Parenting Inside the Funnel

By Emily Parker at The Journey Of Parenthood

funnelMy biggest struggle so far as a parent is resisting the tendency to parent outside the funnel with my children. Toddlerwise reiterates the importance of avoiding this on page 36: “By ‘outside the funnel’ we are referring to those times when parents allow behaviors that are neither age-appropriate nor in harmony with a child’s moral and intellectual capabilities. To allow a 15-month-old child freedoms appropriate for a 2-year-old, or a 2-year-old child freedoms suitable for his 5-year-old sister, is to parent outside the funnel. Such freedoms do not facilitate healthy learning patterns – they only contribute to confusion.”

When Kye, my now four-year-old son, was my only child I didn’t struggle as much with this issue. The only time I really found myself parenting outside of the funnel was when he first developed the ability to use language. As he was more and more able to express his wants and desires, I caught myself giving him more control and asking him what he wanted, thus putting him in a position of power over me. By giving him too many choices (freedoms) I caused confusion for him which lead to behavior issues. At meal time he’d say he wanted more raisins and I would give him more raisins. But then he’d ask for more raisins and I’d want him to eat his beans first and we’d end up in a power struggle because he was used to making the decision as to what he’d eat.

Thankfully, I realized early on that this was something I struggled with and I took back over the control of meal times as well as all other areas of decision making. There aren’t too many age-appropriate decisions for a toddler to make, right? ;)

Once I had Britt, my daughter, it became much, much harder to parent her within the funnel. Instead of just one funnel to worry about, I now have two. In every situation I have to think about what is age-appropriate for a four-year-old (Kye) and what is age-appropriate for a 20-month-old (Britt). My struggle typically becomes allowing her too much freedom and treating her older than she really is.

Recently Kye became old enough to handle eating whole grapes without me cutting them up into slices for him. Britt naturally wanted her grapes whole as well since that’s how her brother’s were, and she would fuss and fuss about it at lunch time. I gave in, thinking (as I often do with her) that it “wasn’t fair” for her to see him getting something different than she was. However, it’s not age-appropriate for a 20-month-old to eat whole grapes. It’s dangerous and not something I feel comfortable with. I had to have a reality check and remind myself that I am the parent and SHE is the child. Things won’t always be fair nor should they be and that it is okay for her to fuss about getting sliced grapes instead of the whole ones. I went back to cutting hers into quarters and she was FINE about it. Barely any fussing at all and I knew she was eating in a safer way.

I have to often remind myself of the funnel and literally stop what I’m doing and consider whether or not something is age-appropriate for each of my children. Kye being the older child I think I often tend to not allow him freedoms when he is ready for them whereas with Britt being the second child I think I allow her too many freedoms too soon.

DSC06416I also catch myself expecting more from Britt than I should. I have to remind myself of the funnel not only to make sure I have age-appropriate freedoms for Britt, but also age-appropriate expectations. We require Kye to always reply with either “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am” and naturally we expect Britt to respond the same way. Hearing her say “no” gets under my skin and I find myself irritated with her for not saying “no ma’am.” At her age she doesn’t have the language ability to say “no ma’am” so instead of expecting her to say it, I simply repeat “no ma’am” to her every time she says “no.” She has started to be able to say “no ma’am” and we are mindful to shower her with praise whenever she does! At four years old, Kye is expected to say it without any praise but at her age, she needs the praise to be encouraged to say it every time!

Whenever in doubt I refer back to page 36 in Toddlerwise and keep the following equations in mind:

1. Freedoms greater than self control = developmental confusion
2. Freedoms less than self-control = developmental frustration
3. Freedoms equal to self-control = developmental harmony

Thankfully, Kye is not yet at an age where us withholding certain freedoms from him is an issue. I typically will handle sibling issues by lowering Kye’s freedoms down to ones that are more age appropriate for Britt. Kye has a lot of board games he enjoys playing but many of them have small pieces and also require deeper understanding and patience that Britt just can’t handle yet. Kye knows we don’t play with those games while Britt is awake and instead Zach (my husband) and I will play a game of Kye’s choosing each night during the fifteen minutes between when Britt goes to bed and when Kye goes to bed. He is still able to enjoy his age-appropriate game but without it affecting Britt’s ability to stay within her appropriate limits.

