Tuesday Triumphs: Strength in learning

This demonstrates William's handwriting and detailed drawings. He knows he's only allowed to throw balls. :)

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am amazed by how much and how quickly William is learning in school this year. He is now six years old and in full-day Kindergarten. His private school’s curriculum is a year ahead of public schools. So while William is an older Kindergartner (by design), he is learning first-grade academics. He’s a very confident reader and is beginning to explore multiplication in math. Art will always be his favorite, but he also loves Spanish and playing the recorder in music.

This shows what William is learning in math. Adding 3 numbers!

A couple incidents this week demonstrated his academic success. One night, while my husband was reading a chapter book to him before bed, William corrected my husband’s pronunciation of a name while reading over his shoulder.

And just the other day, while discussing a spelling app I had installed on my phone, I mentioned that the words were pretty easy (cat, bird, ship). He said, “I can spell hard words like ‘information.’” He proceeded to spell the word and got it right until the tricky “tion” part.

I attribute William’s strength in learning in part to the way we have parented him. Despite the struggles we’ve had with his sensory issues, he does really well in school. His teacher says that William is always diligent with his work and has no trouble concentrating on the task at hand.

His handwriting is pretty advanced for his age. Not bad for a Kindergartner!

There are several character traits that I strive to instill in my kids, and they work well both at home and at school:

  • Respect for authority
  • Listening and attentiveness
  • Concentration
  • Thriving in a structured environment
  • Independence in play and in schoolwork
  • High standards for himself and his work
  • Appropriate social skills

This last trait was put to the test four days ago when a classmate punched William in the face. This boy was frustrated that William wouldn’t do what he wanted and rather than speak to him about his frustrations, he lashed out in aggression. As a mom, I am just appalled that this would even happen in school, and my immediate reaction was to protect my baby from the outside world.

But his response to the incident tells me that he knows very well how to behave among friends. Not only did he not hit back or scream or even cry, but he shrugged it off and walked away. Later, he told me that it hurt and that he was sad that his friend would hurt him. The boy was disciplined appropriately (sent home from school), which I take heart in. But even more encouraging to me than the school’s reaction was William’s response.

Thanks to all that I have learned from the Ezzos, I feel confident in William’s abilities in school and among friends. These skills not only help him in Kindergarten, but I’m confident they will inspire strength in learning throughout his many school years to come.

Maturity in children

Have you ever received a comment from a stranger that validates your parenting? Amid the daily ups and downs I have with my kids, I occasionally get such comments. I got one just last week.

Someone told me that William, my oldest, seems particularly mature for his age. Mature. We have our struggles, especially when his SPD (sensory processing disorder) rears its ugly head. If we get basic good behavior, I call it a good day. So why did this word strike me? I can think of a slew of other characteristics that I’d rather be complimented on:

  • Well mannered
  • Confident
  • Selfless
  • Respectful
  • Smart

But the word mature is especially flattering. Mature is how I would describe the children of the parents I most respect. When a child is mature, it means to me that they have all of these qualities and more. When a child is mature, it tells me the child has been taught how to confidently navigate his way through this world.

When a child has been taught how to navigate the world, he is given the foundation that allows him to develop confidence. With that foundation, the child is free to learn and grow.

What is that foundation built upon? Obedience. Yes, everything circles back to obedience.

“Freedom is not found in autonomy, it is found in obedience.” (Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp, p. 27)

I’m reminded of a story my contact mom once told me. She said she and another mom were on a hike with their kids and reached a particularly treacherous area. The path was surrounded on one side by water and on the other side by a steep drop-off. It was a dangerous spot. The other mom held her children’s hands tightly to keep them from running away and to keep them safe. She couldn’t trust them.

Meanwhile, my contact mom had taught her children to obey her word. She was able to tell them to stay near her while still letting them walk freely. Because of their characteristic obedience, these children were given the freedom to appropriately explore their world. They could be trusted to keep themselves safe, and because of this obedience, they were allowed more freedom.

