Sunday, April 05, 2009

"Dear Cindy"

Cindy, I love your rules. Please tell me how you got your kids not to yell at each other and also to apologize to each other sincerely.My kids just flatly refuse. My 8 year old flings "idiot" at his brothers and sister like it was good for them. His father and I tell him he cannot talk like that. He stops when we tell him but the damage is already done and he will not apologize. Not that the other kids would believe an apology anyway. We don't talk that way to them or each other and we do apologize when we have hurt someone in word or deed. We follow all the other rules you do too. And we pray morning and evening prayers as well as during a car ride and we regularly go to church.Any ideas for us?

Oh my goodness, I am certainly not the "Paragon of Parenting" to be asking for advice, and your question really made me have to stop and think about how we have managed to achieve this thus far. Notice I say "thus far" as I am not at all certain I won't be writing for advice myself in the coming years!).

I think it helps that we had a Zero Tolerance rule from the very start, and I mean the VERY start...16 months old or so on up is not too young to begin teaching love and respect. If Matt or Josh who were our only infants ever slapped towards someone or pushed them away, we stopped it right then...I remember taking Josh's little hands, holding them in mine and showing him how to gently stroke his stuffed animals and talking about how we need to be kind and gentle.

We talk often about how something would feel if it happened to us, what emotions come up when we are teased or hurt or are treated unkindly. I constantly use examples from real life or TV and bring them up to talk about, showing how mean spiritedness can truly hurt. Dominick and I make a big deal every time we see one of the boys do something that shows unprompted kindness, we verbally recognize their heroism.

When I just asked Matthew what he thought was the best thing we have done to teach them all to be kind to each other and he responded with "You discipline just the right amount...we know you are serious when we have done something wrong and you don't let us get away with stuff."

We have also gone so far as to show by example what it feels like to be on the receiving end. Some would see this as harsh but often children don't understand something unless they have experienced it to a degree, so if we feel something is getting out of hand we will give a little demonstration. One time I remember Kenny was ignoring what we said and it was developing into a habit, so I had an "ignore Kenny" hour where he asked me things and I simply didn't respond and acted as if I didn't hear him at all. After he began to get upset, I pulled him onto my lap and we talked about how he felt...and I mentioned nothing at all until he was finished crying a bit. Then, and only then after he had processed his own feelings about it did I then share with him that I often felt the same way when he treated me with disrespect and ignored me...and I reminded him that he did it to me all the time, not just for one hour. Suddenly, the light bulb went on and he understood fully why I had been upset with him for not acknowledging me.

I think I shared sometime back on the blog when I did the same thing to Matthew when he was about 3 or 4 and hit a little lying phase. I told him to jump into the car and we were going to have a treat and go to the library, which was always a big deal for him. We drove towards the library, and then right on past it...and when he asked me from the back seat why we were not going to the library I told him "Oh, I lied about that...we aren't going there.". As I looked in the rearview mirror I could see the tears starting to fall and I pulled onto a side street and got in the back seat with him. I asked him how he felt, and he said he was very mad at me and said "You lied Momma! You aren't supposed to lie!!" and then I pointed out to him that he too made me very, very mad when he lied to me and that then I couldn't trust him. He admitted it didn't feel good at all to have someone lie to you, and he promised right then to try hard not to lie anymore, and from that day forward we had very little problem with that issue.

But frankly, Zero Tolerance and consistency every single time is the key. Your children have to know you mean business. If it were me, every time your son uses the word "idiot", and I mean every single time, he then should have to do something nice and helpful for the "target" child...make a bed, clean a room up. On top of that he needs to be stopped, pulled aside and asked how he thinks that makes the other child feel...he has to look you as the parent in the eye as he is talking about it and he can not be let go until he does that with sincerity. He needs to apologize with true eye contact with the hurt sibling and if it is not sincere in your opinion he needs to try again until he gets the right tone. We've had to do that a time or two, to make them understand that an apology is useless if it is not heartfelt. If one of your other children calls him names in retaliation, you need to stop all of them, sit them down and talk about how things escalate. Ask them what they think they are accomplishing, and don't supply the answers for them. Don't accept "I don't know" as an answer...that is NEVER allowed in our house and we make them sit there until they can come up with a thoughtful answer to our questions, no matter how long it takes. "I don't know" is a way to avoid answering you, and is in fact in its own way a rebellious act and is disrespectful to is a "cop out" to get out of the situation. Of course, with children, there are times when they really DON'T know something but often they do, and you forcing them to verbalize it helps them clarify things in their own mind, and helps them become more articulate in expressing their emotions.