I know that Kye does sacrifice for his younger sister in many areas and I’m always mindful of that. I make a special effort to always compliment him and to give him plenty of opportunities to enjoy his well earned four-year-old status freedoms. We go get ice cream just the two of us quite often, I allow him to have some quiet time in his room with his preschooler age toys before she wakes from her afternoon nap, and he attends a half-day preschool where he’s around other children his age every day!

With two children, parenting within the funnel is definitely a greater challenge than it ever was with just one child. I know as we add more children to our family eventually that I will have to readjust and always be mindful of what limits, freedoms and expectations are appropriate for each child at their given ages. I understand how important parenting inside the funnel is at any age and try to always have it at the front of my mind when making any parenting decisions.

Has Your Child Earned All Freedoms?


The idea that our kids need to earn their freedoms is so crucial to the Babywise way of raising our kids. We cannot give our kids certain freedoms without making sure they can handle those freedoms.

How do we determine whether we should allow a certain freedom? Many parents award freedoms based on the child’s age. We think, He’s 5 now. He’s old enough to cross the street without holding my hand. Or she’s 7 now. She should be old enough to take care of a pet. But do we stop to actually think about the child’s level of responsibility? Is the 5-year-old responsible enough to stop and look both ways before crossing the street every single time? Is the 7-year-old responsible enough to fill a pet’s food and water bowls and do it every day without reminders?

When we decide whether our kids have earned certain freedoms, we should determine whether they are responsible enough, not old enough. You might even find that your younger child is more responsible in certain areas than your older child. It’s perfectly normal.

Before I get into certain types of freedoms we should evaluate, let me take a minute to explain why this is so important. Essentially, our kids need to learn how to make decisions. And to learn anything, we need to take baby steps. To open the world up to a child and allow him to choose everything from what shirt he wears to whether he’ll do his homework is just too much for a young child. This is how the Ezzos put it:

“[There is] a legitimate concern that warns against creating the false impression in the mind of a child that she is able to do anything, say anything, and go anywhere without parental guidance or approval. Simply put, this is a child who has been granted too many freedoms of self-governance too early, and this is how children become ‘wise in their own eyes.’ It is our firm conviction, based on our observations, that more conflicts arise out of this ‘wise in your own eyes’ attitude than any other single factor in parenting,'” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 180).

Pretty powerful stuff, huh? Let’s take a minute to look at a few areas of freedoms that we might be tempted to award our children without ensuring responsibility:

Physical Boundaries

I’ve been a long-time proponent of the idea that our kids should not be allowed to roam the house, no matter how old they are. When we allow our kids to roam the house, they get the idea that every room in the house and everything in it is there for the taking. Before we implemented this rule, William would root through my bathroom drawers, wander upstairs by himself, and even go into the backyard without asking permission. Now, my kids know they are to ask permission to go anywhere but the main downstairs area.

Now at age 8, William has earned the freedom to go upstairs without me, but he still tells me or checks in before he does. I’ll allow him to take a shower (upstairs) by himself. But I have to make sure Lucas doesn’t go with him. Lucas has not earned the freedom to be upstairs by himself or without a parent. If he’s up there with William, they often wreak havoc.


As odd as this may sound, our kids need to earn the freedom to choose what to do with their time. Before they learn the value of managing time, our kids will certainly choose to play all day and not do a single chore or bit of homework. I’ll be the first to tell you that our kids certainly need time to play. It is through play that our kids learn. It is through the imagination (which flourishes in play) that our kids learn to be creative and think critically. But we need to manage our kids’ time for them so they learn the value of time management. They need to learn that it’s usually far better to get your work done first and then play.

Plus, if you’ve been a Babywise parent, you’ve learned that directing our kids’ lives is so beneficial to their development. Keeping them on a schedule and directing their time tells our kids that they don’t get to choose to do whatever they want whenever they want. They learn that they are held accountable to the parents’ expectations.


Yes, our kids need to earn freedoms when it comes to play. There are many aspects of my kids’ playtime that I direct:

1) Sibling playtime

2) Independent playtime

3) Play with friends and neighbors

4) Outdoor play

5) Exercise through play

6) Video game play

My kids are allowed free play, but I will tell them when it’s time to play outside, when it’s time to ride their bikes, and when it’s time to play with friends. And they must earn freedoms and show responsibility even when it comes to play. During free play, they are not allowed to trash the playroom. I don’t limit the amount of toys they can have out at once. But they have earned this freedom simply because they know they need to put toys away as they go.

