Archives for January 2012



We all know that bribing our children is a huge no-no, but do you really understand what it looks like? It’s nice to be able to motivate our children to obey, but there’s a big distinction between rewarding a child and bribing them.

So what’s the difference between a bribe and a reward? Bribes are mentioned before the child obeys. Rewards are mentioned (and given) after the child obeys.

It looks like this:

Bribe: “If you obey mommy in the grocery store, I’ll buy you a special treat.”

Reward: “Thank you for obeying mommy in the grocery store! Here is your special treat for doing so.”

Often, bribes and rewards are turned on their heads and become threats.

Threat: “If you don’t obey mommy in the grocery store, I won’t buy you a treat.”

Of the three, only rewards are appropriate.

What’s wrong with bribes and threats?
They give the child an external motivation to obey. We want our children to obey out of respect for our authority, not because they will get something out of the deal.

“Such verbal statements establish a false and improper motivation for obedience, thus devaluing obedience. Some parents train their children to obey for a bribe, rather than out of obedience to them. Their children respond because there is something in it for them. Children should be rewarded for their obedience, but should not be obedient just to gain a reward. That distinction is important. What happens when a reward is no longer a substantial motivator?” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 124).

Bribes affect morality
Beyond our daily attempts for obedience, bribes undermine our parenting in far-reaching ways:

“Children of bribing parents demonstrate several character and behavior patterns. They develop self-oriented tendencies and learn to manipulate others. Because they seek to be rewarded, they limit their ability to serve others unless they receive gratification,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 125).

So feel free to reward your children after they have demonstrated obedient behavior, but be mindful of any bribes or threats that may be present in your parenting.

On marriage…


As you have read in the Ezzo books and on this blog, marriage is as important to parenting as anything else. In fact, marriage may be the most important thing in parenting since it serves as a foundation for the child.

I’m inspired to write about marriage because, for some unknown reason lately, my Facebook friends have been posting articles about marriage. This is somewhat timely (though I’m sure unintentional) because my husband and I just celebrated our 15-year anniversary.

I’ll share more about the articles in a bit, but first, my story. Yes, my husband and I have been married 15 years, but we met (and started dating in a young teenager way) 7 years before that. So we have known each other for 22 years. (Wow, that makes me sound old.)

When we entered into this marriage thing, I don’t think either of us really knew what to expect. We were both raised by single mothers with mostly absent fathers. No grandmother, aunt or cousin provided a role model for us. We were left to figure marriage out as we went along.

And there’s no denying that we have been through a lot: finishing college (separately), several moves, a few jobs (and two layoffs), two deployments, two children (one of whom was born during a deployment), colic, allergies, developmental delays, sensory processing disorder, asthma, RSV (at 2 months old), a toddler’s broken leg, hospitalizations and more. Phew!

When I look back on it all, I think that what brought us to this 15-year point was the fact that while we went through a lot, we went through it together. Even when we were apart (for 3 years altogether), we were in it together. We suffered hardships together. We raise children together. We grew up…together.

When I read articles on marriage, I like what I read because too many marriages are little more than an afterthought. Not enough people (in my opinion) honestly think about their marriages or work hard at them before throwing in the towel.

The first article I read (posted by a friend on Facebook) discusses three types of marriages:

1)    The back-to-back marriage: husband and wife lead separate lives.

2)    The shoulder-to-shoulder marriage: husband and wife work together toward a common goal.

3)    The face-to-face marriage: husband and wife work together (shoulder to shoulder) but also develop the friendship and intimacy that come with looking each other in the eye. The intimacy remains even after the shoulder-to-shoulder work (like raising children) has been done.

While I like this theoretical view of marriage, I love this more practical article that talks about embracing marriage, flaws and all. I think we need more articles like this to help people realize that marriage is not the romanticized fantasy perpetuated by the media.

