Kids are good at reminding us what they want. We constantly hear, “Daddy, watch this,” or “Mommy, Look what I can do.” This is a reminder of what a young child wants. They want your attention. They want you to look at them, not at a screen. They want your eyes. Don’t make them compete with your phone, TV, or Computer. Giving more attention to a device than you give to them is a stellar way to send them off looking for someone else that will pay attention to them. You can’t control who they’ll find to do so.
Here’s what I do: The main time I get to spend with my kids is after I get off work up until their bedtime (5:00-8:00 pm). I consider those hours to be time that belongs to my family. On weekdays/nights we keep the TV off, and I dogmatically avoid using my phone during that family time. I focus on being present with them. On weekends we do Movie nights from 5:00-8:00. We try to pick movies that we can watch together.
Be diligent to find ways to turn off the screens and pay attention to your kids. They need it.
I’ve often said 90% of raising children (especially young children) is just getting up and getting close. You have so much more interpersonal leverage when you’ve made an investment of movement. I have much more positive influence with my four-year-old when I’m kneeling right next to him and calmly reminding him of how I expect him to act, rather than blasting him with angry words from across the room. People who are in control don’t need to shout. A calm voice demonstrates that you are in control of yourself and the situation. We shout because we’re losing control, and we don’t want to get up from the recliner.
The good news is that the get-up requirement diminishes over time. If we make this investment of endless movement when our kids are young, then as they grow older a gentle word from across the room will be all that is needed. While they’re young you’ve got to be willing to get up and get close, or your parenting results will be mixed.
What I do: I let my proximity communicate the severity of the situation. If I’m giving a slight correction, I’ll do that from my chair. If I need to raise the intensity, I stand up and make eye contact, while doing my best to keep my voice calm. If I need to take it up a notch I walk over to the child and speak in direct short sentences, communicating my expectations very clearly. If we need to raise the stakes and take it to DEFCON five, I lean down and whisper in my child’s ear (more about that in a second). Notice how it was not the volume of my voice that communicated the intensity but my proximity? I get closer to them as the stakes rise.
We were in the mall the other day, and there was a family unit consisting of a few matriarchal figures (possibly a grandmother, aunt, and mother) and a bunch of out-of-control children. The main method for correcting their children was to shout profanity-laced threats. I was pretty certain that these threats were not really meant to correct the kid’s behavior but instead were intended to be heard by all the other parents who were sharing the public space. The children were used to doing whatever they wanted. But these matriarchs sensed that their children were getting on everyone else’s nerves so they screamed at them, to prove to everyone around them that they were in control. Though, their screaming actually communicated the exact opposite.
Do you ever loudly correct your kids in public for the purpose of letting other people hear? I get it. It’s tempting, but don’t do it. It makes the correction about you and the peer pressure you’re receiving, rather than about actually correcting your kids. It also comes at the cost of humiliating your kids. Allowing outside pressure to determine how you correct your child makes the correction inconsistent, unpredictable, and humiliating, and children can feel it. You don’t want them to obey because they’re humiliated, but because they respect your authority.
What I do: In most cases, I try to make my public correction of my kids as private as possible. When they’re really young this means carrying them to another room or outside to have a calm talk about their behavior. If they need a spanking. It happens in private, with just me and them. If it’s a minor correction I’ll lean over and whisper instructions in their ear. This allows them to retain their dignity and avoids humiliating them. I’ve found very good success with this method.
I see this all the time with kind-hearted parents speaking to young kids. Instead of saying, “Clean your room,” they may say, “Your room is really messy.” Instead of saying, “Stop jumping on the couch,” they may say, “You’re going to crack your head on the floor.”
It happens with me all the time. “Daddy, can I have a candy,” my son might say. I’m tempted to not directly answer his question but to jump right to a list of reasons why it’s a bad idea and leave the answer unspoken. Rather than directly saying “no,” I often find myself saying, “Well, Buddy, we haven’t had dinner yet, and candy isn’t good for your teeth, and if you have one then your sister will want one.”
Notice what I’ve done. I’ve given only reasons which support an implied but unspoken answer. It leaves the answer unstated and leaves the reasons arguable. This is a mistake.