Sibling playtime is also a freedom they need to continually prove responsibility for. If they say nasty things to each other or don’t share, they lose the freedom to play with each other. And for my boys, this is one of the most severe punishments I can give. My boys love each other so much and hate playing alone.

Playtime with friends is also a freedom my boys need to earn. There are always kids out playing on our street (when the weather isn’t too bad). And many of them will come to the door to invite my kids out. I allow my kids to go when the neighbors are out, but I watch their play closely. If one of my boys speaks rudely to another child, I’ll give a warning. If it happens again, I make the child play by himself or go in the house. Playing with friends is a skill they need to learn, and I’m not going to just let them figure it out on their own.

And as you might guess, I limit video game play quite a bit. It’s only allowed on the weekends, and my boys need to have cleaned up their toys before they are allowed to play. If the video games cause anger or violence in the child, I turn it off. They need to learn how to play video games and not let it negatively affect their disposition.

These are probably the top three areas where we find we need to limit our kids’ freedoms. Think through each one to determine whether your child has any freedoms he needs to earn. If you have given a freedom that the child hasn’t earned, don’t be afraid to take it away. Our kids go through phases where they are responsible for a certain freedom and then they stop being so responsible. Freedoms come and go with the child’s level of responsibility.

Make Problems Smaller


Does your child ever flounder with a task because it seems too monumental to overcome? Whenever any of us faces a task that seems too large to bear, we struggle to even get started. As adults, we can compartmentalize our tasks so they don’t seem so overwhelming. We may have four hampers overflowing with dirty laundry and think it’ll never get done. But after we sort, we can see it as 5 loads, split over 2 days, for example.  Not so bad.

Most of the time, our kids don’t have this ability to compartmentalize. If they are faced with a huge task, they freeze at the mere sight of it. This typically comes into play with clean-up. I don’t require my boys to play with one toy at a time. I like the creativity they find in putting a Lego guy into a dinosaur’s mouth, for example. But when their free play time is over, they know they need to clean it all up.

If they can’t compartmentalize, I’ll talk them through it. I’ll say, first clean up the Legos. Then clean up the cars, and so on. Taking it step by step, we get it all done.

But recently, I noticed that the Legos were becoming too much to bear, even for me. We have a giant bin of Legos, but my boys would want to keep all of their current favorites out of the bin. Any time I put one of their favorites in the bin, they acted like I put it in the garbage. It was lost forever in their minds. The bin was too big to dump out, and there were too many to sort through to find that one little Lego.

Rather than having their favorites spread out all over the playroom, we agreed that a Ziploc bag would work. But then that bag got to be a problem. My boys got lazy with sorting their Legos and would throw any Lego that was on the floor into the bag. They clearly weren’t keeping just their favorites in that bag. But we still didn’t have a solution.

That is, until recently, when I was so fed up by it all that I dumped out the entire bin and sorted out the Legos that I thought were their favorites. They received two lunch boxes for Christmas, and they were perfect. I put all the minifigures in one box and all the specialty pieces in another box. A smaller, third box holds all of the tools and weapons (that I may take away entirely).

The rest of the plain Legos are in the bin, put away in my office. They aren’t allowed to have them. You see, I’m making sure the amount of Legos they have are sitting with them happily in their funnels. They can easily clean up these three boxes of Legos. They can easily sort them and put them away without it seeming like a monumental task. I’ve made our problem much smaller, so much so that it’s no longer a problem.

There have been one or two occasions when they ask for the other Legos, and I simply say no. They can’t have them back until I see a good two weeks or so of consistent Lego clean-up.

This idea of making problems smaller applies to many other areas of our lives as well. Say a child has a nasty attitude after watching an hour of TV. Simple. You cut it back to 30 minutes or take it away altogether for a little while. Say every time you bring out playdough, bits of it end up all over the floor. You cut the amount of playdough in half until the child can manage it better. Find a way to cut down any problem that seems to lie outside the child’s funnel until it’s no longer a problem.

Holiday Behavior Problems?


How was Thanksgiving? Did your children handle the day with grace and gratitude? Or did you uncover new behavior problems amidst the holiday hubbub? It’s not unusual, particularly when we spend the holiday with many friends and family members, for our kids to act uncharacteristically.

