Teaching Kids to Take Responsibility

All of this week, we talked about overcoming the habit of lying in our kids.

When we started the series, we said that one of the primary roots of lying is laziness. Lying is a shortcut. The opposite of that is a willingness to take responsibility, roll up our sleeves and do the hard work, which often means facing the consequences of our choices.

One of the greatest lessons we can teach our kids is to take full responsibility for their actions. Does “Not Me” live in your house?

“Who left their shoes on the floor?”

Not Me!

“Who forgot to turn off the lights?”

Not Me!

“Who made this mess?”

Not Me!

Not Me is very naughty!

There are many ways kids avoid taking responsibility.

For example:

  • A child breaks something in someone’s house and doesn’t tell anyone what happened.
  • A child blames his bad choice on the person who instigated him, “He made me do it.”
  • A child insists he knows something, but when he finds out he’s wrong, he doesn’t admit it and apologize.
  • A child performs poorly on a test, and blames the teacher, a classmate, his schedule, or some other force outside himself.
  • A child comes in and tattles, but doesn’t fess up to his part in the situation. He tells you what the other kid did, but leaves out what he did.
  • A child does not complete a chore or task and then blames someone else for not doing their part first.

In almost every instance where a person does not take responsibility for their actions, pride is the culprit, and it has to be rooted out. But remember, we have to always approach this as our child’s coach and mentor, full of compassion and gentleness and without any condemnation.

That being said, don’t let these things go. Help them take responsibility by giving them words and walking them through the process of owning up to their mistakes. For example, don’t let your kids smile or laugh when they are in trouble. It’s a way of minimizing the significance of what has happened. We realize that it’s usually a nervous habit, but we need to recognize it and train our children to be sober in the face of error.

Say, “I know this is uncomfortable, and when we feel uncomfortable, we can be tempted to smile or laugh, but that sends a message that you’re not taking this seriously, and I know that’s not the message you want to give out. Sometimes just putting words to how you’re feeling helps make it less uncomfortable. Think for a moment, and try to tell me how you’re feeling right now.”

When they have made a mistake, have them

  • 1. Confess their part to people and to God (He is their ultimate authority)
  • 2. Apologize (using the 6 Steps of Apology)
  • 3. Take steps of restoration

Set The Example

Kids have super sensitive hypocrisy radars, and if they see that you’re not willing to own up to your mistakes with a humble heart, they will quickly shift the spotlight away from themselves and onto you when they fail to take responsibility. We have to model this for our kids by FULLY apologizing when we make a mistake or when we say something inaccurate.

If we want our kids to be truth tellers, we can’t lie. Kids learn what they live. We can’t send the “Do as I say, don’t do as I do” message and expect our kids to do the hard of telling the truth. Remember, in God’s eyes, there are no little white lies. Lies are lies.

For example, don’t lie about a kid’s age to get a cheaper rate.

Be honest with your kids when they ask questions. If they’re too young for the answer say, “I want to answer that question for you honestly, but this is a complicated situation, and you will need more life experience to understand it. I promise that I will tell you more about this when you are bit older and can understand fully.”

If you have a sordid past, be honest with your kids when they’re old enough.  They need to know that you understand that there is an element to bad choices (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity) that people find fun and exciting, but that the truth is, you are not in anyway better off for having made those choices. Tell them about how bad the outcomes are if they go down the road of drugs and how addiction starts, it´s very important for them to know, and that the only way out of that life is by going through a california rehabilitation center. Talk about the deep and lasting pain of regret, and tell them that if you had a chance to do things over, you would make very different choices. Tell them that you were foolish, and that you are so grateful that they are much wiser than you were at their age.

If your kids catch you in a lie, they won’t trust what you say. Once they don’t trust you, you have a whole new set of problems.  

We hope you’ve been blessed by this week’s series. Please don’t hesitate to leave us your questions and thoughts in the comments section.

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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The Ministry of Hints

All this week, we’ve been talking about lying and how to eradicate it in kids who’ve formed a lying habit.

If you’ve missed any of them, here are the links to go back and read more:

Today we want to talk about a slight variation of lying, but a deception (or more accurately, a manipulation) nonetheless. Isn’t that what lying really is? Deceiving in order manipulate a person and engineer a specific outcome?

Jody and I call it the ministry of hints. Let’s say you are eating a cookie and your child walks by and sees it. An honest and transparent child might see it and say, “Oh mom, that looks yummy! May I have a cookie too?”

A child operating in the ministry of hints would not come out and directly ask for the thing he wants. Instead, he’ll try a more passive route in the hopes of manipulating you into offering him the cookie. Like this:  “Mmmm…I sure do love cookies. I think I’m getting hungry.”

The honest child takes takes responsible for himself (we’re going to talk more about that tomorrow) and recognizes that he’d also like a cookie and then takes the initiative to politely and directly ask, “May I have a cookie?”

