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Formula for Happy Kids

Thank goodness for kids!
My darling granddaughters, Rebekah and Abigail

I just had my dinner date dampened. My husband took me out to my favorite Chinese restaurant, where we were sitting enjoying our meal when a mother with a little boy and a baby entered the restaurant. She had a friend with her and no sooner had they been seated did the drama began:

“Sit down, Tommy! Sit down right now! If you don’t sit down, I am going to put you in a highchair!” Although she was across the restaurant from our table, she was loud enough that I couldn’t ignore what was happening. Tommy continued to jump on the booth seat, next to his mother’s friend, while his mother scowled at him. I wondered if the friend was going to enjoy her dinner.

“Tommy, I told you to stop jumping. Tommy, TOMMY! Stop jumping and sit down right now or you aren’t going to get any food.”

“Tommy, TOMMY! You sit down right now or I won’t let you get a soda.” I have not seen the mother smile yet.

“Tommy, you need to sit down right now. . . stop jumping! if I have to tell you again, you’ll be sitting in the car.”

. . . . TOMMY!

Well, I won’t torture you any longer. It was not a pleasant thing to observe. I told my husband I needed to blog. Poor friend who is along for the miserable evening. I feel sorry for her. Poor mother! Life isn’t very fun for her. She’ll get “frown lines” while she is still young. But, most of all, POOR, poor child being nagged to death. I don’t want to see the future, when he is 13 and twice her strength. It won’t be a pretty sight.

With Ammon turning 19 this year, we’ve got 6 of our kids launched, and just one left to go. My 7th, Louisa, is just 14 years old . . . I can finally begin to see the finish line of child raising off in the distance. Parenting is the most difficult, overwhelming, monumental challenge I’ve faced in life. And the most thrilling, joyous, and meaningful one too! We struggle to learn, we do our best, and we hope and pray it will be enough. It is a huge job to raise a family. When they are all grown, I will miss having a house full of life, full of kids!

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was a senior in college at a big university. I was used to research, so I began the confusing and conflicting study of child discipline. After several months of serious study, one day I began to sob amidst my stacks of books. This was not like math, where formulas always gave consistent results. This study was full of conflicting opinions. For every theory, there was an opposite theory, just as firmly supported. One said “spank”. The other said “don’t spank”. One said “structure”. The other said “flow with it”. The family scientists were all of differing opinions. They all had research and data, but how to interpret that information was a mystery. When I asked friends, their opinions were all over the board. That’s when I began my occupation as a desperate praying mother. You get more results that way!

There’s a million things learned by parenting. I think most of it is for the parents’ benefit and training, as much as for the children. What does it take to be a good parent? If I could put it in a nutshell, though, here is what I think is most important:

1. Be playful!
2. Be trustworthy!
3. Take charge!

Be Playful!
Everyone craves fun! Playfulness is a most delightful trait in a parent. I think parents get too scowly, too serious, too boring. Smile and be affectionate. Laugh a lot! If you are playful, you’ll get lots more cooperation. It is so much more fun to do chores to bouncy music or have races to see who can finish this or that first. Silly things are so delightful to children: like coming to breakfast with a wig on! Or spontaneous things like suddenly deciding to jump in the car and take off on an outing with 5 minutes notice.

Why not? Being playful makes kids see you as a happy companion, rather than a finger-shaking grouch.

Be Trustworthy!
Be trustworthy. Kids are dependent on us for everything and being dependable is basic to their well-being. Make sure meals are on time, be there to pick them up on time—do what you say you will do. This alone creates security in a child. So much of life is unpredictable, but if you are trustworthy, your child will be stable.

I once was in a carpool with a mother who just didn’t show up to pick the kids up on time. These were teens in a play practice that got out at 9 PM. It was dark outside and the theater locked its doors and everyone went home after the practice, leaving our girls standing on the curb waiting, waiting, waiting. It didn’t take me long to realize that carpool wasn’t going to work, but I finally understood the very nervous, flighty jumpiness that the children in that family exhibited. They just couldn’t depend on their mother, good person though she was. And that non-trustworthiness shook their foundation.

Being dependable starts when a child is newly born. They need to learn that you will help them cope with life—that they will be fed, cared for, comforted, and that their own needs will not overwhelm them, but will be met by you, their loving parent. As they grow, trustworthiness means you will always, always, ALWAYS do what you say you will. If you say you will not let them have dessert until they have eaten their food, or that they have to sit in the high chair, or that they have to wear a coat outside, or that they must come first time you call, you had better mean it. Because every time you break your own word, you lose respect in your child’s eyes. They learn that you lie, that you say things that you don’t really mean, and that therefore, you can’t truly be trusted.

As my parenting years increased, I ended up making few edicts because I knew I had to follow through and make it happen. Eventually I learned by hard experience not to be a liar, and tried to carefully calculate what I said, and only lay down the law on the things truly worth battling over. I was far from a perfect parent, but I did learn that the more trustworthy we can be in following through on our word, the happier and more secure our children will be.

Take Charge!
There is no more insecure feeling that to realize you are on a plane without a pilot, or in an army without a general, or worst of all, in a family without a parent in command. Take charge! Children need it so much. The waffling, softy parent is scary to me. Because I was one—once—and I saw the damage it did.

Seeing that, my main task in raising little ones was to teach them first-time obedience to me. We practiced it together, rewarded them for it, drilled it, and told stories about it. God expects our obedience. Parents stand in the place of God to their very young children, leading them to God. How can children ever learn to respect a heavenly parent if you have not taught them to respect and obey their earthly parent?

If you say it is time to put your pajamas on, make sure it happens. Don’t repeat your command. Don’t beg and nag and negotiate. Be non-negotiable! If mommy says it is time to put on your pajamas, the kids better know that she’ll be behind that, following up on it, making it happen and ready to counter any resistance. So, Mom, that means you better be willing to move into action if necessary, before making any idle requests. And you can’t say it twice without weakening your authority—so get eye-contact, get their attention before you make a command. And be prepared to “check their work” right away and make sure it is done, even if you have to dress them yourself.

This may not feel like you are being “nice”, but it is much, much nicer for a child to be secure, to know that mom is in charge, to know that she is trustworthy and dependable and unyielding. It makes life a safe place. Kids should not be able to direct the affairs of the family by their whining, tantrums or refusing to obey. If a child feels like they have their hands on the steering wheel of the family car, so to speak, no one feels secure that the car is not going to careen off a cliff!

Especially, don’t forget the playful part. Promise some fun—”I’ll start a story in 5 minutes and you’ll get to choose it if you are here with your pajamas on!” Be happy, smile and show lots of affection. Be tender. But once you have said it, don’t let 5 minutes pass without getting up off the sofa and seeing to it that you are obeyed.

The formula: if Mom=a playful, trustworthy, authority figure, then childhood= a safe, secure and happy time + children grow to = emotionally healthy, happy adults.

That’s the formula I believe works for raising good kids. Best success!

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