There are several issues that contribute to this problem. As much as we may attempt to keep life consistent, big holidays often disrupt the routine, causing sleep and meal disruptions. The kids may get more sugar than usual. They may go to bed later than usual. They may sleep less soundly if they’re not in their own beds. (My kids sleep on the floor at Grandma’s house.) They might get too much attention from family members. Our usual parenting tactics may get disrupted, either on our own accord (being lax), or comments from others may undermine our efforts.

No matter the specific cause, we are left to deal with children who are not themselves. Whether they are showing behavior problems or attitude issues, our kids are behaving uncharacteristically. This can confuse the most well-meaning parent. What do we do with this child we don’t recognize? And how do we deal with behavior problems we’ve never encountered before?

The most important idea to remember is that you will have to put effort into retraining your child. Whether the child has picked up bad behavior habits from others or has created some of his own, commit to retraining those bad behaviors right out of him. If your lives were only disrupted for a day or two, you might only require that much retraining time. If you were out of town for a week or longer, the behavior problems will be more deeply ingrained, and you’ll likely need more time for retraining.

Now, you may also be thinking ahead to Christmas. If your family is like mine, the time spent with friends and family over Christmas is similar to Thanksgiving, only on a larger scale. Again, you may need to retrain your child. But if you’d like to prevent behavior problems from occurring during Christmas festivities, rather than retrain after the fact, you’ll need to address your child’s specific needs. For example, if your child is an introvert and there are 20 people in your house, you may give the child an extra room time session to help him gather the energy to face all the people.

A few considerations to prevent holiday behavior problems include:

  • Keep meals as consistent as possible, even if that means feeding the child before or after the main family meal. Set alerts on your phone for meals, snacks and nap times.
  • Keep bed and nap times as consistent as possible. It can be difficult to get children to bed at their normal bedtimes when so many others stay up hours later, but sleep is the top consideration when facing behavior and attitude problems.
  • Limit sugar. Allow the child a Christmas cookie or two, but not much more.
  • Limit food dyes.
  • Do your best not to relax too much during the holidays. Take turns with your spouse and do all you can to stay consistent and follow through on your word.
  • Limit the child’s freedoms. If he’s not allowed to wander the house at home, he shouldn’t be allowed to do so at Grandma’s.
  • Consider the child’s personality. If he’s an introvert, give him some quiet, alone time.
  • Consider the child’s love language. If he thrives on words of encouragement from you and you spend all day talking to adult relatives, he may act up.

If, despite your best efforts, your child shows behavior problems, act on them before they escalate. Deal with whining before it escalates into a tantrum. Deal with grumpiness before it turns into a fight with a family member. Keep your eye on your child, and quietly and politely excuse yourselves if you need to discipline him. Then commit to retraining him when you get home.

Happy holidays! :)

Stop behavior problems before they happen


One of the most important considerations in parenting is prevention. I cannot stress enough how much prevention can save your sanity and induce compliance in your child.

“Prevention is the best form of correction,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are several parenting tactics that allow you to prevent behavior problems before they happen. Some of these tactics include:

As important all of these factors are–and, make no mistake, they are important–there is one factor that really drives prevention: freedoms. Avoid trouble by limiting access to items that aren’t within the child’s realm of responsibility (like the markers in the photo above).

I discussed the idea of having your child ask for permission. That’s one way to limit a child’s freedoms. As you go about your day, think through possible freedoms your child has (or takes on his own) that could be getting him into trouble.

“You should continually evaluate what you allow your child to do and whether those freedoms are appropriate considering his age, understanding, and abilities. Are you giving him inappropriate freedoms?

Let freedoms be handed out carefully as the child demonstrates contentment with your authority and responsibility in previous freedoms given. Granting freedoms consistent with a child’s level of self-control equals developmental harmony.

Freedoms come gradually: from the playpen, to the backyard, to the neighborhood, to the world at large. As your child demonstrates responsible behavior and sound judgment, he earns another level of freedom. This type of training results in a child who is a joy to everyone and who has achieved a sense of affirmation within himself,” (On Becoming Childwise).

What more could we want? Make sure your child’s freedoms are equal to his level of responsibility (not his age), and always focus on prevention. As always, if behavior problems are avoided altogether, that’s less disciplining and correcting that you need to do.

Have them ask for permission


It can be so incredibly important and effective to have our children ask for permission as they go about their days. If you have a child who tends to roam the house at will or who takes far too many verbal freedoms, having him ask for permission can immediately curb attitude issues.