But the ministry of hints, being a form of manipulation, places the responsibility not on the child where it belongs, but on the other person in the situation. The child doesn’t want to have to ask for the thing he desires; he wants the other person to offer it. There’s an element of pride involved. A person operating in the ministry of hints doesn’t want to humble himself and ask for what he wants or needs. That would mean conceding a certain amount of vulnerability. Instead, he’d rather drop a hint and let the other person figure it out.

It feels yucky to be on the receiving end of this.

If you see it happen with your child, gently call it out. You could say, “Johnny, it seems like you are hinting that you want a cookie. Hinting is not honest and open, and I know that you are an honest and open boy. So try asking me directly if you may have one.”

As with any form of deception, don’t let the ministry of hints slip by you. Confront it directly but without condemnation.

Check back tomorrow. We’ll be talking about Teaching Kids to Take Responsibility.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Six Steps to Overcome Lying

This week we’re talking about how to overcome lying. It’s such a big topic that we’re taking all week to tackle it, but today is the day you’ve been waiting for. It’s the nuts and bolts of HOW to help your child overcome the habit of lying.

If you’re just jumping in today, take a moment to back and read How to Eradicate Lying and the 7 Myths of Lying. They lay an important mindset foundation that we have to grasp before we can successfully tackle today’s 6 Steps to Overcome Lying.

Are you ready? Here we go!

Step #1 — Be VERY careful not to shame the child.

Children who struggle with telling the truth will avoid shame at all costs, and if you shame a liar, you will eventually create a better liar. The person will learn how to lie more effectively so they don’t get caught and face shame.

This is such a big part of overcoming lying that we’re dedicating a whole post it tomorrow. So be sure to stop back in.

Be VERY aware of your facial expression and your body language.

Search your child’s face to see how he is reacting to you. If he senses shame, he will react. Then you can shift gears and let him know that you love him and that you are committed to his success.

But that doesn’t mean ignore it. Which leads to…

Step #2 — You HAVE TO address every single instance of even the smallest exaggeration.

A good way to do this without shaming the person is to explain that everyone has things they are naturally good at and other things that are more challenging for them. For example, some kids get on a bike for the first time and instinctively know how to pedal. Others have to practice and learn. Some kids are naturally good at sports or art or music, while others have to work it. Well, some people are automatically good at telling the truth, but others have to work at it.

Remind him that you are there to help and that you understand it’s hard.

But no matter what, you have to be willing to confront every single incident where you suspect a lie.

Don’t overlook storytelling, especially with a kid who struggles with lying. Tell them him he has a great imagination, and then give him words to try again. “That’s a great story Johnny. You are so creative. Next time you could say, ‘Mom, I thought of a really cool story. Can I share it with you?’ That way you aren’t pretending that it really happened.”

This is work on our part. We HAVE to be willing to do the work and call them out on EVERY SINGLE lie.

On a side note, the word “lie” carries an element of shame with it. So when you’re confronting this, try not to use it. Instead of saying, “Johnny, I think you’re lying.” Say something like, “Johnny, I think it might have happened differently. Try again, and I’ll help you tell the story the way it really happened.”

Step #3 — Let the child know that you are there to help and coach her through telling the whole truth.

When you suspect a child is not telling the truth, carefully point it out.

Clearly show your child that you are on his team; you are 100% committed to his success, and you do not think any less of him for struggling with this, just as you wouldn’t think any less of a child who struggles with learning how to ride a bike.

Let’s say something is broken and you suspect little Johnny broke it. You ask him, and he denies it. You can say, “Johnny, I know it’s hard to explain what really happened, but I’m going to help you, and together, we will piece together the real, actual truth.”

Step #4 — Coach them through it.

Help the child start at the beginning. Ask, “what happened first?”

Let the child tell you what happened, and praise every effort. If you sense he’s veering away from truth, gently point it out and help direct him back.

Step #5 — Praise positive effort

As he starts to tell what really happened, avoid any temptation to feel offended that he lied to you. Let’s face it, it’s very frustrating when someone lies. You feel like you can never trust them.

But remember that for a kid who struggles with truth telling, this is super hard. So when he begins to piece together the real story, let him know you are proud of him. It will give him the courage to keep going.

Step #6 — Speak a new truth

Once the real story comes out, praise him for working hard, and then say, “Johnny, I’m so proud of you because every day you are becoming more and more of a boy who always tells the truth.”

This step is critical to your long term success of building a truth teller.

No matter how many times a day you have to confront this issue in your child, end every single session with those words. It will take time, but eventually, he will build a new identity as a boy who always tells the truth.

When my son was struggling with this issue, I must have said those words hundreds, if not a thousand times. It took nine months to see real victory, but it was because he began to see himself as a truth teller that the battle was won.

