Your child should have some weak character- it’s called being a child and not yet maturing. Childhood is not the season to expect perfection. Instead, it’s the training ground to give them life skills and character traits to be successful for the rest of their lives.
CHILDHOOD = TRAINING GROUND
Toddlers are not socially aware of cultivating meaningful friendships, but this is a rich season where parents can go after character training so that children are set up for success with peers down the road. I would often set up a playdate with another mom with the intention of paying close attention to how my children interacted with their peers. Did they hit when they didn’t get what they wanted? Did they yank the toy out of someone’s hands? Did they wait patiently when wanting something? Did they interrupt me using the hand technique? Were they a joy to be around? Are they the type of children others would want to invite back or were happy to have us leave? Did they say “Thank you” when given something? OF COURSE, they did not ace all of these areas. They were toddlers full of fleshly desires and selfishness. My goal was never perfection but rather seeing where I needed to parent them. I would take a mental inventory of the areas they needed to grow in, and we would spend the week working on it. I would set up another playdate and test it out. Example: If I saw my child hit another child because they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. I would address it on the spot, but when we got home, I would teach them how to handle that situation differently in times of peace. We would role-play, I would tell them what I expected (no, no hit), and we would look for ways at home they could apply that teaching with their siblings. I was intentionally teaching them how to be better friends. The heart of this cannot be legalism or performance. Children are going to be foolish, act out, throw fits and be selfish. There has to be grace for their development. But I was always on the lookout for ways they could increase their capacity in an area and go after it through connection and joy. 90% of my parenting in the toddler years was going after things in the time of peace and setting them up for success instead of constantly reacting to their negative behavior. Some of the main focus points for toddlers are: learning to wait patiently for something that they want, saying “please and thank you,” understanding right/wrong, knowing sowing/reaping (consequences), using manners (kind words), and using their words (not strength), respecting the word NO, listening and obeying right away, practicing gentleness, having self-control, and being content by themselves at times.
**My eBooklet Character Counts gives you oodles of creative activities to do with young children to instill character. You do not have to do this all in one day but rather have a mental awareness that between today and the time they enter formal school, they should have the character to play well with their peers. Order your copy here: Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly
When the kids were little, they always wanted to go to the park after nap time, but I was exhausted from cleaning, laundry, dishes, cooking, etc. I felt like my day was a perpetual cycle of complete and repeat. The thought ran through my mind that if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have to do all of this work. I hated that thought because I loved being a mom and my children. I rebuked that thought and remember the Lord leading me to EMPOWER my children to be a part of the family, not just takers. I sat them down and told them that I wanted to take them to the park too, but that part of living in a family is running a family that includes picking up after ourselves, cleaning, and managing our home. We came up with four areas that needed attention every day – floors, dishes, laundry, and garbage. From that day on, I haven’t touched a single one in nearly ten years. Each week we rotate chores and run the family together. When they were tiny, they didn’t do it perfectly, nor did I expect them to. But I used it as a time to go after character, self-control, honor, and faithfulness. When one fails to take out the garbage, it affects the family. When we rush and put clothes where they don’t belong, it affects the family. When dishes don’t get done, it affects the family. When they had attitudes, I went after their heart. I wasn’t training them in the area of perfection but in having the CHARACTER behind a chore or task. This is one of the best choices I made as a mom years ago, and I am reaping the fruit of four children who own the wealth, health, and success of our family unit. They were taught from an early age how to care for their family, and it started with chores. What have you empowered your children to do to help run the family?
Sibling conflict is God’s training ground. Use it for their good.
It is important to teach a child’s brain to learn how to engage, not just to listen. If he is watching TV and you shout out from the other room to do something, chances are his ears heard you, but his mind didn’t. Especially when they are younger, this requires intentional effort on your part, but you will reap the fruit for years to come. Stop what YOU are doing, go to them, get down on their level, hold out your hands, and tell him to put his hands in yours. You aren’t controlling him, forcing, or using anger to make him obey. If it takes 5 minutes for him to put his hands in your hands, that is okay. He is learning. Once his hands are in your hands (and you don’t hold on to control – he has free will), tell him to look at your eyes and then state what you need/want. When you start this, it can feel like you are spending so much time just getting his attention to say one sentence, but really you are sowing into teaching him about self-control, respect, honor, and engagement. If at any time he pulls his hands away or stops looking at you, cease talking and be silent until he returns his eyes to you, then instruct he puts his hands back, and the moment he does begin speaking again. It is okay if this takes time and practice. The other thing is that when kids are required to respond with a “Yes, Mom/Dad,” they are much more engaged in completing the instruction than when they do not respond. I worked really hard on this when they were younger, but it soon became the norm.
