Tag Archives: parental authority

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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Filed under first-time obedience, moral training, parenting, parenting philosophy, prevention

Create your schedule

In my last post, I discussed the many benefits of structuring your day. Here I will walk you through the steps of creating a schedule to establish peace and harmony in your home.

Look at my schedule
The following explanation will make more sense if you look at my schedule first. Got it? Now, back to reading.

Start with a blank document
Find a quiet time and sit down in front of the computer. Create a table in Word or Excel. If you’re comfortable with Word, use this document that I have created for you. (I use Excel, but WordPress wouldn’t let me upload a spreadsheet, so this should do.) If you’re using Excel or a piece of paper and pen, make three columns, one for the times of day, one for your child and one for you. Having a column for yourself is key to making your schedule work for you and keeping you on task. Add another column for any additional kids.

On the far left, write down the times of the day in 15-minute increments starting with the time you wake up and ending with the time you go to bed. Take heart, not every minute of your day will be scheduled, but starting with 15-minute increments will make it easier to create your schedule. If there is an activity that lasts an hour, for example, you can delete three of those 15-minute rows.

When filling in your schedule, you won’t go row by row. You will go activity by activity. Fill in your schedule in the following order.

Fixed activities
Start with any activities that have a fixed time, like school. Include the times your child starts school and the time he gets home.

Waking and sleeping
Your fixed activities might affect the time you need to wake up. So fill in the time you and your child wake up. Whether you need to be up at a certain time or not, waking up at the same time every day is key to making your schedule work. Be realistic. If you’re not a morning person, don’t set your wake-up time to 6:00 am. Wake your child at the same time every day if his wake time is inconsistent. Now fill in times for naps and bed. Allow your child enough time to get a full night’s sleep (9-12 hours depending on age). Make yourself go to bed at the same time, too. Again, keep these consistent.

Self care
Allow enough time in your day to shower and get your child bathed and dressed. You can either create separate rows for these activities, or just include them in your wake up time.

Meals and snacks
Next, fill in meals and snacks. Be realistic about the amount of time it actually takes you to eat. If you need to feed a baby, don’t schedule your own lunch at the same time. Also think about the 10-15 minutes it takes to make breakfast and lunch. Create a separate row (30-60 minutes) for cooking dinner.

Independent play
Independent play is key to creating quiet time for you and your child. Older toddlers and preschoolers will have roomtime and quiet sit time. Babies and younger toddlers will have playpen time and blanket time. Use these activities to your advantage. Make them happen when you need a shower, time alone on the computer, or if you want to make dinner without a toddler hanging on your legs. (I’ll write separate posts for independent play soon.)

Enrichment activities
This is where your proactive parenting comes into play. Fill in times to read to your child, teach him ABCs and 123s, music play and other enrichment activities. Schedule some one-on-one time for each child. And allow for some scheduled sibling playtime. Without a schedule it’s unlikely you would have enough time to fit all this in. Don’t let your child miss out on these activities.

Chores
Fill in when you and your child will do your various chores. You may have your child clean up after every play activity or schedule just one or two clean up times. Think about scheduling clean up time before TV time as an incentive to get it done.

Free play and TV time
Schedule time for free play and TV time. Without a schedule, your entire day might be filled with these two activities. Make them planned events in your day. Keep TV time to 30-60 minutes and plan it for when you need it most. For free play, encourage your child to play on his own.

Exercise
Whether you work out at home before your child wakes up, take him to the gym or go for a walk with the stroller, include exercise in your day.

Mommy time
In your column, be sure to include activities simply for your own pleasure. Whether you enjoy reading, talking to friends on the phone, scrapbooking, blogging or any other activity, be sure to schedule at least 30 minutes. If you can allow more time, then great! Your child will benefit when he sees that you take some time for yourself every day and that you don’t spend all day every day catering to his desires.

Couch time
Schedule some time to connect with your spouse when he gets home from work. Couch time is a technique the Ezzos recommend to enrich your marriage and to show your child that your marriage is secure and that it comes first above all else.

Review
Your schedule should now be complete. Delete any blank rows. Read through it to be sure that it will all actually work for you and your child. Make any adjustments.

Let your schedule serve you
For the first two or three days, do your best to stick to your schedule as it is. But have your schedule and a pen nearby to jot down any changes you’ll need to make. Make sure your schedule serves you, not the other way around. Don’t become a slave to it. And don’t follow it because I’m telling you to. Follow it because it will make your life so much more fulfilling. You’ll start seeing the benefits in just a day or two.

Schedule variations
You’ll notice at the bottom of my schedule, I included an alternate activity for when the weather is nice. When it’s nice, I’d much rather get my exercise by walking with the kids in the stroller and going to the park than going to the gym. This is also the time that I use for occasional activities like running errands and scheduling play dates. Also, if William went to preschool on just Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would have a variation for that. Think through any similar variations you’ll want to make.

Lazy days and weekends
I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t follow our complete schedule every day. Sometimes, we’re just feeling a little lazy. Weekends are also invariably a little lazy. But you don’t want to toss your schedule out the window entirely. Meals and naps still need to happen at the same time or you’ll all pay for it. Either create a new schedule for lazy days or bold the items in your daily schedule that you’ll stick with on your lazy days or weekends. Here is my lazy day schedule. (You’ll see that I’m not much of a morning person, but the rest of our day is pretty much the same.) My only caution is to not fall into making every day a lazy day. Encourage yourself to do all you can with your days.

