Tuesday Triumphs: “Yes, mommy”

Yes, I’m posting my Tuesday Triumph on Wednesday. It’s just been that kind of week. (And I’m not the kind of blogger who has 32 posts scheduled ahead of time.) Three-year-old Lucas is the spotlight of this week’s triumph. Lucas is often outshined by his brother when it comes to behavior. It’s partly my fault. I wasn’t very consistent with him while my husband was recently deployed. And I was blindsided when it became apparent that he had saved his evil ways for his third birthday. He was incredibly obedient at 20 months!

Anyway, our triumph this week is that Lucas has gotten infinitely better about saying “yes, mommy” when I call his name. My slow talker struggles a bit to get the “yes” part out, but it’s clear to me what he’s saying. He also consistently gives me eye contact when he responds.

If this is how you qualify first-time obedience, as Carla Link claims, then we’re about 85% there! Not bad for a three-year-old!

He’s doing really well in school, too. My baby boy can barely string ten words together, but he can spell his name! He’s always so pleased with himself when he does.

If there’s any doubt that parenting is a process, Lucas offers explicit evidence. I started working with him when he was a baby, and my efforts paid off. I still remember comments from friends and strangers who were amazed by his obedience. Then he followed my lead when I slacked off a bit. We’re now back on track and seeing the fruits of our labor.

FTO Fundamentals: Immediately

In a recent post on first-time obedience (FTO) and self-control, I said I would write a post on the mechanics of FTO and how you can achieve it with your children. This is the first of three posts that should give you all the detail you need to start your FTO training.

Before we continue, let me refer you to my existing posts on first-time obedience. Go back and read those to lay the groundwork for your FTO training. Once you understand what first-time obedience is all about, then you can move on to training your child in it.

In her Mom’s Notes presentations, Carla Link goes into great detail on what exactly first-time obedience training means. Specifically, she defines FTO as having your children come to you at the call of their name immediately, completely and without challenge or complaint.

Today, we’ll discuss the immediate component of FTO training.

Counting to three

In the Mom’s Notes, Carla Link provides a little history on her parenting before she met the Ezzos. “In Growing Kids God’s Way, we learned that obedience needs to come ‘first time.’ Before we came across GKGW, we used to count to three to our children. If I called Michael’s name, wanting him to come to me, I would start counting 1-2-3. My thinking was that he needed time to choose to obey me. Taking time to choose to come at my call was not obedience. True submission (obedience) is coming at the moment of my call, whether he felt like it or not—whether he wanted to or not—whether it was convenient for him to or not.” (Mom’s Notes, Understanding First-Time Obedience)

Coming immediately

When you consider that your child needs to obey you the first time you call his name, you can see how coming immediately is a very important factor. Here’s what immediate FTO looks like:

  • You call your child’s name. (Just say his name. Don’t say, “Matthew, it’s time to pick up your toys.” Just say, “Matthew.”)
  • You wait a short amount of time for him to stop what he’s doing.
  • He says, “yes, mommy?” and comes to you.
  • He gives you eye contact when he comes and waits for your instruction.

That’s it! It’s so simple. When you think that first-time obedience can play out in our lives in so many ways, it can be overwhelming. But when you narrow it down to just him coming to you at the call of his name, it’s very simple.

Once you have achieved this immediate FTO (we’ll get into the other components in future posts), you’ll start to see this heart of submission carry over into other areas of your day.

Not coming immediately

While this training seems so simple, you must think through the scenarios where your child might challenge your authority and not obey you the first time. It can be subtle or overt, so let me give you some examples of what not coming immediately looks like. You call your child’s name and:

  • He says “yes?” when he clearly knows he is to say “yes, mommy” or “yes, mom.”
  • He says “hmm?” or “yeah?”
  • He says “yes, mommy” but doesn’t come to you.
  • He says “yes, mommy” and comes to you but doesn’t look you in the eye.
  • He comes to you and says nothing.
  • He says “yes, mommy” but keeps doing whatever he is doing.
  • He says “yes, mommy, but I need to finish this one last thing.”
  • He says “yes, mommy” and looks you in the eye but doesn’t come to you.

What this requires of you

To set yourself up for success in your FTO training, you need to expect a few things of yourself:

  • You train yourself not to tell your child what you need from him when you call his name. You say his name only and then wait for his response.
  • You don’t call his name casually without waiting for a response.
  • You don’t repeat his name when he doesn’t respond. First-time obedience is exactly that. It’s not second- or third-time obedience.
  • You make sure your child can hear you when you call his name.
  • You call his name and expect FTO whether you need something from him or have something to offer him. Don’t let him learn that every time you call his name, he’s going to have to stop playing and do some chore he doesn’t want to do. Call his name before going to the park or offering him a cookie.