Let this excerpt leave a lasting impression:

Morosely, one of the most valuable parts of my marriage striving was reading about marriage and death. I devoured the stories of the widowed or almost widowed. Among the most affecting was Molly Haskell’s “Love and Other Infectious Diseases.” At the beginning of the book, Ms. Haskell’s husband, Andrew, falls unaccountably sick, the kind of sick everybody worries about most in which everything changes instantly, life is upended and you have no time to adapt or prepare.

While her husband lies swollen beyond recognition in the intensive-care unit, Ms. Haskell writes of thinking in the generous, forgiving ways we wish we did all the time. “I made deals. I would take Andrew back on any terms,” she writes. “I would no longer nag him about reading newspapers all day, or shush him when his voice rose in restaurants. I would cherish his oft-told tales, his doomsday economic theories, the fingerprints he left on walls and surfaces, the burned teakettles, his absent-minded professorisms, his driving.”

In this context — fear of imminent loss — her thoughts are expected, even conventional. We will miss everything or at least we say we will. But it is interesting to consider why. While Andrew is in the hospital in a condition a nurse describes as being “as close to death as a person can come without actually dying,” Ms. Haskell evokes the mess in her husband’s closet as the “quintessence of Andrew.” She writes that “the dozens of mismatching tennis shoes, the scuffed loafers, ties fallen from the tie rack, the hangers tumbling out” take on a “holy glow.” She refers to this mess as “the still-warm relic of a saint.”

I didn’t feel this way about Dan or his messes. I constantly, if subtly, tried to get him to stop doing things that bothered me, to submit more of his outsize personality to our marriage, to me. These were the parts of him that had resisted homogenization, that had resisted maritalization (if we can make up such a word). They belonged to Dan and Dan alone — not to our marriage, not to me. And they were the things I knew I would miss intensely if he were gone.

I suppose that while these articles get me thinking, I’m not sure that they really change my perspective on marriage. Yes, my husband and I bicker (about those little annoyances the author describes), but so far, whatever we are doing is working. We will continue as we have until we hit a bump in the road. And instead of jumping ship, we will think, talk and find the wherewithal to change our attitudes. It is, after all, one’s attitude toward the relationship that determines whether the marriage will succeed or fail.

So while marriages all around us crumble to the ground for one reason or another, we will keep fumbling our way through ours. And hopefully one day, we will provide our children with a role model of how great it can be to grow and spread your wings, not despite the marriage, but because of it.


P.S., When looking for an image to accompany this post, I encountered all kinds of lovely flawless faces surrounded by hearts, smiles and kisses. I settled on this one because it looks so real. I couldn’t, in good conscience, perpetuate the romanticized fantasy I just denounced. I have no idea who these people are (thanks Google Images!), but I love this photo!


But my child is different


Have you ever thought that there is something different enough about your child that you can’t expect first-time obedience from him or her? Or perhaps your argument is that all children are different, and that we can’t expect the same level of virtue from them all.

The Ezzos’ response to such objections:

“Our answer is that character transcends natural differences,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 91).

Yes, temperament and personality are variables. But character should not be. Character, virtues and obedience are all factors that should be expected of all children, despite their temperament or personality.

True, you will want to consider a child’s personality when determining how to train obedience and character. But no parent should lower their expectations due to a child’s personality. In fact, the opposite is probably true.

When you have a child who tends to whine and complain (as I do), you don’t want to make life easier on him so he will whine and complain less. When I encounter something like this, my first instinct is to make sure he has plenty of opportunities to learn not to whine and complain. This is a skill that he needs to learn, and I would be remiss to not teach him that skill.

The Ezzos summarize this idea well with the following:

“Parents should not lower the standard to fit the child, but train the child to rise to the standard,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 91).

Take a step back and critically examine your parenting to make sure you don’t make any concessions for your child based on his personality or temperament. One clue that you might be doing so is if you have a different standard for different children. Do you expect more of one child because he’s more obedient? Do you expect less of a child who whines and complains? Set your standard high and don’t make morality an option.

