The Defiant

Q: We have an 11-yr-old son who is disobedient and defiant. He simply won’t do what he is told. He is chronically late getting ready for school, often telling us he isn’t going (6th grade private school), as well as many other things. He has had all privileges taken away (extracurricular activities, computer, time with friends). Do you have any suggestions regarding his getting ready for school? My husband has to take him and his sister to school before going to work. It often puts him in a position of being late for work.

A: The wonderful, wacky world of tweens. One minute, they’re little kids, the other, they’re acting like teenagers. It can be infuriating to have a kid who can’t get moving in the morning, can’t it? And tweens start wanting to sleep in more, which can make waking them up harder.

You don’t say how much sleep he gets, but I would move his bedtime to no later than 8:45 p.m. He might want to stay up later, but he still needs at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.

For the morning, have him make a list of everything he has to do to get ready for school. Examples include: get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get shoes/coat on, get backpack ready, and any morning chores (feed an animal, make a bed, wash dishes, make lunch, etc.). Now look at that list and see what he can do the night before. If he has trouble getting dressed, perhaps he lays out his clothes before bed. If he gets bogged down making breakfast, he can get the bowl, spoon, glass and cereal out on the counter before bed. That sort of thing.

Then use a kitchen timer set at 10 minute increments to prod him along. Give him the list so he can check off his morning duties, and tell him he has 10 minutes for each or something like that. Then instead of telling him what to do, simply set the timer. When it goes off, he needs to be on to the next task.

This will take some training and patience on your part, but you need to shift the responsibility onto your son’s shoulders. If he makes your husband late to work, then he should have a consequence, like directly to bed after supper that day.

One final thing: instead of saying to your son, “It’s time to do X,” simply tell him that he needs to do the next thing on his list. That helps you to step back from micromanaging and helps him learn to manage his own tasks.

Teen Chaos

Q: I have a 17 year old, a 15 year old and a 13 year old all whom believe life completely and utterly revolves around them. The oldest (boy) refuses to look for work and has let his learners license expire, so he could not finish his driver’s education class nor ask us to allow him to drive. We even offered and he refused. Has to be reminded to do his laundry and his chores on a daily basis. He gets angry over anything especially when he is corrected.

The 15 year old does not want to come out of her room unless she is made to, only puts partial effort into doing her chores or does very little. The 13 year old is starting to show disrespect as well as only half an effort in the chores.

We are not the parents that run our kids to all kind of extracurricular activities, so they are not involved in any. I don’t let friends come over very often (I have 3 teenagers I don’t like at times—why would I want to add someone else’s teenager??).

For restrictions, I’ve kicked them out of the garden (for an explanation of how this works, visit the discipline methods section of my website). However, short of clothes, none of these kids have anything to take away. We have even gave them a limited personal supply of towel (2) and wash cloth (3) with the kids having their own color so I know who has left the mess in the bathroom. I’m not sure what to do from here. These kids don’t have cell phones, tablets, video games etc. I threw the last video game in the trash a year ago. And no electronics. Any advice is welcome!

A: Ah, teenagers! They can be vexing creatures, can’t they? I see a couple of things to address in your question.

First, why on earth would you not want to have your teen’s friends over? To me, this is a golden opportunity to gauge just who your teen is hanging out with and also to see how your teen interacts with his or her friends. Is she a leader? A follower? Is he trying too hard to be liked? these interactions viewed from afar can provide a parent with important clues as to your teen’s emotional and mental health. Yes, I know that’s more teens in your house, but you have them such a short time as teens that I think you’ll miss them when they’ve flown the coop. So I implore you to reconsider your stance and start encouraging your teens to have friends over.

Second, by your description, I see that you’ve basically stripped down their lives to the bare minimum…and it sounds like this has been going on for a while. Since you haven’t seen a corresponding lift in attitude, I’m going to surmise that your teens have given up on pleasing you. My gut reaction is that you’re expecting too much from them and they can’t deliver, so they’ve stopped trying.