So do I want my children to be happy, respectful, confident and a host of other qualities? Of course. But will I strive most for obedience and maturity? No doubt.

Bloggers on first-time obedience

Here are some of the best comments on the web on the topic of first-time obedience. Great food for thought.

First-time obedience sets clear expectations

Excerpt (emphasis mine): From a practical standpoint, the establishment of a high and clearly-defined standard is kinder than having a vague and intermittently-enforced standard. Why should my child have to factor in my mood, the time of day, recent history and the relative humidity when calculating how quickly to obey me? Better to make it clear and simple, so they can focus their energy on the important fun of being a child. My relationship with my son or daughter (like my relationship with my boss or my wife) will operate more smoothly and without resentment when expectations are clearly communicated.

Teach obedience and you don’t have to teach anything else

Excerpt (emphasis mine): When we start with just that one thing, we don’t have to do much else. What could be more simple? Once your child understands obedience, everything else is pretty much taken care of. Henceforth, you can simply ask him to come to you and he will. You can ask him to pick up his toys and he will. You can ask him to get ready for bed and he will trot off and do so. You can even ask him to “stop crying,” and he will stop. Simple. Obedience is really all you need to teach a little one.

Delayed obedience is disobedience

Excerpt (emphasis mine): We should expect our children to obey us. Period. Counting says to your child, “I need you to do this right now. But, I know my needs aren’t as important as yours so you can just do it when you feel like doing it.” I first heard the phrase, “Delayed obedience is disobedience” when my children were small. It served me well as a parent and I have shared it each year with the parents I work with at school.

Obedience and respect go hand in hand. By not insisting on first-time obedience, we are instilling in our children a disregard for authority. Without that respect, every request becomes a battle to be fought, and won, more often than not, by our child.

Teach your child to obey your word

Excerpt (emphasis mine): Always ensure that your word is obeyed. Expect first time obedience without argument, bad attitude or having to give several “reminders” (aka nagging). Do not accept partial obedience. Don’t limit your children with your own low expectations, they will live up to the standard you set, whether low or high. Make your word valuable by enforcing the rules, if you don’t, your word means nothing and your rules are meaningless. Your follow-through will make your words either garbage or gold. Never give a command you don’t intend to enforce. This concept of first time obedience is more difficult for parents than for children, but if we can train ourselves to be consistent with our follow-through, our children can learn to obey the first time.

Consistency is required!

Excerpt (emphasis mine): Through consistent use of this one-warning discipline system, children will learn to listen and obey the first time they are asked to do something. If a parent continues to be lax and only follow-through with the consequences some of the time, the child will continue to disobey and the cycle will continue.

Training comes first. Trust comes later.

Excerpt (emphasis mine): There’s the complimentary part to first-time obedience: trust. If we are loving on our children, responding in kindness, patient, and joyful, they will be trained to obey us out of their trust of us. That comes with a little time and experience, though, so in the earliest years, they do need to be trained to immediately obey.

If you’re on the fence about requiring first-time obedience in your home, perhaps these articles will help convince you. Read the full articles for more.

Children want to be disciplined

Among most parents, it’s understood that children need discipline. But have you ever considered that your child actually wants to be disciplined? Sure, he may protest when you send him to his room, but many experts say children actually crave discipline.

I am currently reading Make Your Children Mind without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman and in the book, he says, “They don’t test us out of orneriness; what they really want to know is whether or not we care. When we are firm and prove that we do care, they may not like it but they do respect us and appreciate us,” (p. 88).

Discipline shows you care
Our children want discipline simply to know that we care about them. When you discipline your child, you are showing that you have a vested interest in how he behaves. You show that you care about what he does and who he becomes.

Some children of permissive parents will act out simply to challenge their parents to discipline them. They will try every misdeed in the book to see if their parents care enough to discipline them. Sadly, this tactic usually backfires on them. Not only do they not receive loving discipline, but also they get shouting, frustrated parents who lash out once they have reached their breaking point. (Think Supernanny.)

