Tuesday, September 15, 2015

on problem-solving

Before we get into the meat of this post, please let me throw out this disclaimer: Kids are sinners. Your kids are sinners. My kids are sinners. They make mistakes. They often have terrible attitudes. They have tempers. They are not angels. In fact, they are children of the devil. (Think I'm being harsh? Check John 8:44. The reality of this shocked me the first time I made the connection, but it shouldn't have.)

Furthermore, I make mistakes in parenting like it's my job. Too bad no one will pay me for it.

That said, I have been exceedingly grateful for parenting hints I've gained through experience, older moms, my favorite parenting book, Don't Make Me Count to Three, and one of those mom's groups I used to regard as a pathetic excuse for moms to ditch their kids for an hour. (Please forgive me for my excessively judgmental attitudes on certain topics of motherhood. I just had no idea these groups could be helpful. When done right, they ARE!)

But let's get back to my favorite parenting book. And no, the book's publishers are not paying me to mention this book over and over (but maybe they should be paying me, because I mention it all the time). It's just that it's so practical and heart-directed without being reduced to behaviorist techniques and procedures. And it cuts to the chase without a ton of discussion about WHY it's important to train our kids with a heart orientation and biblical concepts. It assumes that we view that as important without theoretical rhetoric, which I appreciate because I wouldn't have bought the book without the foreknowledge that training my children from the inside out is important.

It's not that I'm against philosophical inquiry and discussion. I just don't have time for it right now. (I am operating with one usable hand, half a brain, and no spare time these days.)

I need practicality. I need something that can change a situation RIGHT NOW without a crazy change in every part of every daily process. (That said, it's not a magical one-two punch that easily fights bad behavior. It does require some learning and investigation into biblical truths, and it will not automatically create angels out of devilish children. If you know us in person, you can see clearly that hasn't happened for us.)

Disclaimers aside, here's a nugget I gathered from the book that is changing our household, and it's something that I pray continually changes our hearts. I also hope that it can help you if you are struggling in the same areas in which we struggle.

These boys are now old enough to have strong opinions, to have ideas about what they think we should do as a family or what they should do with their toys or who should be able to choose a movie before bedtime.

Don't they look like angels, though? Photo by Ziegler Photography.

Opinions get tricky. Brody might think they should play soccer with a ball, while Brecken thinks they should play basketball with the same ball (true scenario this morning). Fighting may ensue (also a true scenario from this morning). Internal temperatures my rise, blood may boil, and voice volume may rise (and that might not even include what the boys are experiencing).

When I notice that temperatures are rising and tempers are about to flare (or have already flared), I have a few tools in my pocket, and they are usually in the form of questions (I originally alluded to this here.):

"Brody, can you try to think of a good plan to solve this problem?" We have had this discussion before, and if he is having trouble thinking of a few possible solutions, I can help him out with options we've previously brainstormed. BUT, he is getting better about coming up with possibilities on his own.

In the scenario mentioned above, for example, we talk about the possibility of telling Brecken that he can play with the ball in two minutes, or they can play soccer for two minutes, then basketball for two minutes. Another possibility is for Brody to offer to help Brecken find another ball to play with. (Ref: Ephesians 4:31-32: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.")

Another possible question: "Brecken, are you thinking of what would make Brody happy in this situation, or are you only thinking of yourself?" I try to give time to answer, but I sometimes just dive right into the meat: "If you aren't considering others, you are being selfish. God tells us to value others above ourselves."

Neither of the above questions are magic wands, spreading fairy dust on little gremlins to turn them into princes and automatically making everything dreamy. However, the questions DO make our boys think about their motives for doing things, and they DO introduce biblical terms into everyday scenarios that they can understand.

The questioning approach doesn't ALWAYS work perfectly, but more often than not, it--at the very least--provides a better solution than the norm of screaming at one another (possibly yelling, hitting, and the most deplorable of all, biting).

Lastly, it buys me some time. (What mom doesn't like the sound of that?) Instead of dealing with every little disagreement and tiffle that takes place in a 24-hour period (approximately 2,731 of these happen in our house daily), the ball is in their court most of the time, unless they just cannot figure it out and I have to intervene.

They have tools to use to solve problems and work through disagreements on their own, and they have ways to view problems without exclusively thinking, "Me me me. Mine mine mine."

And yes, that buys me some extra time in my daily life, which I definitely need now that there's a tiny human in the house who thinks she should be held 24/7.

However, it also sets them up to be good brothers, thoughtful friends to others, considerate sons and students, and obedient followers of Christ.

In fact, Brad and I are seeing the fruits of our efforts in helping them ask these questions. One of the best sights in the world is when your kids actually "get it" after you've talked and taught through concepts for a long time. Without an intervention, one of them might automatically (magically?) respond to a request for a toy with, "Brody, you can have this toy in two minutes."

And in that magical moment, multitudes of angelic voices sing all around you to celebrate your parenting skills. (Five seconds later that same child might be biting someone. But hey, you had that one moment of glory!)

Once again, I'm not a parenting expert in any way, but I feel somewhat obligated to share what is working for us in hopes that it can help others who are tired of dealing with fighting and selfish behaviors. Now if we could just find a way to help adults learn this concept...