We never want our kids to feel like they have no hope, no way to get better. If we nitpick on their attitude all the time, then we can create an atmosphere of hopelessness that leads to despair and not caring. That’s the most likely reason for them not “improving” despite your restrictions.

While I applaud your not giving them electronics/screen time, I think things have gone too far in the other direction. I also sense from your tone that you’ve lost a connection with your teens, that you’re so focused on correcting their attitude/behavior, you’ve let slide your relationship with them as their mom.

We have to love our kids, show that love in tangible ways that speak to their particular love language. When we skip that and focus only on the correction, our kids start to not care about straightening up. So here’s what I think you should do.

Return all their stuff. Have a family meeting. Tell them you’ve been too focused on outward compliance and you want to hit the restart button. Ask them to come up with a chore chart for the family, for example. Then start showing them love. Cook their favorite meals. listen more than you talk to them. Show up with a smile at their events or games or concerts. Ask about their friends. Rebuild that connection.

And if they’re doing their chores, let their attitude slide for now. You have some repair work to do, but I think you’ll find it worth it.

March Parenting Thought of the Month: Should kids have credit cards?

A new survey found that the number of children between the ages of 8 and 14 with a credit card has quadrupled over the past year. A recent survey found that the number of 13 and 14 year olds carrying credit cards has jumped twofold in the past year.

“While it might be shocking to hear that so many preteens and young teenagers have credit cards, since they can’t open them on their own, in most cases parents are opening cards with them,” Kimberly Palmer, a credit card expert for NerdWallet.com, told Newsday. “If parents use that opportunity to talk about how credit cards work, how to avoid debt and how to budget, then it’s a great learning opportunity and will help them graduate to using credit cards responsibly after they leave home.”

But handing a kid a credit card isn’t the best way to teach impressionable minds about money management. For many kids, holding coins and bills in their hands, then spending those same dollars and coins for something tangible is what helps them to figure out what money means.

We need that basic connection to money—the feel and heft of it in our hands, the “pain” of handing it over to someone else for something you want, and the saving up to buy something special. With credit cards, you bypass all of that in an instant.

Want to teach your kids how to avoid debt and how to budget? Then give them an allowance and don’t let them have carte blanche access to your credit cards. We give each of our four children a weekly allowance with only one string attached: they must give at least a five cents each week in the church offering. Here’s some common scenarios and how we’ve handled them.

Scenario one: Child wants something at the store but forgot their cash at home. We grill them on how much the item costs and will occasionally buy it for them, but demand immediate payment when arriving at home.

Scenario two: Teen wants something online. We either make them pay us in cash before hitting the “buy” button or they can purchase an Amazon or iTunes gift card at a store with cash to use for online purchases. Either way, they must ask permission before hitting send—we’ve stressed that we have the right to confiscate any item ordered to return if permission wasn’t granted ahead of ordering it.

Scenario three: Child wants something but doesn’t have enough saved to buy it. We make them wait until they have cash in hand. For one of our daughters, that meant more than a year of saving.

What do these three scenarios teach your child about money? That it comes with a cost. That saving takes discipline and commitment—and you really have to want something to save for months before buying it. And that ordering online with a credit card is exactly the same thing as paying in cash.

However you teach your kids about money, using cold, hard cash is always better than plastic.

 

Figuring Out Screen Time Limits

Q: My husband and I disagree on how much video time the children can have. I don’t think it’s appropriate on school nights, even if they get their chores/homework done. My husband thinks it has been a good motivator, but I worry that will wear off eventually. How can I present my case to my husband?

A: This is a question that comes up quite frequently. Often, too, like your own household, the husband and wife disagree about how much screen time a child should have. Even when the parents are on the same page, finding a way to enforce set screen time rules can drive them crazy.