Go back to the posts I mentioned above for more on this.

In my next posts, I’ll discuss the other two components of FTO training which are coming completely and without complaint.

Surviving the holidays

If you’re like me, you may already be traveling to stay with friends and family for the holidays. The season is full of joy and excitement, especially for the kids, but it can also be chaotic since it often requires us to stray from our usual routine. Here are a few tips to get you through what’s left of the holidays.

Explain your expectations
Whether you’re visiting the usual family members or just having dinner at a friend’s house, clearly tell your child what you expect of him. Tell him what he can and cannot touch. Practice the interrupt rule. Tell your child he is to give you a “yes mommy” and eye contact when you call his name. Give him any special instructions so that he is fully prepared for the situations you will encounter.

Sleep and meals
Most of us will find ourselves operating on other people’s schedules over the holidays. Do your best to keep your child on his normal routine. Explain to family members how important it is that your child gets the sleep he needs to grow and be well behaved. The same goes for meals. Try to eat at normal times and limit sugar. If your mother-in-law is known for putting dinner on the table two hours late, bring a can of soup or something else to tide your child over or so you can feed him early and put him to bed.

Giving and receiving
With retailers starting their holiday sales before Halloween, gifts often become the focus of Christmas. Be sure to explain to your child what Christmas means and why you exchange gifts. Explain that giving and receiving gifts is a way to show our family members that we love them. When you put it in these terms, showing appreciation means more than just being polite. It impresses upon your child the importance of being thankful and receiving gifts graciously.

Also, teach your child the mechanics of opening presents. I sat down with my five-year-old today and we practiced opening gifts. I “wrapped” an old toy and gave it to him, pretending I was grandma. I told him to open it then look in my eyes and say thank you and something like “I love it” or “I’ve always wanted something like this”. I also told him he is not to toss it aside and greedily open gift after gift without stopping to show his appreciation to every giver. I also prepared him for receiving a gift that he doesn’t necessarily like. I asked him what he would say and he said “no thank you”. While this is polite, I told him that to show his love for the giver, he still has to say “thank you” and even pretend that he likes it.

A couple years ago, when my nephew was four or five years old, he opened one of our gifts and said, “I didn’t want this.” It was a purely innocent comment, possibly related to a list he had made or what he had told Santa he wanted. But it caught me a little off guard. Of course, I laughed it off, but it also made me realize the importance of teaching my kids how to receive graciously.

Discipline
There will undoubtedly be times when you will need to discipline your child when you’re away from home. This may be at grandma’s house or even in the store for last-minute shopping. Wherever it may be, scope out your location to look for a place to isolate your child when a timeout is needed. If grandparents disapprove of discipline, politely stand your ground and explain to them the importance of teaching your child (through your actions) what is and is not acceptable behavior. If you slack off on discipline, your child’s behaviors may snowball out of control and nobody will be happy.

Allow your child to take a break
We all get overwhelmed with all the people, food and chatter that happens during the holidays. Allow your child to escape it if he wants to. Find a spot in the home you’re visiting where he can sit and read books or even watch a video. If your child is acting up it could be that all he needs is a little peace and quiet.

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, be sure to prepare your child for what’s expected and do your best to stick with your usual routine and disciplinary methods. Happy holidays!

Where’s the discipline?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

First-time obedience

First-time obedience is a phrase you commonly hear in Ezzo parenting circles. But what exactly does it mean? It’s really quite simple to understand. First-time obedience means your child obeys your instruction the first time, no questions asked.

Actually achieving first-time obedience isn’t easy. This is another one of those principles that is much harder on the parents than it is on the child. It’s all about what you expect of your child and laying out those expectations clearly. It’s about setting a standard, and in this case, you are setting the standard quite high.

What does first-time obedience look like?

  • Your child responds to the call of his name with “yes, mommy”.
  • Your child gives you eye contact when you call his name.
  • Your child immediately complies with any instruction you give, whether it’s putting his shoes on or cleaning his room.
  • Your child obeys with an attitude of submission and a happy heart.

What does first-time obedience NOT look like?

