Category Archives: first-time obedience

Transfer ownership of behavior

Do you focus too much on obedience? Is there an alternative? Yes. While it’s all well and good to teach our children to obey our word, at some point, we need to teach them to take responsibility for their own behaviors.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have been a bit blinded when it comes to this idea. My kids are doing pretty well with first-time obedience, but the mornings continue to be a pain in my side. Here’s how it typically goes:

7:30 am: They wake up and play while I shower.
8:15 am: I bring them their clothes and cajole them away from their toys to get them to get dressed.
8:25 am: They play while I make their breakfast.
8:30 am: They play while they eat. 🙂
8:40 am: I encourage them to hurry up and finish to put on shoes and coats. (Yes, we’re still wearing coats in June. Don’t ask.)
8:42 am: They start dawdling. With very little time to spare, I sigh and go get their shoes and coats for them. No socks? I’m the one to run upstairs to grab a pair.
8:48 am: They squeeze in every last minute of play while we get in the car to be at school by 9:00.

As you might imagine, mornings are my least favorite time of day. Can you picture me yelling “hurry!” 50 times before the morning is over? And do you see how we have less and less time for each task as the morning progresses?

I’m sad to say that it took me this long to figure out what our problem is. Now that the school year is over (as of today), I have figured out that I have made no attempt to transfer ownership of these tasks to my boys. Age 3.5, Lucas still needs some help, but William, age 6.5, is certainly capable of taking responsibility for getting himself ready in the morning.

Here’s my plan. Now that school is out, we’ll use our lazy summer mornings to teach this. If it takes him two hours to put his shoes on, it will be okay. We’ll work on it. I will clearly outline each child’s tasks and make cards similar to the ones we use at bedtime. We won’t go anywhere until they accomplish each task on their own. I might even withhold breakfast until all the important tasks are done.

Hopefully we’ll have our act together in time for summer camps in early July so we can be ready and out the door by 9:00 without much yelling and cajoling. When school starts in September, I’ll allow him to be late. I’ll email the teacher and ask him to make a BIG deal if we don’t get there in time. It’s one thing for mommy to say it’s bad to be late, but if it comes from a well-respected teacher, it will carry much more weight.

How have you done when it comes to teaching your kids to take ownership of their behavior? Here’s what the Ezzos have to say about it:

“Childwise Principle #12: Constantly reminding a child to do what is expected only means you have no expectation.”

“Instilling self-generated follow-through is a life skill worthy of any parent’s attention. … Please note the difference between obedience training and responsibility training. Parents unintentionally tend to do more of the first and less of the second.

“Obedience says: the child will do it when reminded. Responsibility says: the child will do it before he needs reminding. Which category of training would you rather be in? That is why we encourage you to seriously consider this ownership issue and the verbiage associated with it.”

There’s one hitch to teaching children to take ownership of behaviors. They need to be ready for them. With our first-borns, we are often tempted to ask too much of them too soon. With subsequent kids, it’s easy to treat them as “the baby” and not require enough of them.

As Childwise says, “Remember principle one. Parents own all behaviors until the child is both ready and able to take ownership. Moms and dads own not only behaviors but decisions governing behaviors until they are able to successfully transfer the rights and responsibilities to the child. Someday, going outside to play, picking out school clothes, and visiting the refrigerator will be the child’s decision.”

Do what I say and not what I do. Be prepared for this day! Teach your children today to take ownership of daily tasks. Note, however, that these are tasks that you assign to them. William is quite independent and very capable of accomplishing many tasks. The issue is getting him to do things that need to be done, not things that he wants to be doing.

 

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Regularly evaluate first-time obedience

Have you ever been blindsided by your child’s disobedience? It goes something like this. You are moving along contentedly, going through the motions of daily life. Most of the time, your daily life can be fairly child-centric without necessarily harming anything. But then suddenly you encounter an adult situation during which your child disobeys miserably, causing huge amounts of frustration and embarrassment for you, your spouse and everyone else involved. You leave the event vowing to your spouse that you will get your child’s obedience under control immediately.

There are two problems with this. First, of course, is that you had to experience the frustration and embarrassment in the first place. Second, your poor child is suddenly faced with super strict parents who have given the child no warning that things are going to change. His likely response will be to rebel even more, which only compounds the problem.

The million dollar question then becomes, How do you avoid being blindsided in the first place? The answer: evaluate your child’s level of first-time obedience (FTO) regularly. Think of the events that happen on a weekly, monthly or bi-annual basis, and set a reminder to yourself to evaluate your child’s FTO. Maybe you decide to do it every Sunday afternoon after church. Or you schedule it once a month when you pay bills. Perhaps you evaluate FTO every six months when you change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Associate it with some other event and jot it down on your calendar so you won’t forget.