Discipline allows children to learn
Our children also want discipline so they can learn to navigate the world around them. In most cases, our children come from a place of innocence and want to please their parents. However, they are still learning the ways of the world and need their parents’ discipline to redirect them towards right behavior.

No matter how young, on some level, your child recognizes that he needs this discipline to learn how to behave in the world. He knows that the world can be a big, scary place, and he depends on you to teach and guide him by disciplining those behaviors that are not acceptable in our world.

Discipline cleanses the soul
Most importantly, disciplining your child can cleanse his soul. When you discipline, the behavior is spoken about openly and is addressed with love. The child understands what he did wrong and has the opportunity to apologize for his actions. He also has the opportunity to receive forgiveness from those he offended. Once he repents and receives forgiveness, his slate is wiped clean.

When a child misbehaves and receives no discipline, he may feel secretly self-conscious about his behavior but has no opportunity to confess his sin or ask for forgiveness. Without being encouraged to apologize to his parents, his sins are left to fester in his heart.

His heart then becomes full of negativity, especially if his whole childhood is characterized by a lack of discipline. He may even carry this feeling into his adult years. Sure, he may understand that the actions he committed as a child are relatively insignificant, but when that negativity stays in his heart for so long, the actions and his feelings toward them can get blown out of proportion.

Be sure to show your child you care about his actions and his heart by disciplining him in love. One day, he will thank you for it.

The marriage priority

What does your marriage have to do with parenting? Everything. If you have read any of the Ezzos’ books, then you are no stranger to the idea that the marriage, the relationship between you and your spouse, must come first. As Ezzo says in On Becoming Childwise, “Great marriages make great parents,” (page 43).

There is this pervasive idea in our culture that everything we do is for our children. We will sacrifice our health, our happiness and even our marriage as long as it’s what’s best for the child. Among some moms, it’s a competition to see who can be the biggest martyr. These moms equate martyrdom with love, in effect saying that the more you sacrifice, the more you love your child.

In the media today, there are examples of parents choosing divorce and saying that it is what is best for the child. Jon and Kate Gosselin from the reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8 is one example. I think the Ezzos would agree with me that if you really want what’s best, you should work on your marriage and heal that relationship—for your child.*

Ensuring stability and security
The reason the Ezzos say to make your marriage your first priority is not to satisfy your own selfish desires. Nor is it to put your spouse on a pedestal. It is for the sake of the child that we put our marriage first. Your child’s whole world is dependent on his parents. He depends on you for his health, safety and emotional well-being. Your marriage is the ground upon which your child stands. You are his foundation.

Ezzo says it best: “Where there is harmony in the marriage, there is stability within the family. Healthy, loving marriages create a sense of certainty for children. When a child observes the special friendship and emotional togetherness between his parents, he feels secure. He doesn’t wonder about his parents’ commitment to one another. There is no disconnect between what his parents say about their love for each other and what he sees and senses in daily life. Successful parenting flows out of this rock-solid bond,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 36).

Think about what happens during a divorce. Your child’s DNA is made from both of his parents. He is equal parts of the two of you. When your marriage suffers, he suffers as well. When the two parts that make the whole child are split into two, the child is, in essence, torn into two.

Here’s an analogy. Imagine your child standing on a sheet of ice with his weight evenly distributed on both feet. Now imagine that the ice gives way, and a wide crack splits the ice right between his feet. What happens to the child? He either falls through into the ice or he must jump to one side of the crack and run to safety. If your marriage is the ice splitting in two, your child’s stability and safety is in jeopardy. Add to that his need to jump from one side to the other. In that split second when the ice is cracking, he must choose which parent to jump to for safety.

Creating a family identity
One phrase you will hear in Ezzo circles is that the child is a welcome member of the family but is not the center of it. Putting your marriage first not only creates security for your child, but it also creates a sense of togetherness. It builds the family identity.