Free play activities
At the bottom of your schedule, jot down ideas for your child’s free play. It will be nice to have them in a handy place so you can get your child started on one when he comes to you for entertainment. Play with him for 5 minutes to get him started and encourage him to finish on his own.

Post your schedule
Print out your schedule and post it in the kitchen. The refrigerator is a great place, or tape it to the wall or a cabinet. Make it visible. Think about printing a second copy for your bathroom or other spot in the house. Show it to babysitters when they come.

Make your schedule a living document
Allow yourself to change your schedule whenever you need to. Revise it when your child drops a nap, when school is out for the summer, etc.

It will all be worth it
If this all seems like a lot of work to you, go back to my post on structuring your day to remind yourself of the benefits. Remember that not only will it reduce the opportunities for your child to misbehave, but it will also allow you and your child to have quiet time and quality time. Your child will have a greater respect for authority and improved focus and concentration skills. And you can be more proactive with your parenting and more easily accept new members to the family. Trust me, it will all be worth it.

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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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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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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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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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Filed under moral training, prevention

Wise parenting vs. power parenting

While it’s clear that we need to maintain authority over our children, some parents take this idea too far. These parents tend to be legalistic in their parenting. What they say goes, no matter what. Legalistic parenting is characterized by the power we exert over our children rather than the wisdom we bring to the relationship. Be sure to make the distinction between wise parenting and power parenting in your relationship with your child.

A common effect of power parenting is the power struggle.

“A power struggle results when parents fail to exercise their authority wisely. That is, they allow themselves to be forced into a ‘must-win’ situation over a seemingly minor conflict. There will be some early parent/child conflicts in which parental resolve must be victorious, but you should choose well which hill you’re willing to die on. Wise parenting is superior to power parenting,” (p. 228, On Becoming Childwise).

Say you are putting your 3-year-old down for a nap. You do your usual naptime transition and lie him down with a kiss on the forehead. All is sweet but as you walk out of the room you expect a fight. Before you leave the room, your child starts talking and flipping his legs around all over the bed. His mood is anything but sleepy. You turn back around and remind him sweetly that it’s naptime. Another kiss on the forehead. His behavior doesn’t change. Your tone gets tense and angry as you tell him over and over that he must go to sleep. Still no change. He is as hyper as ever. You then physically lift his legs and put them on the bed and under the covers. He quickly removes the covers and starts kicking his legs again. You pinch his lips closed and tell him to be quiet. Your child erupts into a nervous laughter. You continue to remind him to be quiet and physically put his legs back on the bed under the covers. This goes on for 30 minutes before you leave the room frustrated and in a sweat.

This is a power struggle. You are clearly fighting with your child to determine who has power over the situation. When it comes to children and sleep, they are the ones with ultimate power. We can do all we can to help them go to sleep, but whether they actually fall asleep is ultimately up to them.

In such a situation, a wise parent would recognize that a power struggle might erupt and would stop it in its tracks. A wise parent might realize that the child is close to dropping the nap altogether. He sleeps 12 hours at night, so he might not need the nap anymore or his night sleep might need to be adjusted. A wise parent might allow the child to read a book or two in bed before going to sleep. A wise parent might remove the covers altogether to prevent the child from playing with them. A wise parent would realize that giving the child sugar before naptime is a bad idea. A wise parent would be on the lookout for defiant behavior at other times of the day. A wise parent does not give in to the child and let naptime be over just because the child doesn’t want to sleep. Naptime is naptime whether the child sleeps or not.

Here are some signs that you might be engaging in power struggles with your child:

  • You attempt to physically force your child to comply with your instructions.
  • You attempt to exert supreme authority in situations where the child has ultimate control (sleeping, eating, potty training).
  • You say and do the same thing again and again despite the fact that it doesn’t change the child’s behavior.
  • You make a big deal over a minor conflict.
  • You attempt to teach the child when he’s in the throes of a tantrum.
  • The child continues the behavior (and struggles with you) for more than 10 minutes.
  • You end up frustrated and in a sweat.
  • Your threats and punishments increase quickly and the behavior still doesn’t change.
  • You feel like you have lost the battle.

How do you avoid power struggles while still maintaining authority over your child? Wise parenting looks like this:

  • You rely on non-conflict training to teach him what is expected. You teach him clearly and thoroughly before you are in the heat of the moment.
  • You ask your child to tell you what is expected of him. (This is called dialogue questioning.)
  • You consider the context of the situation.
  • You consider the characterization of the child.
  • You watch out for defiant behaviors at other times of the day and potentially reduce his freedoms.
  • You walk away and ignore the child when he attempts to engage you in a power struggle.
  • You remove any sources of contention, where possible.
  • You remove the child from the situation, where possible.
  • You pay attention to your own emotions and simply walk away if you feel yourself getting angry.

So are you a wise parent or a power parent? Be on the lookout for possible power struggles throughout your day and carefully consider how a wise parent might react to the situation.

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Filed under parenting philosophy, prevention