Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When we think about it, Heavenly Father never argues with anyone. He does not debate. He sets a certain standard and expects us to follow that standard. When we choose to disobey there is an established consequence already in place that follows. The same is true for obedience, there are set rewards for obedience and we receive those rewards according to our obedience to Heavenly Father. This is a great example for us to follow as we parent our children.

Heavenly Father allows us the opportunity to grow and learn, to repent and change. We can take advantage of this gift each time we make a mistake and try to better ourselves immediately. Heavenly Father recognizes the person who is trying to repent. He forgives our mistakes and helps us to listen better to the Spirit, which will help us to choose more wisely our thoughts, actions and words.

Teaching children to understand the process of agency is important. Many times members of the church refer to this as “free agency”. It is true we are “free” to choose, however agency comes with rewards and consequences. We can choose the act, but not the reward or consequence.

Our thoughts lead our words and actions. Helping children to understand they think about their choices before they act is vital to their becoming aware of their agency and their own responsibility. Reminding them that they are constantly choosing for themselves will help them accept the rewards and consequences for their chosen behaviors. Re-enforcing good behavior is always preferred, however children must also have boundaries and understand with clarity when they have crossed over those boundaries.

Little children learn very early on what “yes” and “no” mean. If they can say “no” they understand its’ meaning well enough to begin practicing obedience.

As children grown in understanding they can be taught that only Heavenly Father can refuse to forgive; we are commanded to forgive all. However, when things become very serious, Heavenly Father will remove someone from the group – kind of like “time out”, to keep the group safe from harm. In society, when adults behave badly, in a very serious way, they too are removed from the group and set apart so that they do not harm anyone in the group. This kind of “time out” is called “jail” or “prison”. Their agency is taken away and someone with the proper authority chooses for them. In both of these examples there are times when the person who has behaved badly will repent and be brought back into the group, forgiven and allowed to live, choosing for themselves again. In other cases, when they have behaved so badly they do not repent, they will sit in a "time out" and not be allowed to make their own decisions. They lose their agency because they have not made enough correct decisions. They do not live with their families, friends, or get to leave “time out”.

In our homes children need to understand clearly the boundaries Heavenly Father has set and the ones that we as a family have set. Children need consistency so they can choose correctly each time and know what to expect.

Children need to understand the difference between discipline and punishment. A disciplined child will be educated, love learning, be obedient and eventually live the standards necessary for acceptance into adult society, clubs, etc. and if a member of the church -a temple recommend. Discipline is a gift, most times without tangible rewards. Children will need help recognizing these rewards as they come along. Constant reminders of “hidden” rewards for a disciplined life will help them appreciate rules and boundaries that help them towards goals.

Hidden rewards can be earning good grades, being the good friend, finishing projects, helping others, etc.

Hopefully as we train ourselves to be better parents, our children will become self-disciplinarians and the parent role can evolve (around year 18!) from caregiver and teacher to adviser and friend. “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” – Joseph Smith

The following is a little history and after that the plan that saved me!

A long time ago I found myself alone with five children as Thor went off in search of a dinosaur to whack over the head and throw into our cave. I was out numbered and the offspring got restless. I couldn't blame them or Thor, it was my fault. I was inconsistent and it frustrated everyone.

One particular day I found the very ugly side of myself and thought I was the worst mother in the world. I grew up in a spanking world. I was taught to spank. Spanking solved everything. If I got into trouble I was to go outside, pull down a slim branch, spend a few minutes bending it back and forth until it broke off the tree, and then hand it over to my mother who disciplined me with said twig. Although I never went that far, I did spank and I regret each and every one of those spankings. And you know what? Spanking solves nothing.

I remember them and what is worse, my children remember them. Do we remember what caused them to be spanked? Nope, just the punishment that came from anger and left its emotional mark on my kids. My kids are grown now, and have forgiven their dolt of a mother. I have not.

We have been admonished by a prophet of God, now, recently, to give up the spanking. I wish I had heard that speech when my little ones were little. My spanking was encouraged, even praised, and I had well behaved children to prove the method. However one day I broke. I couldn't do it anymore. So I prayed. Hard.

What I came up with was marvelous. It worked! It was HARD. Especially on me, because I had to change. The training was more for me than the kids. But change I did, and they followed; and after one heck of a week things began to turn very well. I still had the best behaved kids I knew, just without the spanking, arguing and other messes that led to all of our frustrations. My kids were happy and content; and so was I.

So here you go. I have been asked by a few people to finally get this out there in hopes that the masses (read: the 5 people who read this blog) can find it as useful as I did. Please read through all the posts and feel free to adapt it to your particular circumstances and family.

The Plan

Now that you know the basic foundation for the program here is an outline to help your children understand exactly how you will train each other for happiness. The idea is, that instead of arguing and disobedience, choosing to obey and being disciplined will result in more happiness -which is its own reward. An obvious reward for obedience (using this system) is that everyone will go to bed on time and not have to miss out on family time.