I first learned the importance of this when I was on the phone with my contact mom one day (when William was about 3). He had started to put his boots on to go out into the backyard, and I asked her whether she thought that was okay. She said, “Did he ask for permission?” Of course he hadn’t, and I quickly realized that was at the root of many of our problems. He was just taking freedoms at will, and we never stopped to have him ask.

“Do you let your three-year-old go into the backyard to play without asking permission? Do you let your five-year-old decide for herself when she can go next door to play with her friend? Think through your day. How many times do you hear your child say, ‘Mom, I’m going to…’ rather than, ‘Mom, may I…?’ Is your child asking you to do things or just telling you what he’s going to do?” (On Becoming Childwise).

“The child who customarily tells you what she is going to do is assuming a level of decision-making freedom which she may or may not have. And if this continues, it is because her parents have allowed her to take this ground and hold it,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are two great benefits of having your child ask for permission. First, it prevents problems before they occur. Rather than having to discipline a child for taking a freedom after the fact, you can stop the child from taking the freedom in the first place. Second, it allows you time to decide whether you will allow the child the freedom.

There is nothing wrong with letting your child have certain freedoms. The problem lies with who ultimately decides what he can and cannot do.

“There is a simple technique you can use to keep this problem at bay. Have your child ask permission rather than informing you of his decision…. Seeking permission helps a child realize his dependence on your leadership. It also helps prevent a child from becoming wise in his own eyes,” (On Becoming Childwise).

If you never require your child to ask for permission, he will assume that it means he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. We all know this cannot be healthy.

The Ezzos caution us that we must always follow through when our response to a request is a “no.”

“One warning: this technique will only work if you actually play your parental role. If your child asks permission to go next door and you say no, you may witness a case of spontaneous combustion right there in your living room [especially if you’re new to this rule.] If the child throws a tantrum (or threatens to in front of your company) and you give in, you haven’t made an adjustment at all. The child is still telling you what he’s going to do—you’ve just changed the vocabulary,” (On Becoming Childwise).

You will have to decide what you will require them to ask permission for. But if in doubt, have them ask. Many times, when my kids start to do something, I stop them and have them ask. I may still go ahead and say “yes,” but it makes it clear to them that they aren’t the ones to decide.

Understand how important this simple technique can be. It can eliminate attitude issues almost immediately, and is very effective in ensuring the child doesn’t think he’s running the show. If you do nothing else, start implementing this right away!

First-time obedience: first things first


First-time obedience (FTO) is a phrase you commonly hear in Babywise 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.

First-time obedience is important for many reasons including:

  • It sets clear expectations for the child.
  • If you teach obedience, you don’t have to teach anything else.
  • It helps you decide when a correction is necessary; disobedience is disobedience.
  • It teaches your child to obey your word and not rely on bribes or rewards for motivation.
  • It teaches your child to submit to your authority and adopt an attitude of submission when obedience is required.
  • When your life is not fraught with disobedience, your days are happier and your relationship with your child grows stronger.
  • If you teach moral values (through obedience) when he’s little, you give yourselves many years of a trusting, loving relationship.

What does first-time obedience look like?

First-time obedience is a fairly simple to identify. Here’s what it looks 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?

Would your child be characterized by first-time obedience? Be honest with yourself. Do any of the following go on in your home?

  • Your child ignores you when you call his name. Or worse, he runs away when you call.
  • You repeat your instruction 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.
  • 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 bribe your child with stickers, marbles, pennies, or promises for ice cream to get him to obey.
  • You guilt your child into complying with your instructions.
  • You beg your child to obey.
  • You and your child end the day frustrated and stressed out.

Don’t worry if you recognize any of these scenarios. I’ve been there and I’m here to help!

First things first: Ezzo fundamentals

By now you’re probably convinced of the value of first-time obedience. It’s so very promising for us as parents and for the moral and ethical health of our children. Now, are you ready to put in the effort to make it a reality?

The first thing you need to do as you attempt to instill first-time obedience in your child is forget the idea altogether. Yes, you heard me right. Set it aside for now. There is a much bigger foundation you must lay before your FTO work can even begin. I realize that it’s tempting to jump into first-time obedience training with both feet, but I promise that it will be much more difficult if you don’t implement the Ezzo fundamentals first.