Find your way


If you have been a parent for any length of time, you have probably discovered that this little thing we call parenting is a bit of an experiment. Particularly with our eldest children, we learn by doing. Finding our way involves trial and error.

But is there a way to lessen the impact of our experimentation on our children? Yes. In fact, I recommend it. Here’s how.

Trust your instincts
As trite as this sounds, our parenting instincts do serve a purpose. If you have read a book that seems to hold great promise, but its methods sound too strict (or lenient), listen to your inner voice. Plus, you know your child best. You know what he needs and how he will respond to a particular parenting method.

Trust your intellect
There are some who believe that instincts alone are all we need to navigate this parenting journey. I disagree. This is the whole head vs. heart debate. I believe both are required. Use your intellect to read parenting books, critically evaluate those parenting books, evaluate your child’s behavior objectively, keep a log of chronic behavior problems, etc.

Assess your parenting
If we are to do our best as parents, we must assess ourselves and do so regularly. This is particularly useful if we are dealing with a chronic behavior problem like open defiance. Ask yourself (or your spouse) whether you’re being consistent enough, following through on consequences, issuing idle threats, constantly repeating yourself, etc. If you’ve given yourself a poor grade, take heart. Now you know where to start to improve.

Set goals
Most parents have an idea as to how they want their children to behave. Whether it’s a moral issue like sharing or the simple act of cleaning up toys, we know what we want from our kids. If you just have a vague notion of what you want, I recommend that you sit down and define your goals. Write them down and refer to them often. Keep in mind that they will change as your child gets older. Be intentional with your parenting.

Create a plan
As with anything in life, having a plan helps us be prepared. The same is true in parenting. Jot down your child’s most chronic behavior issues (the ones that come to mind most easily are probably your most chronic), and come up with a discipline tactic that you will use to deal with that behavior issue.

This is where trusting your instincts and intellect come into play. If you received advice from a well-meaning parent that a two-minute timeout should curb the behavior, but you think it’s too lenient, listen to your instincts. By the same token, if you read in a book that spanking is the way to go, but you (or your spouse) disagree with spanking, don’t do it. Try to work this all out before you start implementing a particular discipline method. Switching from one method to another will only confuse your child and make consistency harder to attain.

Learn more about creating a discipline plan and see what my discipline plan looks like.

Evaluate your plan
After you have started implementing your plan, take a minute to determine whether it’s working. Go back to your goals and decide how far you’ve come. Does your preschooler go right back to the misbehavior after you’ve given your consequence? If so, something’s not working. Reevaluate and change your tactics. Just don’t change things up too often; you’ll run the risk of being inconsistent and losing authority.

Create a plan on the fly
Imagine taking your toddler out to eat in a restaurant. Do you do any prep work to ensure the meal goes smoothly? Or what if you’re taking him to the grocery store? What will you do if things go sideways? It’s usually when we don’t have a plan that we get flustered and either let behaviors slide or deal with them too strictly.

As you walk into that restaurant or grocery store, think through possible scenarios. Say to yourself, Okay, if he starts bouncing in his seat, I’ll take him to the restroom for a stern talking-to. Or, If he wanders away in the grocery store, I’ll immediately put him in the cart.

If you do this preparation, you will find your way more easily, and parenting will be less experimentation and more confident, harmonious living!

What I’m Reading, “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Inheritability of Giftedness

Is giftedness inherited?

I touched on this in an earlier post, but A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children is very clear that while there is certainly a genetic component to giftedness, environment is a factor.

“Studies by researchers in different parts of the world from the 1960s to the present have compared identical twins who were separated in infancy and raised in widely different environments. Researchers in these twin studies found a high similarity in intelligence–at least as measured by IQ scores–indicating a strong heritability component,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 3).

Environment plays an important role as well.

“Young children can even show an increase in measured intelligence if they are given strong emotional and educational enrichment. Up to seven or eight years of age, IQ scores may increase with enrichment of the child’s environment by 10 to 20 points or more,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 3).