 My son was four years old at the time, and in that season of our life there was a temptation for our little ones to go into our bedroom, climb up on our headboard and jump on our bed. And this was a huge no, no!

One day, my son came to me with tears in his eyes and a deeply repenant look on his face and said, “Mommy, I have to tell you what happened because I am a boy who always tells the truth.” No one had seen him do it. He could have easily gotten away with it, but after nine months of hearing the words “you are a boy who always tells the truth” spoken over him, he accepted his new identity as a truth teller. And so he confessed to climbing on my headboard and jumping on my bed.

Whenever I tell that story, I usually get this question: “Did you discipline him for jumping on the bed?” And the answer is yes. Of course I did. I would have done that boy no service by letting it go. He knew it was a major rule in our house, and he knew he broke the rule. Facing the consequence gave him confidence that he could tell the truth, endure the repercussions with bravery and still be okay.

I told him how very proud of him I was for being courageous and being an excellent truth teller. I was tender and full of love, especially as I helped him face the consequence of jumping on the bed, and afterwards, I told him I forgive him and that I love him and that I think he’s a brave boy.

As difficult as this process may be for the child, rest assured that they will always feel a tremendous relief when the truth is told, especially when they see that there is no condemnation in your eyes.

It can be very upsetting when someone lies to you. You feel betrayed and manipulated, and it can make you really angry. Your initial reaction might be, “How could you lie to me like that? How can I ever trust you?” But remember, the person who struggles with this needs to feel freedom from condemnation in this process. They need to feel like you’re on their side and that you will help them without judging them.

Be Patient

Be patient in this one. Give this process a year. You may be doing this multiple times a day, everyday, for months on end. Don’t lose heart. It will take time, but if you avoid any form of condemnation, and you present yourself as a coach and mentor whose only goal is to help and empower your child to become a truth teller, you will succeed!

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Debunking the 7 Myths of Lying

This week we are confronting the nasty issue of lying. Be sure to go back and read yesterday’s post on How to Eradicate Lying.

Today we’re going to debunk some myths and replace them with some truths. It’s important that we lay this groundwork and have the right mindset before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to overcome this thing. So be sure to read yesterday’s post and today’ post all the way through.

  • Come back tomorrow to learn the Six Steps to Overcome Lying.
  • On Thursday we’ll talk about how Shaming a Liar Creates a Better Liar.
  • On Friday we’ll expose the deceptiveness of the Ministry of Hints.
  • And on Saturday we’ll talk about Teaching Kids to Take Responsibility.

If you are not already signed up to receive our blog posts to your email, look in the right column for the blue bar that says, “Subscribe to The Blog by Email.” Enter your email, and click submit. That way you won’t miss any of this week’s posts. And be sure to share them with anyone you know who has kids because I they’re probably going to confront this issue at some point.

Myth #1 — There are different levels of lying.

  • slight exaggerations
  • little white lies
  • tall tales
  • bold face lies
  • pathological lies
Truth — Deception is wrong at every level.

If you’re unsure if something is okay, ask yourself what the motive is. If the motive is to manipulate a situation to create a specific outcome, it’s deception, and it’s wrong.

Ask yourself: “Am I trying to engineer the situation to create a specific outcome?”

Example: The phone rings and you’re in the middle of something important. You shout out, “Tell them I’m not here”

Myth #2 — Leaving out important details is not lying

This is the old “Don’t ask – Don’t tell” philosophy. When you adopt this line of thinking, you tell yourself, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

Truth — Omission is a lie if the goal is to manipulate a situation and engineer a specific outcome

Ask yourself: “Am I leaving out this information to prevent a confrontation or to create a specific outcome?”

Example: You don’t think your husband would be thrilled with your recent shopping trip, so you tuck the bags in the back of your closet and casually introduce the new items as if you’ve always had them.

Myth #3 — It’s ok to stretch the truth when it’s for someone else’s benefit

Flattery is a great example of this kind of lie. Flattery means “excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one’s own interests.” I have met people who think that they are doing good by saying nice things to encourage someone, but the problem is, the things they say are not true. That’s flattery, and it’s a sin.

Remember, the root of lying is laziness. Flattery is lazy. Often people use flattery to further their own interest, just as the definition says. It’s a short cut to win favor.

I see kids doing it to butter up their parents for their own gain. If you catch your kids trying to use flattery, don’t be silent about it. Tomorrow we’re going talk about the steps to combat lying. Use the steps when you sense flattery is at work.

Truth — It’s not loving to lie. It may take work to tell the truth, but real love and concern for others is always honest.

Ask yourself: “Is what I’m saying completely true?”

So, what do you do about the grey areas of this kind of lying?

  • Lying to sparing hurt feelings?
  • Lying for the sake of a surprise party?
  • Lying about the Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny?