Make your marriage a 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 must come first. As Ezzo says in On Becoming Childwise, “Great marriages make great parents,” (page 43). Your marriage is the ground upon which your child stands. Practice couch time to proactively show your child that you value your marriage. Also be sure to maintain your roles as husband and wife, not just mom and dad.

Avoid child-centered parenting

Too often, once a child is brought into the marriage, parents focus extensively on the child. Though it is often done in the name of good parenting, child-centered parenting actually does more harm than good. Instead of integrating the child into the family as a welcome member of the family, they make the child the center of their world. This creates within the child a false sense of self-reliance. The child becomes wise in his own eyes and attitude issues run rampant.

Schedule your child’s day

When you direct your child’s activities, you drastically reduce the risk that he will be bored and stir up trouble. Create a daily schedule that includes activities like nap time, quiet reading time, independent play time (room time or playpen time), sibling play time, outside time, and more.

Establish your funnel

Envision a funnel or inverted cone. At the bottom, the opening is narrow. This represents the freedoms you allow your child when he is young. As he grows (in maturity and chronologically), you increase those freedoms. Keep your child in that funnel. Don’t allow your two-year-old to roam the house at will or require your 12-year-old to keep his hand on the cart at the grocery store. Make sure freedoms are age-appropriate and award new freedoms based on responsibility, not age.

Say what you mean; mean what you say

Trite as they may be, these eight simple words have great power over your first-time obedience training. The underlying principle of “say what you mean; mean what you say” is that you clearly communicate to your child what you expect of him and follow through on every word you say. Take your time before you speak and be sure that whatever you say are words you can stand by. The Ezzos say, “Never give a command unless you intend for it to be obeyed,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 126.)

Teach your child to ask for permission

If you have a child who roams the house or goes into the backyard at will, you will greatly benefit from this simple technique. Having your child ask for permission stops behavior problems in their tracks! You can even teach a non-verbal child to do the sign for “please” to ask for permission.

Encourage and love your child

There are parents who feel that they desperately need first-time obedience because they spend their days yelling at and barking orders at their children. Frustration is the name of the game. These parents often skip to the discipline section of the book in an attempt to nip behavior problems in the bud. But let me be clear: love and encouragement go a LONG way toward improving your child’s behavior. So be sure to encourage through praise, spontaneous rewards, physical affection, and goal incentives; and speak your child’s love language to make sure he is receiving your love. Most important, enjoy and have fun with your child!

Be intentional in your parenting

Planning and intent are key to establishing first-time obedience:

  • Start as you mean to go on. Don’t start a habit you won’t want to continue.
  • Read, read, read!
  • Understand why you do what you do. Ignore parenting experts whose theories don’t make sense to you. (Many of them offer only short-term fixes anyway.)
  • Create a discipline plan and decide on consequences ahead of time.
  • Work with your spouse to identify the values you wish to instill in your children.
  • Identify the behaviors you’d like to see in your children. Set the bar high but also be realistic in your expectations!
  • Keep your attitude in check. Find a tone that communicates that you want your child to succeed in first-time obedience, but that you hold authority over him if he doesn’t.
  • Be sure you understand the difference between childishness and foolishness. Always give your child the benefit of the doubt if you’re unsure.
  • Model for your child what you expect from him. Avoid hypocrisy at all costs.
  • You are your child’s teacher. Never forget that all discipline takes place to teach a lesson.

Don’t forget attitude

External compliance is great but it’s not our ultimate goal. Compliance with a happy, submissive heart is our ultimate goal. If your child complies with your instruction but sulks off after, make him do it over. Discipline for attitude just as much as you would for behavior problems.

Begin first-time obedience training

Once this all-important foundation has been laid, you can move on to your first-time obedience training. Understand that first-time obedience is a skill your child needs to learn. It will be difficult at first, especially if your child is used to ignoring you, but the payoff will be so rewarding.

Stay tuned for specifics on first-time obedience training. In the meantime, explore the links above to learn more about each layer of your parenting foundation.


The new year offers a new start

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. What resolutions have you made? Despite all the failed resolutions I’ve made over the years, I feel particularly inspired this year. Yes, January 1st is just another day, but I’m choosing to see the new year as a fresh start.

I’ve decided that many of my former resolutions failed because they weren’t specific enough. This year, I decided to forgo the usuals: exercise more, lose weight, be healthy. This year, I’m being specific. I’m giving up soda. Completely. Cold turkey. I’m doing it primarily because it’s a healthy thing to do, but I also hope that I’ll shed a few pounds.