  • Your child ignores you when you call his name.
  • You repeat your instruction five or 50 times before he complies. (This is 50th-time obedience!)
  • Your child counts on your inconsistency and will keep pushing the envelope to find out how serious you are today.
  • Your child whines or talks back when you give an instruction. If it worked once before, it might just work again.
  • You offer threat after threat to get your child to comply.
  • You count to three in a threatening tone when your child doesn’t comply.
  • You and your child end the day frustrated and stressed out.


First-time obedience in action: the good

Here’s a real-life example of what first-time obedience looks like. We had been struggling with getting William to settle down during bath time right before bed. It’s my husband’s job to bathe William and put him to bed while I do so with Lucas. Every night, they both would end up frustrated and angry. Every night, my husband would tell William over and over to settle down. Every night, William would get crazy. Every night, my husband would rush through the job just to get it done and get William in bed without further incident. Not a very good relationship-building experience for either of them.

After being reminded by my contact mom and her husband of what was going wrong, my husband immediately fixed the problem. He took a minute to look William in the eye and explain to him that if he got crazy, he would be told one time to settle down. And after that, he would receive a consequence. My husband was very clear on what that consequence would be. And he reiterated, in positive words, what it meant to not be crazy (quiet voice, look at and listen to Daddy, put on your pajamas quickly and compliantly, etc.). This non-conflict training was all that was needed. My husband clearly laid out the rules and William clearly knew what was expected of him. He had one chance and one chance only. William knew he didn’t want the consequence that was being offered, so we got our first-time obedience.

Now if William chose to disobey, my husband would have had no option but to administer the consequence. Following through on what you say is a key component of achieving first-time obedience. If you don’t follow through, your child will realize it, and he will keep pushing you to see how far he can get. Then you quickly slip back into threatening and repeating parenting. So always make sure the consequence you say you will give is a consequence you can give confidently. If the whole family is going to the zoo, and your child acts up in the parking lot after you’ve driven two hours to get there, you don’t want to threaten to go home. If you know you can’t follow through or if it would be unfair to the rest of the family, find a different consequence.

First-time obedience in action: the bad
Recently, we were at a restaurant that had a children’s play area. Nearby sat a family with a young girl (under 3) who wanted to play before she ate her meal. Her father told her repeatedly to sit and eat her meal. Every time he told her to sit down, she did. But she kept getting off her chair over and over. After about the third time of her getting off her chair, she wasn’t so interested in complying with her father’s request to sit down. In an effort to coax her back to the table, the father said that she wouldn’t be able to play if she didn’t eat. Not five seconds after saying this, he asked her if she wanted a time-out.

Now this example shows the good and the bad. It’s good that the father kept insisting that she sit down and eat her meal. Some parents would give up the fight. It’s good that she kept sitting down after being told to do so. But what ultimately confused the girl was the father not being consistent with his consequences. After the third time she got out of her chair, he should have elevated the consequence. They could have gone on all night with her getting out of her chair, being told to sit back down, and her getting back out of her chair again and again. And he shouldn’t have given her two different consequences for the same offense.

This scenario would have looked much different if the father had explained to his daughter before they sat down to eat (or even before entering the restaurant) that she would be expected to sit in her chair until she was done eating. At that point, the father would have also explained to her what the consequence would be if she chose to disobey. With everyone understanding the rules, the girl would have been much more likely to obey and the father would have been more confident with his discipline.

Recognizing what first-time obedience does and doesn’t look like is the first step to achieving it. In my next post, I’ll go into further detail about what exactly what you can do to achieve first-time obedience with your child.

The ebb and flow of parenting

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

Here’s how it typically plays out:

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

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

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

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

Dialogue questioning

Dialogue questioning is another technique you can use to train your child in times of non-conflict.

“Parents can also accomplish pre-activity encouragement through dialogue questions. With verbal reminders, you tell the child what is required. With the dialogue method, the child tells you what is expected…. Your children are more apt to take ownership of their behavior when they hear themselves verbalize the rules of conduct and receive praise for the right answers,” (p. 139, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition).

Before you practice dialogue questioning, it is important that your child first understand the basic rules of any situation you may encounter. You cannot question him about it until you have first taught him. The dialogue questioning serves as a reminder before you face a particular situation.

I use dialogue questioning before we head out in public and into situations that could potentially cause trouble. I be sure to get a “yes, mommy” before I start talking. Here’s how it works:

Situation #1: We pull into a parking spot at the grocery store. Rather than getting out of the car, I stop and turn around to look at William. He is strapped in and I have his full attention.