Here’s another analogy for you. Imagine yourself on your wedding day holding both of your spouse’s hands. There you are, looking into each other’s eyes, standing close together and feeling loved. When you bring a child into the family, where does he go? Do you continue to stand there together still holding your spouse’s hands and let the child stand between you? If so, what happens when the child gets bigger? What happens when you have more children? Eventually, you find that you can barely touch each other’s fingertips much less hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes.

Rather than putting the child in the center, let your child stand next to you with the three of you holding hands in a circle as a family unit. Look into each other’s eyes. Talk to each other. And let your family circle grow as you bring new children into it.

Setting an example for love
When your child is raised in a home with two parents who visibly love each other, the child learns how to love. As in all aspects of parenting, we are models for our children. We set the example that they are to follow. Show your child what it means to have a healthy, happy marriage so that he can grow up to achieve the same for himself.

Feeling loved allows you to give love
When your marriage is happy and healthy, your spouse shows love for you on a regular basis. You feel loved. As a result, you are better able to express love to your child. If you feel depleted, then you have nothing to give. As they say on the airlines: put your own oxygen mask on first. When you are happy and healthy, your child will be happy and healthy.

In my next post, I’ll discuss some practical ideas to help you make your marriage a priority.

*A little caveat here: staying in an abusive marriage is not what is best for the child (or you).

The funnel–keeping freedoms age-appropriate

The funnel is one of the best and perhaps most infamous analogies offered by the Ezzos. The funnel represents the freedoms you allow your child given his age. The funnel represents the guidance and boundaries you give your child. The Ezzos implore us to parent inside the funnel.

“A common mistake is to parent outside the funnel in the early years. In an effort to give the child confidence, parents sometimes allow their children behaviors or freedoms that are neither age-appropriate nor in harmony with the child’s moral and intellectual capabilities,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 155).

What this means is that you consciously choose what freedoms are appropriate given your child’s age and maturity. You don’t allow a freedom that your child cannot be responsible for. You don’t allow a freedom that you will one day have to take away. You don’t allow your child to choose for himself what freedoms are appropriate.

How do you know if a behavior is outside the funnel?
This is very simple. Watch your child. Keep your eye out for behaviors that seem beyond his age level. If it bothers you that he exhibits a particular behavior, there’s a reason it bothers you. Listen to that intuition. If it bothers you, don’t allow it. Ask yourself if he does any of the following:

  • Enters any room of the house at will
  • Gets food from the pantry whenever he wants
  • Ransacks his room with little regard or respect for its contents
  • Puts up a fight about wearing the shorts and tank top even though it’s 40 degrees out
  • Insists that he eat cereal instead of eggs for breakfast
  • Climbs out of his crib or playpen even when told to stay put
  • Speaks disrespectfully to any adult, particularly you and your spouse
  • Leaves your side in public without informing you
  • Goes into the backyard without asking

These are just a few examples of a young child who is acting outside the funnel. He has been allowed freedoms that are not age-appropriate. Some of these freedoms are perhaps appropriate for a teenager. If your 2-year-old is exhibiting them, he is clearly outside the funnel.

Why should you limit your child’s freedoms?
There is nothing wrong with allowing your child to have some freedoms, as long as they are age-appropriate. For example, allowing your 3-year-old to choose his own toys is possibly a freedom he can be responsible for. If he plays with them appropriately and can take care of them by putting them away when he’s done, it is an age-appropriate freedom. Also consider whether he is characterized by respecting his property. If he consistently ransacks his room during roomtime, perhaps the toys or the room itself are freedoms he doesn’t have the responsibility to have.

Consider this. A group of researchers performed a study on a group of students to see how they would react if they took away the fences that lined the perimeter of the school. When the fences were up, the children would play freely, far away from the school buildings and even linger around the fence. When the fences were taken down, the students huddled much closer to the school buildings. The students felt more secure when those fences were up. Without the limits that the fences established, they were unsure as to how far they should go. The same goes with setting limits for your child. The more you set limits, the more secure your child will feel.

