Theology Lessons from a Two Month Old

Elijah is now two months old. It is hard to believe how much he has grown. We love his gummy smile and his little baby noises. While he doesn’t understand who God is yet he is sure teaching us some things about Him. Last night I was feeding Elijah and he kept trying to put his hands in his mouth. No matter how many times I moved his hands he kept putting them back before I could get the bottle in. He was fussing and fighting all the way. In doing so he was keeping me from giving him what he really needed.

The connection is pretty obvious. Sometimes God is trying to bless us or work in us our through us but we fight Him. We think we know what we need but the things we try to replace God’s blessing with are just like trying to get nourishment from gumming our fists. We keep trying it but it never works. It is not until we give up control and let God do what He needs to do in our lives that we get what we really need from God. God knows what we need and is willing to give it. We just have to be willing to get out of the way, submit ourselves to Him and receive it.

Touching Post by Mike Cope

Mike Cope shares a touching reflection about his daughter Megan. I don’t know all the details of her life but I do know that she was mentally and/or physically limited, that she died at a very young age and that she meant the world to Mike. Read the story here.

Jonah Turns One on Tuesday!

It is so hard to believe that one year ago this week we were heading to the hospital for Jonah to be born. No grad level Bible or theology class has ever taught me so much about God in so few hours as labor, delivery, and meeting my own son for the first time. I will be posting pictures this week for those who are interested. I am so proud of him for all he has accomplished over the last year. Hard to believe he went from being a cute, immobile lump to a cute mobile little fella in such a short amount of time.

What amazing things has God taught you through your children?

Power of Positive Parenting – 7 Rules for Consistent Parenting

Consistency is one of the most important parts of effective parenting. There are a lot of parenting techniques and programs out there. The most important thing is that you decide what you are going to do to discipline your children and stick with it.

One of the reasons we have to be 100% consistent in our discipline is because of the power of reinforcement schedules. Studies have been done where children are rewarded 100% of the time for something, rewarded randomly, or not rewarded at all. Guess which behaviors were the quickest learned and repeated? I may have tricked you here. It was the behavior that was rewarded on a random basis. But I thought you said be consistent. Okay stick with me here. What I am saying is if you are wishy-washy on your discipline (letting negative behavior go unpunished part of the time or even reward it sometimes…through your attention, giving in by buying the candy bar because of their whining, etc) it is going to be the hardest thing to break them of. Be 100% consistent in  your discipline and they will be far less likely to pick up on negative behaviors.

Rules for consistency in parenting:

1 – Don’t make promises you cannot keep. They will learn not to trust you and that you don’t mean what you say. Why behave in the store because they won’t reward me anyway?
2 – Don’t threaten punishments you aren’t willing to follow through on. If you have to go to grandmother’s house today don’t threaten that they will have to stay home if they don’t obey in the store or pick up their toys. There is no way to be consistent if you promise or threaten things you will not or cannot do!
3 – Don’t let the only thing you are consistent on be inconsistency.
4 – Come to an agreement with your spouse on what type of discipline you are going to use (specific rewards and punishments for specific positive and negative behaviors). If one of you disciplines in a different way when the other is not around or even fails to discipline at all it will short circuit the learning process you are trying to train your child with.
5 – Learn to consistently only offer commands one time. This teaches them not to dawdle and teaches them that you are serious.
6 – Consistently reward and punish swiftly. If you wait more than 5 minutes to discipline a young child they won’t even know what you are disciplining them for by the time you get around to doing it.
7 – Consistently set expectations of how they are to behave in advance of a situation. Most children really do want to know what to do, what is expected of them, and what good behavior really looks like. They really do want to please you. You may have trained them to try the wrong things to do it but that really is their desire.

Power of Positive Parenting – The Power of Attention

This is not about if you have ADD or a short attention span. This is about using your attention as a powerful force that is key to helping your children develop appropriate behaviors. Attention is powerful. Believe it or not your children want it. They value it. This is evidenced by the extreme measures many children will go to get your attention – whining, screaming, tantrums, making loud noises, banging things. These are all termed “attention seeking behaviors.” They are bids for your attention. Children often make these behaviors so aversive to parents that the parent will do anything in their power to stop it. How do they stop it? By giving the child what they want – attention. By doing so they ensure that the child will do that negative behavior again the next time they want something or want their parent’s attention.

Our attention is under our control. How we control it is a very powerful reinforcer to our children because children see attention as a reward. Because attention is under our control and it is a powerful reinforcer/reward to our children we cannot let the looks and stares of others in public influence us to give our children attention at inappropriate times (for tantrums, and all the rest listed above).

The most powerful way to extinguish attention seeking behaviors is through withdrawing attention. That is called ignoring. “So you mean to tell me that when Junior starts a tantrum in the checkout line that I am supposed to ignore that?” Yes. Think back to functional behaviors. When a child wants your attention they often learn that the only way to get it immediately is through inappropriate attention seeking behaviors that is reinforced by our immediate response with our attention. This becomes functional for children. They get what they want because we give it to them. Why do we do that? Because to ignore it makes us look bad in public and is uncomfortable. The cycle has to be broken and the only way to do it is to not give children what they want (equals don’t reinforce it with the reward – attention). Your gut level response is to shout at them, “Stop that!” The better response is to ignore, turn your back on them, and continue on with what you need to do.

But that is only half of the solution. The next is critical. When they stop the attention-seeking behaviors and start acting appropriately we give them a short and specific labeled praise for the positive opposite behavior. If they were yelling and they start talking at an appropriate level you turn back to them and say, “I like it when you use your inside voice.” If they were on the floor kicking and screaming and they get up and stop their whining you say, “I like it when you stand next to daddy like a big boy.” You get the point.