Actually evaluating your child’s first-time obedience is quite simple. Just call your child’s name several times in the day and see how well he responds with “yes, mommy” and eye contact. At the end of the day, decide on a general percentage of how well he did. If you are the analytical type and need an exact percentage, count the number of times you called his name and the number of times he responded appropriately. Divide one by the other and you’ll get your percentage.

What percentage is acceptable? This of course depends on how old your child is and how long you have been working on it. If you have a two-year-old who has only been learning how to respond for two weeks, then 20 percent is probably acceptable (as long as you keep working at it). If you have a ten-year-old who has had a high level of FTO in the past, you might only accept 90 percent.

As you proceed through this process, always keep your goal in mind. The percentage does you no good unless you do something with it. If it’s lower than you’d like, that’s your cue that you need to work on FTO before you encounter a situation that will require greater obedience. Save yourselves the frustration and heartache by evaluating and working on first-time obedience before you really need it.

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Give individual instruction

Credit: kiwinz via Flickr

Do you have two or more children? If so, this is for you. Have you ever given an instruction that applies to both children and gotten zero response? Doesn’t it seem logical to give an instruction to two or more kids at the same time than to get their attention individually? We should be able to do so, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’re no stranger to the idea that we need to call our kids’ names and get a “yes, mommy” and eye contact before we give an instruction. It makes perfect sense and works very well when you’re working with one child.

But what do you do when you have an instruction for two or more children? Should you:

  • Option #1: Skip the process and just give your instruction?
  • Option #2: Call both children’s names at the same time?
  • Option #3: Call each name individually and go through the process as you would with one child?

I speak from experience when I suggest that you do the latter. Yes, it sounds very inefficient and like over-kill, but it works. Here’s how these scenarios play out in my home:

Option #1

Me: Boys, go wash your hands for dinner!

Them: Silence and inaction.

Option #2

Me: William and Lucas?

Them: Silence as they each wait for the other to respond.

Option #3

Me: William?

William: Yes, mommy?

Me: Go wash your hands for dinner.

William: Yes, mommy (as he goes to wash up).

Me: Lucas?

Lucas: Yes, mommy?

Me: Go wash your hands for dinner.

Lucas: Yes, mommy (as he goes to wash up).

When you do this, it’s always wise to call the older child first (assuming your older child has a better level of first-time obedience). You want the child who has better first-time obedience to set the example for the younger child. That way, the younger child will easily follow suit.

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Freedoms equations

Thanks to the Babywise and Beyond Facebook page, here are three equations to keep in mind as you manage your child’s freedoms.

Freedoms > self-control = developmental confusion

Freedoms < self-control = developmental frustration

Freedoms = self-control = developmental harmony

Are your child’s freedoms greater than his level of self-control? If so, you’ll end up with developmental confusion. The true litmus test for this is making sure the child knows how to use the freedom responsibly. Any object should be used for its intended purpose. For example, a toddler should not be playing with a remote control because he has no idea what the buttons are supposed to do, nor should he be allowed to operate the TV on his own.

For the second equation, decide whether you restrict your child’s freedoms too much. His freedoms should grow as he ages and as he shows more responsibility. If they don’t, you’ll not only frustrate him, but you’ll hinder his development as well.

The third equation is exactly where your child’s freedoms should be. You want his freedoms to equal his level of self-control. Not too many freedoms; not too few. Give your toddler the freedom to read his own books, but don’t allow him to play with Grandma’s prized photo albums. Give your three-year-old the freedom to put on his own shoes, but don’t allow him to brush his own teeth. Give your ten-year-old the freedom to play at a friend’s house without you, but don’t allow him to go without asking permission.

They key to maintaining developmental harmony is to regularly evaluate your child’s freedoms. When he shows greater self-control, you allow more freedoms. If his self-control slips, you take away freedoms (not as a disciplinary measure but merely to keep his freedoms in check). Think through all of your child’s freedoms and make sure they are promoting developmental harmony and not developmental confusion or frustration.

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Surrender with dignity

Do you allow your child to surrender with dignity? When you give your child an instruction, which is the more likely scenario:

  • You stand over your child with the expectation that he will not comply.
  • You walk away feeling confident that he will obey.

I hope it’s the latter. With this concept, the Ezzos implore us to allow our children to keep their dignity intact while submitting to our will. Take notice, however, that allowing your child to surrender with dignity does not require you to relinquish your authority in any way.

In On Becoming Childwise, the authors describe a scenario where little Stevie refuses to thank a relative for the birthday gift he has received, despite multiple prompts from mom. Consider this passage (page 228-229):

“There is a way to defuse such potential power struggles and maintain the integrity of your authority. After the second instruction, you should humbly apologize on behalf of the child…then direct stubborn Stevie to his room for some well-needed think time. Voila! The power struggle is unplugged and you have retained your authority.