First, it communicates that the answer, whatever it is, is negotiable. If I cite reasoning, rather than give direct inalienable instructions, what I’m inviting him to do is demolish my reasons and argue the case. He could say, “I promise to eat dinner, I’ll brush my teeth afterward, and I’ll get a piece for sister too.” Suddenly we’re in a negotiation. In this situation, I feel like he’s arguing, but in reality, I’ve invited him into the decision-making process by citing my reasons. I’ve invited him to consider and countermand my rationale, since I didn’t really give him an answer. It’s not fair for me to get mad at him for logically answering my reservations, but nonetheless, I’m suddenly mad because he’s “arguing.”
Why do we do this? We’re afraid to say the real reason. The real reason why he can’t have candy is because I say so. I’m in charge and he’s not. Under a different daddy, he could be allowed to eat guilt-free candy all day long, and that would be fine, but not under me. The reason he can’t is because I’ve decided. But we’re afraid to say that aren’t we? It sounds harsh. It sounds authoritarian. All the same, it’s the truth and we ought to be courageous enough to say it. Every time I give reasons with no direct answer, I’m being cowardly, I suspect you are too.
I know this is hard. I know that it sounds harsh, but give direct answers, and direct instructions and wait to give reasons until after they have obeyed, especially when they’re young. Here’s how that conversation could have gone.
“Daddy, can I have a piece of candy?”
“But why not?”
“Because that’s what I’ve decided.”
“But I want it.”
“I understand, Buddy, but Daddy’s decided no candy right now.”
If more questions follow, just keep repeating the same line with some form of, “I’ve decided” or “because I say so.” The reason why this is important is it gets right to the heart of the matter without confusing the issue with unimportant reasons. The heart of the issue is parental authority, and whether or not your child will challenge that position. If your child throws a fit, then you can deal with it as a separate incident, rather than it being mixed in with the candy issue.
What I do: I Give simple direct answers and direct instructions. They sound harsh sometimes, but kids are amazingly good at adapting to the communication style. I allow them to question my reasons only after the situation has passed and only after they’ve obeyed the instructions. This approach has brought about good results.
Sometimes parenting feels like you’ve been dropped onto a snowy-triple-black-diamond ski slope and you’re picking up speed. You’re going to want all the help you can get. Two through five on this list could be used to improve parenting by anyone, even unbelievers. However, number one is unique to believers. If you’ve believed in Jesus, there’s good news for you.
There are books, seminars, and parenting programs out there that all claim to fix whatever ails your parenting approach. All those are fine, but they don’t hold a candle to a parenting superpower that lives inside you (if you’re a believer).
Of course, you could choose to respond to your children in the flesh, and parent in the power of your own mind and body. But why wouldn’t you draw from the help God has already offered you? Believers have been gifted an immeasurable advantage in raising their kids. That is to say, it’s not automatic. There is something you have to do to access that power.
Believers are indwelled with the same all-powerful Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:11). That bunker-busting, monster-slaying, universe-creating Spirit can handle your need for patience, peace, and self-control. In fact, those spiritual superpowers are the Spirit’s specialty (Gal 5:22-23). All you have to do to get access to that parenting power is set your mind on things above (Col 3:2).
It’s no secret that parents who have a Godly mindset while raising their children experience more patience, joy, peace, love, and self-control. If you’re a believer you can improve your parenting immediately by simply setting your mind on things above.
I’m not talking about a general Godly mindset, like we go to church. I mean an acute, in-the-moment, situation-by-situation, God-focused, mindset.
What I do: When my kids are driving me crazy and I’m about to explode, I take a second to get my mind aligned with a Godly perspective. For me it’s usually most effective to say a quick, silent prayer like, “Lord, give me patience in how I respond to her,” or “Lord, help me to see this situation from your viewpoint,” or just “Lord, help me.” There are plenty of times I fail to do this, and in those situations I often fail as a decent dad. However, every time I say a quiet prayer, take a second to get my mind in a Godly place, and then faced the problem, I always come away from that interaction feeling good about how it went down. My kids do too.
All you have to do is get your mind in the right place, and God has promised to allow His Spirit to grow the fruit of patience, peace, and self-control right from your branches. Those are fruits your kids will love, and branches they can swing freely from.
If you’re a believer, you can start employing this method right away. See how it changes the dynamic in your home. If you’re not a believer, but you’d like to know more send me a message through our website, or take a look at some of the content we have in our Salvation collection.