While making healthy choices is important, the new year also gives us a chance to make new parenting resolutions. It’s a great time to take stock, reset our goals and make sure we’re on track.

So in the spirit of the new year and the fresh start it affords, consider the following:

Reevaluate your parenting goals. Be specific. Don’t say, “improve first-time obedience.” Say, “have my child respond with ‘yes, mommy’ three out of five times in the day.”

Evaluate your schedule. Is it still working? If you’re having a hard time sticking with it, pare it down.

Take stock of your child’s freedoms. Does he have too many? Too few? His freedoms should grow, not as he ages, but as he shows more responsibility.

Revise your discipline plan. Make sure your child’s most chronic behaviors are at the top of the list. Add new ones as you tackle the old ones.

Pledge to do couch time. Make your marriage a priority. Set a specific day, time and place. Be realistic and shoot for three nights a week if you can’t do five.

Evaluate your attitude. Are you encouraging your child enough? Correction must be balanced by encouragement.

Vow to be consistent. Nobody’s perfect. We all slip sometimes. Just remember this: Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Have fun. While our job as parents is to train and teach our children, we can’t forget to live in the moment. Play and be silly with your child. Before you know it, your toddler will be in preschool, your preschooler in elementary school and your teenager in college.

Here’s to a fresh start and a fruitful 2011! Happy New Year!

Funnel Pitfall #4: You don’t consider social situations

Most of the time, we think about how our child’s behaviors affect the immediately family and our home. We often fail to think about how our parenting will affect the child and our friends and family members in social situations. Yet these social situations are the true test of your child’s obedience and your own endurance as a parent. By keeping your child in the funnel at home, you will be able to face the most difficult of social situations with ease.

Think about what happens when you don’t consider social situations. You may have an idea that allowing your toddler free access to the kitchen cupboards is outside the funnel but you allow it anyway. You have chosen to keep only plastic or unbreakable items in the lower cabinets so allowing this freedom is no problem, right? Wrong. What happens when you go to Grandma’s house? My guess is Grandma doesn’t have only plastic items in her lower cabinets. She likely doesn’t have locks on them either. So your toddler promptly opens Grandma’s kitchen cabinet, grabs a large glass bowl and drops it on the floor. Glass flies everywhere. Your child is in danger. Grandma is upset that her favorite glass bowl is broken. And you want to hide away in embarrassment.

If you hadn’t allowed your child to access the kitchen cabinets at home, he wouldn’t have even attempted to open them at Grandma’s house. Even the youngest toddlers know a kitchen cabinet when they see one, whether it’s at home or at Grandma’s. If you make all cabinets off limits at home, he will know not to open them anywhere else.

This idea applies to many objects and scenarios you might encounter in social situations. Think about the following:

•    You think it’s cute when your child puts all the couch cushions on the floor and makes a trampoline out of them. Do you think your friend would find this so cute at her house?

•    Your child has a tendency to bang your cell phone on the coffee table, but both are old and indestructible so you figure it’s no big deal. What happens when he does the same with the phones at the store?

•    You allow your child free access to your books and photo albums but always watch him super closely when he’s looking at them. But what happens when you’re distracted by adult conversation and he starts tearing up your friend’s photo albums?

•    You always answer your child immediately and allow him to interrupt your conversations at home. What happens at the doctor’s office when you need to maintain your focus on a complicated subject and the doctor is looking at his watch?

But even worse than allowing your child to be destructive and disruptive is the likelihood that you’ll discipline your child when these things happen. That’s simply unfair and confusing to the child. How is he to know that he’s allowed certain freedoms at home but nowhere else? How can you expect him to interrupt politely when you haven’t taught him how to do so at home?

My own parenting was recently put to the test in a few social situations. We just got back from a visit to my mom’s house. Her house is pretty kid-friendly but she was hosting a party. The kids were allowed to be there, but she made it clear that she wouldn’t be giving any consideration to their needs. There were drinking glasses on a shelf a few inches from the ground. The front door was left wide open so people could go in and out. And I was socializing with party guests. Was I afraid that my kids would trash the house or harm themselves? Not at all. Because I have prepared them at home, they know how to behave. Is it ever okay that they play with glasses even when they’re in plain sight? No. Is it ever okay that they go out into the street by themselves? No. There was one occasion when Lucas (now 21 months) wanted to go into the cul-de-sac where a few adults were standing. From the other end of a long driveway, I called his name. He then promptly stopped and turned around.

