Tag Archives: mean what you say

Where’s the discipline?

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you may be wondering why I haven’t discussed discipline or correction ideas. Until now, most of my posts have been about the theoretical fundamentals that make up the Ezzo parenting series.

So why has it taken me so long to discuss discipline and correction methods? Well, aside from the fact that I don’t post as often as I’d like to, true followers of the Ezzo principles must have the basics under their belts before they can correct their children in good conscience.

Train yourself first
If you are new to the Ezzos or are starting with older children, you may have skipped straight to the discipline chapters in the books. I know I did! I felt like I needed to get my son’s behaviors in line and I needed to do it ASAP. I figured all the rest could wait until later.

But it doesn’t work that way. If you believe in the Ezzos’ teachings, you must work on yourself first. You need to change your habits. You need to change your perception of your child’s misbehaviors. You need to formulate a plan.

Prevention is key
You may have clued into the fact that the Ezzo principles are all about prevention. All of the work you put into your parenting and your marriage will prevent misbehavior from your child. Before learning about the Ezzos, our life looked something like this: 80% frustration, 15% discipline (mostly in the form of yelling, threatening and repeating) and 5% prevention. Today, it looks like this: 90% prevention, 9% discipline and 1% frustration. (I think even the most perfect parents get frustrated with their children at some point.)

Fundamentals
To recap my earlier posts, here is how you go about preventing misbehavior:

  • Put your marriage first. Do couch time, go out on dates, and make time for yourselves.
  • Make sure your child knows he is not the center of the universe. See my posts on child-centered parenting.
  • Create and follow a schedule. Do this even if your child is in school six hours a day.
  • Do non-conflict training. Make sure your child knows what is expected of him and don’t confuse him. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t allow yourself to become a threatening, repeating parent. It happens to the best of us, so make a conscious effort to avoid it.
  • Make sure you have your child’s attention when you are talking and especially when you are giving an instruction. Getting eye contact and having him say “yes, mommy” are crucial.
  • And most of all, love, encourage and praise your child.

Follow the tags on the right or do a search to review my posts on these principles.

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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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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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Anger

The Ezzos have given us many tools to effectively parent our kids. Getting angry is not one of them. You should never have to raise your voice or get frustrated with your child if you use these techniques well. Is it human to get frustrated with your kids? Yes. Can you prevent it? Yes. The more you apply the Ezzo techniques the more obedient your child will become. And the more obedient he is, the less angry and frustrated you will be. So that’s your first task to eliminate anger: apply these principles consistently.

Beyond this, the single most important way to manage your anger is to shift your mindset. You must realize that your anger is your problem not your child’s. No matter how much your child disobeys, your anger is not his fault. You are the adult; he is the child. You choose how you respond to his disobedience. Most children come from a place of goodness and want to obey their parents. If they understand the rules and have motivation to obey, they will. If you constantly battle anger, it should be your signal to look within yourself and examine your parenting to see where you went wrong.

One way to do so is to consistently act more than you speak. It’s too easy to give warning after warning. If you have told your child to do something 20 times in 10 minutes and his behavior still doesn’t change, there is a problem. If you speak more than you act, your words become meaningless and your child will stop obeying you. As trite as it sounds, actions speak louder than words. If your child doesn’t respond the first time you ask him to do something, your very next step should be discipline. This is the crux of first-time obedience. The Ezzos have taught us many ways to correct our children, and no one technique works for all situations, but if your child understands the rules and chooses to break them, you should discipline nonetheless. Show your child with your actions that you mean business. If you constantly remind your child how to behave or give him 200 warnings before disciplining him, your anger level will rise, no doubt. (For more on this, see Say what you mean. Mean what you say.)

If you struggle with anger, you should also examine your need for control. Those of us who apply the Ezzo principles like having our lives structured so we feel more in control. We feel happier when everything is nicely planned out. When things stray from our plan, the loss of control can be unsettling. But undoubtedly, there will be times in your life when your child creates a situation that you cannot control. This is part of being a parent. We can do all that we can to set our children up for success, but ultimately they control what they eat, when they will sleep and when they will potty train. We cannot physically force them to do these things. If you feel like control is at the root of your anger, simply being aware of it will help.