We also have always made a big deal about Team LaJoy. We emphasize time and time again that we are a cohesive unit, that they are young men in this family who are of value and who we need to be part of the team. We compliment always when we see them working as a team, we encourage them verbally to come up with plans together for accomplishing goals, we remind them that Team LaJoy is the BEST EVER. All the time we create little challenges that they have to work together to telling them we will bet them an ice cream that they can not get their room military spotless in half an hour, and then we pretend we are military inspectors checking each one of their beds/areas. I play to their maleness often, and tell them how strong they are and that I am so proud of how they can work together so well to bring in a weeks worth of groceries...and they do it so fast!!! When we compliment one son, we involve the others in the compliment saying things like "Who noticed how cool it was today that Joshie tied his own shoes all by himself?" or we will spend a few minutes at the end of the day or over dinner once in awhile asking "What is your favorite thing about Matthew? What do you think Kenny is best at?".

The importance of our family and it's "togetherness" is always a top priority. We talk often about others we know from school or sports activities or whatever who seem very separate in their lives, and we give thanks in our conversations that our family is SPECIAL and we love one another SO MUCH. In our prayers at night Dominick and I will often pray out loud in front of the boys about how thankful we are to have children who show so much respect and love for one another and for us. We continually reinforce what is good, and we try to find examples of how we don't want our family to function and we talk about those...about what is not working, about the differences, etc. Now that I am writing about it and giving it some thought, we sort of act as cheerleaders as their parents, but we cheer things that are often left out by some families...we cheer kindness, we cheer acts of courage, we cheer teamwork. We don't cheer as much as some might over soccer goals or straight A's. We don't ignore it, but we tend to cheer more on character issues. Perhaps that is why when Matthew gets straight A's to Kenny's struggling B's and C's, Matthew has never once bragged about his grades or made a big deal about them in front of Kenny, but instead cheers Kenny on for doing his best when he knows it is an enormous challenge for him. That may be why Kenny tells Josh over and over again how good he is at reading...because he too has had grace shown to him by Matthew and even though Josh is reading barely less than Kenny at 4 years younger, they take pride in each others accomplishments.

All of that aside though, I think honestly that our three sons are very, very special children and we were blessed to have them. I have no idea how much is parenting, and how much is their own unique spirit. God is in our midst, and I do think that makes an incredible difference. I am not even talking about church going or praying, but the awareness that each of us LaJoy's have of a Presence in our lives that brought us all together in a miraculous way. That Presence uses each one of us to nurture one another, and we all seem to understand that somehow. As stupid as it sounds to others who don't know us, but to those who do and have been around in more private or thoughtful moments...Dominick and I are just as nurtured by our children as they are by us. We are viewing our life through a different set of eyes, we are all aware of the Sacred. I see it in Kenny, Matthew and Joshie all the time...this different way of seeing. I am not at all sure that came from Dominick or I, I am sure that God is in the middle of it.

We all do our best to parent, we all have very different goals in mind of how we would like to see our children turn out. Many would scoff at us for not emphasizing sports more with 3 boys, or for not pushing more for them to let go of their childish ways at a younger age...we still have all 3 believing in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus or at the minimum not letting on that they don't believe. There are those who would focus more on individual accomplishments rather than the "team oriented" approach to family. There are many, many who would call us totally corny, too strict, or overly religious. All of those opinions are fine, and different ways of operating work for different families. Some even think that arguing and bickering among siblings is perfectly acceptable as it is "normal". I know I sure did my fair share with my brother, and I give thanks every day that my mother didn't kill us we were so bad!!

We operate our family in a way that works for us. We like what we have. Many people, however, would step into our midst and be very uncomfortable...they would not like the lack of privacy with kids sleeping camp out style at least one night a week on your bedroom floor, they would not approve of 3 kids sharing a bedroom thinking it only appropriate if they all have their own space, they would think it odd that we hug and kiss one another all the time finding it too "familiar". That is why there are all kinds of families. Ours works for us, yours works for you. I would never hold up the LaJoy's as having the "right way" and tell everyone else they are doing it the "wrong way". I happen to think there are LOTS of "right ways", but some might not work for us with our particular blend of personalities.

I have loved reading about everyone else's rules as you all have commented on the blog (and learning I am not quite as much of a freak as I originally thought...but it seems none of you live near me!!). Many of us are parenting in the same way, with a few differences. But then most of you probably read the blog seeing something familiar and comfortable there, so maybe that is not such a surprise after all. Those who do think we are freaks are probably not regular followers of the blog and therefore we wouldn't hear much from them. Thanks to everyone who posted!!


Kelly and Sne said...

Very good advice to EVERY family!

P.S. Though I think it is kind of 'neat' that each family has their own subculture. As a child I spent a Summer living with my cousins and it was like going to a foreign country just a few miles away.

Kat said...

The other day my son was repeating himself in the car and my husband said "The broken record is getting old".... that was met with a sincere "huh" from my son and my husband explaining to him what a record player was. He didn't get our excitement as we talked about the different records we use to sit and listen to as kids....

Sometimes I think todays kids are deprived of simple pleasures.

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

Excellent parenting advice!! Discipline and consistency. Will they ever truly realize WHY we have rules? Indeed!! When they're about 21 and on their own!