PLAYDATES ARE YOUR TRAINING GROUND

PLAYDATES ARE YOUR 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

THE DIFFICULTY OF BAD CHARACTER

The Word says in 2 Timothy 3:1-5: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

If this is what our children are up against, how can we stand against this force of reckless rebellion? By intentionally teaching and training character at an early age! What is good character? How can we teach our young children? How do we go after character without introducing legalism? How can we empower them through connection? How can we expect more out of our children?

I invite you to check out our CHARACTER COUNTS Magazine – Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly

DECREASE FOOLISHNESS

Going to the library with four little ones was no small task, but I was determined. I discovered this glorious thing called “Toddler Story Time,” which to me meant someone else could take the lead, at least for a few minutes anyway. I was mortified at what my eyes saw. The senior librarian welcomed the children, but not one person in the room responded. She sat down to read the book, and chaos broke out. Kids were running all over the room as loud as they could be. No one seemed to care that she was trying to read to them. My shock morphed into judgment when a child began to play tug of war with the book that the librarian was trying desperately to read, and the mother did not feel led to assist the librarian in getting her book back. Before I knew it, my four joined the circus. I vowed I would never come back again. A week later, we were at the movie theater, and the same thing happened with kids running all over the place, making it impossible to actually watch the movie. Suddenly I realized what Proverbs 22:15 meant when it says, “A child’s heart has a tendency to do wrong, but the rod of discipline removes it far away from him.” Many of us know the ‘spanking’ part of this verse, and we get lost in the debate if children should be spanked. We need to zoom out of that debate and see the bigger picture. Children are foolish by nature. They are selfish by nature. They are immature by nature. Their brains aren’t even fully developed by nature. My job as a parent is to lead them in the direction of honor, respect, kindness, and self-control. This is not a post on spanking, but it IS a post on parents guiding their child’s behavior as a shepherd cares for their flock with their rod. When a sheep is wandering outside of the safety zone, a shepherd uses his rod to guide him back and lead them where they should go. The heart of this verse is about helping our children move away from foolishness through corrections and guidance. If you want to decrease their foolishness, you have to increase your teaching.

FULLY AND COMPLETELY

When I would tell the four kids to do something, they would obey right away, but only partially. So, I would call them back, and they would obey right away again, but still not finish. I was asking them FOUR times to complete the dishwasher, FIVE times to clean the bathroom all the way, THREE times for the floor, and I was about to go mad! I realized it was an issue of taking responsibility, so I asked Holy Spirit for a creative teaching tool. Ha! Do you know one of the names of Holy Spirit? TEACHER! He rocks at teaching the kids and loves to do it in a fun way. I called all the kids back and gave them a piece of paper to wad up. I then told them they had to put the paper in the bathroom (the furthest room from the living room). They were all like, “Okay, easy peasy.” Then I said, “But… you can only drop it, stoop down to get it, stand up, drop it again, stoop down to get it, stand up, drop it…” It was super funny about four times, but after that, they wanted to cry. They were clueless about why they were doing this; it was NOT fun. I called them all back into the living room and explained that that is how I feel when I ask them to do something and then have to call them back again and again to finish it. When they are instructed to do something, they must stick with it until it is done fully and completely.

CHARACTER MATTERS

We have been to plenty of hotels where the children above us raced the floors, keeping us up at night. I have used it as a time not to judge but to explain to the kids that their choices do affect others. One night, Ellie (then 9) was bouncing a small ball against the stairs in our hotel room, playing by herself. Thirty minutes later, the front desk called, saying the people below us complained about the noise. I called her over, explained the situation, and asked how she would like to handle it. She said she would stop immediately and asked if she could write them a note apologizing. What I loved about her response is that she had the awareness she had affected them and was eager to not only stop but make it right with them. There is a difference between caring about what people think and caring about the way we affect those around us.