How do children respond to this? It is critical that you know what will happen 99% of the time once you start ignoring those things you have always given attention to. And remember negative attention is still attention. We wouldn’t think they would like for us to yell at them, etc but they are getting what they want even in that moment – our attention. So how will they respond? They intensify and escalate! They will get louder, worse, tantrum harder, bang things harder. Our gut says, “Make it stop!” But you cannot give attention. Keep ignoring. Hold on tight to your attention. Now is the worst time ever to give attention because if you do they have now learned that tantrums must be louder to get your attention! If you give in, you lost the battle and the next one will probably be even worse. So be strong. When they stop find the positive opposite to praise and give attention to.

Power of Positive Parenting – Understanding Functional Behavior

The last post talked about the two sides of discipline. This next post is about how the things children and even adults do almost always make sense on some level. When you examine the majority of psychosis or dysfunctional behavior in children and adults you normally find something that used to “work for them” on some level but over time the intensity, frequency, or adaptability of the behavior made that behavior maladaptive. Take, for example, someone who has worked in a high security job for decades. They have learned to be careful with information, to make sure things are secure and put away and that things are kept locked down. In the proper context that is functional. Give that person 30 years of doing that and start observing their home behaviors and you may, over time, begin to see dysfunctional behaviors – repeated door checking, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Anxiety, and even paranoia. In different context what used to work well becomes maladaptive.

This same process can happen with children. Children learn what behaviors work in order to accomplish their intended goals. One challenge of parenting is to look at your child’s behavior and try to understand where it came from and how it “worked” for that child at some point in the past. When trying to understand behavior it never hurts to ask the question, “What was in that for them?” Taking that information the parent is armed with the tools to eliminate the behavior (if it is negative) or to increase the behavior (if it is positive).

Example: You are in the checkout line with your child. Do you know what those evil companies place between what you need (groceries) and where you have to go to purchase them (the cashier)? A huge rack of candy! So you step in line with junior. He immediately notices the candy. What options does he have to get what he wants? He can either ask nicely, right…. Or he can throw a tantrum, get loud and physical. What is the best way to ensure with nearly 100% accuracy that the next time you are in the store with junior that he will throw another tantrum in the checkout line? Give him the candy.

What just happened? In essence junior is drawing negative attention toward you from fellow store patrons which results in the parent feeling the pressure and giving in to giving junior some candy. Junior just taught the parent to reward tantrums because it is easier, quicker, and less embarrassing to give him candy and stop the tantrum than to face all the evil stares from the other people in the store. Parents self talk with statements like, “They must think I am a bad parent.” or “I sure wouldn’t want someone else’s kid doing that in the store.” So many parents do the expedient thing to stop the tantrum rather than do what it will take to stop the majority of tantrums from that point forward. Tantrums are functional when they achieve the desired result. Children do not have the wisdom or experience to be the parent so don’t let be the parent. You are the one teaching them how to behave and not the other way around.

Never let someone else force you into bad parenting. Never let negative attention, stares, or rude comments about how bad a parent you must be stop you from disciplining your child and train them how to grow into a mature adult. No one has the right to manipulate you into quieting your child by inappropriate means (a candy bribe) in the checkout line or wherever. Those people won’t be with you and your kids the next 499 times you are at the store. They can put up with a tantrum for a few minutes if it means you have a teachable moment with junior.

Dealing with Tantrums:

What are you supposed to do in that situation? You cannot let the behavior (tantrums) work (result in candy).

  1. The key is to never let the child get what they want if they go about getting in through inappropriate means. Never reinforce a behavior that you are not comfortable seeing at least 100 more times.
  2. Make sure if they do ever ask appropriately that you praise them for it because that is the flip side of the coin. Encourage what you want to see and discourage what you don’t want to see.
  3. Set an expectation of what is going to happen and how you expect them to behave before you go into the store. Set an expectation of what will happen if they behave and what will happen if they misbehave.
  4. This next thing is critical to the success of the whole operation. WHATEVER YOU TELL THEM YOU ARE GOING TO DO – DO IT! 100% without fail. Punish what you said you would punish with the consequences you laid out. Reward what you said you would reward with the reward you promised. Never fail at that. Consistency is key (more on that in a later post). If you aren’t consistent with punishment they will learn your threats are empty words. If you are inconsistent with reward they will learn they might as well throw a tantrum because they aren’t going to get anything anyway.

The Power of Positive Parenting

I have alluded several times to a part of my education that has been a tremendous help to my ministry. When I went to Harding I majored in psychology and went on to work on a Ph.D. in clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida (which I withdrew from to do ministry). I specialized in clinical child psychology and did a lot of work with parenting, specifically, teaching parents how to be play therapists for their children. I want to pass on some parenting help in a series called The Power of Positive Parenting.

Several of the topics we will be covering will include: Discipline, Modeling, Expectations, Boundaries, Consistency, Attention as a Reinforcer, The Power of the Positive Opposite, and Dealing with Non-Compliance. There may be a few more and some may be combined but all the posts will focus on principles and practical application.

What other topics would be helpful to you?

Here are the parts so far:
Part 1 – Defining Discipline
Part 2 – Understanding Functional Behavior
Part 3 – The Power of Attention
Part 4 – Noncompliance and Commands
Part 5 – 7 Rules for Consistent Parenting
Part 6 – Getting Past Your Past