Let’s first talk about why screen time should be limited at all. You don’t mention the ages of your kids, so I’m guessing they’re in elementary school since you didn’t mention having smartphones. I think this quote from The Big Disconnect says it best: “For every minute or hour your child spends on screens or other digital diversions, he or she is not engaged in healthful, unstructured, creative play. When they’re engaged on screens, as social as it may be in one sense, they are not outside with other kids, taking in the day, relaxing and chatting, inventing games, and interacting directly—or arguing face-to-face, debating fairness directly, not via a game or headset. They are not running around, shooting hoops, and skateboarding, developing coordination and physical strength. Yes, they may be learning some computer skills and online etiquette (such as it is), but the issue is what they are not learning, the loss of which undermines healthy development. They are not learning how to deal with the frustration of real forts crumbling and block towers falling, of having to rethink and start over again. They are not alone with themselves, learning to be comfortable with solitude, with their own thoughts, with no alternative but to let their mind wander and drift, explore, discover, feel.”

Screen time in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, but screen time does limit your child’s ability to think, be bored (which often spurs creativity) and to entertain themselves. (Note: looking at a screen is not the same thing as entertaining oneself!) These are essential to any child’s well-being, but especially in the elementary years where playing helps kids learn social cues, interactions and how the world works. Video games don’t do any of that.

Now we’ll tackle why screen time (or any “reward”) is a good motivator for behavior. You hit on this yourself with your worry that it will eventually stop working. That’s just it—rewards can appear to work because the child excitedly does his homework and is rewarded with 20 minutes of video game time as a result. But what happens when the child gets tired of playing for only 20 minutes? He’ll want more game time. Or you get tired of checking if his homework is done. Or you don’t have a good system for monitoring how long he’s been playing. Or he might decide he’d rather skip the video gaming because he doesn’t want to do his homework.

Rewards tied specifically to a certain behavior or chore work in the short term, but the parent is always upping the ante (giving bigger rewards to achieve the same result) or the child perceives he has a choice to NOT do the chore or behave because he doesn’t want the reward. That’s an external motivator that has little impact on the child’s internal motivator (conscience).

So what to do about video games in your household? I’d recommend an easier approach, one that allows for some game time but eliminates a rewards system. This is one that we practice in our own home to good results. Talk with your husband about how many minutes of screen time per week he things your kids should be allowed—no conditions, just a number of minutes.

But don’t simply tell the kids, “You have 90 minutes of screen time a week” and let them pick which days. That just sets you up to be the time police. Believe me, you don’t want to go there! Here’s what we do instead. We have a sign displayed right next to the computers that lists each child’s name and the screen time allotment. I’ve posted it below to give you an idea as to what I mean. For our two teenagers, we’ve simply noted the times the computer will be available to them, which has made life much simpler.

S age 9/M age 11

  • 20 minutes a week when school’s in session
  • 20 minutes twice a week during vacation or school breaks
  • Must ask Mom or Dad to use the time and must use a timer to mark the time.

L age 13/8th grade

  • After school until 5 p.m.
    • 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
    • Friday evening: 7:00 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Weekends/School Break Days/Summer
    • 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    • 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

N age 15/9th grade

  • After school until 5 p.m.
    • 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
    • Friday evening: 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Weekends/School Break Days/Summer
    • 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    • 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

One final thought—it’s much easier to add more time than it is to subtract time, so start out with about half of what you think they should have each week.

What’s the Secret to Family Devotions?

As Christian parents, we firmly believe that one of the most important jobs we have is teaching our four children about our faith. For centuries, parents regularly engaged in the practice of systematically teaching their children biblical truths, often from manuals of Christian doctrine called catechisms. But that formal way of educating our children fell out of favor gradually, and today, many Christian families don’t have any form of regular teaching to pass on to their children the essential elements of our faith.

Too many times, we expect the church to be the primary teachers of our faith and its scripture. Debb Hacket, a mom in Northern Virginia, has devotions with her two girls before school. “I’m not always consistent but I try. I do it so they head into school armed and reassured by the Word and in the knowledge that they are perfectly loved by Jesus, no matter what the day throws at them. It’s also a way to encourage them to make good choices and be kind to others.”