Another way to eliminate anger and frustration from your parenting is to pay constant attention to your tone of voice, body language and stress level. There are times when you can feel the frustration level slowly rising. And there are times when you get angry at the drop of a hat with little warning. If you struggle with anger, make it your objective to be on constant alert for your anger signals. Ask your spouse to tell you when he sees you get angry. Develop a signal like tugging on his ear or clearing his throat to indicate to you that you need to calm down. You don’t want him to flat out tell you to calm down in front of your child because it will undermine your authority. Another option is to set the video camera on record for a few hours and watch it back. Listen to your voice. Watch your body language. Watch your child’s reactions to your anger. Pay attention to your stress level whether it manifests through tense shoulders, clenched fists, tight jaw, etc.

Once you become more aware of your anger signals, try to determine a pattern. Do you get angry at certain times of the day more than others? Are your mornings always stressful? Are you most angry when you’re out in public with your child? Are you always tired and simply need more sleep? Try to find a pattern and then take steps to change the pattern. For example, if you find yourself getting angry during your morning routine, get up an hour earlier. Simple fix. If you find yourself getting angry at mealtimes, do some non-conflict training with your child to teach him manners. If you are angry throughout the day or more so in the evenings, try going to bed an hour or two earlier.

Also have a plan for when he disobeys. Decide ahead of time what consequence you will give your child if he misbehaves at your high-stress times. That way, you know how you will respond and won’t lapse into anger.

Another useful tactic is to find a way to physically prevent yourself from disciplining your child out of anger. Make your typical discipline spot far away from the activity center of the house. If your trouble spots are in the main hub of the house (kitchen, family room, etc.) force yourself to discipline your child only in his bedroom or a bathroom. The time that it takes to walk up the stairs or across the house will give you time to calm down. If your house is small or if this doesn’t work for whatever reason, just count to ten silently. Take a breather. Give yourself a timeout if you need it. There is nothing wrong with making your child wait for discipline. In fact, the anticipation of it may be discipline enough.

Above all, if you know you struggle with anger and cannot seem to manage it, simply walk away. Even if your child continues with the poor behavior, letting him continue to do so for a few minutes is far better than disciplining him out of anger. Not only is it ineffective, but disciplining in anger is borderline abusive. It’s too important to ignore so take the necessary steps to control your anger. It’s no easy task, but you will all be happier for it.

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The ebb and flow of parenting

As you get accustomed to implementing the Ezzo principles in your daily life with your child, you will notice your child’s behaviors improve. This is wonderful and what we all want to see. But one negative effect of this is that you will start to slack off on your consistency. This is the natural ebb and flow of parenting.

Here’s how it typically plays out:

  • You are consistent in requiring a “yes mommy” and getting eye contact from your child.
  • He meets your level of expectation by doing as you ask. It doesn’t happen immediately, but he gets there eventually.
  • You are pleased with your progress and notice how compliant he has become.
  • Fully unaware that you are doing so, you begin to slack off on requiring a “yes mommy” and eye contact. It takes work to remember to do these things and if you are not reminded every day of your child’s misbehaviors (which are not as apparent as they used to be), it is easy to forget.
  • Because you have slacked off, he does too. You may have been at 90% first-time obedience, but it quickly slips to 50% without you even noticing.
  • At some point, you start getting frustrated with him and find yourself getting more and more angry in your daily interactions. Then it finally dawns on you that you haven’t been very consistent. No wonder he hasn’t been listening. You haven’t been asking for a “yes mommy”, requiring eye contact, training him in times of non-conflict, etc. You apologize to him for your previous anger and explain to him what happened and that you are going to bump up your consistency.
  • Again, he meets your level of expectation.
  • And the cycle repeats itself.

So if you begin to notice that your child’s behaviors have gotten worse, look to yourself first. Our children will rise to whatever level of expectation we set for them. (See “Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”) Have you started slacking off? Do you have something going on in your life that is requiring all of your attention (a new baby, a family crisis, etc.)? Have you and your spouse slacked off on couch time? Look closely at yourself and your behaviors, and you will easily find the answer to your child’s problems.

Then get back into the groove of requiring a higher standard from your child. Pick up your copy of Childwise and start rereading a chapter or two. Start rereading some of my previous posts. Start listening to the Mom’s Notes if you have them. All of these resources will help remind you how to apply the principles and will inspire you to get back to work with it.

Above all, don’t beat yourself up over this. This ebb and flow in our parenting is a natural fact of life. If you are human, it will happen. Just get used to it and be mindful of it so your child’s behaviors don’t get so out of control that they are doubly hard to correct. In fact, you will likely notice that your child’s behaviors might slip a bit, but he will never go back to where you were before you started implementing these principles. Your child will have become used to them so it won’t take him long to rise to your new higher standard. And the more you apply them the more natural they become, so it will be easy to jump right back in after you have slacked off for a little while.

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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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