If you missed part one, read it here.
The wisest of women builds her house,
but folly with her own hands tears it down (Prov. 14:1)
Cultivating Self-Control in my Children
My mom always said that there was no one she loved in the world like her kids, and she wanted other people to love her kids. That motivated her to teach us to be well behaved, because frankly, no one enjoys poorly behaved children. I found that to be tremendously motivating to me as a parent as well.
Nothing brings me more joy than to see other people enjoying my kids. I read a parenting book that put it another way; they said we want to raise our kids to be a blessing to others. A child with no self-control is certainly no blessing to anyone. And when they are with you constantly, it becomes well nigh unbearable. For Norman and I, teaching self-control has been one of the central premises of our parenting.
An infant learning to eat wants to throw his spoon on the floor. A one-year-old learns this ear-piercing, decibel shattering scream to signal his impatience. A baby dislikes having her diaper changed and screams and cries and fights her parents. A toddler wants to stick a fork in the light socket. A two year old cries or pouts when mom tells him what to do. Small kids throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. All of these behaviors exhibit a lack of self-control.
Very often, self-control exhibits itself as a correct, disciplined response to a difficult situation. We don’t really need self-control when everything is going great. Just like I needed self-control in the Menard’s parking lot, kids need self-control when responding to whatever it is in their environment that is frustrating them…their siblings, the toy that won’t work, sharing, or having to obey mom.
When training my kids, I have tried to think through behaviors that we have to do every day, day after day, multiple times a day. Going to the bathroom, changing diapers, getting dressed, eating, transitioning from one activity to the next. These are the situations in which self-control must be taught or the entire day becomes a battle.
Do you need your diaper changed 5-6 times a day? Then I will teach you to lie there happily while I do that, because that is self-control. Do you eat three times a day and have a couple of snacks? Then I need to teach you to use self-control in the high chair, because we are there five times a day.
I found that when my kids practiced self-control, our house was a fun place to be. There wasn’t screaming or meltdowns or tantrums. Sure there was wrong behavior and discipline, but it was dealt with in a calm and orderly fashion with reasonable amounts of tears, not screaming and yelling. An environment like that enabled me as a mom to focus on my own self control and not put myself in such a challenging environment with my kids all day that I was doomed to fail, worn down by the chaos and struggle and defiance.
I mentioned earlier that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. I do not want to sound as if I am elevating self-control above other very important attributes that we endeavor to encourage and cultivate in our children. Certainly it is incredibly important that we raise our children to be loving, kind, and patient! I highlight self-control because thinking in terms of self-control has helped me to identify behaviors that need correcting. If there was a doubt in my mind if the behavior was acceptable, I would ask myself, Is my kid exhibiting self-control in this behavior? If the answer was No, then I knew that was an area where my child needed training. For most of us as parents, we are always asking, Is this behavior ok? Or normal? Or is this something I should be doing something about?!
Of course, there is grace in all of this. If my child was disappointed because maybe we had to cancel an activity that he was greatly anticipating, I told him, “It is ok to be sad. I understand! However, it is not ok to throw a toy at your sister because you are sad. If you are sad, come sit in my lap and I will give you a hug and we will deal with sadness in a constructive way.” Or if they were frustrated and angry, I might say, “Go upstairs and lie down in your bed for a few minutes until you don’t feel so upset. Then we will talk.” I do that for myself all of the time; so why not teach my kids the same? I frequently tell my kids when I am irritated or angry or over tired: “Mom needs to go put herself in timeout!” I still joke about that with my teenage kids.
Including Students in Our Parenting
I remember one camping trip when we were on staff in Wisconsin. We had an unexpectedly large turnout for the event, there were a lot of new students we did not know, and we arrived late and were setting up in the dark.
As soon as we arrived, all of my kids disappeared and I had no idea where any of them had gone. About an hour later, a freshmen girl whom I had never met before came up to me and said, “Wow, your son sure does bite hard!” And then she proceeded to show me the teeth marks on her arm. I was mortified!! My kindergarten son had just bit a student!!! Talk about a lack of self-control!!!
As I replayed that incident in my mind, several things stood out to me. One, at the event, I lost track of my kids and had no idea where they were. Second, it was pitch dark out, and anyone could have done anything to my kids. Third, the students were playing really wildly with my kids. I am sure you can relate: the students wind them up and shake them around, then drop them and head off to do something else, and your kid is left hyper, bewildered and out of control. No wonder Tom had bit that student!! He was in an environment where it was completely beyond his ability to do the right thing. He did not get punished for that behavior; that was my fault.
After that event, I borrowed a page out of Vic and Lindy Black’s playbook (they were our Nav staff in college). Whenever we had an event like that, Norman would take the time to gather the students and coach them in instructive and positive ways to interact with our children. (i.e., please don’t pick them up and shake them. Talk to them! And give them a heads’ up when you are about to be done playing with them so they are not left so bewildered). We would also ask the students to come to us if they felt like our kids were misbehaving, and then we would deal with it. As the ministry grew larger and events got more chaotic, I would ask a few students whom I trusted to help me know where the kids were and who they were with…just to have a few extra pairs of eyes and ears to help out. And I am grateful to say, Tom has not bit anyone since kindergarten!!
Katie and Norm have been on staff since 1998 in WI and now minister in IL. This past year was her first year of parenting to not have a kiddo at home full time! They have been married for 20 years and have 4 children ages 7-18, 2 boys and 2 girls. Katie brings wonderful and focused perspective on what truly matters as she is battling breast cancer for the third time in 6 years.
What about you? How do you develop the special relationships between your student friends and your kids?What is in your “playbook” for developing self control in your little people, and helping others partner with you in this? Or share any other thoughts!