’t okay.

The meal was a little touch and go after that (more getting out of the highchair), so we just had to finish and go home. I never really got a chance to enjoy my meal. It was a little cold by the time I sat down, and I was holding him for a good portion of it.

So again, by catering to his happiness (taking him out of the highchair) rather than his holiness (teaching him that he must stay in his highchair at a restaurant), Lucas was much more unhappy than if we had just left him there to begin with.

I still struggle with finding a balance between tending to my kids’ needs while allowing my mom to spoil her grandchildren. I want her to enjoy her grandchildren in the way that she wants to, but it’s difficult when I know that what she wants to do will lead to disaster.

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Holiness vs. happiness

One fundamental philosophy behind the Ezzos’ parenting principles is that of holiness vs. happiness. Many parents, especially in today’s society, put their child’s happiness above all else. They figure that if their child is happy, their job is done. The Ezzos believe that helping a child achieve holiness, or moral contentment, should be a parent’s true goal.

Growing Kids God’s Way teaches that a child’s holiness is more important than his or her happiness…. Get the holiness and you give your children something far greater than happiness; they learn a lifestyle of moral contentment.” (p. 90, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition)

When we strive to make our children happy, we feed into their inherent selfishness. Their happiness is fleeting and momentary, yet we attend to their every desire and whim. We curb all actions that produce tears or other discontent. We build our world around our children rather than teaching them how to behave in the world as it truly is.

On the other hand, when we strive for holiness, we help our children build a moral sensibility. We teach them how to behave in this big world we live in so they are comfortable in it and not fearful of it. This moral holiness takes the form of “honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, respect, honor and self-control.” (p. 64, On Becoming Childwise) Read this sentence again slowly and take the time to consider each and every word.

While those of us who strive for holiness do want our children to be happy, we find a different route to get there. I believe that by teaching our children to treat others with honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, respect, honor and self-control, we give them much greater happiness over their lifetimes than if we were to not teach these character traits at all. If we focus on their happiness at the expense of their holiness, we do them a great disservice.

And while happiness is great, contentment is even better. Our culture perpetuates a romantic ideal of happiness that is difficult to truly achieve. I would prefer that my children strive for contentment. I certainly wouldn’t want them to settle for less than what they are capable of achieving, but I wouldn’t want them to be in constant pursuit of a romantic ideal of happiness that just doesn’t exist. By pursuing this romantic ideal of happiness, they may never be happy.

The pursuit of contentment–achieved through a holy moral foundation–will serve them well for decades to come.

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