I have been asked numerous times to write about my philosophy of child training and raising children in general. I have been very hesitant to do so for numerous reasons. The first being that I and my husband are not experts and our children are still in our home. In other words, the jury's still out on whether we did it "right" or not. Of further concern is the fact that God made each family's dynamics to be unique. My husband is very laid back and easy going. I am more of a go-getter. Each of our children are different; some being complete opposites. We were not able to follow one set of guidelines in raising our own children; so I can't imagine that anyone else would be able to follow "The twelve simple steps to perfect children". I truly believe there are many ways to get desirable results. I do not believe in a cookie-cutter approach to raising chilren.
My final and biggest concern in sharing our story is that I do not want to hurt my oldest daughter. She has read and given permission for me to share our story. You see, God has done a marvelous work in her life. She was both self and strong-willed. She began talking at a very early age and she said exactly what she thought, which was more often than not offensive to others. The night she was born again, her whole life changed. She was not the same person. She is one of the most thoughtful, graceful, conscientious and kind young ladies that I know. She has been "the" model teenager. Her strong will has helped her to stand true to God's word when her friends applied tremendous peer pressure to try to get her to stray from the truths taught in the Bible.
Having stated my disclaimer; I tell our story in the hopes that if you are going through a similar situation with your child, you may learn from our mistakes, our trial and error approach, and that you too, will seek the Lord and follow His leading in how to raise your children. His answer for you may be very different from the answer he gave to us. This is simply how God led us and what worked in our case. God will guide you and give you wisdom as He did us, but your solution may be different than ours.
Baby number one came into this world and no baby was ever loved more. She was my pride and joy. Having experienced difficulties after her birth, she ended up sleeping in our bed. I nursed her on demand, sang to her, rocked her to sleep, and held her as much as possible. I loved being a mom!
About the time she started to crawl, she began displaying a strong will. For example, she would crawl over to the bookshelf and begin pulling off all the books. I would move her away and get her interested in a toy. She would immediately go back to the shelf and begin her game of pulling books off. I would tell her "No" and smack her hand and she would look me in the eye and reach for the books again. She would go back ten or more times. Every issue became a battle of the will.
By the time she was two, I was beyond desperate. I talked with every mom I knew, read every book, and researched every method. I found that each book contradicted the last one I had read, each theory was guaranteed to work, but for some reason it didn't.
I spent hours praying for my daughter and for wisdom in raising her. And one day my answer came. I was crying my heart out to my husband over a situation that had come up and he stated, "Why don't we do what God did in the garden of Eden? God told Adam and Eve they could eat of every tree, except the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. He told them if they ate of those trees they would die. He did not put up a big fence and warn them time and again. They chose to disobey, they chose to suffer the consequence." And so began the training of our daughter. We gave her a choice.
We were very specific. "Anna, you have a choice, you may share your blocks with Maria or we can put them on the 'fridge for the rest of the day and neither of you may play with them. Which choice do you prefer?" Ninety five percent of the time, she would choose to do the proper thing; in this case, share her blocks. But if she chose not to share, we followed through and put the blocks on the 'fridge and she wasn't allowed to play with them.
We allowed her to make the choice to disobey and to suffer the consequence for that choice. That did not feel right at times, but in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, God told Israel, "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply; and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land...I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:" As we know, Israel time and again, chose to disobey and they suffered the consequences. God did not force them to serve and obey him. He did not make them choose the right thing. He let them make the wrong choices and suffer the consequences that He had previously stated. In Deuteronomy 28 God tells of all the blessings and cursings that would come upon them. It's a very detailed list!
We came across a chart from Doorposts called the "If Then" chart. It listed the normal misbehaviour of children, the applicable Bible verse and had a blank space for the parent to write the consequence.We ended up making our own chart using the "Twenty-four family ways". I must say that was a huge step in helping me to be consistent with discipline. I didn't have to stop and think of a punishment. When she would hit her sister, we went to the chart and read, "In our home we treat others with kindness and respect". "Was hitting your sister kind? Remember the Bible says to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Would you want Kara to hit you? When you chose to hit Kara you chose to go to bed for 15 minutes. I'll set the timer, when it goes off, you may get up and apologize to Kara."
God then showed me that I was just reacting to her behaviour. I needed to teach her how to act properly before the situation arose. For instance, going to town was a nightmare. So, every morning, I would have a training session with her. I'd say, "Let's pretend we're going to the grocery store. While we are there you may not touch anything or ask me to buy anything. You are to walk right beside me and hold on to my skirt. IF you can obey the rules while in the store, I will buy you a book at the last store we go to(blessings), but if you misbehave, you will receive the consequence(cursing) when we get home." We would then pretend to go through the store with her holding onto my skirt. When we actually went to the store, I had her tell me the "rules" and the "blessings or cursings".
We used this training technique for everything. We've had lessons on how to act at someone else's house, proper table manners, sharing toys, conflict resolution, how to act in church, obedience, and speaking kindly. We have had literally thousands of training sessions in which we acted out the proper behaviour and showed the ridiculousness of the improper reactions. We made it hands on and fun. We read stories that portrayed children making the right and wrong choices, we memorized Bible verses and we sang songs.
My goal was to bend her will not to break it. I wanted to make her "want" to do the right thing. By specifically giving her a choice, she chose to bring her will subject to mine. Again, our greatest strength is always our greatest weakness. In this case her strong will is a very valuable asset. She is able to stand, despite having friends who left her because she wouldn't cave in. Queen Esther was probably a very strong willed lady. She used her strong will to save her people. But we all know the negative side of being strong willed. We will always have to guard our strength to make sure it does not become our weakness.