Also important is the fact that setting limits and parenting inside the funnel is yet another way to establish parental authority over your child. If your child defers to you to determine what he is allowed to say and do, he is much more likely to respect your authority.

But perhaps the reason that most interests you is the fact that limiting your child’s freedoms will improve his behavior and reduce your frustration.

How will this affect your child’s behavior?
Keeping your child inside the funnel and only allowing freedoms that are age-appropriate is huge in keeping his behavior in check. I mentioned that it builds your parental authority. Beyond this, it teaches your child that he does not have 100% freedom over his environment and his actions. Could this stifle his independence? Yes, it could. This is why you need to let your child grow into the wider parts of the funnel as he matures. But if he is right where he should be in the funnel, he will have much greater control over his own actions.

Think about the examples I gave above. The reason these freedoms are not age-appropriate for a 2-year-old is that a child that age does not have the moral or practical knowledge that accompanies those freedoms. A toddler does not understand the science of nutrition and wouldn’t know that a bowl of sugary cereal is less healthy than a breakfast of eggs and toast. Nor does he understand that the resulting sugar high would adversely affect his behavior.

This lack of moral and practical knowledge can be applied to many of the behaviors I listed. As you limit your child’s freedoms according to his age and understanding, his behaviors will improve quite immediately. Perhaps you get frustrated that your toddler climbs the stairs on his own. Once you remove that freedom, that frustration will disappear. Perhaps you get frustrated that your preschooler goes outside on his own. Once you remove that freedom, or at least require that he ask permission, that frustration will disappear. Imagine how peaceful your home can be.

Funnel utopia
Let me describe what it looks like when your child firmly knows his boundaries inside the funnel.

  • When your child wakes up in the morning, he dresses himself in the clothes you have laid out for him.
  • If he happens to wake up when you’re still sleeping, he stays in his room and plays quietly until you wake up.
  • He washes his hands when you ask and eats the food that is placed in front of him, no matter what dish it’s in.
  • After taking his dishes to the kitchen, he asks permission to play in the backyard and will abide by any instructions you give about outside play.
  • He knows that certain rooms in the house are off-limits.
  • He puts his toys away after playing with them.
  • He stays within your line of sight, as you have requested, in public places.
  • He keeps his hand on the shopping cart as you have asked, no matter how much he hates grocery shopping.
  • He goes to bed (and stays there) peacefully and quietly every night.

Does this all sound too good to be true? These are things that my 4-year-old son William is characterized by doing on a consistent basis. This utopia is a reality in my home. Did this happen on its own overnight? Certainly not. It required diligent parenting on my part. If you apply the same amount of diligence, while considering many of the other aspects of preventing misbehavior, your home can also look like this.

Start thinking through your child’s freedoms and strongly consider whether he has freedoms that you need to take away. In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about some of the common pitfalls parents run into when keeping their children’s behaviors inside the funnel.

House rules

As you may have noticed, the Ezzo books are full of high-level parenting principles, but we parents must fill in the blanks ourselves when it comes to specific, day-to-day rules and values. I’m sure this is intentional on the part of the Ezzos. We should decide how to apply the principles for our own family to suit our own parenting styles and our own kids. Nevertheless, it does help to be exposed to specific house rules that other people hold in their own homes.

For example, we were just visiting a friend and she had a “no running in the house” rule. It struck me as sheer brilliance! It is very basic, but I always had some caveat about when and where they could run in the house. Now we have a “no running in the house at all” rule. Love it!

So here is my basic list of house rules. Most of these apply only to William (4.5) but we keep them in mind for Lucas (18 months) as well. I would love to hear more ideas, so please reply with your comments.