A Family Home Evening outline is given near the end of this post as a suggestion and as a help to introduce the entire family to the new goals and the plan to achieve them.

Every time a person chooses disobedience or arguing, that person will take five minutes off of their bedtime. They will recognize their behavior, admit it to the parent, and promise to try and choose better.

You must train yourself to stop at the very beginning of arguing (disobedience, bad language, ill behaviour, etc.). NEVER ARGUE! Put up your hand and say, "Stop." in a calm voice. If they continue to argue, put up your hand and again, calmly say, "Stop. Do not ague with me." Do not engage the argument. React each time with "Stop." until they stop and listen to you. At that point you can remind them of the family commitment to peace and no arguing, and that because of their commitment, and now their current choice, they chose to take five minutes off bedtime. If they begin to argue again, simply say, "That's another five minutes." Once they comply, tell them how happy you are that they are listening, and that you love them and it's time to start again. Remember: Never raise your voice unless someone is bleeding or on fire!

At the end of the day, one half hour before the earned bedtime, they will begin the bedtime routine. After that time (the half hour before the bedtime) any (each) act of disobedience will result in five minutes off for the following day. If a person goes to bed other than the regular time, that person will not get a story or other bedtime 'perks'. Prayers will be said, the parent will tell the child (at least five) things they did right and tuck them in. If a child goes to bed before dinnertime, they will still go to bed, and when dinner time has come, they will get a sandwich and a glass of milk. They get out of bed only to re-brush their teeth (in a timely manner...no foolin' around!). They only go potty if they get permission (again, no foolin' around!). Any "pretending" adds five minutes off the next day.

Every bedtime should include prayers and mom and/or dad sharing (at least five) things the child did correct during that day, reinforcing the good behaviours and letting the child feel forgiven and accepted. (See last post at the bottom of the page)

If mom and dad goof up, say a naughty word or whatever you decide, there is a spot on the chart for you to take responsibility for your mistake as well. At the end of the week the children get to decide how to spend those minutes, as a family, with you.

A chart that should be laminated and used with a dry wipe marker to mark off the five minute increments for disobedience. Each person in the family will have their own colour, mom and dad can share colours if you want. Place the chart low enough on the fridge so that every child can mark on it and "read" it easily. An example chart will be posted after this. When you make up your family's chart try to make it so that any non-readers can understand the concept clearly by observing the illustrations.

A key to the success for this system is that you will train yourself NOT to argue or debate with your children. Never. You are the parent, they are the children. You train them, not the other way around. Later, in their teen years they can discuss points, but in tones that are rational and with respect and obedience without argument to your final decision. Your children will not be robots without opinion, but rather young adults who can discuss and accept the will of wiser parents with trust. In turn you may even find they have a great reason and change your opinion due to their self control and good use of language!

Always pattern your parenting to that of Heavenly Father and you'll do fine.

Most all other questions should be answered in the following outline. However, if you come up with a question, feel free to ask away and I will try to explain it better. (Shoot me a S'mee mail!)

Family Night Overview

Opening Song: Choose the Right Way CS 160

Opening Prayer:

Scripture: “ And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” - Mosiah 4:14-15

Ask each family member to tell of a time when they felt really happy.

Explain that Heavenly Father and Jesus want us to be happy all the time. When we look at the times when we are happy it is usually when we are obedient and following the commandments of God. Commandments are like God’s rules.

Our home also has rules. What are some of our rules?

When we follow the home and family rules we are happy.

Satan does not want our family to be happy. He has come up with a plan to make us sad. It has a name: Contention. (3 Nephi 11:29) Contention means to argue or fight with each other, to use mean voices and angry words. When we disobey the family rules it makes Satan happy and God sad. It makes us sad too. We are Heavenly Father’s children; we feel the same way Heavenly Father feels when we obey and when we do not obey. We do not want contention in our home; we want to feel happy inside.

Our bedtime rule is that the children go to bed at 7:00 so they can have a good night sleep and wake up happy and ready for a new day.

Let’s talk about a new rule to help make us happy. It is a choosing rule. You will get to choose for yourself to obey or disobey.

Do you think it would help if we started to think carefully about our words and actions? Our words and actions need to be nice. We need to speak nicely to each other, not argue or fight, and to obey Mommy and Daddy without arguing.

Do you think we can choose correctly and make Heavenly Father and ourselves happy all the time?

Here is a special chart that will help all of us learn to choose the right and make changes so that we can be a happier family.

If we choose well all day long, we will get to eat dinner with the family and spend family time until our bedtime. Mommy and Daddy will spend the time right before bedtime helping you take a bath, brush your teeth, and get ready for bedtime. We will share a story, tell you the things you did right all day, say our prayers and sing a song before you go to sleep. That would make us all happy, right?

