Tag Archives: intentional parenting

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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Discipline vs. punishment

Have you ever stopped to consider the difference between discipline and punishment? The two terms are the same only in that parents use them when their children misbehave. But they are very different in their intent.

Here are their definitions (according to dictionary.com):

Discipline: verb, to bring a state of order and obedience by training and control; to punish or penalize in order to train and control.

Punish: verb, to subject to pain, loss, confinement, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression or fault, to inflict a penalty.

Do you notice the difference between the two?

To teach vs. inflict harm
The intent of punishment is to inflict pain for an offense. The intent of discipline is to train and bring about order. The way I see it, by punishing our children, we inflict pain (physical or emotional) with no greater goal. By disciplining our children, our greater goal is to teach them.

Childwise principle #10: “If learning didn’t take place, correction didn’t happen,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 133).

No matter how you correct your child’s misbehavior, make sure you are teaching him why the behavior is unacceptable.

Internal vs. external motivation
Aside from not providing a teachable lesson, punishment is less desirable than discipline because it provides an external motivation. Which would you prefer? A child who does the right thing because his parents say so or a child who does the right thing because he knows in his heart that it is right?

When we discipline our children, our goal is to help develop their conscience. In the early years, your child will do the right thing because of your influence. But once you hit the early preschool years, your child should have an internal motivation to do what’s right.

Examples
Here are some real-world examples of the difference between discipline and punishment.

Punishment: Your child throws food on the floor, so you put him in a timeout.

Discipline: Your child throws food on the floor, so you make him clean it up to teach him that it takes work to keep the house clean.

Punishment: Your child refuses to do his homework, so you lecture him about it and send him to bed without dinner.

Discipline: Your child refuses to do his homework, so you let the reality of a failing grade teach the lesson of why homework is important.

Punishment: Your child hits you in a fit of rage, so you yell and hit back.

Discipline: Your child hits you in a fit of rage, so you send him to his room. If he can’t be nice to anyone, he should be alone and rejoin the family when his anger is under control.

Punishment: Your child abuses his computer time, so you ground him for three months.

Discipline: Your child abuses his computer time, so you take away his computer privileges until he shows you that he’s responsible enough to use the computer wisely. The onus is on the child to prove that he’s responsible.

Punishment: Your child leaves his bike on the lawn for the third time in a week, so you send him to his room.

Discipline: Your child leaves his bike on the lawn for the third time in a week, so you take away his bike privileges until he shows you he can take care of his things.

As you can see in these examples, there is a lesson involved in every form of discipline. Be sure that every time you correct your child’s behavior, you are teaching through discipline.

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The funnel–keeping freedoms age-appropriate

The funnel is one of the best and perhaps most infamous analogies offered by the Ezzos. The funnel represents the freedoms you allow your child given his age. The funnel represents the guidance and boundaries you give your child. The Ezzos implore us to parent inside the funnel.

“A common mistake is to parent outside the funnel in the early years. In an effort to give the child confidence, parents sometimes allow their children behaviors or freedoms that are neither age-appropriate nor in harmony with the child’s moral and intellectual capabilities,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 155).

What this means is that you consciously choose what freedoms are appropriate given your child’s age and maturity. You don’t allow a freedom that your child cannot be responsible for. You don’t allow a freedom that you will one day have to take away. You don’t allow your child to choose for himself what freedoms are appropriate.

How do you know if a behavior is outside the funnel?
This is very simple. Watch your child. Keep your eye out for behaviors that seem beyond his age level. If it bothers you that he exhibits a particular behavior, there’s a reason it bothers you. Listen to that intuition. If it bothers you, don’t allow it. Ask yourself if he does any of the following:

  • Enters any room of the house at will
  • Gets food from the pantry whenever he wants
  • Ransacks his room with little regard or respect for its contents
  • Puts up a fight about wearing the shorts and tank top even though it’s 40 degrees out
  • Insists that he eat cereal instead of eggs for breakfast
  • Climbs out of his crib or playpen even when told to stay put
  • Speaks disrespectfully to any adult, particularly you and your spouse
  • Leaves your side in public without informing you
  • Goes into the backyard without asking

These are just a few examples of a young child who is acting outside the funnel. He has been allowed freedoms that are not age-appropriate. Some of these freedoms are perhaps appropriate for a teenager. If your 2-year-old is exhibiting them, he is clearly outside the funnel.