LAYING THE FOUNDATION

FIRST – When an issue comes up, you must ask yourself, “Have I taught, trained, and equipped them in this area?” That means, have you proactively taught them how to handle disappointments, the difference between right and wrong, how to handle when someone else wants your toy, or how to respond when someone is being unloving before the conflict? These things require intentional parenting in times of peace. This is where you get to cuddle, connect, go on dates, have family meetings, etc. You get to fill up their love tanks by connecting through intentional teaching with Mom and Dad. Much of the early toddler years are spent doing this very thing – some days without ceasing! It is the heart that says, “Hey, son/daughter, I have something to show (or teach) you.”

SECOND – Look for opportunities in real life to apply the thing you are trying to teach. This is where the training part comes in. You practice, practice, practice with real-life situations. Will a 2-year-old master self-control in the first week? Nope! You will be an intentional parent for 18 years and will need to teach and train them in the area of self-control in every stage of their life. Perhaps with a 2-year-old, your training subject will not be getting the toy they desire. When they are 10, it will be about completing their homework each night, and perhaps when they are 18, it will be having self-control with the opposite sex. These character traits should be something we build upon as they get older.

THIRD – You now have a foundation upon which you can build. Say you have already laid the first and second part of the foundation in the area of self-control. Now, when you take them to a meeting where they need to sit quietly, you can pull out that teaching and training to prepare them for what you expect from them. You can begin role-playing in certain situations. I would often park the van at the grocery store parking lot to do a quick family huddle about what was expected and how we could proactively use the skills I had just taught them. Here’s what it would sound like: “Hey guys, who wants dinner tonight? Okay, we are going to go into the grocery store for food, not toys. Hudson, will you get the door for us? Lauren, do you want to push the cart? Emma, will you be my big helper and put the food in the cart for me?” I am now leaning into the skills that I have taught them and cashing in on them. I am building us all up for a successful shopping trip. We are all doing our part while we are connected and creating fun family memories versus an unfruitful and frustrating experience for all.

LAST – When a foundation has been established, THEN you can add discipline, such as time-outs, consequences, removing privileges, etc. Can you see how confusing it would be to a child when parents keep disciplining them for the ‘NO’ behaviors but never spend time teaching them what IS acceptable? You could say it looks like this:

  • An issue arises that you want to see a change in (every family will be different on this).
  • Proactively teach during times of peace, using it as a connecting time to get to their heart. 
  • Now coach them by role-playing that issue in real-life situations. 
  • Look for opportunities where they can proactively apply that skill.
  • Discipline is now appropriate if the child chooses not to use the training you have established for them. 

Here’s another real-life example: Let’s say you are shopping, and your kids are touching everything, running crazy, and having a meltdown for a new toy. You have a few options. You can: #1. Conclude your children aren’t old enough for an outing to the store, and thus put the burden on yourself to either pay for a sitter or go late after they are in bed. #2. Get mad, yell, scream, and then feel awful! OR #3. Teach and train your children what it looks like to have self-control at the store. I heard a story of a mom who was so fed up with her grocery trips that she sat her kids down and explained to them what was required. Then every single day for an entire week, they would go to the store, not to buy anything, just to walk up and down the aisles so the kids could practice! That mom is now reaping the tasty fruit of grocery shopping in peace. Oh, did you hear that? What was the Kingdom of God again? Righteousness, peace, and joy! What is a specific area you need to intentionally go after in teaching and training your child?

NOT THAT SMART

As we were celebrating the end of the school year, I was reminded of something Ellie said years ago. Her report card reflected all A’s, and I praised her for being so smart. But she said, “Mom, I am not really that smart. I just have the character to sit in class and listen to my teacher.” She was saying her grades were a reflection of her ability to be taught more than her inner IQ. Character matters and is something we go after for a lifetime, but those younger years are vital to setting a child up for lifelong success. If your child has never been taught to listen to and honor your voice, they will have a harder time in the classroom. If your child has not been expected to get along with siblings, they will have a harder time with peers. If your child has not been required to practice self-control in the family room, they will struggle with it in the classroom. Character matters! 