Obedience and respect

  • Obey Mommy and Daddy above all else, even when what we say contradicts the usual rule.
  • Respect all adults.
  • Answer when spoken to.
  • Ask only once when you have a question. Don’t repeat yourself until you get an answer. Wait patiently.
  • Use the interrupt rule.
  • Treat all living beings (parents, brother, friends, cat) with kindness and respect.
  • Offer to help Mommy and Daddy when you see the need. Always help when asked.
  • Consider how your actions affect others.
  • Respect all of our things (in the house and car).
  • Earn privileges. Don’t expect them to be handed to you.
  • Speak with polite words and a polite voice. Disrespect (talking back) is not tolerated.

Mealtime

  • Wash your hands before every meal.
  • Eat and drink only at the table. If there is food in your mouth or a utensil in your hand, your booty belongs completely on the chair.
  • Use proper manners at the table. Fork goes on the plate while chewing. Clean your hands with a napkin. No toys on the table. No loud noises.
  • Eat what you are served. No complaining about the food, and no other food will be offered until the next meal.
  • Ask to be excused when you are finished.
  • Take your dishes into the kitchen when you’re done.

Playtime

  • Ask for permission to go upstairs to your room. There is no other room upstairs where you can have unsupervised access. And you simply do not belong in the office ever.
  • Ask for permission to play in the backyard.
  • Ask for permission to watch TV. No touching the TV/stereo equipment unless you are told to do so.
  • Ask for permission to paint. All painting and other messy crafts must be done at the kitchen table.
  • Clean up after roomtime and before bath/bed.

Self care

  • Dress yourself in the morning. You may pick out your clothes. If what you choose doesn’t match or is inappropriate for the weather, you must change into what I give you.
  • Take off your shoes and coat when we get home. Shoes go in the shoe basket. Coat goes in the coat closet.
  • Wash and dry your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Sit still and patiently while we brush your teeth.
  • Buckle yourself into your car seat.

Miscellaneous

  • Use an inside voice when we are inside. (My recent logical consequence for outside voices is having William stand outside for a minute or two. Outside voice? Go outside! He gets the point very quickly.)
  • No whining. You will be ignored or asked to change your voice when you whine.
  • No running in the house. This goes for restaurants and other public places, too.
  • Do not answer the door when someone rings the bell. Wait for Mommy or Daddy.
  • Be quiet when we are on the phone.
  • No roughhousing at bedtime or first thing in the morning. You may rest in our bed first thing in the morning, but it is not a wrestling place. Absolutely no jumping on the bed.
  • Always ask for food. Never help yourself to food in the house, although you may help yourself to a glass of water.
  • Never lock any door in the house.

I’m sure there are several rules that I have forgotten, but this gives you a pretty good idea of the rules I enforce on a daily basis. Many of them William knows well and will follow without issue. Others, we may have to remind him or issue consequences. And I hope this will serve as a starting point for you to develop your own list of house rules. Every home with a child should have one! And again, please send a comment with some house rules of your own. The more we share, the better our lists will be.

Credit card parenting

No, I’m not about to start giving you financial advice. But there is a lot we can gain by looking at our parenting in terms of our culture’s need for immediate gratification. Think about your parenting in the same way you do with your finances. One of the first things we learn when managing our money is that we should never buy something that we can’t afford. Yet this is something the credit card industry has allowed us to do. Buy it now and you can pay it off at some distant point in the future…with interest.

The term credit card parenting refers to a parenting style that attempts to reap all the rewards of parenting now without putting in all the work to build character in our children. It means we strive for immediate gratification in our children without taking the time to teach them our moral values. It means we strive to be our child’s peer rather than his parent. It means our parenting has no clear direction or parental intent and we assume that our children will learn our values just by being around us.

When we abuse credit cards, our interest rate goes up, we are slapped with fines of all kinds and we could even end up filing for bankruptcy. We have seen this in the recent mortgage crisis with people buying homes they couldn’t afford. Foreclosures have become rampant

The same is true with our parenting. By not taking the time and effort to establish parental authority and teach our children to obey our authority now, we ultimately end up in moral bankruptcy. We may get immediate gratification, but boy do we pay for it later. High interest rates and penalty fees take the form of children who disrespect their parents and who are solely motivated by their own selfish desires.

