Saturday, November 18, 2006

Changing Toddler Behavior

Once, when still newly married, I recall observing a child that truly was a blessing to his parents, and even to me. "Aha! That is the kind of child to have. So, Dar, here's your chance. Look and learn what you can."

This young boy was a real-life example that children are a blessing. I had seen plenty that weren't. God filled my heart with faith to believe that His word was true -- children are a blessing. This faith was foundational for my approach to child-training in the future. There has never been a moment of doubt as to the value and promise of each of my children (or yours, either, for that matter!)

When my own children were toddlers it didn't take long before I realized that certain behavior patterns would need to be changed if I was going to enjoy having them in my house all day every day. And I most certainly wanted to enjoy them. God had said that they were to be a blessing, and I figured He didn't lie. He never reneges on His side of the bargain. So when they were not blessing me, I decided it was time to find out how I was failing to fulfill my part of the deal.

The question thus became: What am I doing with that promise from God; how am I to be a part of the fulfillment of His word?

Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.

This was my first clue, and it was a biggy. Before my first child was even walking I had been privy to its relevance.

A dear friend was visiting, bringing her brand-new babe for me to see. Her less-than-two-year-old also came. As my friend sat nursing her infant, the toddler showed me just who was really in charge. Within three short minutes the mom was frantic, frazzled, and frustrated as the daughter proceeded to ignore mom's every command, doing just as she pleased.

At the time, my own daughter was 12 months old; number two was due in 5 months. This visit served as a warning for me: start training your toddler before you have a nursing infant. The goal? Obedience. My husband and I began Basic Training in earnest. It wasn't long before we realized that she understood much of what we were communicating; and she was choosing to respond or not respond according to her will!

There was a host of material available on child training (and even more today) from secular parenting magazines and talk shows to Christian books and tapes. Where to turn, who to heed, what to believe?

When in doubt I look to my Heavenly Father. I know that this relationship is the template for my earthly relationships. It was time to take stock of His view on attitudes and responses. How am I to respond to Him? What heart issues does He choose to deal with? What is acceptable and what isn't? Back to the Bible and my Heavenly Father I did go.

My husband and I soon developed a fuller understanding of obedience. It was to be instant and cheerful (later we ammended that simple adage -- it was to be instant, cheerful, and thorough.) We should and would expect nothing less from our children.

Was this demanding? Too difficult for us to maintain? A high standard compared to what the world required? Yes. But His grace was there for us and for our children. It drove us to Him again and again, proving to be beneficial for all involved.

When my first born was not even walking, I discovered what she had discovered: her will. A particular event stands out in my mind. One day I was sitting with my daughter on the floor of the church lobby (as many mothers of young children are wont to do.) Seeing a leafy green plant in her pathway, I very carefully demonstrated that she was not to touch the plant leaf looming before her. Sure enough, as soon as I looked away she reached forward to touch the leaf, eyes glued on yours truly to see if I was watching. In no time her little chubby angelic fingers grasped the leaf, pulling chunks of green material from the stem. My innocent babe was revealing the mischief in her heart. Amazing! The Word of God proved true again!

What was to be my response? Proverbs 22.15 answers that question, if we will only yield to its wisdom. At her young age, I knew the physical pain needed to be immediate if I was to be sure of her understanding, so I sharply flicked her hand with my finger. Soon she would be old enough to receive the rod of correction. According to the Word of God we were on our way to driving that mischief far from her!

The Word did not say to remove all hindrances. I could have averted her attention, picked her up and moved her, or removed the plant. None of these things would have driven the mischief from her heart. It would simply have postponed that necessary deed for a subsequent date. Better for me and her to deal with it now, if possible, rather than later.

Many sources complicate the simplicity of this wisdom through detailed analyzation and heady evaluation. Doesn't she need to discover her world? Are we doing psychological damage? Is this too harsh, too soft, too soon, too late? What size should a rod be? On and on we go.

Are we to be mindless and unthinking? No. We are to be well studied. But let our primary study be of the scripture which allows the entrance of light and truth, establishing faith in our hearts and renewing our minds by the Holy Spirit. God forbid that we should replace His divine wisdom with our own.

One more question: Isn't this mere behavior modification? We'll look at that next time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm laughing at the behavior modification comment...
With my four little ones I must say that (although exhausting at times) the consistency in our training and discipline is quite effective. I'm thankful for His word and the simple fact that He didn't leave anything out.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Andy and Amanda Wheeler said...

I love reading your blog. You should write a book!

3:36 PM  
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