Children might be world changers in training, but they still have childlike immaturity that needs to be cultivated so that they can endure the assignments God wants to give them to change the world around them for a lifetime. Character is a stone in their foundation that must be laid in childhood.
Character Counts is a downloadable digital resource that we created to give parents the How-To in equipping their children with godly character. We provide you with fun and engaging activities to do with your child to empower good character.
When my kids were all toddlers, I handed them a treat while we were out on a walk. They eagerly opened it, dropped their package in the middle of the sidewalk, and carried on. I stopped, got down on their level, and pointed to the whole walking path. I wanted them to see how big the path was. I said, “What would this park look like if everyone dropped their trash on the ground? No one would want to come here anymore because it would look like a garbage dump. Where do you think you could put your wrapper?” And I made them think about it. They could put it in the trash, in their pocket, or in the stroller basket. I focused on teaching principles of honor, respect, and kindness and not just the laws and rules. Let’s say they dropped their wrapper on the walk, and I simply instructed them to pick it up. Yet an hour later, they drop their empty water bottle on the ground, and I have to tell them again to pick it up. Only to find two hours later, their backpack finds its way to the floor. This approach teaches them the ‘rules.’ Do not drop a granola wrapper on the trail. Do not drop a water bottle at the park. Do not… Do not… Do not… 18 years is simply not enough time to teach your child about every single possible scenario in which they should not drop or leave behind something. It is an exhausting way to parent and produce children who struggle when they leave home because they find themselves in new situations and don’t know the rules. Instead, try parenting from a place of teaching the why or principles behind it. “Sweetie, when you drop your wrapper on the ground, who did you expect to pick it up?” OR “When you drop things like that, someone else has to clean up your mess. Mommy wants you to take responsibility for it.” That principle carries through when talking about shoes at the door, backpacks being dropped anywhere, dishes being cleared from the table, the garage being taken out, etc. When they are older, they will be able to manage themselves based on character and principles instead of rules.
God is creative. The enemy is not. He can only take what God has already created and twist and pervert it for his agenda, making it a counterfeit to the original design. But there is one thing he cannot counterfeit, and that is PEACE because peace is His presence, and he is not GOD! There is no such thing as ‘false peace.’ 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” I would argue that it is important to walk in His peace at all times, but I want to zoom in on the importance of creating peaceful school mornings. Chaos breeds hurt, pressure, fear, confusion, anxiety, low self-esteem, worry, insecurity, and doubt. It cripples their confidence and pushes them to act like orphans fending and striving. Chaos creates opportunities for them to take out their anger on others during the school day. Worse yet, it ushers them into emotional or mental isolation, which is the breeding ground for the enemy’s lies. Chaos sends our children to school feeling like they are a disappointment and disconnected from the ones who should love, value, honor, see and hear them the most. Chaos sets them up for hardships and conflicts with friends because they have unresolved heart splinters. Chaos can become a mental distraction causing an inability to focus well on school and learning. Their minds are focused on the lack of peace and connection from the morning, and it robs them of the freedom to engage in the moment. Some children spend all day fearing going home, knowing they disappointed Mom in the morning. This is the very opposite of our heart for them, yet we are gatekeepers for what we are allowing to transpire in our homes each morning. You are not a victim to your schedule or demands. Your child does not dictate and lead. You are a leader in your home. What you allow and tolerate is what you will reap.
I want to offer some suggestions for keeping order, even joy, in your mornings as you prepare for the day and get everyone out of the door.
Wake Up – Get alarm clocks for each person, making it their responsibility to get up on their own. Nothing creates more stress and sets the tone for the day than Mom yelling at a child to wake up for the tenth time. If my kids do not heed their alarm, I turn on their light. If they continue to refuse to get up, they lose out on get-ready time, but either way, my car leaves at the same time to go to school, and they will be in it. It generally takes an ‘I am serious’ moment for them to learn the lesson that getting up on time is VERY important as no child wants to go to school in their PJs. This applies to teens too. Nothing motivates a teen girl more to wake up than realizing she will miss out on doing her hair and makeup if she doesn’t manage waking up.
Role Play – For younger children entering school for the first time, have a mock school day where you wake up and pretend it is a school day. Walk through with them what needs to be done step by step.
Breakfast – Isn’t it interesting how we can be together all morning and never once even look at or see each other? Make a goal to sit together even just for five minutes. Talk about your upcoming day. This is a great time to cheer each other on for tests, tryouts, or heavier issues they are facing. I have a couple of great question games that we keep at the table to create conversation and laughter. Also, setting breakfast at a certain time each morning helps them manage what needs to be done by breakfast time (make bed, get dressed, etc.), as well as after (brush teeth, put shoes on, etc.).