Me: William?
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: We are going to get some food for dinner tonight. Where does your hand belong when we’re in the store?
William: On the cart.
Me: Good. Now is it okay for you to pull the cart while I try to push it?
William: No.
Me: What happens if you take your hand off the cart or pull it around?
William: You put me in the cart?
Me: Right. Is that what you want?
William: No.
Me: Good. Now show me how you can be on your best behavior in the store.

Situation #2: We are going to a restaurant for dinner. Again, I stop in the car and talk to him before we enter the restaurant.

Me: William?
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: We are eating dinner at a restaurant tonight. How do we behave at restaurants?
William: Good.
Me: What does that mean? Do we use our inside voice or outside voice?
William: Inside voice.
Me: How do you sit?
William: On my booty. No bouncing.
Me: Do you get out of your chair while we’re at the restaurant? (This is usually not even an issue, but I will ask him anyway.)
William: No.
Me: Why do we act nicely at a restaurant?
William: To be nice to people.
Me: Right, we want to consider other people. We don’t want to ruin their dinner by distracting them with loud noises or bouncing in our seats.

Situation #3: The park we go to frequently has a play structure surrounded by wood chips. Outside that area is a large forest and a wide grassy area. William is often tempted to follow other kids into the forest. As we pull up to the park, usually on foot, I will stop and ask a few questions.

Me: William?
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: Where do you need to stay when we’re at the park?
William: In the wood chips.
Me: Right. Is it okay to go in the forest?
William: No.
Me: What happens when you go into the forest?
William: We go home.
Me: Right. Why do you need to stay in the wood chips?
William: Because I could get dirty and get lost.
Me: Right. I have to stay here with Lucas, and I can’t see you when you’re in the forest. I don’t want to lose you.

So as you can see, he clearly knows the rules. He knows what I expect of him in every situation. If he ever forgets the answer, I will just answer for him. I also make sure I have his complete attention, with eye contact, throughout the conversation. Sometimes he’ll surprise me by giving an answer I hadn’t thought of before. Or he’ll give a totally off-the-wall answer that cracks me up. It can be entertaining for sure.

You can practice dialogue questioning with your non-verbal toddler as well. If he can nod or shake his head to say yes or no, ask him questions that have a yes or no answer. If he’s not quite there yet, you can still do this and just answer your questions yourself. You might feel a little silly doing so, but your child will pay more attention than if you simply give a lecture about the behaviors you expect from him.

With older children (maybe over 5) be careful when using this technique. Your child will reach an age where he is too old for this technique. To an older child, you will come across as condescending.

So add dialogue questioning to your list of techniques to use when teaching your child at a time of non-conflict. It’s a very useful tool and will prevent many sources of frustration for the whole family.

Intentional parenting

Intentional parenting is of the most important ideas behind the Ezzo parenting philosophies. It requires that we think about where we want to go with our children and what we want them to be like in two, 12 or even 20 years. We spend the time now to think about what moral values we want to instill in our children and how we might do so. We think about what behaviors or attitudes we don’t want to see in our children and be mindful of them in our daily parenting.

“Some parents simply exist. They have no direction, no goals, no plan other than what is pressing at the moment… Not only do they not know where they are going in their parenting, they’re usually not aware that they need to be headed someplace,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 89).

Set your goals
Start by sitting down with your spouse with a pen and paper in hand. Talk it over and write down your goals. They could be moral values like respecting adults or more mundane ideas like staying in bed in the morning until you allow him to get up. I have a big white board in our kitchen where I have listed our house rules and the moral lessons I want my kids to learn. (I also have a few reminder notes for myself, like “don’t repeat yourself”.) I can erase and rearrange these goals as I see fit.

Decide how you will achieve your goals
Once you have your goals in mind, you can figure out how to get there. Say for example that you want your child to sit quietly in restaurants when you go out to eat. That is your goal. Then you think through what it takes for a child to be able to do so. You practice good manners at home and when visiting friends. You decide that they will need to stay in the highchair the entire time. You teach them to speak quietly, not throw their food, not be crawling all over the restaurant, etc. Ultimately, in order to achieve your goals, your child will need to learn to obey you and submit to your authority. (See “Yes, mommy” and Eye contact.)