We have family devotions after dinner, as that best fits with our schedule of having different school start times and work obligations first thing. We sometimes have discussions based on topics that came up in school as well as viewing current events through the lens of Scripture.

Family devotions should be a top priority in our homes over sports, music or other lessons. What could be more important than teaching our kids about God? Here are some thoughts on how to get started or continue your own family’s devotions.

It only takes two. When we were first married, we made family devotions a priority. In addition to our own private devotions, my husband and I read through and discussed books like Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk as well as books of the Bible. Incorporating family devotions into the fabric of our lives together before we had kids made it so much easier to continue once we started welcoming little ones into our family. Don’t wait until you have kids to have family devotions.

Understanding grows. Another stumbling block to family devotions is young kids or babies. But you don’t wait until your kids are “old enough” to teach them about God. While you’re not going to reach for John Calvin to read to your toddler, you also don’t have to merely rely on sanitized Bible story books, either. Let your kids grow into devotions by giving them more meat than fluff.

Have a plan. If you rely on pulling together family devotions after dinner each night, you will soon find yourself floundering (and yes, I speak from experience!). Take some time to talk with your spouse about what you want to study together as a family. It might be a book on Christian living, or it might be a topic, like servanthood. But knowing what you’ll study each evening help you overcome the post-dinner (or breakfast!) lull.

Mix things up. You don’t have to do the same thing every time. We had a rotation in our home for several years, alternating memorizing Bible verses, learning catechism questions and answers (My article “Teaching Your Faith Through Catechesis” has details on how to use catechisms to impart doctrine truths to our kids), reading from the Bible, and singing a hymn together. Having different things on different days kept us on track and made the time together more fruitful. One family told me recently that they had a family brainstorming session and came up with 17 different devotion ideas or exercises. “After dinner, we have Alexa randomly select a number and we do whatever that devotion idea is.” Ideas range from praying (for leaders, missionaries, friends, etc.), reading from one of the kids’ devotionals, discussing the Sunday sermon, making a movie about a Bible story and writing a psalm.

Go for substance over flash. Make sure you don’t obliterate the message or truth you’re trying to convey by the means you’re conveying it. In other words, don’t let flashy methods obscure the essential truths. Sure, have fun with devotions but keep your eye on the what you’re trying to impart instead of the how.

Start small. Begin with one day a week. Aim for consistency on that, then add a second, then a third. Soon, you’ll be up to five, six or seven days.

Allow for life happens. Sometimes, you’ll miss a day here or there, but pick up the next night and move forward. Don’t let a particularly crazy week derail your devotions entirely.

Include prayer time. We started a practice several years ago of rotating who would pray for the family when devotions were over. We would each have a chance to give a prayer request, then the child or parent would pray out loud for the requests. This has been very precious to us as parents, hearing our children pray for one another and for us.

Above all, don’t let your own lack of knowledge or feeling of inadequacy stop you from teaching your children about your faith. You are their mom or dad—you are already well-equipped to share the Gospel and its truths with your kids.

Until next time,
Sarah

Sarah’s Favorite Family Devotional Aides

Want to have family devotions but aren’t sure what to read? Here are a few of my favorite family devotion resources.

The Life of Christ for the Young by Richard Newton. All ages. Charles Spurgeon called Richard Newton “The Prince of Preachers to the young.” You’ll see why in this three-volume work that shows children (and adults!) the work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Don’t let the nineteenth century language stop you from adding these volumes to your devotional library. My children were captivated by the stories and truths that shine throughout this work.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Up to 13. This retelling of the Bible doesn’t dumb down scripture. Catherine Vos uses biblical stories to show kids what’s really important—what’s going on in their own hearts—and how God used circumstances to bring about his ultimate plan of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ.

Great Bible Question & Answer Book. Up to 13. There are a lot of versions of this type of book, but this is the we used as a family to go through the Old and New Testaments in question form. Our kids loved reading the questions aloud, asking for answers, then reading the correct answer from the book.

