One of my very favorite new momma memories is the feeling of snuggling your velvety soft head against my neck. Whether we were rocking while you nursed or you were in your little snuggly carrier, we both craved that touch.
Parenting is a process of establishing connections that allow for direction and correction of the child's attitudes and actions.
The first thing we sorted in principle #1 was that our roles in this relationship are not equal yet. God has placed us over you three to represent Himself while you are in the first twenty years of your lives. The 12 - 20 year age is a time of transition from our authority and watch care to God's, but we are still ultimately responsible for what happens during those years. This brings us to principle #2:
Principle #2: Physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy are the fuel for the child's obedience.
TouchFrom the time you are born until I am called home to heaven I will hug you, chase you, tickle you, cuddle you, hold your hand, rub your back. . . and that's just for starters! Kiddos need physical touch to fill their love tank. All three of you loved to have me lay in bed with you rubbing your head while you told me all about your day. Matt and I have had a silly "Mama Kitty Lick of Approval" thing going on since he was 5 years old. He's the only one of my kids that I know how he tastes!
Talk less, touch more when directing or redirecting behavior. Children are more physical than mental for the first 10 or 12 years. When you squat or bend down and gently hold their shoulders or cup their face to direct (or redirect!) there is a noticeable difference in their reaction. Standing and making proclamations from on high puts distance in your relationship. Putting your hand on a child's back when they are facing something new and a bit scary gives them a great deal of security and confidence. When a toddler is having a meltdown, for the love of sanity, don't try to talk them down -- you're just a buzzing sound in the background. Wrap them in a snug hug instead, and just. be. silent.
Any and all instructions should be given ONE TIME in the fewest words possible with no question marks involved. The older the child, the more words you need. I shoot for one word per year of age until about age 10.
Two or three years old: Scooch down to eye level, hold those precious chubby cheeks in your hands, and say a firm, bright: "Pick up!" and put one toy in the toy basket. Give them a little high five for each toy they put away quickly. Depending on the child's sense of humor "Too slow -- down low" can be fun. Don't do that if it's frustrating, though.
Four or five years old: Bend down to their eye level, put a hand on their shoulder and say: "Pick up Legos now". They should always respond, "Yes, Mom!" Set a timer and leave the room. Be sure to come back for inspection and a high five.
Eight years old +: "Time for supper: Put the Legos away, please" Again, I required a "Yes, Mom" or whatever crazy variation you came up with. Come back in for a quick inspection and a special secret high five that just belongs to that kid (criss cross or fist bump or whatever).
Correction requires physical touch as well as talking. Hold your child, or at least their hands, while you make a correction. Sometimes when they're very little, you may choose to spank for certain offenses. We chose spankings for the "D's" - Defiance, Dishonesty, Disrespect, and Danger. Shepherding a Child's Heart discusses spanking at length, so I won't rehash that here. Once the child has submitted their will to yours, a hug reconnects you both.
I'm going to share one of the biggest parenting secrets I know with you. Your kids can tell what you love by where you put your presence. Because of that, the first 15 minutes that Daddy is home every day (after welcome hugs, of course) is with mommy on the couch. Kids aren't allowed to interrupt this time physically or verbally. This one technique - Daddy and mommy time first will turn around poor behavior faster than almost any other parenting technique I know.
Discipline yourself in regards to the computer, the phone, and limit other distractions you might have. Kids need to know they are a welcome and wanted part of your life, not just an afterthought. If you have housework, hobbies, work from home, or have friends over; set a timer or show them on the clock when you will be done and how to interrupt if they really need you.
Kids need the physical presence of their parents as a constant in their lives. Even if you're not in the same room, they need to know you are there. A deep sense of security, an anchor, is formed by knowing mom and dad are with them at expected times. If your husband have rotating shifts or travel, this can be a particularly difficult challenge. Have some kind of magnet or chart that tells the kids if Dad will be home for touchpoints like wake up, breakfast, supper, and bedtime. If he's not, create little rituals that still allow them to connect with him at those times. If you work, the same applies.
Remember when you met Mr. Right, and we cautioned you about getting emotionally connected before you were engaged? Emotional connection is expressing how you feel about what's happening. It's a key part of connecting with your kids. For littles, this is usually done through tone of voice, exaggerated facial expressions, and.silly noises. Purring when your three year old gives you a backrub with their toy rolling pin is a good example. As they grow into the preschool and elementary years, express how you feel when they obey, disobey, take initiative, etc. "Wow, that makes me happy when you play with your baby sister so gently." and use physical reinforcement like a hug. When they get into the pre-teen/teen years, express the emotion and the reasoning along with the touch. "You're so gentle with her even when she's frustrating. It really pleases me that you're able to react well even when you're not being treated right. I'm sure God was pleased, too." (Remember, at this point you're transitioning them to the Holy Spirit.)
The other half of this is using touch and presence to get your children to tell you how they feel. When they're little they stomp their feet or light up like a Christmas tree -- you can read them like a book. As they get older, I've found a drive in the car is a great time to talk because it's intimate without being overbearing. Silence isn't uncomfortable in the car. You can repeat what you thought they said back to them without sounding like a Hollywood shrink. I also planned alone time working or just going out for a quick bite to eat with each of you at least once a month. Working out together is another great time to connect. We spent many happy hours walking, biking, and doing laps.
You are the main link between your child and God. Everything they know about Him will be through you either directly or indirectly. They need to know God's intimate care for every aspect of their lives before He is their primary directing authority.
Begin sharing parts of the gospel with your child from a very early age. As they grow, fit the pieces into place. Not every child will accept child at a young age, but 99% of those who accept Christ accept Him before the age of 21.
I expect to have "Let's pray about it first" engraved on my tombstone I said it so often while the three of you were growing up. Teach your child to bring everything to God in prayer.
Nothing is too great for His power, and nothing too small for His love.
Make up a praise song when God answers a prayer and sing it joyfully at the top of your lungs. Begin by bringing physical requests to God. The car won't start. The dog did a Houdini with the fence. Somebody is sick or has a booboo. Increase to emotions when they're still little, and eventually teach them to share their desires, or will with God and seek His will for them. Introduce intercessory prayer at a young age, too.
Spend time together in God's Word. Teach them to hear and discern God's voice. Discuss worldview when you read or watch a movie. Coach them through the tough decisions, always pointing them to the Scriptures.
Make Sunday a day of delight, not drudgery. Have special toys or games they only get to play on Sunday. Prepare special food and wear special clothes.
Serve together as a family. Make another family a meal. Visit an elderly person in your church. Help at a work day, or help a neighbor.
Once your children are able to handle Algebra, they're old enough to begin to transition to God's authority and a truly personal relationship with Him. Do anything and everything possible to nurture that relationship so that it's strong by the time they leave home.
A car needs more than fuel to go, but it can't go anywhere without fuel. The same is true of the human heart. You need more than loving connections, but you can't get anywhere without them.
"Being wanted is the fuel for obedience.”
You are cherished!