Archives for May 2009

Funnel Pitfall #1—You don’t house-proof your child

In my next few posts, I will discuss several pitfalls parents fall into when determining whether a freedom is age-appropriate or inside the funnel. The first pitfall is child-proofing your house instead of house-proofing your child.

Certainly, you want to child-proof your house to a certain extent. Cover the outlets. Lock up all medicines and cleaning products. Keep your child out of harm’s way. But rather than physically preventing access to every item in the house, you must teach your child what he can and cannot touch. You must house-proof your child.

The first step in house-proofing your child is prohibiting all items that he cannot use appropriately. Whether your child is able to use an item as it is intended determines whether it is age-appropriate and if he should have the freedom to use it. If your child is too young to know how to use something appropriately, it is outside the funnel for him at that particular age. Here are some obvious examples:

•    Your keys
•    Your cell phone
•    The stereo
•    The remote control
•    Your books
•    Your computer

What’s the harm in letting your child play with these objects? Just because he can’t hurt himself with it or hurt the item doesn’t mean he should have free access to it. Keeping your child in the funnel is all about teaching him that the world is not his oyster. Allowing him to play with anything and everything in your home teaches him that life has no boundaries. Get him used to those boundaries from an early age.

The remote control is the most-often cited example. I highly doubt your 18-month-old knows how to use a remote the way it should be used. Maybe he sees you point it at the TV and will do the same, but does he know which buttons to push? I doubt it. It’s more likely he likes the sound it makes when he bangs it on the coffee table (which, I might add, he’ll also do when you’re at a friend’s house). Even if he uses it in a more gentle way (like pretending it’s a phone), you still shouldn’t allow it. Again, it teaches the child that he can play with anything and everything in the house. Find a toy version of a phone or remote and make the real ones off limits.

Now, there are some objects that call for a little more judgment. I know many parents allow their babies or toddlers to play with pots and pans, Tupperware containers or measuring spoons and cups. These are technically items that a child cannot use appropriately, so take caution. I won’t allow my children to play with these items since I use them regularly and don’t want to give them the idea that they can have free access to them. I do, however, have a drawer in my kitchen that has pieces to appliances and other kitchen-related items that I don’t use on a regular basis. This is the one drawer the kids know they are allowed to play in.

In addition to determining what items are off limits, this theory applies when determining what freedoms are appropriate. Test the theory when your child begins to show some independence. If he can get himself a glass of water and drink it appropriately at the table without spilling it or playing with it, he can be allowed that freedom. If he knows how to operate the TV and does so according to your direction (when you have allowed him to watch), it’s possible he can handle the freedom of turning it on and changing the channel. If he can play gently on the computer and only on the site you allow, he might be allowed the freedom.

If you are new to the Ezzo books, it’s likely you’ll have to scale way back on your child’s freedoms. That’s fine. It might be rough on both of you for a few days. But just keep redirecting him to his toys and other age-appropriate freedoms and you will both be fine. In just a matter of days, you’ll find yourself feeling less stressed and less concerned that your child is going to harm your things. And he will begin to show greater respect for your property.

Mom’s Notes 15% off!

Joey and Carla link, the producers of the Mom’s Notes have agreed to give my readers a 15% discount through the end of August. The Mom’s Notes are audio presentations (with paper notes) that give detailed, day-to-day practical advice on applying the Ezzo principles. There are several presentations on many different topics for many ages. You can purchase them individually, as a complete set or in starter packs. I have the entire set and listen to them often on my iPod. If I ever feel like our first-time obedience is lacking or my consistency is slipping, I’ll listen to Carla and get all the reinforcement I need.

To get the discount, visit www.momsnotes.com and use the coupon code GPS.

Note: I have no affiliation with Mom’s Notes. I just love them and think you will too.

One more note: I just heard from Carla that the discount applies to everything on their site, including all the books they sell. Happy shopping!

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.

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.