This Saturday, I am co-leading a 4:00 seminar on parenting with Laura Magevney for St. Marks Episcopal Church’s Faith & Family Conference in Jacksonville FL. Precisely two hours later there will be a Slugs & Bugs concert. Woohoo!
In anticipation of the Conference, I leafed through some old parenting notes, and revamped my old “Top 15” into a “Top 10” list of parenting tools. Some have changed, some are brand new, but we still parent with every one of these tools.
#10 – Go Tell Your Brother (or sister)
This one really saves some breath. Here’s the gist of # 10 -When a kid comes to tattle, we used to ask, “Did you tell him you didn’t like that and not to do it again?” But now we just say, “Go tell your brother (or sister) how that made you feel.” Usually, the ‘crime’ is so inconsequential that I never hear anything else about it. Also, the offending sibling has learned by now this is their one chance to keep the parents out of it. All they have to do is sincerely say, “I’m sorry.”
#9 – The Do-Over
The Do-Over comes in handy whenever there is back-talk or generally disrespectful communication. We don’t have too much of this, but when it does happen, we say, “Hoooold it right there. I don’t think you said quite what you meant to say. Why don’t you try again.”
#8 – The Pre-Empt
We started using The Pre-Empt when our biggest were 2 and 4 years old. It started because they would go absolutely berserk whenever Amy would take them inside the grocery store. One day, Amy (my wife) parked the mini-van, turned around and calmly explained what was about to happen, and what she expected from them. I’m not kidding, she will tell you the difference was immediate and we’ve done it ever since. Our kids are 7, 12 and 14 now, and we still Pre-Empt before restaurants, sometimes before church, basically anytime we really want them to not act like a small troop of baboons.
#7 – The Apology & The Second Apology
When you apologize to your kids, you teach them how to do it (for better or worse). Also, when I really screw up and hurt someone’s feelings, I am a fan of the second apology. Sure, I apologize right away, but when it’s bad I owe them the right to feel hurt for a minute. I may take a minute and pray, reckon things with the Lord, and come back to apologize again with new humility. This second apology can give everyone a chance to talk it out more dispassionately.
#6 – The Nap
Take a stinking nap. Sometimes even let the one-eyed babysitter do you a favor. It does not make you a bad person, and it might make you a better parent for the rest of that day.
#5 – The Sticky Note
This one has two uses. First, if your child can read, use sticky notes to remind her to brush her teeth or feed the dog or take a bath. We’ve put sticky notes on books, doors, even a glass of milk. It is a refreshing alternative to repeating yourself yet again..
The second use is more subtle. When I realize I need to have a talk to one of our kids about a bad habit or behavior, sometimes the worst time to bring it up is that instant. So I’ll make a note and put it on my dresser. Usually I’ll bring it up at bedtime, which brings me to…
#4 – The Bedtime Convo
There’s too much to try and say about this one. Our kids like to stay up as long as they can, so it’s often the one time I can get them talking at length about their lives or their feelings. I’ve stayed in there for hours before. It’s priceless, and I could easily miss it in my hurry to catch a few extra minutes of down time with Amy before we both collapse. Sometimes you have to cut it short, of course. Parents need time too. But you neglect the Bedtime Convo at your own peril.
#3 – The Conference (for olderish kids… maybe twice a year?)
At first glance the conference seems like it’s all about behavior modification. But it’s actually about relationship. The conference has three parts: before, during, and after. Before, you are making notes. You are writing down all the things you love about your kids, all of the ways they make you proud. Then you write down specific examples of habitual bad behaviors that need to change. Then you pray for wisdom!
During the conference, we start with three directives. 1) Trust Us 2) No Excuses 3) No apologies (that’s because one of our kids has an apology tic). Then we get out our notes and begin to praise specific actions we’ve seen, proclaiming our pride and joy at the people they are becoming. We then refer to our job description (train up a child) and explain they need some help with a few things. We give specific examples and calmly share our concern for them, because these behaviors will be ultimately be harmful or embarrassing for them. We refer to our own humility before Jesus and our need of grace from him, and we ask them to consider the same things.
Afterwards, we make sure they are ok, we reiterate our joy at being their parents and how thankful we are for all the ways they bless us. And then we apply tool #2.
#2 – A Hug
Sometimes, when a kid is acting sour, they may just need a hug. I always try to let them be the first to let go. Sometimes they surprise me with how long they are willing to hold on. It’s like they can’t get enough. Hmmmmm.
#1 – The Yes
The Yes (still) claims the top spot in the parenting tool box. If you are already a “yes” parent, you may need to work on your “no.” I’m a recovering “no” parent, so for us, yes says, “I believe in you.” Yes says, “You are awesome and I want you to be happy.” Yes says, “I trust you,” and “Surprise!” and “I love you.” all at the same time. Yes claims the #1 spot because of how often we must say “no.” No you can’t play in the parking lot. No you can’t eat till you’ve washed your hands. No you can’t stay up 5 more minutes. No you can’t watch a movie, No you can’t have an iPhone, No you can’t spend the night out tonight. Kids ask and ask and ask, and they force us to say no over and over.
Thankfully my kids have learned that I like to say yes, so when I say no it’s easier for them to take (sometimes). I look for surprising opportunities to say yes, even if it inconveniences me or changes my day around, but usually it doesn’t. One night I said “Yes, you can have another cookie” every time they asked until all the Oreo’s were gone and they were all laughing out loud at the giant stacks of cookies on their plate. Every yes is a gift, and after all, it is better to give than to receive.
*Bonus Tool – Grace
For you and for your kids. Don’t forget, nobody gets everything right. Don’t focus on the ways you (and your kids) fail. You’re doing a great job in so many ways.
**Portions of this post were originally published on Feb 11, 2013. I posted today in anticipation of the parenting seminar I’ll be leading this weekend with Laura Magevney at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, FL.
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