Monthly Archives: April 2009

Structure your day

Structuring your day is one of the most effective yet simple techniques you can use to prevent behavior problems in your child.

“Young children not only need, but they also crave supervision, direction, and encouragement. Random acts of parenting aren’t good enough to get through the day with one’s sanity intact,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 85).

Here are some signs that you might need more structure in your day:

  • Your child whines and complains constantly and you’re never quite sure if it’s because he’s hungry, tired or bored.
  • Your child wanders aimlessly throughout the house.
  • Your child plays with anything and everything in the house.
  • Your child has very little attention span, flitting from one toy to the next.
  • You feel like all you do is chase your child around the house.
  • Your child hasn’t learned how to entertain himself. You are his personal entertainer.
  • You’re never quite sure when you will fit in a shower or do the dishes.
  • Your toddler hangs on your legs when you’re trying to cook dinner or do laundry.
  • Exercise? What’s that?
  • You feel guilty about the amount of TV your child watches. But how else are you going to get anything done?
  • You feel like you never get anything accomplished even though you’re home all day.
  • You never have enough time for yourself or your spouse.

Reduced opportunities for misbehavior
Something as simple as adding more structure to your day can resolve these issues. Huge, isn’t it? Many people (myself included) don’t like to live by a schedule. But when you realize the peace it will bring to your home, you will be motivated to stick with it.

“To have routine, order, and structure is to think ahead and plan. Structuring your preschooler’s day will eliminate a big chunk of stress on Mom because it reduces random opportunities for misbehavior. With thoughtful planning, Mom is proactive instead of reactive, meaning she can plan the day rather than react to each situation as it arises,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 86).

When your child is scheduled to spend 30 minutes in his room every day for roomtime, that’s 30 minutes that he won’t be getting himself into trouble. When you eat meals at the same time every day, you’ll ward off meltdowns due to low blood sugar levels. And when you schedule time every night for couch time, your child will take comfort in the security of your marriage. All of this leads to fewer behavior problems and a reduced need for discipline. That alone is reason enough to add more structure to your day. But there’s more…

Respect for authority
When you decide how your child will fill his day, an important attitude shift takes place. Your child will respect your authority. He will be less likely to develop a “wise in his own eyes” attitude where he has too many freedoms and too much control.

Focus and concentration
With structured play, your child will develop better focus and concentration skills. Whether he is asked to sit and read books for 30 minutes a day or simply stay in his room and play with a toy chosen for him, he will learn self-control. He will also learn that sometimes he must do something he doesn’t want to do, a skill that will serve him well in school.

Quality time for your child
You likely spend plenty of time with your child, but how much of that is good quality time? If you followed Babywise with your infant, you established a routine because it allowed him to get good quality sleep. You could have let him sleep anywhere any time, but you would have ended up with a demanding, sleep-deprived baby. The quality of a baby’s sleep is important. The same is true with the time we spend with our kids. Quality time should be your goal. Even if your new routine has you spending less time with your child overall, making sure it is good quality time is what’s important.

Quality time for yourself
By structuring your day, you’ll be able to set aside some quiet time for yourself. Not only will you get to shower every day (what a concept!), but you will have a chance to exercise, read a book for pleasure, cook dinner at a leisurely pace, or whatever else satisfies your personal desires. Realize that your child will be happier and better adjusted if he sees that mom devotes time to herself every day, even if it’s at his own expense.

Managing multiple children
Some parents shudder at the thought of having more than one or two kids because they can’t imagine how they would juggle the needs of every child. When your day is structured, welcoming a baby to the family can be as simple as shifting your daily routine around to make room for everyone.

Proactive parenting
Think of all the time you waste chasing after your child or watching him wander throughout the house aimlessly. Realize that by having more structure in your day, you can accomplish a lot more with your time.

“Managing your preschooler’s day enhances good organization, time-management skills, and provides an orderly environment for your children to optimize their learning experiences. It also helps Mom achieve personal and parenting goals while reducing the need for corrective discipline,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 86).

When you structure your day, you do more than just make it through the day. You schedule learning time for your preschooler. You schedule time to read books to your toddler. You schedule time for the gym. And you can do it all stress-free with minimal behavior problems.

Start thinking through how these ideas can affect your family. In my next post I’ll walk you through the steps of creating a schedule that will allow you to create a peaceful, structured environment in your home.

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Filed under parenting, parenting philosophy, prevention

Achieving first-time obedience

In my last post, I described what first-time obedience looks like. Now we’ll get into the details of how you can help your child obey the first time. It’s not easy but so worth it!