Don’t minimize the importance of early parenting. Teach your child now and let him make mistakes now while the stakes are still low. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start teaching your child. And don’t let him stumble his way through life learning only by losing friends, getting fired and getting into huge debt. Your job as a parent is to teach him appropriate behaviors and moral values so he has a firm foundation upon which to build the rest of his life. Give him this benefit and richness will follow.

Only you can establish parental authority

In recent posts, I have discussed several Ezzo techniques that can help you establish authority over your child. While these techniques will work if you apply them consistently, it’s important to realize that each parent has a unique relationship with the child. How you interact with your child is up to you. When establishing parental authority in particular, both parents (and other authority figures in a child’s life) must use these techniques to build their own credibility in the eyes of the child. While one parent may spend more time with the child, it is still important for your spouse (or grandma or auntie) to establish his or her own authority over the child.

Not long ago, I operated under the assumption that if I worked on applying the Ezzo principles in my parenting, I would prepare my kids for every situation they encountered in life. I figured that if I taught them to respect my authority, they would naturally respect all other authority figures. Not true.

Soon after he started preschool this year, William began displaying a “wise in his own eyes” attitude problem. It was immediately obvious to me that his tone was disrespectful and that he was challenging my authority. I quickly spotted the problem and nipped it in the bud, telling him that he could not speak to me the way he did. The second I noticed his attitude shift, I stopped him in his tracks and told him to rephrase his words and speak to me nicely. It worked well, so problem solved, right?

Well, it occurred to William that while he may not be able to talk to me disrespectfully, maybe it would work on daddy. When I heard William speak disrespectfully to my husband, I jumped in and used my technique to get him to change his tone. I stopped him and told him to speak to daddy nicely. But it didn’t work this time. The disrespect continued. What William needed was for my husband to exert his own authority and tell William himself that he wouldn’t accept his disrespectful tone. I couldn’t change their relationship. My husband alone had to establish his authority over William.

We each have our own unique relationships with our children. Mom may be the disciplinarian. Dad may be fun and games. Mom may prefer to quietly read to the child. Dad may prefer to hold nightly wrestling matches. However you define your parenting roles, you must realize that your relationship with your child is unique and that your child is well aware of the differences.

You may remember as a child knowing which parent to go to with a specific request. You knew dad would say no, so you asked mom instead. Our children do the same with us. They have figured us out. They know us better than we know ourselves.

Examine your individual relationship with your child. If you feel confident that your child respects your authority, then well done. Sit back and let your spouse do the work to build his own parental authority. Don’t feel like you need to do it for him. You can’t.

If you feel your parental authority could use some work, then the responsibility is on you alone. Your spouse cannot fix this for you. The same goes for grandparents, teachers and other authority figures in the child’s life. Every one of us must do our own work to establish our authority over the child.

Growing Kids God’s Way has a chapter titled “The Father’s Mandate”. I will go into the specifics later, but it’s interesting that the authors felt the need to call attention to dad. They thought it was so important they devoted an entire chapter to it. Typically, as moms, we spend more time with our kids. I stay home with our boys and devote about 90% of my day to them. My husband, on the other hand, is consumed with work and only thinks about the kids maybe 10-20% of his day. This is as it should be.

But this does not let dad off the hook. He must still cultivate a relationship with the child and develop his own parental authority. You can guide him and show him by example how you would treat a particular situation, but be careful not to step in and take over. And don’t critique his parenting in front of the kids. This will only undermine his parental authority. Support every decision your spouse makes, even if you disagree with it. Find a time later when the kids are out of earshot to discuss it. You might even develop a signal (a tug on the ear or a “look”) that says, I disagree with what you just did; please change your tactic.