You’ll have to work these out with God, but usually, there is a way around the lie. Usually, there’s a way to be truthful without hurting someone’s feelings.

Example: After a dinner at a friend’s house, she asks if you had a good time. The truth is, you thought her husband was arrogant and with most of the conversation revolving around him, you were both irritated and bored, but you don’t want to say that because it would crush her. You could find positive (and true) things to say like, “Your chicken marsala was awesome. Where did you get that recipe?” and “Your daughter is adorable. I loved all of the art creations that she showed me.”

But sometimes, it’s more loving to be truthful than to avoid the truth. If what I’m wearing makes me look bad, I’d rather my friend tell me and prevent me from walking around all day looking stupid. And more importantly, if I’m being harsh with my kids or mistreating my husband or acting rude or prideful, I want to know those things too so I can fix them. My friend’s words may sting at first, but ultimately they will help me grow. It’s not easy to be the person saying those things, but remember, truth telling can be hard work. Lying is often easier, but it’s not better.

Surprise parties are tricky. You could classify any “lies” related to surprise parties as part of pretend play. If you were an actor in a play, you probably wouldn’t consider it lying. It’s more like pretending. But it’s going to be different for every person. Romans 14:14 says, “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”

The same is true for Santa, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. For many reasons, Jody and I do not tell our children that these things are true. But this is another grey area where it’s really between you and God.

Myth #4 — Exaggeration is not lying

 Truth — Exaggeration is adding emphasis with untrue details. It’s manipulation in an attempt to create a specific outcome.

Example — In the middle of a fight one kids storms out of the room and lightly brushes against the other kid. The one who was bumped screams, “He pushed me!” The goal is to instantly win the parent to their side. It’s a short cut, and it’s manipulation.

Warning — Kids are black and white. If they hear us exaggerate to add dramatic emphasis, we can lose credibility, especially with a kid who is trying to be a truth teller.

Myth #5 — It’s okay to be untruthful in the name of creativity

  • Tall tales
  • Imagination that morphs into lying
Truth — The difference between imagination and lying is in the declaration that the story is true and really happened.

Ask yourself: “Is my child telling a story to be creative or is he saying that it actually happened?”

Example: “Hey mom! When I looked out the window this morning, I saw a space ship, and a little green alien popped his head out and waved to me.”

When we let our kids get away with telling tall tales or making up stories by playing along, we’re actually teaching them that these stories get the awe factor from the audience. We’re reinforcing the behavior. Check back tomorrow, and we’ll talk about how to confront these situations in a way that’s empowering but doesn’t let the continue.

Myth #6 — Everyone lies from time to time.

Truth — Some people are naturally good at telling the truth. That’s not to say they never make a mistake and say something untrue, but just that for some people, telling the truth is much easier than it is for others. Usually these people are terrible liars. Even when they’re facing tough consequences, they’d rather tell the truth. Other people have a much harder time telling the truth. For those people, making up a story is far more natural.

This concept is critical to the process of overcoming lying. Our kids need to understand that there are going to be things they naturally excel at and other things that they have to work harder at. Truth telling is either going to be easy for them or something they have to work at.

Myth #7 — It’s not a big deal.

Truth — It’s a HUGE deal! Lying is habit forming, and when left unchecked, can become a very difficult habit to break. In fact, once it becomes a habit, a person can automatically think of a lie when they’re faced with a difficult situation, and it can be challenging for the person (especially a kid) to learn how to think through the scenario and tell what actually happened.

Habits determine character, and character determines destiny. We need to help our kids form good habits.

Come back tomorrow. We’re going to give you the 6 Steps to Overcoming Lying.

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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How to Eradicate Lying

Lying is a big stinkin’ deal, and it affects most families at some point. That’s why we’re dedicating this entire week to dealing with it.

If you’re not signed up to receive our blog posts to your email, look in the upper right corner for the blue bar that says, “Subscribe to The Blog by Email.” Enter your email, and click submit. That way you won’t miss any of this week’s posts.

And be sure to share them with anyone you know who has kids because I guarantee they’re going to confront this issue at some point.

How it All Started

About eight years ago, I realized that one of my kids was lying, and it freaked me out!  I knew that if left unchecked, it would soon become a habit for him, and a very difficult one to break. I knew it because I had this habit when I was a kid. In fact, I became so conditioned to lie that whenever I was confronted with a difficult situation, my mind was conditioned to automatically think up a lie. It was actually harder for me to think through the situation and tell what really happened than it was to lie.

I didn’t overcome it until my 20’s when I got saved. God began convicting me, and I knew I had to fix this, but it was such a struggle. So many times, I’d have to stop mid-sentence and say, “Actually, that’s not true.” It was painful and humiliating. In the meantime, I also had to go back to my family and begin confessing old lies. It was rough, but at the end of the day, it was also freeing. And having known what it felt like to be in bondage to lies, I wanted to give my kids the gift of a clean conscience.