Lay the groundwork. It’s all about your tone.
Before you start requiring first-time obedience, you need to ensure your own attitude is in the right place. For those of you unsure of your ability to command authority, reach down within yourself and find your courage. Do not fear your child. Do not let him make the choices for the family. If you have read one or two of the Ezzo books, you are no stranger to the idea that the marriage takes priority in the family. Your child is a welcome member of the family but is not the center of it. Let that attitude carry you through your daily interactions with your child.

Some of you may have a strong handle on your authority but might take it too far. Don’t expect that he will disobey or he will. Don’t think that having authority over your child means that he’ll comply with unreasonable expectations when he’s tired and hungry. Don’t equate authority with anger and power. We want wise parenting, not power parenting.

If you have found the right attitude, you are likely at a place where you want to set your child up to succeed but will maintain a matter-of-fact tone if he doesn’t. When your child disobeys, you don’t accept it or get angry. You say to him, “Oops, I see you’ve made the wrong choice. Too bad. Here is what your consequence will be.”

Be consistent!

One of the most important things you need to require of yourself is consistency. If you want first-time obedience from your child, you must be 100% consistent. If you slip, he will too. But if you require it, he will meet your expectation. Your child will only rise to the expectation you set for him. Set the bar high but keep in mind you need to do the work to help him get there.

Get your “yes, mommy” and eye contact
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your child respond to the call of his name with a “yes, mommy” and eye contact. Before you give any task, especially one that he won’t want to do, you need to get his attention and know that he is listening. Maintaining eye contact while you give the instruction is key. Refer back to these posts for more.

Don’t repeat yourself
One sure-fire way to not get first-time obedience is to repeat yourself. How can he achieve first-time obedience if you’ve already given your instruction 5 times? Give him your instruction clearly and while maintaining eye contact and you have no excuse to repeat yourself. You know he has heard you loud and clear.

So what do you do if your child doesn’t respond after you’ve given your one instruction? Wait. Don’t wait 20 minutes, but do give him a chance to comply. If he still doesn’t respond, don’t say another word. Simply take him by the hand and physically help him complete the task. If you’ve asked him to put his Legos away and he ignores you, take his hand and bring him over to the Legos. Then take his hands in your own and start picking them up together. Be sure to do this with a very calm demeanor or he will strongly resist you.

After you have completed the task together, explain to him that you had to help him this time and that next time, you want him to obey you the first time you ask him to do something. After you have given it a few days of helping him obey you, move on to expecting him to obey you on his own. If he chooses not to, then you move on to your consequence.

Decide ahead of time what your consequences will be
Spend some time with your spouse thinking through your child’s most troublesome behaviors. Then decide on a logical or natural consequence for each of those behaviors. Write them down and post them in the kitchen so you can refer to them often. Perhaps picking up his toys is where he struggles the most. You might decide to take those toys away for a day. Let the punishment fit the crime, and make sure your consequences are ones that you can follow through on, even at your own weakest moments.

The key here is that you plan ahead so that when you’re faced with disobedience, you’re not scrambling to come up with a consequence. You want to respond swiftly, especially as you’re just beginning. Refer to my post on intentional parenting for more.

Do non-conflict training
Whether he’s 2 or 12, take the time to explain to him your new standard of obedience. He needs to know that you are changing the rules of the game and that you will be giving consequences the first time he disobeys. Clearly explain to him that you expect him to respond to your instructions the first time you give them. Be specific. Tell him that if he runs away from you at the park, you will go home the first time. Tell him that if he speaks to you with disrespect just one time, he will lose his TV privileges. Remind him often, several times a day every day.

Follow through
This is where you make or break the deal. You can do all of the work I describe above, but if you don’t follow through when your child disobeys the first time, all of your work will be for nothing. Not only will it have been a waste of time, but now your child won’t believe you when you say you will require first-time obedience. If your child disobeys just one time, issue the consequence, no questions asked. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t threaten. Don’t get angry. Keep a calm demeanor and follow through.

Now, don’t kick yourself if you slip once or twice. You are both acquiring a new skill, but do make it a priority. Even set aside a few days when you can stay home and work on it.

Set your child up for success
You want your child to achieve first-time obedience, right? So set him up to succeed. Don’t start your work on first-time obedience by asking your 4-year-old to mow the lawn. Take baby steps. Start by giving him a task you know he’ll do willingly. If he does it the first time, praise him! Expect that he will succeed. Make it so that he wants to give you first-time obedience. Then once he is doing well with simple tasks, move on to more difficult ones.