Why should you limit your child’s freedoms?
There is nothing wrong with allowing your child to have some freedoms, as long as they are age-appropriate. For example, allowing your 3-year-old to choose his own toys is possibly a freedom he can be responsible for. If he plays with them appropriately and can take care of them by putting them away when he’s done, it is an age-appropriate freedom. Also consider whether he is characterized by respecting his property. If he consistently ransacks his room during roomtime, perhaps the toys or the room itself are freedoms he doesn’t have the responsibility to have.

Consider this. A group of researchers performed a study on a group of students to see how they would react if they took away the fences that lined the perimeter of the school. When the fences were up, the children would play freely, far away from the school buildings and even linger around the fence. When the fences were taken down, the students huddled much closer to the school buildings. The students felt more secure when those fences were up. Without the limits that the fences established, they were unsure as to how far they should go. The same goes with setting limits for your child. The more you set limits, the more secure your child will feel.

Also important is the fact that setting limits and parenting inside the funnel is yet another way to establish parental authority over your child. If your child defers to you to determine what he is allowed to say and do, he is much more likely to respect your authority.

But perhaps the reason that most interests you is the fact that limiting your child’s freedoms will improve his behavior and reduce your frustration.

How will this affect your child’s behavior?
Keeping your child inside the funnel and only allowing freedoms that are age-appropriate is huge in keeping his behavior in check. I mentioned that it builds your parental authority. Beyond this, it teaches your child that he does not have 100% freedom over his environment and his actions. Could this stifle his independence? Yes, it could. This is why you need to let your child grow into the wider parts of the funnel as he matures. But if he is right where he should be in the funnel, he will have much greater control over his own actions.

Think about the examples I gave above. The reason these freedoms are not age-appropriate for a 2-year-old is that a child that age does not have the moral or practical knowledge that accompanies those freedoms. A toddler does not understand the science of nutrition and wouldn’t know that a bowl of sugary cereal is less healthy than a breakfast of eggs and toast. Nor does he understand that the resulting sugar high would adversely affect his behavior.

This lack of moral and practical knowledge can be applied to many of the behaviors I listed. As you limit your child’s freedoms according to his age and understanding, his behaviors will improve quite immediately. Perhaps you get frustrated that your toddler climbs the stairs on his own. Once you remove that freedom, that frustration will disappear. Perhaps you get frustrated that your preschooler goes outside on his own. Once you remove that freedom, or at least require that he ask permission, that frustration will disappear. Imagine how peaceful your home can be.

Funnel utopia
Let me describe what it looks like when your child firmly knows his boundaries inside the funnel.

  • When your child wakes up in the morning, he dresses himself in the clothes you have laid out for him.
  • If he happens to wake up when you’re still sleeping, he stays in his room and plays quietly until you wake up.
  • He washes his hands when you ask and eats the food that is placed in front of him, no matter what dish it’s in.
  • After taking his dishes to the kitchen, he asks permission to play in the backyard and will abide by any instructions you give about outside play.
  • He knows that certain rooms in the house are off-limits.
  • He puts his toys away after playing with them.
  • He stays within your line of sight, as you have requested, in public places.
  • He keeps his hand on the shopping cart as you have asked, no matter how much he hates grocery shopping.
  • He goes to bed (and stays there) peacefully and quietly every night.

Does this all sound too good to be true? These are things that my 4-year-old son William is characterized by doing on a consistent basis. This utopia is a reality in my home. Did this happen on its own overnight? Certainly not. It required diligent parenting on my part. If you apply the same amount of diligence, while considering many of the other aspects of preventing misbehavior, your home can also look like this.