When we choose to disobey, or uses mean words, or argue, we will lose 5 minutes of the day. This means that we will need to go to bed five minutes earlier. If we choose to disobey the family rules we will go to the chart with Mommy or Daddy and cross off the bedtime by five minutes. We will also have to tell Mommy or Daddy what we chose to do wrong and say we are sorry and try to choose better.

It takes us a half hour to get ready for bed. So at the end of the day Mommy or Daddy will check the chart and when we are a half hour from the bedtime you have chosen, we will come and get you and help you get ready for bed. We will help you take your bath, brush your teeth, and get ready for bed. We will say prayers with you, tell you the things you did right, and tuck you in.

We will not get a story or a song if we choose to go to bed early. If we choose to go to bed before dinnertime, when it is dinnertime Mommy or Daddy will bring us a sandwich and a glass of milk. We will not be allowed to get out of bed without permission; if we choose to disobey then we will lose 5 minutes off of the next day. Even if it’s sunny outside or we are not tired we will need to rest quietly in our bed. If we have to go potty, we will need to ask Mommy or Daddy to get out of bed. If we choose to pretend or be disobedient after we are in bed, then we will choose to lose another five minutes for the next day.

_______will be the red colour, _____ will be the blue, and ______will be yellow. Mommy and Daddy will help you to choose the right. If you argue with Mommy or Daddy you are choosing to lose five minutes.

If Mommy and Daddy use angry words or disobey the family rules they will choose to put 5 minutes on the chart. At the end of the week, we will count up all the minutes. The children in the family can decide how to spend the time with Mommy and Daddy.

Do we think we can change for the better and make us all happy? Do you think that Heavenly Father will be happy with us?

I know that Heavenly Father will be very happy that our family is trying to be obedient and not allow Satan to make our choices.

Let’s begin this tomorrow and see how much we more happy we can be by next week!

Closing Song: Quickly I’ll Obey CS 197
Closing Prayer:

In all honesty, the first day we applied this plan, #1 went to bed at 3:30! Wow. Not one of the kids made it past 5:30. It was one of the toughest days of my life! The next day it got better, and the day after that it was great. By the end of week two of the kids were only missing bedtime by 20 minutes or so. Eventually, (a few years later) we decided that when a child reached the sixth grade they could go to bed "whenever". It was an easy rule, because they were self disciplined by then. They knew the rules, they knew they had to get up at a certain time, no matter what, so they usually chose well.

This disciplined all of us so well that I can also honestly say that I can count on less than one hand the times my kids talked back to me after we implemented this program. Imagine your teenagers NEVER giving you back talk, never raising their voice to you, and rarely to their siblings. It was years of practice, but it worked.

The Chart

This is an example of a chart that I made years ago. It has a different colour for each child on the top, and then colours for mom and dad on the bottom. (You can adapt this to your needs.) Each section has five minute increments, beginning with the bedtime and going backwards, which can be marked off.
The bottom of the chart is an illustration that shows that "obedience equals happiness and a correct bedtime" on the left; and that disobedience equals unhappiness and an early bedtime.

You may need to click on each photo to see clearly the illustrations, but you get the idea. And yes, my kids went to bed at 7:00 until they were in 6th grade.

A Nice Bedtime Story...

I am repeating myself in this post to emphasis a great point, one that -again- I can't claim as my own.

A young mom in our ward found herself in the same situation we all do, frustrated and wondering how her child made it through the day in one piece. She confided over the pulpit that she had made the mistake of putting her child to bed in anger. She tucked her little one into bed with a laundry list of his wrong doings and turned out the light in a huff.

Half way down the hall she heard his tiny voice calling, "Mommy, what about the rights?" In confusion she turned back and asked him to explain. "What rights? What are you talking about?" Her little boy replied that she had told him all the things he did wrong, would she tell him the all the things he did right before he went to sleep?

At this point, her eyes filled with tears and she realized she had sent her child to bed without knowing any of the good things he had accomplished that day. He felt like a failure in his mommy's eyes, unsure of his place, unsure that he was loved. I fear that we all have been in that same position some time during our mothering careers.

I was very humbled to hear this story, feeling my own guilt and wanting to be better. Isn't this a grand idea? She repented right then and there and decided that every night he would be tucked into bed, no matter the prior experiences of the day, with a laundry list of things done right. She admits that the list can be difficult to fill some days, "You were the very best at breathing today!" "You kept your shoes on all the way through lunch!" and other such good deeds. The thing is, he went to bed feeling loved by his mommy.

I don't believe we need to coddle our children, to let them win each time, to take them to every event they are invited to or make sure their life is fair in every way. They need to learn and experience life. However, they should always feel safe when they lie down at night. They should always feel love before they go to sleep.