Be fair
You cannot expect your child to give you first-time obedience if you haven’t done all your work first. You can’t issue a consequence the first time if you haven’t told him what you expect. For all he knows, you’ll repeat yourself 20 times like you usually do. And consider context. Don’t start expecting first-time obedience when your fuse is short and your child is tired and hungry.

Require a happy heart

I started this post by asking you to work on your own attitude, and I’ll end by saying you need to ensure your child has the right attitude as well. A big component of first-time obedience is doing it with an attitude of submission. You might want to spend a week or two working on the mechanics of first-time obedience before you move on to changing his attitude. But once you are ready to do so, explain to him at a time of non-conflict, what you expect of him. Then if he gives you first-time obedience but sulks off after complying or whines about doing the task, start requiring him to respond with a happy heart. One of the best ways to do so is requiring him to do the task over with a better attitude. If he needs a few minutes in isolation to find his happy heart, let him go to his room and then come back to you when he’s ready to comply with a better attitude.

This was a long post full of weighty ideas. Refer back to it often. Good luck!

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First-time obedience

First-time obedience is a phrase you commonly hear in Ezzo parenting circles. But what exactly does it mean? It’s really quite simple to understand. First-time obedience means your child obeys your instruction the first time, no questions asked.

Actually achieving first-time obedience isn’t easy. This is another one of those principles that is much harder on the parents than it is on the child. It’s all about what you expect of your child and laying out those expectations clearly. It’s about setting a standard, and in this case, you are setting the standard quite high.

What does first-time obedience look like?

  • Your child responds to the call of his name with “yes, mommy”.
  • Your child gives you eye contact when you call his name.
  • Your child immediately complies with any instruction you give, whether it’s putting his shoes on or cleaning his room.
  • Your child obeys with an attitude of submission and a happy heart.

What does first-time obedience NOT look like?

  • Your child ignores you when you call his name.
  • You repeat your instruction five or 50 times before he complies. (This is 50th-time obedience!)
  • Your child counts on your inconsistency and will keep pushing the envelope to find out how serious you are today.
  • Your child whines or talks back when you give an instruction. If it worked once before, it might just work again.
  • You offer threat after threat to get your child to comply.
  • You count to three in a threatening tone when your child doesn’t comply.
  • You and your child end the day frustrated and stressed out.


First-time obedience in action: the good

Here’s a real-life example of what first-time obedience looks like. We had been struggling with getting William to settle down during bath time right before bed. It’s my husband’s job to bathe William and put him to bed while I do so with Lucas. Every night, they both would end up frustrated and angry. Every night, my husband would tell William over and over to settle down. Every night, William would get crazy. Every night, my husband would rush through the job just to get it done and get William in bed without further incident. Not a very good relationship-building experience for either of them.

After being reminded by my contact mom and her husband of what was going wrong, my husband immediately fixed the problem. He took a minute to look William in the eye and explain to him that if he got crazy, he would be told one time to settle down. And after that, he would receive a consequence. My husband was very clear on what that consequence would be. And he reiterated, in positive words, what it meant to not be crazy (quiet voice, look at and listen to Daddy, put on your pajamas quickly and compliantly, etc.). This non-conflict training was all that was needed. My husband clearly laid out the rules and William clearly knew what was expected of him. He had one chance and one chance only. William knew he didn’t want the consequence that was being offered, so we got our first-time obedience.

Now if William chose to disobey, my husband would have had no option but to administer the consequence. Following through on what you say is a key component of achieving first-time obedience. If you don’t follow through, your child will realize it, and he will keep pushing you to see how far he can get. Then you quickly slip back into threatening and repeating parenting. So always make sure the consequence you say you will give is a consequence you can give confidently. If the whole family is going to the zoo, and your child acts up in the parking lot after you’ve driven two hours to get there, you don’t want to threaten to go home. If you know you can’t follow through or if it would be unfair to the rest of the family, find a different consequence.

First-time obedience in action: the bad
Recently, we were at a restaurant that had a children’s play area. Nearby sat a family with a young girl (under 3) who wanted to play before she ate her meal. Her father told her repeatedly to sit and eat her meal. Every time he told her to sit down, she did. But she kept getting off her chair over and over. After about the third time of her getting off her chair, she wasn’t so interested in complying with her father’s request to sit down. In an effort to coax her back to the table, the father said that she wouldn’t be able to play if she didn’t eat. Not five seconds after saying this, he asked her if she wanted a time-out.