Bible Memory Verses. All ages. My pastor put together a list of verses that represented the major theme in each book of the Bible. For the Old Testament, there’s roughly one verse for each book. For the New Testament, there’s approximately two verses for each book. We’ve found this very handy when thinking about which Scripture to have our children know by heart. Contact me for a PDF of these verses.

Early Playtime

Q: Our two older children, ages 4 and 3, share a bedroom. In the mornings, they like to get up very early (5 a.m.!) and play together. My husband and I usually get up multiple times to tell them to stay in bed quietly until it’s time to get up. We have a special clock that turns green at 6:45 a.m. to tell them it’s okay to get up. This is our biggest battle with them right now.

We don’t really know what to do anymore as it’s an every morning battle to get them to stay in bed. They go to bed at 7 p.m. and go right to sleep without issue and do not get up during the night. When they get up early, they stay in their room except for one bathroom trip.

Should we keep trying to enforce the rule of them staying in bed? Should we tell them they can play as long as they’re quiet and don’t break safety rules (like not getting in the closet and the younger one not getting on the older one’s loft bed)? Thank you for your help!

A: This is one battle you’re not going to win, so my advice is to stop trying. From your question, the preschoolers stay in their room except for one bathroom trip, and they sleep through the night, giving you and your husband lovely adult time from 7 p.m. onward.

So give up the stay-in-their-bed battle. Tell them that they must stay in their rooms with one bathroom trip each and they should play quietly, remembering the rules, until the clock turns green. Then leave them be. And enjoy the blessing of having 4 and 3 year olds who go to bed without fuss and stay in their rooms come morning.

This really isn’t worth parental angst, and these two will eventually start sleeping in more as they grow.

For more information on how much sleep preschoolers, elementary school-age kids and teens should get, read my article, “Why you need to pay attention to older kids’ sleep habits” in the Washington Post.

Excuse Me, Your Cell is Showing

By Linda Wood Rondeau

When I recently visited a young relative’s home, three children and two adults sat in the living room with the television on and everyone using their own phones. No one talked with one another. I wondered if anyone paid attention to the television at all since they were busy texting, snapping and sending.

Children seem to have an insatiable desire for technology these days. Cell phones have become the new computer—instantly accessible. Funny they are still called phones because no one seems to really “call” anyone, especially the younger generation. They either send a social media message or text. Social media sites lure users to spend hours of mindless activity, or what seems mindless to other generations.

Nowadays, to take away a child’s cell phone seems to be the worst kind of “grounding” a child can receive.

So how does a parent encourage appropriate use of this device? As in all aspects of parenting, modeling the behavior is still the most powerful teaching tool in the parent’s arsenal. Children live what they see—no matter how much you preach for them to do otherwise.

Here are few things you can do to help shape your child’s phone behavior:

  1. If you feel your child’s time on devices should be limited, limit your time as well. Let your children see you enjoying activities without your smartphone as a constant companion.
  2. Do not use your device while driving unless you have a voice activated or hands-free phone. Pull off the road if you receive a text or call while driving. Explain to your child why you are doing so.
  3. When someone is speaking to you, put your phone down. Do not try to multi-task your human interactions with electronics. Humans are the ones who will suffer.
  4. These days, smartphones are like an appendage. But we can still insist on etiquette where phone use is concerned. The GOLDEN RULE applies to our phone use as it does in every area of life.
  5. When in public, use your device only if in an emergency. Stop when you need to use the device. Don’t walk and talk, especially in a crowded situation like a store or crossing the road. Of course, everyone has a different definition of emergency. But let common sense prevail. Ask yourself if your life will significantly change if you do not use your device at this instant.
  6. Your immediate need to respond sends a subliminal message to your companion that what they say is not as important as whoever just texted you. If you must use your phone, offer a polite explanation to those around you. Find a quiet corner to converse.

Culture is what it is, and each social group has its own ideas of etiquette. Help your children to be observant of those around them and to adapt, putting others needs ahead of their own.