Do your work to establish your own authority with your child and offer your spouse (and grandparents and others) the tools they need to build their own authority. Offer your support and guidance and then sit back. Give your spouse the freedom he needs to establish his own authority over the child.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Trite as they may be, these eight simple words have great power to change your relationship with your child. They are particularly effective for parents who lack consistency. But they are words that every parent should remember. The underlying principle is that you clearly communicate to your child what you expect of him and follow through on every word you say. If you live by these simple words, your child will respect your parental authority.

“Never give a command unless you intend for it to be obeyed. Therefore, when giving instructions, be sure to say exactly what you mean and mean precisely what you say,” (p. 126, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition).

Say what you mean
Applying these first four words to your parenting will be an exercise in self-control. You will say what you mean and nothing more. Many parents fall into one of two categories: yes parents and no parents. The yes parents allow their children to do what they want, frequently responding with a “yes” to their requests. The no parents prefer to restrict their children’s freedoms and will often impulsively answer with a “no”. With either group, we see that it’s easy to spout out an answer without truly thinking through the child’s request or our own response.

Make a commitment to think through every single word you say to your child. Stop before you speak. Silently count to three if it helps. It won’t hurt him if you cannot answer right away. You may even want to tell him you will think about it and get back to him later. Take the time, make a rational decision, and say what you mean. This act alone will fill you with resolve. You will be able to follow through much more consistently when you know you have given thought to what you have said to your child.

If you don’t say what you mean, your child will know it. While you need to consider context in every situation, 98% of the time, you should not change your mind after giving an instruction. Your opportunity to change your mind is before you say anything to the child. If you change your mind constantly or allow your spouse (or the child) to talk you out of a command already given, he will learn that your words are meaningless.

By not allowing yourself to change your mind, you will take those four little words (“say what you mean”) very seriously. If you commit to following through on every word you say, you will quickly realize that there is nothing worse than having to follow through on an instruction you regret giving in the first place.

Mean what you say
This is the second component of consistent parenting. By meaning what you say, you follow through. You take your own words seriously. You discourage your spouse from allowing a freedom you previously said no to. Or if you previously decided to allow your child an unexpected freedom, you don’t take it away just because common sense suddenly got the better of you.

“There is no better way to teach a child not to obey than to give him instructions that you have no intention of enforcing. A child quickly learns the habit of disregarding his parents’ instruction. This habit may become so strong and contempt for instruction so confirmed, that all threats will go unheeded,” (p. 126, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition).

Not meaning what you say could look like this:

  • You let your child ride his bike in the street after you told him to stay on the sidewalk. You think, what’s the harm just this one time?
  • It’s 20 minutes past your child’s bedtime and you ask him if he wants to go to bed.
  • You don’t buy your child a cupcake after you previously agreed to the idea. Earlier you thought, why not? Now you think, no way.
  • You allow your toddler to climb the stairs by himself after your spouse has told him not to.
  • You tell your school-age child he is responsible for remembering his lunch and then bring it to him when he forgets.

When we don’t follow through, we cause confusion in the mind of the child. This confusion leads to pleading, negotiating and other verbal freedoms that your child will exhibit because he thinks he can change your mind. What’s worse, your child will begin to disrespect you for your lack of resolve.

Our children simply want to know what we expect of them. They want to know what the rules of the game are so they can play fairly. Lay out those rules for them clearly and consistently and they will comply.

The good news is that your child will have no problem with this principle. The onus with this one lies squarely on the parents’ shoulders. The bad news is that it is difficult to apply with 100% consistency. “Usually it is only mom and dad who struggle with it, because it calls parents to consistency. Children will rise to whatever level of parental resolve is present,” (p. 120-121, On Becoming Childwise).

Continually remind yourself of the importance of this principle. The more practice you get, the easier it will be. If your child tends to ignore you or whines and negotiates when you give an answer or instruction, start applying just this principle. This alone will change the way your child views your parental authority. Give it your all, and you will see results in a few short days.