Spilled milk. Tantrums. Muddy footprints. Kids squabbling. Neglected chores. Disrespectful attitudes. Blatant disobedience.
Our children can exasperate us.
You’ve hear the adage about counting to ten before opening your mouth when your temper flares. It is good advice! Words spoken in anger don’t do much good. And they often do harm, poisoning the relationship.
“I told you that would happen!”
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times!”
“You know better.”
Of course, you must stop bad behavior. But this is the wrong time to teach. The perfect time to train—and to teach in a way that will influence behavior—is not in the heat of the moment. Never. Defenses are up. Nerves are frayed. Things are out of control. Words spoken when emotions are high are seldom the right words. And yet we have so much fire that it seems like it is the only moment, that if we don’t drive the point home with force, the lesson will never be learned! We want to see justice done! We want to unleash that ranting, raving, scolding lecture! For their own good!
It has helped me to take a deep breath, hold my tongue, and talk to myself silently inside my head words such as these: “I will remember this. There is enough time. I will seek out the right teaching moment, and then this wrong will be made right. I will correct this! This will not be forgotten. I will give my child the best conditions to learn this lesson.” Those words comfort me and calm me down. They allow the flared ire to settle down. They allow me to formulate a plan. I even jot myself a note to keep me tuned in to the need for training.
And when is the perfect time to train? When things are peaceful, and children are happy. That is when a story has great power. That’s when your own life’s experiences, shared in a friendly manner, can teach and train in a big way! I think I’ve taught my best lessons in the swimming pool or on walks. Working side by side on a project is an ideal time to discuss life. Don’t get preachy. Be brief and positive, assuring your child that you know they want to do well, and that you are not perfect but we all want to “try our best”. In a spirit of goodwill, your words go deeper. Hearts are softer, more welcoming to teaching. There are no walls up. You can point out the right way to behave without treading on the self-worth of your child. You can bear your own witness and it will be heard.
I love the scriptures for their great power of teaching through stories. And don’t we love great books for that same gift, to learn through the actions of another? How influential it is to see the dreadful results of bad choices in the life of a story character! When my children were young, we read the book Pinocchio (the original, not Disney). My children were distressed that this little wooden boy made so many foolish decisions and got into such mischief! They would moan out loud whenever they could see another mishap brewing. What an effective way to teach!
Family Night is a great time to have a lesson or game that drives home a valuable teaching, without condemning anyone. Any goal can be turned into a game! My son played a game with his little ones, where they could progress one space closer to an ice cream cone reward on a hand-drawn game board every time they went 15 minutes without crying. Teach them correct principles and make it fun to obey!
Bedtime is a very influential time for training. Laying next to a child in the dark, it is possible to teach meaningful lessons. Their bodies are tired and their hearts are often wide open. I would ask my child to tell me the best thing that happened that day, and then the worst. Sometimes I would ask, “How do you wish you’d done it?” Often this little connection was enough to spur some reflection and help a child see a better way.
Next time you feel your blood starting to boil for something your child has done, zip your mouth shut and talk to yourself. This is not the time for training. There will be a right time to teach him to do better, when his heart is open and tender. Take the energy of anger and transform it into the energy of creativity to plan a lesson to teach your children worthy values to live by! Those lessons will never be forgotten. As my grown daughter Emily says— when trying to make a decision on how to act— “I can hear your voice in my head, Mom.”
Coming soon . . . Obedience Stories!