“Children should be allowed the freedom to surrender with dignity. A child will often defy a parent when the parent makes the option of surrender intolerable. That is, a child will persist with wrong behavior if a parent does not give him room to surrender with dignity.”

“When Stevie’s mom battled him toe-to-toe, her direct insistence made surrendering to her authority in front of everyone difficult, if not impossible. Another response would be if she had walked away from the table after her first verbal reprimand…. Mom’s presence, however, extended the conflict.

“By stepping away, mom would have given Stevie room to surrender with dignity rather than face a continued challenge. If Stevie still chose not to properly respond, then removing him would have been the best option. Wise parenting is better than power parenting.”

As with everything in parenting, our goal is to teach submissiveness with a sincere intent: to pave the way to teach our children. To allow them dignity while they submit to us is not only kind, but it also allows us better opportunities to teach. When our children know that we care enough to allow them that dignity, they are more likely to receive and obey our instruction.

So the next time you give your child an instruction, walk away and see what happens. Walk away with the expectation that he will comply. Allow him to surrender to your will while keeping his dignity, and I bet he will be more likely to comply.

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Tuesday Triumphs: “Yes, mommy”

Yes, I’m posting my Tuesday Triumph on Wednesday. It’s just been that kind of week. (And I’m not the kind of blogger who has 32 posts scheduled ahead of time.) Three-year-old Lucas is the spotlight of this week’s triumph. Lucas is often outshined by his brother when it comes to behavior. It’s partly my fault. I wasn’t very consistent with him while my husband was recently deployed. And I was blindsided when it became apparent that he had saved his evil ways for his third birthday. He was incredibly obedient at 20 months!

Anyway, our triumph this week is that Lucas has gotten infinitely better about saying “yes, mommy” when I call his name. My slow talker struggles a bit to get the “yes” part out, but it’s clear to me what he’s saying. He also consistently gives me eye contact when he responds.

If this is how you qualify first-time obedience, as Carla Link claims, then we’re about 85% there! Not bad for a three-year-old!

He’s doing really well in school, too. My baby boy can barely string ten words together, but he can spell his name! He’s always so pleased with himself when he does.

If there’s any doubt that parenting is a process, Lucas offers explicit evidence. I started working with him when he was a baby, and my efforts paid off. I still remember comments from friends and strangers who were amazed by his obedience. Then he followed my lead when I slacked off a bit. We’re now back on track and seeing the fruits of our labor.

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Tuesday Triumphs: Strength in learning

This demonstrates William's handwriting and detailed drawings. He knows he's only allowed to throw balls. 🙂

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am amazed by how much and how quickly William is learning in school this year. He is now six years old and in full-day Kindergarten. His private school’s curriculum is a year ahead of public schools. So while William is an older Kindergartner (by design), he is learning first-grade academics. He’s a very confident reader and is beginning to explore multiplication in math. Art will always be his favorite, but he also loves Spanish and playing the recorder in music.

This shows what William is learning in math. Adding 3 numbers!

A couple incidents this week demonstrated his academic success. One night, while my husband was reading a chapter book to him before bed, William corrected my husband’s pronunciation of a name while reading over his shoulder.

And just the other day, while discussing a spelling app I had installed on my phone, I mentioned that the words were pretty easy (cat, bird, ship). He said, “I can spell hard words like ‘information.’” He proceeded to spell the word and got it right until the tricky “tion” part.

I attribute William’s strength in learning in part to the way we have parented him. Despite the struggles we’ve had with his sensory issues, he does really well in school. His teacher says that William is always diligent with his work and has no trouble concentrating on the task at hand.

His handwriting is pretty advanced for his age. Not bad for a Kindergartner!

There are several character traits that I strive to instill in my kids, and they work well both at home and at school:

  • Respect for authority
  • Listening and attentiveness
  • Concentration
  • Thriving in a structured environment
  • Independence in play and in schoolwork
  • High standards for himself and his work
  • Appropriate social skills

This last trait was put to the test four days ago when a classmate punched William in the face. This boy was frustrated that William wouldn’t do what he wanted and rather than speak to him about his frustrations, he lashed out in aggression. As a mom, I am just appalled that this would even happen in school, and my immediate reaction was to protect my baby from the outside world.

But his response to the incident tells me that he knows very well how to behave among friends. Not only did he not hit back or scream or even cry, but he shrugged it off and walked away. Later, he told me that it hurt and that he was sad that his friend would hurt him. The boy was disciplined appropriately (sent home from school), which I take heart in. But even more encouraging to me than the school’s reaction was William’s response.

Thanks to all that I have learned from the Ezzos, I feel confident in William’s abilities in school and among friends. These skills not only help him in Kindergarten, but I’m confident they will inspire strength in learning throughout his many school years to come.

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