Now this example shows the good and the bad. It’s good that the father kept insisting that she sit down and eat her meal. Some parents would give up the fight. It’s good that she kept sitting down after being told to do so. But what ultimately confused the girl was the father not being consistent with his consequences. After the third time she got out of her chair, he should have elevated the consequence. They could have gone on all night with her getting out of her chair, being told to sit back down, and her getting back out of her chair again and again. And he shouldn’t have given her two different consequences for the same offense.

This scenario would have looked much different if the father had explained to his daughter before they sat down to eat (or even before entering the restaurant) that she would be expected to sit in her chair until she was done eating. At that point, the father would have also explained to her what the consequence would be if she chose to disobey. With everyone understanding the rules, the girl would have been much more likely to obey and the father would have been more confident with his discipline.

Recognizing what first-time obedience does and doesn’t look like is the first step to achieving it. In my next post, I’ll go into further detail about what exactly what you can do to achieve first-time obedience with your child.

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House rules

As you may have noticed, the Ezzo books are full of high-level parenting principles, but we parents must fill in the blanks ourselves when it comes to specific, day-to-day rules and values. I’m sure this is intentional on the part of the Ezzos. We should decide how to apply the principles for our own family to suit our own parenting styles and our own kids. Nevertheless, it does help to be exposed to specific house rules that other people hold in their own homes.

For example, we were just visiting a friend and she had a “no running in the house” rule. It struck me as sheer brilliance! It is very basic, but I always had some caveat about when and where they could run in the house. Now we have a “no running in the house at all” rule. Love it!

So here is my basic list of house rules. Most of these apply only to William (4.5) but we keep them in mind for Lucas (18 months) as well. I would love to hear more ideas, so please reply with your comments.

Obedience and respect

  • Obey Mommy and Daddy above all else, even when what we say contradicts the usual rule.
  • Respect all adults.
  • Answer when spoken to.
  • Ask only once when you have a question. Don’t repeat yourself until you get an answer. Wait patiently.
  • Use the interrupt rule.
  • Treat all living beings (parents, brother, friends, cat) with kindness and respect.
  • Offer to help Mommy and Daddy when you see the need. Always help when asked.
  • Consider how your actions affect others.
  • Respect all of our things (in the house and car).
  • Earn privileges. Don’t expect them to be handed to you.
  • Speak with polite words and a polite voice. Disrespect (talking back) is not tolerated.

Mealtime

  • Wash your hands before every meal.
  • Eat and drink only at the table. If there is food in your mouth or a utensil in your hand, your booty belongs completely on the chair.
  • Use proper manners at the table. Fork goes on the plate while chewing. Clean your hands with a napkin. No toys on the table. No loud noises.
  • Eat what you are served. No complaining about the food, and no other food will be offered until the next meal.
  • Ask to be excused when you are finished.
  • Take your dishes into the kitchen when you’re done.

Playtime

  • Ask for permission to go upstairs to your room. There is no other room upstairs where you can have unsupervised access. And you simply do not belong in the office ever.
  • Ask for permission to play in the backyard.
  • Ask for permission to watch TV. No touching the TV/stereo equipment unless you are told to do so.
  • Ask for permission to paint. All painting and other messy crafts must be done at the kitchen table.
  • Clean up after roomtime and before bath/bed.

Self care

  • Dress yourself in the morning. You may pick out your clothes. If what you choose doesn’t match or is inappropriate for the weather, you must change into what I give you.
  • Take off your shoes and coat when we get home. Shoes go in the shoe basket. Coat goes in the coat closet.
  • Wash and dry your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Sit still and patiently while we brush your teeth.
  • Buckle yourself into your car seat.

Miscellaneous

  • Use an inside voice when we are inside. (My recent logical consequence for outside voices is having William stand outside for a minute or two. Outside voice? Go outside! He gets the point very quickly.)
  • No whining. You will be ignored or asked to change your voice when you whine.
  • No running in the house. This goes for restaurants and other public places, too.
  • Do not answer the door when someone rings the bell. Wait for Mommy or Daddy.
  • Be quiet when we are on the phone.
  • No roughhousing at bedtime or first thing in the morning. You may rest in our bed first thing in the morning, but it is not a wrestling place. Absolutely no jumping on the bed.
  • Always ask for food. Never help yourself to food in the house, although you may help yourself to a glass of water.
  • Never lock any door in the house.

I’m sure there are several rules that I have forgotten, but this gives you a pretty good idea of the rules I enforce on a daily basis. Many of them William knows well and will follow without issue. Others, we may have to remind him or issue consequences. And I hope this will serve as a starting point for you to develop your own list of house rules. Every home with a child should have one! And again, please send a comment with some house rules of your own. The more we share, the better our lists will be.

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