It’s also important to note that gifted characteristics can develop over time and become more apparent as a person matures.

This segues nicely to the importance of first-time obedience. If you have trained your child to be obedient, this frees time for you and your child to focus on more important tasks. It allows for more learning to take place. Imagine a child who doesn’t quite know what his parents expect, where he can push the envelope, or how seriously to take his parents’ word. It’s possible he’s devoting much of his energy to figuring out how to behave. If he trusts that you mean what you say, and he knows how to behave, he can devote more thought to understanding the world around him.

Consider characterization


Characterization. That’s a big (difficult-to-spell) word. But it’s an important one to remember to ensure we parents don’t become too legalistic with our kids. In my last post, I talked about how sugar and food dyes can cause our children to behave in uncharacteristic ways. In that example, addressing the behavior is simple: remove the offending foods.

But when dealing with more important issues like lying, stealing and cheating, we must determine whether those behaviors are characteristic for the child. The Ezzos say it very succinctly in On Becoming Childwise:

“There is a difference between the child who habitually lies and the one who does so in a moment of weakness,” (p. 232).

When you know a child has behaved in a way that is uncharacteristic for him, you can correct with a lighter hand. By the same token, when you’re dealing with a more chronic behavior that seems to characterize the child, it’s important to have a solid approach. You would want to have a discipline plan in place and know what steps you will take to deal with the behavior.

“The child who is not characterized by lying should not receive the same punishment as the one who is. However, both children should receive an explanation of the importance of honesty, trust, and family loyalty. The consequence a parent should apply must be in light of the rarity of the offense,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 232).

Just this morning, I realized that I can confidently say that my children are characterized by an unwillingness to clean up their toys. If it were a one-time mess, I wouldn’t worry about it so much. But since cleaning up frequently ends in a struggle, I need to have a plan.

Some of the components of this plan have nothing to do with training my children. Probably most important is the fact that we have too many toys! I need to take it upon myself to sort through them and throw away or donate many of them. While this is a daunting task (and not one that I look forward to doing), I recognize that it will have a significant impact on my boys’ willingness to clean up. More importantly, it will help them learn the value of taking care of their belongings.

And while my boys are characterized by an unwillingness to clean up now, that doesn’t mean that such a characterization will apply for any length of time. If I consistently deal with the problem, it’s likely that it won’t be a problem a week or two from now.

Wish us luck!

Watch for hyperactivity with food dyes


Have you ever witnessed your child bounce off the walls after a friend’s birthday party? While sugar is likely partly to blame, the food dyes in the cake, candy and juice can affect your child’s behavior. The research on the effect of food dyes on children’s behaviors is still debatable, but as a mom, I have seen with my own two eyes the effect it can have on my children. A couple years ago, my mom was watching my boys for a little while, and when I came home I noticed that William’s ears were so red they were almost purple. I said, “What did he eat?!” It turns out she gave him some fruit snacks. Those little “snacks” are more like candy with all of the sugar and dye they have in them.

More recently, William and I made Christmas cookies with frosting and sprinkles. The cookies were made according to his dietary restrictions (the boy is allergic to everything under the sun), and I made sure to monitor his blood sugar. He has (undiagnosed) hypoglycemia, so he has to eat protein with every snack or meal. All was good with the cookies (or so I thought), but he turned into an absolute monster. The culprit? Food dyes!

I should have known better, but I allowed it because it was Christmas, and I didn’t think he would react as severely as he did. We went to a Christmas light display at our local botanical gardens, and he was completely outside of himself. It was bizarre how off he was. It was as if he had flipped a switch, and a different personality emerged. He had a hard time listening, couldn’t keep still, was super loud in the car, and was generally hyperactive. No amount of reminding or correcting could bring him out of it. It was two or three hours before the dyes wore off and his behavior returned to normal.