So when I saw this nasty habit start to form in my boy, I was like a dog on a scent. I knew I had to root this thing out, so I began spending day and night researching the root of lying and how to deal with it. I read books and articles and talked to experts. I was determined to fix this.

It was February 2006 when I began the long haul of eradicating lying in my son. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I didn’t realize how long it would take or how intense it would be. Throughout this week, I’ll weave the story of my son in and out of the posts as illustrations of the different things I learned.

By November of that year, I knew we had licked it. Something happened that revealed a seismic shift that had taken place in my four-year-old. He had changed from the inside out. The victory had been won, but it came on the heels of a grueling nine month journey.

Before we get into the meat of this thing, let me encourage you to steel yourself and make the commitment to walk this thing out. Don’t give up or give in before you see total victory. This habit has deep roots and doesn’t come out easily, but if you follow the plan carefully and consistently, it will work. Since winning the victory over lying in my house eight years ago, I have helped many families do the same.

It works! Stick with me this week and find out how. It’s probably not at all what you think!

  • Tomorrow I’m going to Debunk 7 Myths of Lying.
  • On Wednesday I’ll give you the Six Steps to Overcome Lying.
  • On Thursday we’ll talk about how Shaming a Liar Creates a Better Liar.
  • On Friday we’ll expose the deceptiveness of The Ministry of Hints.
  • And on Saturday we’ll talk about Teaching Kids to Take Responsibility.

But first, let’s just cover a few important basics.

The Root of Lying

The root of lying is usually laziness. A child wants to get out of trouble, so he lies because it’s easier than facing the potential consequences. Someone who makes up stories to impress people is taking a short cut. She doesn’t want to put in the time and effort it takes to build authentic admiration, so she makes up a story to win instant favor.

People Can Smell a Lie

We need to teach our kids that they usually won’t get away with a lie–not completely anyway. In fact, we’re lying to ourselves when we think we’ve gotten away with it. People sense a lie. They may not know exact what it is, but it’s as if they can smell something rotten. We do our kids a MASSIVE injustice when we don’t help them learn to overcome lying.

The Long Haul

Once you recognize that lying is an issue, you HAVE TO deal with it or it WILL become a habit and a hard one to break. The process we’re  to share with you this week really works when you are committed and willing to do it thoroughly and consistently over a long period of time. Do not expect quick results. Give yourself a year to get through this.

The God Perspective

Lying is very serious in God’s eyes. For one thing, it comes straight from Satan himself. John 8:44 says when the devil lies “he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

On the flip side, Jesus (who is supposed to be our role model, right?) is the Truth. In John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things that are abomination to God. They are

  1. 1. a proud look
  2. 2. a lying tongue
  3. 3. hands that shed innocent blood
  4. 4. a heart that devises wicked plans
  5. 5. feet that are swift in running to evil
  6. 6. a false witness who speaks lies
  7. 7. one who sows discord among brethren

Did you notice that lying is on that list twice?  Humans tend to categorize sin, don’t we? Most of us would probably say that murder is the worst sin, right? But God doesn’t necessarily see it that way – not that he endorses murder, of course, but God called David a man after His own heart, and He talked to Moses as a man talks to a friend. Both men were murderers.

Again, I’m not saying God is okay with murder, but only that He views things differently than we do. We think murder is the mac daddy of all sin, but we tend to be kind of soft on lying. We also think there are different levels of lying, don’t we? There are…

  • slight exaggerations
  • little white lies
  • tall tales
  • pathological lies
  • bold face lies…

and in our minds, they are all different.

But what does God think?

According to that list from Proverbs, there are seven things that God HATES, but only one thing is on the list twice — lying. So it stands to reason that God’s view of lying is pretty serious. Perhaps much more serious than ours.

So let’s face it head on and win the battle against this nasty thing! I’m not saying you’ll never again hear a lie in your house. We’re a fallen race with a sinful nature, and lying is probably one of the most common temptations. But I am saying that it doesn’t have to become a habit.

Come back tomorrow. I’m going to debunk seven myths about lying. In the meantime, leave us a comment and share your thoughts.

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Conversation as a Correction Tool

Once you have established consistent obedience in your home, often the only tool you need is a conversation, especially for older children who have humble hearts and a desire to do what’s right.

In that case, when a misbehavior happens, you can simply sit down with the child and ask him the same questions you would ask yourself when choosing a consequence:

  • What was the root of the misbehavior? (i.e. laziness, pride, selfishness, anger, rebellion, sensory issue)
  • How is this behavior wrong?
  • What would happen if an adult behaved this way?
  • What other negative outcomes could this behavior produce? (someone could have been hurt; an item could have been lost, stolen or broken, child could be alienated from others)
  • Were you somehow set up for failure? (tired, hungry, overstimulated, pushed to incompetence)
  • Do you think you need a motivator to overcome this?
  • Do you think you’re missing a tool that could help you be more successful?

