Behavior Management Series: Delight in Your Children

This post is part of a series on behavior management. The preceding post can be found HERE.

words to praise a child

I can imagine that the title of this post may have caused you to pause. You’ve been working on your list, and maybe you’ve even identified what behaviors you want to start working on. You’re excited and ready to go. So why am I talking about delighting in your children? If you were delighted with them, you probably wouldn’t be reading this series, would you?

When I was working in outpatient services, I used to teach parent skills training classes. The first lesson in the curriculum we presented was about spending quality time with your kids. I’m sure you can imagine the reaction of parents who were so desperate to get their child’s behavior under control when a 20-something girl with a total of 6 months of real parenting experience announced that the first lesson was about quality time. It was usually quite a challenge to get them to focus. They just wanted to know how to punish their kids and get the bad behavior to stop.

Despite the gut reaction of nearly every parent I ever worked with, I believe that curriculum was starting on the right foot. Remember, discipline means “to teach.” How easily can you to learn from someone whom you don’t respect? For me, it’s not easy. The point of the lesson in that curriculum, and my point by starting with something similar, it to begin building respect.

Granted, children should respect their parents simply because of their position. However, children aren’t born this way. They have to be taught. As such, you can demand respect, which likely won’t be more than lip service on their part, or you can earn their respect and actually have it.

Certainly, respect is multi-faceted. In order to be respectable in your children’s eyes you will need to be fair, reliable, and a person of your word. However, I think the very best way to make the most progress with your children in the shortest amount of time is to ensure your children know you delight in them.

This isn’t wishy-washy, self-esteem building, mumbo jumbo. However, a child who knows his parents delight in him likely will be more confident than one who does not. This is simply parenting modeled after our heavenly Father, Him from whom our earthly parenthood is derived. (cf. Ps 149:4) Undoubtedly, God demands our obedience (1 Sam 15), but he loves us and delights in us even while we are still sinners (cf. Rom 5:8).

So how can you show your children you delight in them? No matter how bad their behavior is right now, I know you do. Think of those quiet moments after they’re all asleep. You go in their room to cover them up, and sheer delight in your children overcomes you. You could stand there all night drinking in the incomparable love of parenthood. But how do you show that in the daytime, especially when you may not feel like it. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Cheerfully greet your children each morning. It’s been hours since you saw them last. Act excited to see them. This one used to be especially hard for me because I’m not a morning person. I can’t think of anyone that I would genuinely delight in seeing in the morning. But parenting isn’t about me, it’s about them. Each morning I greet them with a squeal and a smile and tell them how happy I am to see them. They love this. In fact, now, they present themselves in front of me, like a gift, waiting to see my delight. It’s so cute.
  2. Praise your children liberally, genuinely, and specifically. Your children do so many amazing things every day. Make an effort to notice these things, and tell your kids how awesome they are. Praise the ingenuity of that newest lego creation, the selflessness of sharing a favorite toy, the progress in an academic area. Every time you notice something smart, charming, sweet, amazing, whatever about your children, tell them about it.
  3. Let your children hear you praise them to other people. When Daddy gets home from work, tell him all about the good behavior or clever creations of your children. Call grandma just to tell her how awesome one of the kiddos is doing. While chatting with your neighbor, talk about how hard your child is working on his science project. Anything will work. But make it genuine!
  4. Catch your kids doing good things. Tell them it makes you proud to see them in action. Tell them they should be proud of themselves.
  5. Listen to your kids’ stories. Really listen to them. This can be trying – whether it’s imaginary battles from a 5-year-old boy or friendship drama from a middle school girl, listening to your kids’ stories can be difficult, especially if you’re tired or frustrated or stressed out. Make the effort to step outside yourself and listen to what they’re sharing with you. Ask questions to show you’re listening and care about what they’re saying.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it will get you off to a great start. Letting your children know you delight in them will change the whole environment of your home. Kids love to please their parents (Even big kids. Even though they would never admit it.), so letting them know they are makes a really big difference. Infusing your home with this kind of positivity not only feels good for everyone involved, it will also cut down on any attention seeking behaviors that are currently taking place. If your kids are acting our solely for attention, you will now be providing them with that attention they are craving, allowing them to behave better.