Lest you think I am alone in this, there are governments who have recognized the effect of food dyes on children’s behavior. In July 2008, the European Parliament voted to add warning labels with the phrase “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children” to products with six synthetic red and yellow dyes. This action was spurred by a September 2007 study published in the medical journal The Lancet, supporting the idea that food dyes are linked to hyperactivity, even in kids who don’t normally exhibit this behavior.

This is interesting because it’s not hard to believe that William, with his food allergies, blood sugar issues, and sensory processing disorder, would react to food dyes. But I would consider his reaction to food dyes to be quite extreme. Given this, it’s certainly plausible that a child without all of these conditions would still react–on some level–to food dyes. There are some experts who say that children’s reaction to food dyes is analogous to what was known about lead and IQ in the early 1980s.

So if you are seeing uncharacteristic hyperactivity in your child or are trying to get to the root of ongoing tantrums that seem to come out of nowhere, consider eliminating food dyes from his diet. Even doing it for a few days should tell you whether they are to blame. Also be on the lookout for telltale red ears and red cheeks. These signal that the body is in overdrive and is reacting to something the child ate.

Source: “Do Food Dyes Affect Kids’ Behavior?” The Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2008. 

What I’m Reading, “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Defining Giftedness

In my last post on this book, I covered the book’s introduction which discussed the challenges facing gifted children and their parents. Among those challenges were the many myths that define giftedness. In chapter 1, the book goes into more detail to clearly define giftedness.

The U.S. Department of Education’s definition of giftedness is as follows:

“Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These are children who require differentiated educational programs and services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society. Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas:

  • General intellectual ability
  • Specific academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership ability
  • Visual, performing arts, and psychomotor ability,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 2).

It wasn’t until I realized that giftedness included much more than academic ability that I came to believe that William might be gifted. While he excels in school and performs beyond grade level in many areas, his creative thinking and leadership skills have a stronger influence over his personality. He is very imaginative in his play, and his creativity is crazy! The boy will draw the most detailed drawings and come up with the most creative stories and games.

While intelligence varies by degree, it also varies by type. In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner identifies the following types:

  • Linguistic intelligence
  • Musical intelligence
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Visual-spatial intelligence
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  • Interpersonal intelligence
  • Intrapersonal intelligence

The concept of multiple types of giftedness helps us to understand and identify our children as gifted.

10 ways to save your sanity

by Valerie Plowman from Chronicles of a Babywise Mom

As adorable, intelligent, sweet, kind, fun, loving, and all around perfect we find our children to be, there are still those moments when our children absolutely drive us to the brink of insanity. Some days you think you just might lose your mind. Some children push us there harder and faster than others. I love this quote, “A sweet and obedient child will enroll a father or mother only in Parenting 101. If you are blessed with a child who tests your patience to the nth degree, you will be enrolled in Parenting 505.” Oh how I know that.

I recently faced a day when a certain child of mine had pushed me to my limit. I was very frustrated. I don’t like to be frustrated in general and especially not with my children, so I came up with a list of things to do when I need to save my sanity.

First, five ways to collect yourself:

  1. Pray. The first thing I did when I reached my limit was hit my knees and pray. I prayed for patience, for understanding, for love, and for help. I definitely got it, and thus this list was born.
  2. Take a Time Out. It can help to take a time out for yourself and gain some perspective. Chances are once you are able to take a moment to breathe, you can assess the situation for what it really is and will realize it is not as terrible as it seems in the heat of the moment. Taking a time out for yourself is definitely not as easy as just walking away if you have young children. You need to first get that child in a safe situation before you go take your time out.
  3. Call Your Spouse. I find strength in calling my husband and talking things through with him. He can offer some sanity-saving perspective and yet can also understand to some degree what I am talking about. Sometimes just venting about it can help relieve some pressure. You can also brainstorm with your spouse ideas for solving the issue if it needs to be solved.
  4. Get Inspiration and Peace. Sing a favorite tune–something that brings peace to you like a hymn. Read a favorite scripture–especially one that encourages you to press forward or to love unconditionally. Read a favorite quote that boosts you up.
  5. Find the Humor. You know how when someone else’s child is acting up you can find it really funny, but when it is your child, you are not so amused? I think of a friend whose son one day got into her 5 gallon bucket of flour. Hilarious story from my perspective. It might not have been so funny to me if I had walked into my kitchen to find 5 gallons of flour spread by a toddler…try to find the humor in what you are facing.