TRAIN THEM

I was at the mall one day and witnessed something that I wanted to speak into. A child was given a toy by her grandma while the adults shopped in a store. The child was happy and content. A few minutes later, the four-year-old wandered over to the table with perfume bottles and began to play with them. Grandma came and yanked the girl’s arm away, and the girl resisted. She went back to the perfume bottles again and was playing with them. Grandma returned only to scold the girl sharply. A power struggle broke out. I 100% agree that it is not wise for a four-year-old to be playing with perfume bottles BUT can we take a small tour into the world of a four-year-old? She was given a toy and that is okay, but finds something else to play with quietly and is yanked, scolded and reprimanded. How is she supposed to know at four what is and what is not okay to touch unless someone teaches her? What would it have looked like if Grandma understood she was just touching and playing because it was there and on her level of reach and in her mind she honestly did not know the value of the bottles or what could happen if they fell on the floor or worse yet sprayed in her face? How do you think the girl would have responded if Grandma got down on her level, gently held her hand, looked in her eyes, and said firmly, “No, no touch,” and began to train the little girl to honor her voice? Grabbing, yanking, scolding, and yelling, do nothing to teach a child what is and is not okay. It breaks connection and confuses a child. TRAIN them in self-control and responding to your verbal command.

SELF-CONTROL

If you do not teach and train your child what it looks like to control themselves when they are younger, they will have a much harder time when they are older. There is something God built into toddlers that makes the training process of learning self-control EASIER (and perhaps a little less painful) than when they are older. Parents, it is an act of LOVE to teach your child how to learn to control themselves. Want to learn HOW? We have created this downloadable parenting magazine with oodles of ways to implement character training with your little ones.

Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly

HUMILITY

Teaching your child to confess their sin robs the enemy of his desire to wrap them in shame. Humility is taught, not to condemn but to FREE us from the sins of our flesh. It looks like this: There is conflict, and you ask, “Sweetie, what did you do wrong?” They tell you their part (confession), and then you help them ask for forgiveness. “Jesus, I hurt my brother. Would You please forgive me?” If they honestly can’t tell you what they did wrong, then YOU haven’t done your part as a parent to teach them what right living (righteousness) looks like in that situation. Teach and empower them in times of peace what right living looks like. Forgiveness isn’t a blank credit card for our sins. It is a GIFT that needs to be acknowledged, honored, and intentionally received. When children mess up, they carry the guilt, which can easily become shameful if not dealt with. Helping them confess brings peace to their heart.

CHARACTER COUNTS

Character, like a stake on a young tree, is what supports the fruit the Father wants to bear through each of us. Simply put, character matters because it matters to God! I’m often asked, “At what age should one start teaching about character?” My response is – character is for all ages, but the younger you start, the easier it will be to set the standard. It is much easier to teach a two-year-old about self-control than a teenager who has lived without it their entire life. If your child is able to use the word “NO!” and mean it, they are ready for character training. Often parents give young children all the freedom in the world in fear of stifling their child’s exploration and creativity, but as they get older, they begin to clamp down on their freedom. This creates a power struggle that results in a frustrated parent and a relentless child resolved to keep the unrestricted freedom they’ve already tasted. Perhaps a better approach is to empower a child with freedom as they relate to their ability to walk in self-control to manage the freedom well. The Bible says in Romans 14:17, “The Kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace, and joy…”  I don’t think it was an accident that righteousness was listed first. It is hard to walk in peace and joy when unrighteous ways like selfishness, rudeness, and a lack of self-control are present. If you want to release the Kingdom of God through your children as a family lifestyle, then here is your parenting job description: Cultivate a home where righteousness, peace, and joy are plentiful because this is where the Kingdom of God is. This isn’t a one-time teaching but a lifetime of cultivating righteousness, peace, and joy in your home. Your child 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 care about others if they have been taught that they are the only ones that matter. Parents want the fruit of well-behaved joyful children but often do little in times of peace to sow into that. No child is born with the character to change the world around them. They need to be influenced, shaped, molded, corrected, and taught intentionally. 

We have a popular eBooklet called Character Counts that empowers parents in the area of character training by defining what it is, why it is important and how to create a family lifestyle around it. We also provide parents with easy, fun, hands-on activities to do with their children to go after healthy character traits. Going after this TODAY will reap fruit for a LIFETIME. Nothing opens doors of favor more for our children than good character. You can get your instant download copy here: Character Training SOAR Magazine – Let the Children Fly