Saturday, July 26, 2008

To All "Training" (Toddlerhood) Parents Out There: It Gets Better!

This week has been a real turning point for Claire. Up until recently, there was absolutely no reasoning with her. She is very communicative, and I don’t think it’s just my bias that says she is a pretty smart girl: she knows what’s going on. Despite that fact, she will stubbornly hold onto what she wants/doesn’t want and continue down a road that only has one consequence after another—and still not give in! (Sound familiar? It sure does to me! Are there more convicting things than raising children and training them in righteousness? Probably pastoring has to be up there, too, but as I won’t ever do that, this is most likely the most difficult “test” of my faith so far. I am more than daily convicted of the instruction I give to my children, and how I fall so short of doing those things. How haughty of me to expect a 2 or 3 year old to not grumble and complain—Phil 2:14—when I catch myself doing it relentlessly? Just today, I found myself grumbling about Claire’s 3rd dirty diaper in less than an hour, and was hit with the very verse I had reviewed with them this morning. I had to correct myself aloud and tell the girls “Whoops, Mommy needs to do all things without grumbling and disputing. This is what God has for me today, and I need to have a good attitude.” I am so grateful for God’s grace. I hope to teach the girls about His sufficiency when I make these numerous blunders.)

Okay, I’m off the rabbit trail. Starting this week (almost out of the blue) when Claire begins to show a bad attitude or the starting of a fit, I can usually encourage her to make a better choice and change her attitude. (Sounding something like this: “Oh, Claire. This is not my sweet girl. My Claire is a big girl, and she has a happy heart. Show me your good attitude.” Or, “Is there a different way to ask Mommy?”) She’ll either change her attitude right away, or within a minute, she’s back on track. It appears that something has literally clicked in her brain or a light has gone on with how suddenly this has happened.

This kind of reasoning has never worked until this week (come to think of it, almost NOTHING has seemed to work!). I’ve read parenting advice where the author glibly states to just do a, b, and c and implies that “viola!” there will be the end to THAT problem. Thankfully, I have not come across too much of that kind of advice. I’ve had some wise people recommend some good books that don’t speak in such terms. But I’ve read/heard enough that makes me feel like I must be doing something wrong, because my child STILL THROWS FITS. Sure, consistency is key (I don’t for a minute think that I’m always consistent, but we really TRY to deal with fits and have consequences every time one is thrown) but even in consistency, there is something else that I think some authors/people gloss over: TIME. It seems there are many pieces to this puzzle called training, and one really important one is that with all the consistency and consequences, waiting is also required. This “terrible two” age really does exist, and even if it is a bad label for it, there is no denying that children go through some challenging phases. I guess I think some Christian parenting advice denies the legitimacy of phases. Now, I don’t think that the general worldly advice is true either: “It’s just a phase, leave it alone and it will go away in time.” (i.e. ignore the behavior entirely). It seems there’s a balance in there somewhere. Both dealing with it consistently and being PATIENT because it is a phase THAT WILL END (or at least get better with time).

And here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about: is it really good child training to distract or redirect? Like other things, I believe it has its time and place (the airplane is a good example—not a time for training as much as surviving and causing minimal discomfort to other passengers: being thoughtful of others) but as a parent, these times and places really have to be few and far between if consistency is to work out its “magic.” What are we training children to do when we redirect them or distract them? I would say the bare-bones answer is: whatever they want. Is that really good life training? I’ll use an example from yesterday: If Claire doesn’t want to leave when I say it’s time to go and begins throwing a fit, and I distract her with, “Oh, what’s that? Let’s go see,” in order to get her to do what I say, I believe it will eventually teach her to only do what she wants when she wants. (Not to mention that it just seems downright manipulative!) It doesn’t require the controlling of emotions, the thoughtful choice to change one’s attitude; obey and do what’s right—even if she doesn’t feel like it. (How many times a day/hour does an adult face this same choice?) And if my redirecting isn’t to her taste, I have no recourse. I become a court jester, hoping that THIS suggestion might please her majesty. No wonder even Christian adults act self-absorbed and in our own tiny world. We’ve been trained since toddlerhood (my parents didn’t use this technique, but many Christian parents do) that if it isn’t presented appealingly enough or to our taste, we really don’t need to do it. Be considerate of others. Show up for work. Do your job. Keep a commitment. Be respectful to those in positions of authority.

I’m really not coming up with good examples, but I hope the point is made nonetheless: distracting/redirecting can have the effect of coddling a toddler’s predisposition to selfishness. It may seem like I’ve won on a case-by-case basis, but how am I really teaching Claire to deal with choices for the rest of her life? I believe this way of dealing with children really stems from a humanistic view: people are basically good and will make good choices when given the education and opportunity to do so. This totally contradicts God’s Word: No one is good.

In training my children, I want to make it clear that there is an absolutely high standard that NO ONE can meet, and that they (as I) must fall at Christ’s feet and trust Him to give them/me the ability to obey. Requiring obedience from my daughter instead of distracting her gives me the opportunity to share the gospel: her total inability to please God and the good news of Christ’s perfect life and redeeming work.

Wow! I had no idea such strong feelings were lurking in there somewhere! I meant to post this to encourage parents who try to be purposeful in training their children that it does get better and to not grow weary. I guess I got a little carried away. (Maybe I won’t ever pastor, but just watch me preach! :) Oh, and I’m not saying that we’re out of the woods, but it has been so relieving (and downright shocking!) to have this new development in Claire’s attitude. God has been good to show us a light at the end of the tunnel now and then!

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