Sometimes, you don’t even need that much discussion. The three question correction is enough for them to understand what went wrong and how they can do it differently next time. If they’re truly repentant and armed with the tools to make a better choice in the future, you might not need anything else.

That wraps up our series on Filling the Training Toolbox. If you have any questions or comments or ideas for us, please leave a comment, contact us through the website, or send us a Facebook message.

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 1 to 30), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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The Power of Prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Sometimes, when you’re thinking through the causes of misbehavior, you realize that your child was somehow set up for failure, and that preventative measures could have been taken to avoid the misbehavior. In that case, a consequence might not be appropriate, but the misbehavior could be a signal to you that systems need to be put in place to help your child succeed the next time.

Pay attention to patterns. Does your child have trouble behaving when she’s tired, hungry, dehydrated, overstimulated and so on. If so, how can you set her up for success?

A Word About Dehydration

On a quick side note, so many kids suffer from dehydration. Consider having two distinct water breaks in the day when your child sits down to drink water. The rule of thumb is half your child’s body weight in ounces of water per day. If he is sweating or doing physical activity, he’ll need more. An 80 pound child needs 40 ounces of water a day if he’s no sweating. That would mean four 10-ounce glasses! People tell us all the time that their kids drink plenty of water without any prompting, but we’ve found that’s usually not the case. Most kids won’t opt to drink four 10-ounce glasses in a day.

If your child is thirsty, she is already dehydrated, and dehydration can cause kids to misbehave.

Transitions

Transitioning from one activity to another or place to another can be challenging for some kids, especially toddlers and pre-schoolers. If your child often behaves badly during transitions, put measures in place to prepare your child for the transition.

An egg timer is a great thing! Pack one in your bag, and let your preschooler know you are setting it for five minutes. When the timer beeps, it’s time to go. Also create a transition routine. When my oldest son was small, transitions were very difficult for him (typical of autistic kids). I sang a goodbye song whenever they were leaving a place, and it helped him accept the transition.

Other Preventative Tips

Timers are also a great way to prevent arguments during turn-taking. When it comes to splitting something,Jody came up with a great tool for preventing arguments. One child divides the thing, and the other child chooses her half first.

Routines also help prevent misbehavior. Have consistent routines for meal times, bath and bedtime.

If you know your child has sensory integration difficulty, you may need to avoid large, crowded places. When you can’t avoid them, bring tools to help your child escape the stimulation (i.e. an ipad in restaurant, ear plugs, etc).

Poor grades could mean a student needs more help, or there’s an issue seeing the board or hearing the instructions. Your child may need extra help or have to be moved to a better location in the classroom. These are preventative measures.

Be careful about rushing your children needlessly. Your child shouldn’t suffer because of your bad time management habits. A pre-schooler who just learned to tie her shoes could melt down when she is rushed out the door and not allowed to practice her new skill.

Jody and I often say, “Your lack of preparation does not constitute an emergency on my part.” The same should hold true for our kids. Our lack of preparation should not constitute an emergency on our kids’ part.

Another important preventative measure is prepping our kids before we arrive someplace. Talk about what is expected of them. Explain to them what the environment will be like, who will be there, what foods they will be expected to eat, what forms of entertainment may or not be available, what they are allowed or not allowed to do, how long you’ll be there, etc. Role playing in the car on the way to a playdate is a great way to prevent arguments and empower your kids with tools in case things go wrong.

Our kids should also be memorizing scripture on a regular basis — at least a verse a week. Remember, God’s word is alive and powerful and can discern our thoughts. Getting the Word in their hearts is a long-term preventative measure for future misbehavior.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Positive Reinforcement Is Not Bribery

Positive reinforcement is not to be confused with bribery. Bribery says, “If you do what I want, I’ll pay you.” It’s manipulation. Positive reinforcement is a reward system.

Negative reinforcement teaches “Bad choices = bad results”.

Positive reinforcement teaches “Good choices = good results”.

It’s is a great tool for rewarding self-control, hard work and a good attitude. Positive reinforcement can be used to reward the hard work that went into achieving good grades (good grades in and of themselves are a positive reinforcement), helping younger children make it through challenging situations like a long string of errands, and so on.

Allowance can be a positive reinforcement to reward consistency and excellence. You can also choose a prize, cut out a picture of it and use it as a motivation. A sticker chart can track progress toward the goal. This is also known as a token economy system: kids earn some form of reward trackers for specified behaviors, and when they reach the goal, they turn in the trackers (stickers, tokens, etc.) for the prize.

Praise is a great positive reinforcement and so is public recognition. Direct sales companies know this all too well and use recognition to push their sales force to perform at higher levels.

