We’ve got good kids. We really do. All three are mild mannered, gentle, conscientious children. With only rare exceptions do I find myself feeling frustrated or disappointed in their behavior. But lately, Katherine has been pushing boundaries and exploring what she can get away with.
I’m simply not surprised. She is extremely strong-willed, very intelligent, and uber-confident. At even a young age, I was always more worried that she could live without us, not if she could. She’s just that strong.
One of the things she struggles with is understanding consequences. To give you an idea, a typical morning in our house begins happily enough, but it rapidly descends into a regular battle of wills between Katherine and mom and dad. We are pushing her to get ready; she is pushing to continue playing. Courtney and I know the consequences of not getting ready, specifically that both Katherine and I will end up late to our particular obligations.
This is just one example, and there are many others. One from last night was a request to stop stacking and knocking over the food items in our grocery cart. I asked her four times. On the fourth time, she said yes and immediately began stacking the objects again. That earned her a solid smack upside the head. And did it actually “fix” anything? No, it did not.
For the record, we rarely spank our children. As in I honestly cannot remember the last time. That being said, I’m not anti-spanking. I’m anti-abuse. Personally, I do not see that spanking does anything but cause an immediate focus on a specific behavior. But without proper followup and explanation, spanking is completely ineffective.
Here’s what we’ve done in the past:
- spanks (see above)
- time outs–These range from short timeouts to marathon timeouts of 10 to 15 minutes. This morning included one timeout of 10 minutes.
- revoking privileges–More often than not, this is removing access to a favorite toy or activity. This morning, Katherine lost access to her current favorite toy, Tweetie. By the way, this worked.
To be sure, this is a phase, but it is a critical phase. I see it as critical because it:
- affects her attitude about life and work. Right now, I’m working with and know a ton of people who can’t be bothered to accept the consequences of their choices and insist on being bailed out or rescued as if that were a right. Guess what? It’s not. Take personal responsibility. If there is one thing that sets me off faster than anything else, it’s a lack of personal responsibility.
- affects her relationship with me as a father. I worry about long-term conflict with her regarding my handling of this phase. I want this to be a learning experience for her, not a separating experience.
So what to do?
This morning we were reading Alma 13 in our family scripture study (which Katherine spent in timeout in the kitchen). I always find it interesting that so many answers to so many current problems can be found in whatever verse you happen to be reading. Alma 13 is Alma’s great discourse on being a High Priest, and he lists so many of the qualities and qualifications of a High Priest. For example, there’s this little gem near the end of the chapter:
28 But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and awatch and pray continually, that ye may not be btempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be cled by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, dmeek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
So much that is great here, but I wanted to point out a few things…. First, this verse follows a large section on repentance and being worthy. That is followed by prayer. But the section I find most particularly relevant is the rest of the verse, which basically states that if you repent, pray, are humble, and keep yourself that way (avoid temptation), you will be lead by the Holy Spirit which will make you “humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering.”
In other words, all the things that would help me help Katherine are a direct consequence of me doing my best to be righteous.
So often we assume the answers to problems are to force change in the other person. So often, however, the answer is that we ourselves should change for the better, which will give us the power to be patient and humble and capable in dealing with others.
With this understanding and a sincere prayer, I’ve come up on a couple plans:
- In my youth, my parents showed my family the video The Pump. It was put out by the church a long time ago to showcase the principle of consequences. This is something that Katherine does not quite understand at this point, and this video teaches it powerfully and memorably. In fact, in my family, if you were to say the phrase, “Just prime the pump,” you’d get a knowing laugh. It simply stuck in our brains. I think this video makes a wonderful FHE lesson.
- Playing Chutes and Ladders. Yes, it’s a corny game from a thousand years ago, but it teaches two wonderful principles that she needs right now. First, bad choices have consequences. Second, good choices have consequences.
Too often do we interpret consequence as a negative, and I can see why. The root con- does mean bad, as we see in the phrase Pros and Cons. However, the root con- also means with, and this is the correct root in this case. Consequence literally means With Following (or sequence). Literally. Consequences can be either good or bad, and we forget that. Katherine has forgotten that.
I want to help her see that her choices have results both good and bad.
- Elder Oaks’s talk on Good, Better, Best. This is a fantastic talk that helps us understand that our decisions aren’t always between good and bad. Sometimes they are between good and better and best. In Katherine’s case, playing is good. It really is. But obedience is better. Playing is good, but being ready for school is better.
So much of what she sees in life right now is focused on avoiding work. Again, it’s a phase, but a critical one. This is a phase that becomes foundational for the rest of her life, which leads me to my fourth plan.
- Work. Katherine must gain an appreciation for work. I’m the first to admit that I don’t always like to work, but I’m glad I do work. I’m glad that I’ve seen what enjoyable work can be like. I’m glad that I’ve seen what miserable work can be like. Katherine has only seen the miserable side so far (at least as much as she recognizes it), so it’s time to help her see good work. Enjoyable work.
She does enjoy some work, like sweeping the porch, cleaning the wood stove, and even laundry. And that’s where we will start.
This is a phase, but I cannot overstate the importance of this phase and getting it right. When we talk about failures in parenting, I honestly believe that these are the failures. Failing to recognize the critical stages of growth and development and failing to adequately address those very real needs.
Like I said, we have good kids. I plan on helping them be great kids.