Do you sometimes feel frustrated with your kids? Like you’re teaching them the same thing over and over again and they are always responding in the same negative way? Your frustration is soaring and somehow it seems to make them more and more ornery, and you’re not sure what went wrong.
I am learning what helps me when I find myself in the situation above. A few concepts that I come back to over and over again, and when I practice them, I start to feel like myself again. And what do you know? My son starts acting like himself, too. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.
We are results based people
You, me, our kids… We all learn how the world works by the results that we get. When my son was learning to walk, he fell down a lot. But the success that he did see was enough to motivate him to keep going. He kept trying again and again until he mastered what he was learning. I believe that children practice behaviors in the same way. When they whine and whine until they get a cookie, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them not to whine, or how frustrated their whining obviously makes you, if sometimes the whining gets them a cookie. They will practice whining until they have mastered it if they see results.
People are primarily self focused
Whether we like it or not, it’s true. Most of our thoughts and actions revolve around ourselves and what we want. Many times, even when we do something for somebody else, we are doing it to make ourselves feel good, look good, or be perceived as kind, caring, un-judgmental, etc. This is why we are all being sanctified by Christ. We are all learning to love Him the most and our neighbor as ourselves. Our kids are not different. I cannot expect my son to be motivated by my emotions alone. Especially when he is so young. It makes so much more sense to work within the “results” framework. This helps me not feel so emotionally injured or betrayed by my child’s disobedience, because…
My frustration is not a good parenting tool
When my son is irritating (because everybody is irritating sometimes) if I distance myself from him, blow up at him or ignore him, I am teaching him that he is irritating. (Not surprisingly, this will make him act more irritating.)
When I apply a consequence for his behavior without separating myself from him emotionally, I teach him that a particular action is irritating.
I believe that emotional punishment is damaging and unfruitful. This is not the way the Lord is with us. When we are struggling the most, He is the closest to us, loving us and showing us the right way.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Duet. 31:8
It’s important that we teach our kids the same thing, we don’t want them to grow up terrified of messing up, but capable of owning up to their mistakes and facing the consequences without feeling like failures.
When I am quick to apply a consequence for bad behavior, instead of letting it slide while my frustration builds, the bad behavior is less likely to get me to the exploding point.
Consequences are effective ways of training without separating ourselves emotionally. They work. If I burn my hand touching a hot pan, I will use a pot-holder next time. This is the way we learn because we are results based people.
Looking at it in this light really helps me when I’m feeling frustrated with my son. He is practicing, learning, exploring boundaries and figuring out results. If I can be consistent with the consequences that I apply, I can fit my training right into the way that he’s built to learn.
Plus, consequences make poor behavior the bad guy, instead of my frustration making me the bad guy. This way I can say to him, “I’m sorry, but you did (fill in the blank), so now I have to (apply consequence).”
I find without fail that when I stop responding to my son with my frustration as a punishment, and calmly apply a consequence instead, his actions and his attitude improve very quickly. And, the more consistently I apply a consequence for unwanted behavior, the quicker he is to obey me when I give a command.
But this is a lot of work!
Getting up from my chair to apply a consequence when I am in the middle of nursing my baby after 4 hours of total sleep is not fun. But the peace that it brings to my house is so worth it! Yes, sometimes it feels like a lot of work. But not as much work as living in frustration and stress all the time, with children who drive me crazy. This is something that I must love my son enough to do for him; teaching him how to obey all the way, right away with a happy heart.
Let me give an example
I’m washing the dishes and Othniel (who is 23 months) opens the refrigerator and starts grabbing the bottle of hot sauce out of the door. (He knows that he is allowed to open the door, but he not allowed to touch the things inside.)
“Othniel, you’re not allowed to touch those things.”
If he continues, I put my dish cloth down and dry my hands. Using my calm, normal voice,
“Son, I’m going to have to (apply consequence) because you touched the things inside the refrigerator.”
“Now, you’re not allowed to touch those things, do you understand?”
He signs, “Yes.”
“Alright, off you go.”
This is the smooth version. Sometimes the steps are repeated many times. But when I am consistent, I only have to tell him once and he obeys . Disobedience doesn’t get him the results that he wants.
When I blow it
When I totally fail at this, and find myself whining back at him, “I tooooold you NOT to do THAT!!!!!!” only to find that he goes to the next thing he’s not allowed to do. (Do you find that as well? That when you don’t address their disobedience that they start to go from thing to thing that they know they are not allowed to do?) I apologize. I get down so I can look at him in the eyes and say,
“I’m sorry, Son. You’re not allowed to do (fill in the blank). I should have (applied a consequence) for that. You’re not allowed to do (fill in the blank), say, ‘Yes, Mama.'”
It’s okay to tell your kids that you messed up. In fact I think it’s vitally important. When I pretend that I am always right, even when I am not, I am only teaching my son not to take me seriously.
Choosing the right consequence for your children
I cannot tell you exactly what consequences to apply, but I can give you a few tips.
1.) Choose something that is in line with your own parenting style. Don’t just do what works for somebody else. It’s important that you find your own voice and learn to help the children that you have.
2.) Choose something that applies to your child’s season in life.
3.) Choose something that you can apply calmly. (Blowing up isn’t going to do anybody any good. The purpose of a consequence is that you can use your own calm, normal voice and behavior, and let the consequence do the heavy lifting.)
If I only apply consequences sometimes, and other times correct with my frustration, my son is very ornery, indeed. It feels like he get a kick out of disobeying me.
When I push through with consequences and expect obedience every time, it brings so much peace to our house!