Cultivating an atmosphere of respect, making your home a more positive environment, and eliminating attention seeking behavior – Yes, I definitely believe delighting in your kids is a winning start to effective behavior management.

Next up in the series: Consequences


Behavior Management Series: What Is Discipline?

Believe it or not, I’m just now starting to have “mommy friends.” I’ve spent the first 7 years of my parenting career mostly as a lone ranger, not having many other friends with kids. The more mommies I get to know, the more I realize what a gift my background in psychology really is. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, something I’m passionate about even, but now I see what a gift it has been to my parenting. Realizing that what I’ve learned over the years isn’t necessarily common knowledge, I thought I’d write a few posts  about behavior management. Most of the practical knowledge I have comes from my time working at Youth Villages Center for Intensive Residential Treatment and from the outpatient skills training I lead at Denton County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center. Of course, some of my knowledge comes from book work, as the majority of classes I chose to complete my psychology major were in some way related to children. Several mommies have asked me questions recently about my children’s behavior and what we do at home. Because of that, I thought sharing what I know may prove helpful to others.

Master effective discipline so you don't constantly feel like an angry circus-master.

Mastering effective discipline allows you to be yourself instead of an angry circus-master.

I think the first thing one must understand when realizing a need for behavior management is what discipline really is. The word gets a bad rap. I’m not sure why. My guess is that it stems from a misunderstanding about either (1) what discipline really is or (2) what children really need to thrive. I’d like to clear up both problems.

The word discipline derives from a Latin word that means “to teach.” Teaching is the goal of effective discipline. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Parents discipline their child(ren) in order to teach them some kind of lesson about life. How one goes about teaching these lessons is where the controversy arrises.

Some would claim that the only way to discipline a child is through a good ol’ fashioned spanking. You know, “spare the rod, and spoil the child.” Others are so obsessed with psychological correctness and developing adequate self-esteem in their child that they believe no discipline should be used, ever. They believe children instinctively know what they need and that children can lead the way. Both of these approaches, especially as extremes, are unacceptable and ineffective methods of behavior management.

The former teaches with fear. Fear is not a successful motivator. Spanking, used alone, is simply not an effective technique. It can not be done consistently enough or provide the proper motivation for truly effective behavior management. It the future, I will talk more about consistency as well as what schedules of reinforcement provide the most motivation for a child.

The later is just silly. I don’t know where this came from. I don’t care what’s trendy, reality wins out. Children need to be molded into well-rounded, decent citizens. They aren’t born that way. They are born completely self-centered and self-obsessed. That is a good thing for an infant. One of the many tasks of parenting is helping children move past this self-centerdness so they can function in the world.

Good discipline forms children. It creates people with character; people who are responsible; people who are respectful. Children need this. Otherwise they become the spoiled, selfish 20-somethings who bring their pets to job interviews because they have no concept of how to control their desires in favor of what’s appropriate.

I want to end with a word of encouragement. Parenting is supposed to be a joyous. If it’s not joyous for you, if you dread the moment when your children wake up or when you have to take them out in public, something is not functioning properly. I’m not saying parenting is easy. Quite the contrary. Parenting is hard. And good parenting is the hardest. But it’s well worth it. By properly disciplining your child, you get to discover who they really are, instead of only knowing them for their behavior.  Properly disciplining your child will bring out the best in both you and him. It allows for an environment in which all involved can really thrive.

Next Post in the Series: Target Problem Behaviors

Stop Yelling

yellingI know a mom who yells at her kids. She reminds me of me not all that long ago. She, like I did, must know deep down that it’s not good parenting. She never does it right in front of anyone; she does it in another room or outside. Maybe she thinks we can’t hear her, but we definitely can. I’m not talking about simply raising her voice. I’m talking about mean, ugly screaming.

For me, I simply felt out of control. I had three young boys and I just couldn’t seem to get them to cooperate. Actually, I just couldn’t even get their attention. They were too busy being too busy with whatever it was that they were doing. So I would yell. It got to the point that couldn’t get anything accomplished without yelling.

