When you stop over at a friend’s house, do they cringe as they watch your little cyclones destroy their house? Kids will be kids, you say? I beg to differ.
If you want people to delight in your children, you would do well to teach them how to control their impulse to touch–and destroy–everything that interests them. But don’t wait until you are at your friend’s house to bark orders like, “Don’t touch that. I’m gonna count to three. Don’t make me tell you again.”
Or maybe you’re the oblivious mom. Are you the mother who doesn’t even realize your precious darlings are wreaking havoc on your friend’s picture-perfect home?
The best place to nurture the character quality of self-control is in the privacy of your own home. Don’t make the mistake of making your living environment so baby-proof that your child never has an opportunity to learn to restrain himself.
Waiting until you are visiting someone else’s house to teach your child temperance is unwise. Having other people watch you correct him will likely create stress, and may lead to angry frustration on your part, or to pandering to your kid’s whims.
Either response makes everyone uncomfortable. (And don’t be surprised if your next invitation to visit is a meeting at a fast-food restaurant with a playscape.)
HOW I LEARNED TO ENFORCE THE RULES WITHOUT LOSING MY TEMPER
When Meredith, our first child, was not yet one year old, I set aside some time to teach her not to touch fragile items.
We had a formal living room, where I purposefully placed some glass trinkets on the coffee table. I then laid my daughter’s blanket on the floor, and scattered some of her favorite toys on the blanket. When I set Meredith down to play, I told her I was going to read a magazine, and she could play with her toys.
I sat on the sofa and looked intently at the magazine. Not long after we settled into our activities, my daughter began to look around the room. Landing her gaze upon the objects on the table, she scooted over and pulled herself up to get a better look.
I intentionally stopped reading and made eye contact with my toddler. In a calm and quiet voice, I clearly defined the rule: “You are not allowed to touch these because they will break.”
With the goal of interpreting Meredith’s comprehension, I moved down to her level, looked her in the eyes, and said in a gentle tone of voice, “Remember, I said you’re not allowed to touch. These are mommy’s pretty treasures. Do you understand? Don’t touch.”
After Meredith nodded an affirming yes, I clearly explained the consequence if she disobeyed the rule. I wanted her to learn to consider the affect her disobedience would have on others, so I told to her the reason she was not allowed to touch: “Because they will break if you pick them up, and that would make mommy very sad.”
Back to the couch I went, acting completely distracted by my magazine. Meredith looked at me, and then scooted over to the coffee table again. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she studied me, and then one of the glass treasures. Then with her eyes on me, she deliberately chose to reach and touch the forbidden fruit. She instinctively knew to sneak her hand upward while I was distracted!
As Meredith reached for the trinket, she kept her eyes on me to see how I would respond. In a normal tone of voice, I calmly said, “No, no. Not allowed to touch. Remember? You will break it.” After administering the promised consequence, I moved my daughter back to her blanket to play with her toys.
And guess what? Soon, Meredith was on her way back over to touch what she had clearly understood was a no-no.
Meredith and I spent the better part of the day going through all this. Because I had scheduled this time for training, I could see the lesson through to the end. I was able to maintain a clear objective and respond in a calm, and loving manner without losing my temper. By the time my daughter went down for her afternoon nap, mommy was victorious, and needed a nap as well.
STICK WITH IT
Through many “don’t touch workshops,” each of my children have learned they could not wear me down or win over in defiance. However, because children are genuinely curious about how various objects feel, I eventually implemented a one-finger touch rule.
Each child quickly learned the self-restraint to touch gently, with their pointer finger, without picking up or breaking fragile objects. This enabled them to satisfy their curiosity and still understand the importance of obedience and respecting parental authority.
Looking back, every minute I spent training my children while they were young has paid off in great dividends of respect when they became teenagers.
Any sacrifice you make now to discipline your kids will establish a regard for your authority that will transfer over into their teen years. When your child reaches adolescence, their respect for you will be strongly influenced by what has been established early in their life.
Any matters not settled during your son’s “terrible twos” will likely show themselves in full force when he is in middle school.
I often tell mothers, “Terrible twos and adolescence are very similar. Their emotions are very intense, and you must choose your battles. The best time to neutralize conflicts with your adolescent son is a decade earlier when he is two!”
The early discipline in our home-sowed seeds of respect in our children that carried through their teenage years, and even on to the next generation. To my delight, 28 years later, Meredith has taught our granddaughter the one-finger touch rule.
As a result, grandma’s treasures never have to be put away when my granddaughter, Karis, comes to visit.*
When you take the time at home to teach your kids how to restrain from touching precious items, you will discover your children will be easier to manage when you are visiting friends. And if your kids develop a reputation of being self-controlled children, you might be surprised by the number of invitations to your friend’s homes you will receive!
Read more by Rhonda Stoppe in Godly Discipline is Not a Competition for Power
*Excerpt from Moms Raising Sons to Be Men