Start thinking through your child’s freedoms and strongly consider whether he has freedoms that you need to take away. In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about some of the common pitfalls parents run into when keeping their children’s behaviors inside the funnel.

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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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Watch your tone

We may often tell our kids to watch their tone, but this is something we need to do as parents as well. It may seem obvious, but barking orders at our kids never works as well as speaking nicely and using a positive voice to get our kids to do what we need them to do.

Use positive words
It is always best to tell your child what you want him to do rather than what you want him not to do. When you tell him what not to do, he may honestly not know what the better alternative is. So rather than telling your child not to run in the mall, tell him he needs to walk next to you while holding your hand or putting one hand on the stroller. Read more about this in my post on non-conflict training.

In addition to using positive words, explain with a few words why you are asking him to do something. Explaining to your child why he needs to wash his hands is far better than simply barking an order at him to do so. Consider the difference between the following:

Bad: Put your shoes on.
Good: William, we’re going for a walk. Now go put your shoes on.

Bad: Get in bed.
Good: William, it’s time for bed. Go hop in so I can read to you.

Bad: Eat your broccoli.
Good: It may not smell or look great, but broccoli is really good for your body. It will make you healthy and strong. At the very least, you must have one “no thank you bite”.

My one caution with this is that you don’t want to be explaining so much to your child that he thinks he has the power to negotiate with you. It’s fine to tell him you are going for a walk and that he needs to put his shoes on. It’s not okay for him to say he doesn’t want to go for a walk so he doesn’t need to put his shoes on, and thus defying your command.

Use praise and encouragement
While you should always praise your child for a job well done, you should also use praise and encouragement when telling him to do something. For example:

Bad: Put your cup on the counter.
Good: You are always so good at remembering to put your dishes on the counter. Don’t forget your cup.

Bad: Go get a diaper for your brother.
Good: You are such a good helper for mommy. Please run upstairs and grab a diaper for your brother.

Bad: What does this letter say?
Good: You do such a great job sounding out your letters. Let’s see what sound this letter says.

Always make sure your praise is valid. If he consistently fights with you to brush his teeth, you don’t want to tell him that he is good at it. And don’t praise him 3,000 times a day. You want your praise to be valid and given in small doses so it doesn’t become inflated and meaningless.

Be specific
Find a way to be specific in your instructions to your child. If you want him to clean up his toys, tell him to put the cars in the car bin. Once he’s done that, have him put his books on the shelf. Telling him to clean up is too vague and too big of a job for him to compartmentalize on his own. Break it down for him and he will comply much more willingly.

Also figure out whether he truly understands what you’re saying. Getting William to pre-school can be a stressful time for us. It’s not uncommon for us to be running a little behind. I’ll tell him to hurry and that we’re running late. Recently, it occurred to me that he didn’t equate running late with moving faster. So I told him, “William, we’re running late. That means move faster!” And he did. That’s all it took. I stopped stressing. And we got to school on time.

Use your imagination
Starting around age 3, your child’s imagination will begin to flourish. Rather than lining his cars up in a row, he will drive them through a makeshift tunnel (made of a paper towel tube). Rather than squeezing his toy duck in the bath, he will have it “swim” in the water. As your child enters this phase, you will want to follow his lead and let your own imagination grow, too. This is important so that you can play with him, but also so you can use it to your advantage. Use his imagination (and yours) to get him to do what you want him to do.

The one caveat to this is that you still want your child to obey your word simply because you are his parent and you are his authority figure. To use your imagination to get him to do what you want might seem like coaxing or cajoling him when you simply want him to obey. This is certainly important, but you should always consider alternatives. If you find yourself barking orders at him constantly, try finding a fun and creative way to explain to him what you want him to do. You’ll find that he is much more likely to obey and everyone will be happier for it.

Have fun
While we should always fulfill our role as our child’s teacher, we should also consider the importance of having fun with our kids. Whether that means sitting down with your child to play Candyland or racing to the top of the stairs, always allow for a dose of fun in your daily interactions with your child. Starting around age 3-4, your child is beginning to form memories he will hold for the rest of his life. Make those memories positive ones.

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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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