I hated yelling. I knew intellectually that yelling is emotional abuse, (You can google it if you don’t believe me.) but I had gotten pretty good at rationalizing it. On top of that (as if that weren’t bad enough!) I recognized that the underlying issue was a complete lack of respect. If my children had respect for me, I wouldn’t need to yell to get their attention. Unfortunately, I had created a dynamic where they wouldn’t pay attention to me, let alone obey me, until I was screaming at them. I had no idea how to break this cycle.

One day I was crying and praying, asking how I was ever supposed to get their attention so that I could begin to break this destructive cycle. Then it hit me – I needed a loud noise to get their attention so that I could begin to train them in respect.

That night, we ventured over to Academy and picked up a coach’s whistle. Seriously. And it changed our lives.

For the first several weeks I wore that whistle around my neck 24:7. Well…at least while the kids were awake. When things were getting chaotic or when I needed to give them instructions, I blew the whistle. Because it was new and it was loud, they would stop whatever craziness they were engaged in. I explained to them that whenever they heard the whistle, they needed to stop what they were doing and come to mommy. I told them that when they heard the whistle, mommy had something important to say and they needed to come listen. It took a little training at first. I would blow the whistle. They would stop. I would remind them that they needed to come hear what mommy had to say. Eventually, I would blow the whistle and they would come. Progress!

Now, I had a way to get their attention.

At first, I was using the whistle a lot. I used it when things got too loud and crazy, but I also used it anytime I had something “important” to say. This is because I wanted to teach them that anytime I was speaking to them, they needed to stop and listen.

Next, I began clarifying the reason I blew the whistle. I would say something along the lines of, “Thank you for coming to mommy when I blew the whistle. Things are getting much too loud. I need you to settle down or go play outside.” or “Thank you for coming to mommy. I need to tell you something so you need to pay attention. Is everyone ready to use their listening ears?”

Over time, I was able to use the whistle less and less. The boys progressed to a point that when I called, they would come. Now, I rarely use the whistle. I don’t wear it anymore, but it is accessible. The fact is, boys are loud. Sometimes they get so loud that they really can’t hear you. This is the only time I use the whistle now.

I’m really grateful for the difference the whistle has made in our family. I’m happy and proud that I implemented a solution before they got much older and before things got way out of control. I can’t imagine going through life having to scream at my kids in order to get them to obey. That’s definitely where we were – and it worked because they were little and intimidated. It certainly wouldn’t have had the same outcome if we carried that pattern into their teenage years. Sometimes I find myself falling back into old patterns. When I stop demanding respect, the kids stop giving it. It’s not long after that that I begin yelling again. Luckily, I catch myself pretty quickly. If needed, I’ll break out the whistle for a day or two of retraining, then we’re off and running again.

Back to the mom I know – I feel so sorry for her. Her frustration and inability to control her kids is evident. Everyone who looks are her can see it. She just seems so defeated. I know what that feels like – it’s an awful feeling. I want to give her a hug and tell her I know just how she feels. Maybe next time I will.


7 Years, 7 Lessons


Today, Josh and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. I’m not sure how that happened. On the one hand, I can’t remember what it’s like not to be married. At the same time, it seems like it was just yesterday when we were rolling around Memphis with far to much free time and expendable income. In honor of the seven years we’ve been together, I thought I’d make a list of seven things I’ve learned about being married so far.

