Here are some thoughts on teaching our children to obey us cheerfully, rather than grudgingly. As a side note, one of our favorite resources that talks about this subject is the audio cd series called Biblical Childrearing by Doug Wilson. Anyway, on to the thoughts for today:
1. Our most important way of teaching our children to submit cheerfully is example. This starts at the top and manages to work its way downward without fail. For example, perhaps we are noticing our children “grumbling” to obey. If we honestly think about it, I may realize I've been doing that with Matt, and perhaps he may realize he's been doing it with bosses at work. We must first seek to discipline our own hearts to respond with grace to the discipline of the Lord in our lives, and, as wives, to the desires of our husbands (as they are our God-given head). As we learn to do our work heartily and with joy, this will spill over to our children.
2. I must seek to be consistent in disciplining our childrens' poor responses to our instructions. I've heard it said that if a child is disciplined for something nine times, then gets away with it the tenth time, he will continue to do it for that one in ten chance. Now, I know I am not nearly as consistent as I ought to be in training, and that little formula does not take into account God's grace in our training, but it makes a good point. If we consistently rebuke our children for disobedience (and I include “grumpy obedience” in this category), they will learn much more quickly to obey cheerfully. Some days this will take repeated times of discipline, but we as parents must prevail in this, for the good of our children. When I ask my daughter to do something (tidy the toys in the living room for a recent example), if she does not: 1: start right away; 2: do it all diligently; and 3. do it happily, she will be disciplined, forgiven, kissed and hugged, then sent back to try again (most of the time they still must complete the task; occasionally I will no longer require it- like if they really need to go to bed, or I realize they aren't feeling well or something). We had to go through this process about three times today, but the fruit in the end was the “peaceful fruit of righteousness”, which the Bible speaks of. If I have to discipline repeatedly for something, I do try to later have some extra snuggle time with that daughter. And for something like bedtime (or really anything) if a child is calmly and loving disciplined every time they disobey (by talking in bed for example), the rod (sometimes called a “wisdom worker”) will drive the folly away – they will learn to obey!
3. I try not to give instructions that will overwhelm my girls, thus provoking them to sin. If, like today, the living room is a big mess, I try to break it up for her and give her a simpler task than to tidy it all up. For example, today I asked her to do three things: put the pillows back on the couch, put the books away, and put the blocks in the box. Or I try to help, have sisters help, or at least be right there encouraging her, so she won't be frustrated by her task.
4. I must discipline myself before I discipline my daughters. I've also heard it said that if I feel like disciplining them, I'm probably not qualified to do so at the moment. I must make sure that I am not rebuking them in anger, and that if I fail in this I am faithful to seek their forgiveness.
5. Our pastor gave us the wise advice to not only discipline disobedience, but to then discipline again if the discipline was not responded to gracefully. The end result in our discipline should be that “peaceful fruit of righteousness” spoken of in the Bible. If we're not seeing it, chances are, the discipline is not over. We must all learn to be wise, rather than fools who despise the discipline of the Lord. That includes our children, so we seek to teach them to respond to their discipline with grace.
6. One big important thing to me is that I do not want to have to raise my voice to ensure obedience from my children. I'm not a big fan of loud noise in general (I know this must sound funny coming from a mother of four preschoolers!), and I don't want to have to use it to guide my girls. If they are truly obedient to me, they will obey whether I whisper an instruction (if they can hear me, of course) or sreech it. Of course there are times that I do fail and speak unkindly to my daughters, and again I seek their forgiveness when this happens. There are also times I find it necessary to use a more authoritative or stern voice (which my daughter can almost always distinguish from an angry voice). But as a general rule, I try to use the same tone of voice to read stories, talk about the day, give instructions, and give rebukes and discipline. Matt reminded me a few weeks ago that the Bible teaches us that pleasant words increase learning. As a general rule, my girls will learn more from me as I use pleasant words. And if discipline has the purpose of restoring my girls to right behavior, it is not a time for me to “vent” my frustrations to them. That only causes separation and disunity. I can't tell you how said it feels to have your toddler ask in a quavery little voice “mommy, are you angry to me?” She hasn't had to ask that in a long time, thank the Lord, and hopefully she won't again! Again, this takes self-discipline on our part, but it is well worth it, and an example that sometimes disciplining our children teaches us as much as them!
7. Know your children! Sometimes an effective way of teaching cheerfulness looks different for each child. One of my daughters had a hard time being cheerful while doing her laundry job for a few days. Since this particular daughter takes a bit longer to come back to cheerfulness after discipline, I was leery of going that route. So I told her that if she was not cheerful in her work, she would no longer get her one cup of warm juice-cider in the morning. To her, this would pretty much seem like the end of the world! I think she lost her juice one or maybe two times. Now I can't imagine her doing her laundry job un-cheerfully (is that a word?)
8. I try to make it a habit never to say yes to an un-cheerful request. This can take many different forms, but it is a general principle. If something is not asked for respectfully and cheerfully, they can't have it. Sometimes they can't have it at all (like if they complain that I gave them water and cry or pout for juice – they are most certainly having water!), sometimes I let them try again to ask nicely in a couple of minutes. A little side benefit of this is that temper tantrums rarely, if ever, occur (I say rarely because my girls can still have “silent” tantrums which no one but mommy and daddy may recognize – those have to be dealt with too).
9. I also try not to repeatedly “warn” my girls, or remind them to be cheerful, when I should simply rebuke and/or discipline them for complaining. This is often what causes frustration in me. It's too easy for them to get into a habit of not being cheerful till I've warned, begged, threatened, whatever! If they can do that, they can just as easily get into the habit of obeying cheerfully the first time (not that I'm expecting them to be perfect – we are all sinners who fall short of God's grace!)
10. Coming back to setting an example, I really think a key to much of our childrens' behavior has to do with our example by responding to them. If I get frustrated easily by my girls' poor attitudes, my attitude is no better, and it certainly won't teach them to do right! This is what keeps me on my knees – knowing how often I fail reminds me daily that I can only do all things THROUGH CHRIST Who strengthens me!
Ok, those are my ten thoughts for the night on cheerful obedience. Now for one more list: three things I'm thankful for today:
1. My sweet husband: he had to wake up early (four hours earlier than normal!) for court this morning. When he came home, I figured he'd go straight back to bed, but instead he ordered me to bed (he knew I wasn't feeling well today) and took the girls to the park! What would the world be like without wonderful men like him?
2. A kind neighbor who offered to put my garbage bags in his can, as he realized ours was overfull this week – sometimes it's the little things that make your day . . .
3. The way Juliette tightly wraps her little arms around my neck and coos in my ear each time I go to put her to bed! I don't remember having such a snuggly seven-month-old before!
Lastly, one or two pix:
My four little hungry girlies ready for dinner!
Hannah wearing a “horsey riding hat” – she really is under there!
Isabelle's turn for the “horsey hat” and the horse, affetionately named “Phillip”