When my older daughter was little I worked. She cried every time I left the house, so I used a positive reinforcement to help her understand that working meant provision for our household. I brought her a catalogue and allowed her to choose a prize from it. We cut it out and taped it to a mason jar. Then I drew a meter on the other side of the jar and marked one line for each dollar it would take to earn the prize. Every time I came home from work, we put a dollar in the jar and colored in a line. When we reached the top of the meter, I bought her the prize. 

My oldest son is autistic, and positive reinforcement works extremely well for him. He will do just about anything if it means a reward. A reward can be a prize or time on the computer or TV or a special date with mom or dad, or it can even be money, depending on what we’re working on.

When he was younger, getting through a grocery store trip with an enormous feat. All of the sounds and people and smells and lights were severely overstimulating for him, and led to some meltdowns. But M & Ms saved the day!

At the start of the trip, I would buy a bag of M & Ms. When we entered a store aisle, I told him he could have two if we got to the end of the aisle without yelling, crying or trying to get out of the cart. About mid-way through the aisle, I’d tell him how great he was doing and remind him that if he keeps it up, he’ll get M & M’s. As we turned the aisle, I’d give him the reward, and we’d start all over.

After a while, we were able to reward him with a whole bag of M & Ms if he had a successful store trip. He had become so good at getting from aisle to aisle, that we didn’t need to reward each small step.

Once he could read, I used a different system. Because I knew errands were so challenging for Griffyn, I’d get all of my errands done in one day. Instead of rewarding each stop, we’d start the day with a trip to the dollar store and he would pick a prize. I’d give him an index card with a list of the things we were going to do that day, in order. After each successful stop, I would check off the item on the card. At the end of the day, if he had all checks, he would get the prize.

When you’re using positive reinforcement, it’s important to explain why they’re being rewarded, and to reserve rewards for appropriate situations. In our house, we will say, “We know this is a big challenge. So what are we working for?”

Overuse or an inappropriate use of positive reinforcements can create a “What’s In It For Me?” attitude. You know what I mean — the kid does the dishes without being asked and then says, “So what I get?”

If you see that start to develop, back off the tangible rewards and use more praise.

Tomorrow we’ll be back talking about the Power of Prevention. In the meantime, leave a comment and tell us about your favorite positive reinforcement tools.

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Negative Reinforcement is Not All Bad

Negative reinforcement gets a bad wrap! But it’s a real world tool for discouraging bad choices, and when it’s used in the right way and in the right circumstances, it can be a powerful teacher.

Take the transportation system for example. If you get caught speeding, you’ll get a ticket. You’ll have to go to court, pay a fine and get points on your license, which will stay there for a few years, alerting insurance companies that you’re not exactly a safe driver. As a result, your insurance premiums will go up. Get caught often enough, and you’ll lose your license. Car insurance is very important, but don´t forget to get some Private Medical Insurance for those unexpected accidents.

That’s negative reinforcement, and it works!

Some friends of ours have traveled to countries that don’t have these kinds of laws, and they say those are scary places. One friend told me she was shocked there weren’t more dead bodies strewn about. She did see one person who was fatally struck while she was there, but the driving experience was so terrifying, she was amazed that the streets weren’t lined with dead bodies.

I’ll take our negative reinforcing traffic system any day over one where anything goes.

Negative reinforcement doesn’t have to be harsh or unforgiving or hurtful. It’s simply a tool to help teach the concept that bad choices equal bad results.

BAD CHOICES = BAD RESULTS

Negative reinforcement can be useful for helping kids to break bad habits, to get through challenging situations, to correct a repeated bad behavior (bickering, forgetfulness, poor grades), for dishonoring or disrespecting someone…basically, for most bad choices.

An Element of Fun

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As Mary Poppins says, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Even bad results can have a fun twist.

For example, when we want to help our kids break a bad habit (nail biting, nose picking — it happens!), we tell our kids to do 10 push ups every time they’re caught doing the bad thing. It works! And they get in shape in the process.

A friend of ours shared something with us a few years that has stopped our kids from mistreating furniture (standing on chairs, jumping on beds, sitting on tables, etc.). If you mistreat the furniture, you lose furniture privileges for the day. That means the kid eats meals that day picnic-style (the table and chairs are furniture, you know), does homework and watches TV from the comfort of the floor and camps out with a sleeping bag and pillow on their bedroom carpet (the bed is furniture too).

The Punishment Fits the Crime

Okay, so we don’t really mean punishment. We’re not our kids’ punishers or jailers. We’re their mentors and teachers. What we really mean here is that a negative consequence should relate to the misbehavior. For example, if your child didn’t do his homework, it doesn’t make sense to say he can’t go out to dinner with grandma and grandpa tomorrow night. First of all, that punishes grandma and grandpa.