Be aware of any actions that lead you away from your important goals. Even taking the child out of the highchair just once could lead you down the wrong path, away from your goal. There is a quote from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (a wonderful complement to Babywise) that says, “Start as you mean to go on.” If you decide that you want your child to sleep in his or her own bed, you wouldn’t start by co-sleeping. You may choose to have a bassinet near your bed for those early weeks, but you will still be mindful of your goal and move him to the crib as soon as you both are ready.

Teach submission
To achieve your goals, you must establish your parental authority and teach your child to submit and obey you.

“Let us assure you: Parental authority is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary. It is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the balance between personal freedom, responsibility and obligation. Parental authority represents the right of parents to insist upon conformity and compliance, especially in these three vital areas of life: morality, health and safety, and life skills,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 48).

It is only by teaching submission that we can achieve our goals. If you want to teach your child to share and ask him to give a toy to his sibling, it is only if he is submissive to you that he will do this. Otherwise, his me-ism (selfishness) takes over and he has no reason to hand over the toy. Submission is needed everywhere we go in life.

Avoid the opposite viewpoint: reactive parenting
When you don’t set goals for your children or for yourself as a parent, you find yourself in reactive parenting mode. Your existence as a parent is reacting to what your child says and does rather than guiding and proactively directing his behavior. This idea is also discussed in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer with the term “accidental parenting”. By not starting as you mean to go on, you end up parenting from the hip and find yourself with kids who you cannot control and who you don’t enjoy.

“For some theorists, parenting is a matter of facilitating a child’s natural and impulsive way, rather than actively directing the child’s ability to make right decisions benefiting others. Reactive in nature, this nondirective approach seeks to manipulate a child’s environment in hopes of making parental supervision non-adversarial. Yet, leadership by nature requires that you make decisions based on what is best and right, not what is perceived as most pleasing in the moment,” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, p. 92).

Our parenting objective should be to teach our children our values and appropriate behaviors whether that makes them happy in the moment or not. (See holiness vs. happiness.) We should teach our children how to operate in this world as it exists rather than change the world to suit their needs. For example, we teach our children how to behave in the grocery store rather than avoiding taking them to the store. We teach our children how to behave with babysitters rather than not going on dates with our spouse. We teach our children to respond to the call of their name rather than allowing them to ignore us.

If you are an accidental or reactive parent, start with the simple step of thinking through your goals. Even a list of your top five goals is enough to start. Then be mindful of these goals in your daily parenting. If five goals is too much to focus on, start with just one. Write it down in a conspicuous place and consistently follow through on it for a week or until your child seems to get it. Then move on to your other goals.

Parenting with intent might require a big shift in your mindset, but again, with practice it will become easier. Do this work now, before your child has already established bad habits, and you will soon enjoy the benefits.

Non-conflict training

Have you ever disciplined your child for the same offense over and over? You ask yourself, “Why is this child not getting it?” He has been disciplined for the same issue so many times he should understand by now, right? Well, if you rely on discipline as your only method of teaching, then no.

“Moral truth is best communicated in periods of non-conflict. That doesn’t mean we will not teach at times of correction, but it does mean a healthy dose of moral enlightenment should take place throughout the day and in moments of non-conflict, when the child is not in a position to have to defend his or her actions.” (p. 22, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition)

As this quote says, our children learn best in times of non-conflict. If you only teach your child in the process of correcting him, he is less likely to learn the lesson. When he knows he has done something wrong, he wants to receive the correction and move on as quickly as possible. By contrast, when you sit down with your child at a time of non-conflict, he welcomes the conversation and is much more likely to receive and remember your lesson.

As parents, it is very easy to fall into the trap of expecting our children to understand the rules of life even if we’ve never taught them. But if we have never taken the time to teach our children what we expect of them, how can we expect them to comply? For example, we may simply expect that our children know what good table manners look like. We eat together at the table three times a day every day. We model good manners for them. But have we ever sat down and explained what “good manners” really means? Have we taught them the mechanics of where your fork goes when you’re not using it, to use a napkin rather than your shirt, to not blow bubbles in your milk, etc.? Then when they display poor manners, we discipline and expect them to get the message through the discipline alone. This is no way for a child to learn.

Teach the good, not just the bad
Certainly, correcting the child’s bad behaviors is important, but when we do this in the absence of teaching them what good behaviors look like, we leave a giant gap in their learning process. Too often, we focus on what our children should not do rather than what they should do. We phrase our teachings in the negative (“don’t do this”) rather than in the positive (“do this”).