  1. Whoever said the first year of marriage is the hardest probably wasn’t married for more than one year. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. I once bought a book entitled “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the First Five Years of Marriage.” I never actually read it. I bought it somewhere around year 5 and the title alone was enough to bring me comfort. Knowing that it was ok that we didn’t get it all figured yet was a great relief. So far, for us, I think the sixth year of marriage was the hardest. I suppose only time will tell if it was indeed THE hardest year.
  2. The couple that prays together, stays together. I know this might sound cheesy, but it is so very true. Our marriage is so much easier when each of us is focused on growing in holiness (i.e. growing in our own individual relationship with God). Our fights don’t last as long, we’re more patient and forgiving with each other, and we’re generally more pleasant people when God is number one. We’ve ebbed and flowed in this area, so we’ve seen it from both sides at various points in our marriage. It’s not just a maturity thing or something like that. We really are better people when we are aware of how completely dependent we are on God’s grace to make it through the day.
  3. Girls/guys nights out aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It’s definitely nice to get away for some “me time” every now and then, but we’ve both found that girls/guys nights aren’t very positive or uplifting experiences. Almost always, the evenings turn into a flogging of the opposite sex, particularly the spouses or significant others of those in attendance. Speaking ill of your spouse and/or being around those who constantly do is not a good thing for your marriage. We much prefer couple or family gatherings. It’s not uncommon for these events to end up as completely gender segregated as a 7th grade dance, but it’s a much different environment. No one is there to “escape” from the other, which drastically changes the mood and conversations.
  4. Expectations, especially unspoken ones, are more toxic than cyanide. I haven’t found anything in our marriage that can ruin a perfect day or situation quite like expectations. We all have them. But we need to let go of them. And the ones we can’t or don’t want to let go of? We need to communicate them. Clearly.
  5. Be willing to suffer together. It’s kind of an at-least-we’re-in-it-together type mentality. If Josh has to bring home a pile of work, I make sure I’m also doing something along the sames lines, like homework or my own work. If I’m pacing back and forth with a screaming baby, he cleans the kitchen or starts the laundry. We’ve learned that when one of us is sitting comfortably reading or watching TV, while the other is engaged in some unpleasant task, it usually sparks some kind of fight. Usually about something stupid. That’s because the problem isn’t whatever stupid fight erupts; the problem is that one of us is frustrated. It’s a lot easier to express frustration when you feel the other one “gets it” instead of looking up and realizing that the other is completely oblivious to what you’re dealing with at the present moment. (In all honesty, this is probably a much bigger deal to me than it is to Josh. Regardless, learning this lesson has cut back on many stupid fights.)
  6. It’s important to acquire some basic knowledge about all of the things your spouse is interested in.  Yes, all of the things. I’m still working on this. Learning about what the other is interested in shows you value and respect the other person. Their whole person. Even the parts that you find completely boring and stupid. Like Japanese candlesticks. Like I said, I’m still working on this one. If he can go baby shopping with me, I can learn a little something about those colored graphs. (Note: Josh just supplied the baby shopping example. I was shocked. I really had no idea how much he dislikes baby shopping. Guess he’s much better at this skill than I am.)
  7. Your pride is not more valuable than your spouse. We’re both prideful people. And we’re both stubborn. Back in the day, we could stay mad at each other for days, just to avoid having to be the one to give in. It’s so not worth it. No matter how badly it stings, apologize or cave in or whatever. It’s so much better than driving a wedge between you. This is a relatively new skill for us. Sometimes we stand there shocked at how quickly we can get over something that would have caused a major battle not all that long ago. This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned, and definitely one of the most valuable.

So there you have it. They’re not listed in any particular order, and they may not be profound, but these are the little lessons that have made our marriage what it is today. Like the little card on the flowers Josh sent me today said, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring!

Mary’s Etiquette Lesson of the Day: Respect Your Hostess

rsvpR.S.V.P. stands for the French phrase “répondez s’il vous plaît.” It literally translates: respond if you please, but the meaning is understood as please respond.

When an invitation is marked with R.S.V.P information, one is EXPECTED to RESPOND as to whether or not they will be in attendance. Did you catch that? When the invitation says R.S.V.P., you need to contact the hostess WHETHER OR NOT you plan to attend the event.

The confusion on this matter absolutely baffles me. My mother taught me this in preschool when I first started receiving birthday party invitations. A hostess would not take the time to write out a request for a response along with the preferred methods of contact if she didn’t want to know if you were coming.

When I got married, I sent out invitations requesting an R.S.V.P. (as most wedding invitations do) and included a reply card with an addressed STAMPED envelope. Yet, somehow, invited guests failed to respond. Could you please explain that to me?? All the guest needed to do was write their name on the card, lick the envelope, and drop it in the mail. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

I absolutely love entertaining, but it frustrates me to no end when people don’t have the common courtesy to respond to an invitation. If a hostess is unprepared for the number of attendees at a gathering, it could ruin the function. Headcounts are vital to ensure enough space is available and enough food or beverages are provided. This is not a difficult concept. If the hostess doesn’t need to know how many people will attend the event, she won’t ask you to respond. If she took the time to ask, she NEEDS to know. I often hear people critiquing common etiquette practices, but this one, like many others, boils down to respect for your hostess. She took the time to invite you, so you should take the time to respond to her invitation.