About Linda Wood Rondeau
Award-winning author, Linda Wood Rondeau writes to demonstrate our worst past, surrendered to God becomes our best future. A veteran social worker, Linda now resides in Hagerstown, Md. Her most recent novel is The Fifteenth Article. Readers may visit her web site at www.lindarondeau.com. Contact the author on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and Goodreads.  

Reforming a Picky Eater

Q: My 17-month-old son is very uninterested in eating most of the time. I am still nursing but I would like to start weening in the next month. However, I’m concerned because he doesn’t seem to be eating much. He will eat a certain type of chicken nuggets, boiled eggs, cheese, most fruits and snacks that I try to avoid as much as possible. Sometimes he will eat pizza. 

I can’t tell if he chooses what to eat by the way it looks or if it’s because he wants to be able to pick it up himself or if it’s based on familiarity. I tried to give him a different type of chicken the other day and he would have none of it. I resorted back to his normal chicken and he ate it all. Dinner typically ends up all over the floor with virtually nothing in his mouth. When he was younger, we had a weight gaining issue, so I’m super aware of his eating habits. He does not seem to have a weight gaining issue at the moment. Thank you for your advice.

A: Your son is a picky eater because you’ve allowed him to become one. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but that appears to be what happened based on your question. Your son had weight-gaining issues when he was younger, but you’re still operating as if he still does and that is hampering your ability to teach him to eat a wide variety of foods, including healthy fruits and vegetables.

Let me put it this way: Do you want your son to grow up eating only pizza, chicken nuggets, eggs, cheese, fruit and snacks? That’s a very limiting diet, but because you fear that if he refuses to eat something at one meal, he will stop gaining weight, you’ve allowed him—instead of you you as the mom—to dictate what he eats.

Of course he’s going to go for the easy foods, the ones that taste better to him, and refuse the unfamiliar. All kids would eat his diet if they could because it does taste good, but one of our jobs as parents is to give our kids an expansive palate by introducing them over and over to different foods, including fruits and vegetables, cooked a variety of ways.

Here are a few suggestions to get your toddler eating better. First, stop worrying that he’s not going to get enough. Toddlers go through eating stages. When they’re not growing, they tend to eat less. So if he happens to refuse what you’ve made for dinner, don’t sweat it. When he’s hungry, he will eat. And skipping a few meals won’t make his weight dive bomb.

Second, stop fixing him special meals at dinner time. You can serve him what he likes for breakfast and lunch, but at dinner, he gets what everyone else does. Give him a tiny teaspoon of everything on the table. Then allow him seconds of what he wants (from the foods on the table) after he’s finished those little bites.

Third, remember that he will fuss and fidget and refuse and throw the food. You’ve given him complete control over his eating for his entire (short) life, so wresting it back will take a little effort because he’s not going to give up without a fight.

Fourth, for the nursing, wean him with the step-down method (dropping one nursing at a time, then a few days later, another nursing). Replace those nursings with milk in a sippy or other cup (skip the bottle—in my opinion, it’s easier not to have to wean off the bottle later).

Fifth, keep in mind that you’re not just feeding a toddler—you’re training a budding adult on how to eat for life. Taking the long view by focusing on having a child willing to try all foods, eat the ones he doesn’t like, and know what makes a balanced meal will help keep you on track.

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent

We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon is inspired by Elizabeth Maddrey of Woodbridge, Va. “The licking is apparently a thing at our house. I don’t know why because neither my husband or I go around licking things or people—so it’s not like this is a learned behavior. The first time I said that was after I had finished a spate of ‘don’t touch your brother,’ ‘don’t hit your brother,’ ‘I don’t care if he’s about to fall to his death, don’t put your hands on your brother,’ and so forth. The smarty kid then decided that licking was not putting his hands on his brother and so therefore might be acceptable. In fact, it is not,” she explained.

Post your “Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent” comment below—yours might be featured as a cartoon!