Teach Your Children Well

The following was originally posted in thread on Gentle Christian Mothers called, “…And I’m the Strict One!“.

Well, ladies, do you know what’s a show-stopper in a nicely chatting group of Christian Mommies?

It’s when the strictest parent there casually mentions that she doesn’t spank. Here’s the circle of my friends and acquaintances when I mentioned it:  😮  😯   😕

Friend 1:  😮  “You don’t???”
Me: “Yeah, I used to, but I haven’t in a long time.”
Friend 2:   😯 “Really?”
Me: “I try not to do anything harsh at all, really.”
Friend 1: “Well… but… your kids are angels.”
Friend 2: “Some kids just don’t need it.”
Friend 1: “Yeah, I had one that spanking didn’t work for.”
Friend 2 to 1: “It’s not the right tool for every child.”
Friend 1 to me: “You can leave if you want to, if you think it’s cruel.”
Me: “No, I just think it’s unnecessary.”
Friend 2: “Well… you’ve got angels.”

Conversation continues on which kids “need” it, with lots of “funny” stories. Apparently, their various children’s persistent poor habits means the Mom should do more of what they are already doing (spanking), but the consistent excellence of my children has nothing to do with my methods: they were born that way.

Do these people really believe random selection gave me two angels, that I never had to really parent ‘the hard way’ — while they received an assortment of challenges my methods could never meet? I should extra-respect them for raising more difficult children, beyond my scope of experience? Even if they “have to” hit these challenging children, and even if hitting them isn’t showing any benefits!

(someone asks me to clarify what I mean by “strict.”)

Ok, here’s another tidbit of reality then: my husband is often unwell, and, with rare exceptions, that makes me the only “responsible adult” in my family. That means that, since I can’t handle (much) chaos, I can’t allow it.

I have lines of painters tape on my floor outlining “kitchen” in my open-plan home. Children don’t cross those lines when I am cooking. They haven’t for years. If my daughter woke up this morning to find painters tape barring them from exiting their own bedrooms, they would, I am dead sure, stand there and call me, “Mama? Why us this here? Mama, can I cross the tape? Mama, I need to go potty!” To me, strict means that they would automatically treat a line of tape as a physical barrier.

Of course, I worked on that: with gentleness, and repetitiveness, and role play — and consistent re-enforcement.

My friends don’t see that particular example — but they do see kids who come when they are called, follow instructions, deal with their disappointments without (often) being disruptive about it, obey limits when playing under slight-supervision circumstances, clean up their areas (with reminders), handle their own belongings, and sit quietly when nessisary, and they respect other people’s bodies and boundaries.

These things do add up to some impressive kids: but we worked together to learn each important skill, one skill at a time.

Since, one would assume, you “can’t” get results like that from being permissive, I “must” be punitive out of the public eye, or they must be natural angels.

Now, I do know that some kids are “harder” than others. I’m not saying that all kids who have trouble behaving because of parenting — I’m just saying, in this situation, the idea of how such characteristics appear to be distributed by family isn’t logical.

(Someone asks me what would be the consequences of crossing the tape)

The tape is a training aid — I spent a lot of time teaching, “This is the kitchen” / “This is not the kitchen” / “See the tape” / “Step into the kitchen” / “Step out of the kitchen” — “Yay! What a brilliant toddler you are! You know all about the kitchen!”

Then there was the, “Hey, now, where are you? Is are your feet in the kitchen? How can you tell? Am I cooking? How can you tell? Where do your feet need to be? Yay! That’s the right place for your feet!” It’s a practical application phase — and I was very diligent to catch and re-teach every time.

And that’s really all it really took. The consequence of transgressing the tape is merely to be shown your error and guided to solve it.

I suppose if there was blatant disregard of what I was saying, I’d probably physically lift the child to the correct side of the line. Then I’d tell them (quite pleasantly) that they were now in the right place, and go over the teaching phase again (while holding the child still if necessary). I’d give a direct instruction that their feet needed to stay on ‘that’ side of the line, and set the child free — or initiate a distraction.

If it happened again and again, I’d probably move the child further and further from the line, using a less pleasant voice. If necessary, it would end with the child being put in another room. It might go so far as resulting in a cold supper, since I was prevented from being able to focus on my cooking.

But that hasn’t happened to me. It’s just what I imagine I’d do if I needed to. I haven’t encountered many situations where the kids didn’t pick up the skills I needed them to pick up, just by teaching and consistently working through transgressions until they really ‘got’ it.

Consequences come into play once a child clearly *has* a skill, and is capable of reliably using that skill, even under stress. That’s when ‘teaching’ has done it’s work and you have a child who is choosing between compliance and non-compliance by free choice (not ending up not complying for the more natural reason — that it’s genuinely hard for the child to do what you want them to do).

If the ‘to do’ is *not* genuinely hard any more, then you are in territory where consequences need to be considered.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was in ‘that place’ with my kids. Mostly I spend my energy trying to work with the child to understand a situation, so they can handle what I want them to be doing. Once they can ‘handle’ it, usually they don’t object to doing it just because there’s no reason not to do it.

I do things like “if you can’t handle being here, we will leave” — which is something like a consequence, sometimes… but not really. Because (a) if a child really can’t handle a situation, it’s *kind* to leave that situation, so it’s not a threat to ‘do better or else’ it’s just a statement of how you plan to parent through a tough situation. BUT there’s also the other possibility — (b) that the child can handle themself better, but wasn’t trying very hard. Then the desire not to leave the situation plays a motivational role in helping the child pull themself together and raise their standard of behaviour.

I really like this double-pronged approach, using consequences that are a form of ‘unwanted assistance’ — if the problem is ‘beyond’ the child’s skill, the consequence will help them cope better -and- if the problem is ‘within’ the child’s skill, the consequence motivates them to bring all their skill to the table and make a good try at handling things well.


  1. […] The following was originally posted in thread on Gentle Christian Mothers called, “…And I’m the Strict One!“and is a follow up to my previous post, Teach Your Children Well. […]

  2. Broad Horizons on June 11, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Where I run into trouble with “if you can’t handle this, we will leave” is that I have more than one child. Perhaps because, growing up, in school and at home, I was the “good kid” who SO OFTEN got stuck doing the extra assignment that was given out because other kids were acting up, or lost out on a family treat because of my brother’s action or whatever, it seems SOOO unfair to me to drag the whole family home because one child can’t, or is choosing not to, handle it well. Additionally, how does this play out where the child doesn’t want to be there in the first place. Do we never do anything for the 3 yr old because the 9 year old is bored and chooses to act up? Or vice versa? Somehow

    • Hermana Linda on June 12, 2012 at 11:29 am

      It does get tricky. I had to leave many a time and it did not seem fair, but it helps to think of it as a medical situation which can’t be helped. If someone got hurt or sick, you would have to leave no matter if others were having fun. If one member of the family is unable to control his actions, you cannot be there. If he didn’t want to go in the first place, maybe alternative arrangements can be made next time.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.