Routine – Having a consistent routine and agenda helps children to be successful. They know what they can expect and what is expected. It helps them to be self-guided in managing their time, too. One thing that really helped when they first started formal school was to have them do it in order. They had to get up, then make their bed, then get dressed, then eat breakfast, then brush their teeth, etc. Doing it in order helped them to know what they should be doing next. When they got older, our morning routine included the kids getting up at 6:30 AM, at the breakfast table at 7:00, and out the door at 7:30. They managed themselves in between, but those three times needed to be honored. Establishing the expectations ahead of time took the pressure off me having to keep them moving. Do not be shy in creating a poster with the schedule and if you see a child not doing what they are supposed to be doing, ask them to check the schedule.
Lunches – Empower children to make lunches the night before, perhaps even on Sunday. Create an atmosphere of empowerment rather than pressure like it is a chore. Praise them for their effort and accomplishment. I told them they had to have one meat and one fruit/veggie, and one snack/treat, but they could pick what they wanted.
Clothes – Empower children to pick out their clothes the night before, including socks and shoes, or perhaps spend an hour on Sunday afternoon having them set out their outfits for the whole week. My girls love it! This includes a routine for gym uniforms. Picking out clothes in the morning can be a recipe for chaos, especially for girls.
Chores – Years ago, the kids wanted me to take them to the park, but I was too exhausted from the never-ending cycle of making meals, washing dishes, picking up, folding clothes, fetching juice, etc. I decided that day that since my children were a part of the household, they needed to contribute to the success. My top areas were the floors, dishes, trash, and laundry (which is perfect because I have four kids!). When they were younger, I printed out the weekly schedule and assigned chores and posted it on the wall in a frame. This empowered them to take responsibility, manage something, and feel good about their contributions. We have continued these chores to this day, but I have moved them to the evening so they can focus on other things in the morning. The only chore they have in the morning is managing themselves for school and putting their dishes away.
Bathroom – Is bathroom time a hassle in your home? Switch from AM showers to PM showers. Create a hair/makeup area in their bedroom, leaving the bathroom available for the basics.
School Papers – It caused me a lot of stress when the kids would shove a piece of paper in my face while driving, expecting me to sign it before we arrived. I created a system where anything that required my time, signature, or money needed to be placed on top of my coffee maker. I wake up early and review the pile while making my coffee. I respond and place the notes on the counter, making it their responsibility to get it in their backpacks. If they came to me in a panic about something, I would remind them of the system. Sometimes they had to get a ZERO on their reading log in order to learn that their lack of planning does not create a crisis on my end. I was holding onto my peace and teaching them to be more prepared.
Attitudes – If attitudes are something you deal with in the morning, it means their teacher is dealing with it, too. Do not ignore this character weakness, parent it. Pinpoint the real issue, such as a lack of humility, rebellion, or lack of self-control, and go after it in times of peace. Sit with them and let them know responding to authority that way is not acceptable, and then role-play some ways they could handle it differently. Go after that character trait in other ways. Teach, train, and empower them.
Family Meetings – I call “Family Meeting!” often in our home. The kids know they need to come immediately into the living room (yes, we had to practice what it means to come immediately and not 15 minutes later). I used this time to inform them of events, talk about issues, work through hurts/offenses, and allow their voice to be heard. We meet weekly, oftentimes more than that. During the school year, I made sure every Sunday we had a check-in and talked about the week, field trips, errands that must be run, things that needed to be added to the grocery list, playdates, permission slips, sports obligations, rides, science projects, etc. This helped us all to feel ahead of the game and not always reacting at the last minute.
What are some steps you can take to make sure you are sending your child out into the world armed with peace?
It is very difficult for a child to release the Kingdom at the store if they are on the floor pitching a fit because you did not buy them a toy. They will have a harder time hearing God’s voice if they haven’t been taught to listen to yours first. You will have a greater challenge getting them to be ‘others’ focused if they have been taught that they are the only ones that matter. Character matters!
I wholeheartedly agree that school shootings are not a gun issue but a heart issue. Unresolved hurts turn into offenses, and offenses turn into bitterness. Bitterness is a gateway for the enemy to carry out his plan on earth to kill, steal and destroy through us. What is sad about these shootings is that the shooter is riddled with hurts that never got addressed or validated. Are you passionate about keeping our children safe? Then do YOUR part and talk to YOUR child about bullying. What is it? How does it happen? Why does it happen? Ask if they have witnessed it. Talk about how they can overcome the spirit of fear and intimidation. Talk about taking a public stand against someone who appears powerful. Show them how Jesus stood up to the powerful people of His day. Empower them. Equip them. Train them.
Here is a great resource for you as a parent (there are many, but the point is to do SOMETHING about it in your own home). Click on the link, print out the Anti-Bully Pledge card, and sign it as a family. StopBullying.gov