Whenever possible, try not to punish other people for your child’s offense (birthday parties, family get-togethers). Sometimes it can’t be avoided, and in that case, you can talk about how their actions affect other people too.

But in the homework scenario, grandma and grandpa didn’t have anything to do with the child not doing his homework. The truth is, he was too wrapped up in a TV show and was too tired by the time it was over. A better consequence would be to ban television until homework is done and inspected.

If the reason he didn’t do his homework had been that he was disorganized and forgot what was due, you wouldn’t take away TV. Instead, you might sit down with his teacher and enlist her help. Ask her to look over his homework before he leaves to make sure it’s accurate, and check his backpack to make sure he has everything he needs to complete the assignments. Then sign his homework list so you know she’s checked it.

When he gets home, have him show you the list and the supplies and together you can make a plan for the evening to make sure he finishes everything. Then have him bring you each thing as it’s done, so you can check it and make sure he puts it neatly where it belongs. At the end of the night, sign his homework list to show the teacher you’re on board. This is a negative reinforcement in the sense that it’s a loss of independence, but it’s also a preventative method as it helps him become more organized so he doesn’t miss future homework assignments.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, the goal of correction is to teach – not to punish!

Time Out

Time out is a negative reinforcement, and when it’s done well, it can be useful. For a complete description of how to do a successful time out, check out the post on Willful Disobedience. Time outs are helpful for young kids (preschool and elementary age) who are having a bad attitude (it can help them cool off and reset their mood) or arguing with you (it’s a reminder that mom is the boss and it’s their job to obey without arguing). But if you are using Time Out as your consequence for Willful Disobedience, it should never be used for any other misbehavior.

Here are some other ideas for negative reinforcements:

Behavior

Negative Reinforcement

Nail biting

Do 10 push ups

Interrupting

Serve others (to recognize that you’re not more important than others)

Complaining

Lose upcoming fun occasions (movies, sleepover, etc.)

Incomplete chores

Loss of privilege (i.e. TV or computer time)

Not doing homework

Loss of freedom (i.e. not able to go to a friend’s house, or loss of cell phone or ipod)

Mistreating a sibling

Do the sibling’s chores that day

Jumping on Furniture

Loss of furniture privilege

Check back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about Positive Reinforcement.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Natural Consequences

There are two kinds of natural consequences:

  • Something that happens on its own without any intervention from anyone else
  • A synthetic situation that is created to model what could have happened

Something That Happens On It’s Own

Let’s say your child waits until the last minute to complete a school project. You know he’s going to be embarrassed; his teacher is going to be disappointed in him, and he’s going to get a bad grade. You have a choice: you can either do the project for (ahem…I mean WITH) him or you can let him face the music for not getting it done or not doing it as well as he would have wanted to. The latter is a natural consequence.

Here’s another one–your preschooler is running in the playground. You’ve asked him to please walk, but he continues to run. A natural consequence may occur if he falls and skins his knee. It becomes a teaching tool when you talk about it and tell him that the reason you want him to walk is so that he doesn’t trip and get hurt.

Something You Create to Model a Potential Situation

The parent-created natural consequence usually speeds up time to model a potential result. For example, your daughter leaves her iPod on the floor at youth group where it could get lost or broken. You create a model of what could have happened by taking away the iPod for a period of time to demonstrate losing it for good had it been broken or stolen.

Here’s another one — your son is mistreating his sister. You’ve talked to him about it, but he continues to treat her badly. You explain that when people act that way, other people don’t want to be around them, and the long-term result could be a lonely one. To model this, you have him spend the evening in his room while the family watches a movie. Be sure to let him know that you’re very sad because you love spending time with him, but that his bad choices will often affect other people negatively too.

Be careful when choosing time periods for man-made natural consequences. You want it to be long enough to teach a lesson but not so long that the child loses hope. If you find yourself wanting to increase the length of time for multiple offenses, you may instead consider revoking the item or privilege all together, until the child is ready to be more responsible.

Bear in mind that if you take something away indefinitely, you must fully explain what the child must do prove that she is ready to be trusted with it again. Give her small opportunities to practice being responsible. It will build her confidence and help you monitor her progress.

A Word of Caution

If you choose a natural consequence, make sure you’re not really being motivated by revenge. If you find yourself thinking (or even saying), “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show you how it feels!” It’s not a natural consequence; it’s revenge.

Our goal is not to be our kid’s punisher or jailer, it’s to be their coach, mentor, teacher. We are training their minds and hearts.

Be very gentle with natural consequences. Don’t say, “Well, that’s what you get for running.” This tool requires us to show tremendous compassion. Couch every natural consequence in lots of conversation, and let them know that you believe in them and you believe they are going to make a different choice next time.

Come back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how negative reinforcement is not all bad.

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 1 to 30), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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