Set realistic expectations

One of the most important elements of good parenting is setting expectations. Some parents expect far too much of their children only to exasperate themselves and their children. Other parents expect far too little. I encourage you to constantly evaluate your expectations of your child.

Setting the bar
Many Ezzo parents are proud of the fact that they can expect relatively good behavior from their children. This stems from the fact that we often set the bar quite high. Yet some parents take this too far, setting the bar so high that it’s impossible for their children to reach it. This family finds themselves in constant struggle with children being disciplined regularly for goals that are simply unattainable.

On the other hand, some parents, permissive parents in particular, set the bar too low. They expect very little of their children and achieve exactly that. These parents are often just as frustrated, however, simply because of their children’s excessive misbehavior. The children of permissive parents don’t get off without frustrations of their own. While in their daily lives they escape discipline, they encounter certain situations where the parents decide to crack down. Typically, this is at a friend’s house or some other public location that has left permissive parents feeling so embarrassed they decide to take action. Their poor children don’t see it coming and are confused by the sudden change in the rules.

Find your happy medium between these two extremes. Set your bar high enough that you can expect good behavior and a solid moral conscience, but don’t set it so high that you exasperate yourself or your child.

Childishness vs. defiance
While setting the bar high will help improve your child’s behavior, we must not forget that they sometimes misbehave in innocence. Before disciplining your child, you must stop to think about the intent behind the misbehavior. You must determine whether the behavior was caused by simple childishness or whether the child was being defiant in his actions.

“We use the term childishness to refer to innocent immaturity. This includes those nonmalicious, nonrebellious, accidental mistakes our children make…. Defiance, on the other hand, implies bad motives. The child knew the act was wrong but did it anyway. Childishness is usually a head problem—a lack of knowledge. Defiance is usually a heart problem—the child does not want to do right,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 132).

Clearly, defiance deserves correction. Childishness, however, must be treated differently. While childish acts can be just as grating on a parent’s nerves, they cannot be treated in the same way. Simply explain to your child why his actions were wrong so you give him the knowledge for next time. If he makes the same mistake again (and if it’s not a true accident), then the act deserves correction. If your child clearly understands your instruction and commits the offense again, the act moves from childishness to defiance.

Expectations change
One final note about setting expectations is to realize that they will—and should—change as your child gets older. Some actions will be treated as childishness with a young child, but the same actions in an older child are defiance. Yes, you must still tell your child what you expect of him, but also at some point he becomes old enough to know better.

Say you struggle with table manners with your toddler. In many ways, his actions (getting food all over his face, choosing to use his hands over utensils, etc.) are childish. But if you saw these same actions in a five-year-old, you would treat them as defiance. An older child has the capacity to use his utensils and keep food in his mouth—not to mention use a napkin—so if he acts like a toddler at the table, his actions must be corrected.

Be aware of this as your child ages and make sure you are moving your expectations and setting the bar higher and higher. And take the time right now to make sure your expectations are in the right place for today. You don’t want to discipline your child excessively nor do you want to set the bar too low. Take the time to figure out where your child’s bar belongs.

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.

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!

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.