“Negative moral training leaves a void that may cause serious moral compromise in the future. When a greater emphasis is placed on teaching children what not to do, and too little on what to do, the path to virtuous deeds is left highly undefined for the child. As a result, children understand what is not the right thing to do, but they never completely grasp what is the right thing to do.” (p. 22, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition)

With this in mind and going back to our example of table manners, they may know not to wave their fork around in the air while they chew, but do they really know where they should put it? Does it go on the plate, on the placemat, or stay in their hand? Why? We have told them not to eat with their hands, but there are some times when we actually allow it. Do they really know which foods are finger foods and which are not? We can eat sandwiches and pizza with our hands but we must eat meat and pasta with a fork? If we haven’t taught them, they genuinely may not know.

Teach them often–all day every day
Teaching in times of non-conflict requires the parent to be on active alert for times to teach the child. As I see it, there are three times to teach: before, during and after the behavior occurs. Consider our previous example. The first and best time to teach is well before you sit down to eat. Find a time when your child is playing and pull out some dishes. Set them on the table as if you were going to eat. Then go through the motions of eating a meal, teaching your child through each and every step. Get creative with it. Pretend to put your hands in your “spaghetti”. Pretend to blow bubbles in your “milk”. Pretend to fling food around by waving your fork in the air. Pretend to fall off your chair. Make it funny. Your child will get a kick out of it and remember it for sure. Then go through the mechanics of proper manners. Fork goes on the plate while chewing. Napkin goes on the lap. Sit completely on the chair. Break it down for him step by step.

The second teaching time takes place when the opportunity for bad behavior might present itself. In our example, this would be when you sit down for a meal, but before the bad manners actually happen. Remind him of your practice time earlier in the day.

The third teaching time is after the child has exhibited the bad behavior. This is when you would correct the child.  While teaching in times of non-conflict is best, you will still want to teach him after you have corrected him. Be sure to phrase your words in the positive, not the negative. You will want to say, “wipe your hands on your napkin,” rather than “don’t wipe your hands on your shirt”.

Real-world scenarios
I’ll give you two real-world scenarios of teaching in times of non-conflict, both good and bad. First the bad. Not long ago, my husband and I took both boys out shopping for new winter coats. We made an evening of it, first eating dinner at the food court. A band was playing live music and there were kids dancing everywhere. The energy level was high. Then after dinner, we headed over to the store. I’m not sure that at any point we actually told them what we were planning to do. This was a big mistake, especially since we needed their cooperation to try on the coats. The entire process was a disaster. They resisted trying the coats on. It was hot inside the store and it was late. We lost William once or twice among the clothes. There were soccer balls flying everywhere. (Can anyone tell me why they sell soccer balls inside a clothing store?! And why are they always near the kids’ section and the cash registers?) We were correcting, threatening and pleading the entire time. And we were there much longer than we should have been. All four of us were completely exhausted by the time we left. But had we actually taken the time to tell the boys what we were planning to do (in a time of non-conflict before we got to the store or before we even left the house) and that we needed them to cooperate by trying on the coats, the process would have been much less painful.

Contrast that with a time when I sat down with William to teach him how to behave when we go to Starbucks. We go there regularly and it had gotten to the point where he was so comfortable there, his behaviors were getting out of hand. He was three at the time, and his biggest offense was not sitting still (on his bum) in the chair. So before we even left the house, I sat down with him at the table and showed him how I expected him to sit. Then I explained why we sit nicely (in consideration of others) and that if he couldn’t sit properly we would leave immediately. He was very excited to be having the conversation with me, gave me full eye contact, and seemed very receptive to my teaching. And it worked. He sat really well. Simple as that.

Now that I have practiced non-conflict training for a while, I do so several times a day. Even if William hasn’t exhibited poor behaviors in a particular situation in the past, I will still tell him what I expect. It usually just takes a minute or two and I make sure to call his name (requiring a “yes, mommy”) and get eye contact before I start talking. Some of the things I regularly teach are that his hand goes on the stroller when we cross the street, we share toys with our friends on a playdate, we pick up after ourselves when visiting friends, he must stay in the playground area at the park, he must stay on the sidewalk and not far from me when riding his bike, he must be on his best behavior at school, and more.

So take a few minutes to think through your child’s most troublesome behaviors. Be honest with yourself about whether you have really taken the time to teach him what you expect. Get in the habit of talking to him regularly. Stop and talk to him before you go anywhere in public. You might even want to write reminder notes throughout the house. Then be on the lookout for opportunities to teach him and teach him often. Teach through positive words, get creative and make it fun!