We have also been spending a lot of time at the pool for William’s swimming lessons. Lucas will either sit patiently in the stroller the whole time or if I allow him to walk around, I’m not worried that he’ll fall into the pool. At one point, he was standing just a few inches from the edge of the pool. I could tell the other parents were a little concerned (especially since I was a few feet away), but I just called his name and told him to move away and he did. Because I have taught him to obey me and have kept him in the funnel at home, I don’t need to worry about him when we’re out.

The truth of the matter is that we can modify our homes as much as we want to suit the child, but we simply cannot modify the world to suit them. The answer is to prepare your child for social situations, not the reverse. And to prepare your child for the world, you must keep him in the funnel. You simply cannot think through every social situation that might possibly happen at some point in the future and attempt to prepare him that way. And you shouldn’t have to avoid social situations simply because you’re afraid of how your child will react. Don’t waste your valuable babysitter hours to go grocery shopping simply because your child wreaks havoc in the store. Don’t cancel visits with friends because you can’t trust your child to behave in their house. And don’t let grandparents be worried about letting you over to their house. They shouldn’t have to fear for their belongings every time you come over.

Teach your child at home how he should behave. Be proactive with what you will and won’t allow your child to do. Keep him in the funnel at home and he’ll know how to handle himself in social situations.

Funnel Pitfall #3: You don’t require your child to ask for permission

One of the most important things you can do to keep your child inside the funnel is to require him to ask for permission. If you’re ever unsure as to whether your child should be engaging in a particular activity, have him ask for your permission first.

My contact mom taught me this concept when we first started implementing the Ezzo principles. We were on the phone talking about William’s behaviors and I mentioned that he was putting on his rain boots to go outside. By then, he could open the sliding glass door by himself and before I knew it, he was outside playing on the deck. I asked her if she thought it was okay that he go outside on the deck by himself, and she asked if he had asked for permission first. Of course, he hadn’t, and I couldn’t believe I had skipped such an important step in my parenting.

Here are some signs you need to have your child ask for permission:

  • It’s very quiet in the other room and you discover your child elbow-deep in playdough…on the carpet!
  • Your child goes out back (or front!) by himself.
  • Your child pulls out bubbles and other messy crafts at will.
  • You’re playing outside and he pulls out his bike, scooter, soccer ball and tennis racket. By the time he’s done, the entire neighborhood is scattered with your belongings.
  • Whenever the mood strikes, your child rummages through the pantry or refrigerator for a snack.
  • Your child acts like the house is his playground. He is allowed free access to any room.

Think about the things your child does that nag at you a bit. If that little voice of intuition is speaking to you, it means something. Take note of that feeling and make a list of activities your child will need to ask for permission first. These will often be activities that he is allowed to do (like the playdough) but on a limited basis (not on the carpet!) or only under your supervision.

Sit down with your child at a time of non-conflict and explain to him what asking for permission means. Show him the importance of getting your eye contact when asking for permission and waiting patiently for an answer before he moves forward.

The great thing about having your child ask you for permission is that it gives you time to decide whether you should allow a particular freedom. Rather than letting something go because he didn’t ask or disciplining after he has already started, having him ask for permission will allow you to think through whether it is an activity you want to allow. It prevents any problems or frustrations before they arise.

The other nice thing about this concept is that you don’t have to make everything 100% off limits. There should be certain things that are completely off-limits, but if there is something you think your child will grow into or if there are activities that take more time than others, having your child ask for permission first will give you the opportunity to allow those freedoms at some times and not others. It allows you to maintain control over your child’s activities.

After working on this for almost two years, William does a good job of asking for permission. Our problem now is that he will often tell me he is going upstairs or whatever it is rather than asking me. I will stop him and say, “Are you asking me or telling me?” It’s my little reminder that he needs to ask for permission before he goes.

Even your non-verbal toddler can ask for permission. Teach him the sign for please and have him look at you and point to the activity or toy he wants while signing please. Now that Lucas is walking, I will start reinforcing this idea. I might even teach him to come get me and bring me to the toy if I’m in another room.

Having your child ask for permission is one of those key concepts that prevents disobedience from your child. Use it often!