Next, five ways to grow that love for your child so you can maintain better patience in the future:

  1. List 10 Things You Love. Either write down on paper, think to yourself, or verbalize to your child ten things you love about your child. What is it about this age you will miss when it is gone? What unique personality traits do you enjoy about your child? What things does your child do that you appreciate? This turns our focus to the good–we see the wheat in our field rather than the tares. There will always be good and always be bad, and focusing on the good helps us love and appreciate the good there is.
  2. Recall Memories. This is when some form of journal-keeping comes in handy. This can be in a traditional written journal, a scrapbook, a baby book, a slideshow of pictures on your computer, a list of funny things your child has done…take a moment to remember the good times. Remember how you think this child is pretty much one of the top five most amazing people to grace this planet? Remind yourself of why.
  3. Do Service. The answer to our own pity parties is always to serve others. Think of some service you can provide to your child at this moment.
  4. Do Fun. Create a new fun memory. Read a book, play a game, paint fingernails…do something just fun together that is no-stress.
  5. Cuddles and Hugs. Cuddle up and give your child hugs. I find when I am feeling frustrated with a child, giving a nice, long hug always melts away that frustration.

I wanted to add a bit of advice, also. If your child is suddenly acting out of sorts and not being himself, there is a good chance there is a good reason for that. He might be teething or have an ear infection. Maybe he is feeling like he needs more one-on-one time with you. Once you have saved your sanity and are ready to face the day with grace again, take some time to see if there is an extenuating circumstance that has put your child in a super grumpy mood. Remember my day I was super frustrated that I talked about in the beginning? Well, I knew it was uncharacteristic, and a trip to the doctor the next morning revealed a double ear infection.

I leave you with this quote from Thomas S. Monson: If you are still in the process of raising children, be aware that the tiny fingerprints that show up on almost every newly cleaned surface, the toys scattered about the house, the piles and piles of laundry to be tackled will disappear all too soon and that you will—to your surprise—miss them profoundly.

I believe this to be true. Grandmother after grandmother tries to impress this upon me and every other young mother out there when she gets the chance. I already see things I miss profoundly; as our days go by more and more quickly, I try to maintain my sanity and cherish each moment to the best of my ability. I want to remember these moments with fondness, a bit of humor, and without regret.

Simply life with first-time obedience


Does the idea of first-time obedience training frighten you? Fear not! First-time obedience training simplifies life immensely! While first-time obedience prevents you from having to explain and correct for every little behavior, it also means your child doesn’t have to remember every little detail of every situation. Imagine how tiring that would be to have to remember the specifics of every activity you expect of him.

I once heard of a fourth grade class that was taught by a teacher who did not have authority over her class. A new routine was established that required the children to stand up at their desks when the music teacher came into the room. The teacher was already stressed out about all the little details she had to require of her students, and this new routine sent her over the edge.

What stressed her out was not this one act of having her students stand up. It was the idea that it was one more thing that she had to worry about her students obeying. It was one more thing that required her to find new and innovative ways to get her students to obey. If she had authority over her class, asking them to stand at their desks would have been a very simple task.

It was also observed that this teacher’s students were tired all of the time. We’re talking 9- and 10-year-olds who have long since given up their naps. They were tired because they had to keep track of the 50 million things that were required of them throughout the day. Rather than being able to rely on the teacher and being taught to respect her authority, they were required to manage their behavior themselves. Imagine how much more smoothly the day would go if the children could simply respect and obey the teacher when she told them what to do!

By teaching your child first-time obedience, you are giving him the benefit of not having to worry about anything but obedience!