Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rebellion Prevention Tips

I've been a little nervous to post parenting tips because I don't feel in any way that I'm an expert. I've made a ton of mistakes. But I have raised one responsible, respectful son and am pleased with how son number two is turning out as well. I must have done some things right. I raise my kids with the motto "Rules without relationship leads to rebellion." Of course without any rules or discipline, many kids will behave like little savages and make dangerous choices as teenagers. However, if I give my boys rules but don't cultivate my relationship with them, I can expect just as much bad behavior in the form of rebellion. The following are some things I've done to keep the relationship I have with my boys on a positive note:

1. I've picked my battles, depending on their age. Some things are non-negotiable such as teeth brushing and no hitting. If I want to say "no" just because it's more convenient for me, then I shut my mouth and let them do what they want (such as scatter Legos all over their bedroom floor). If I say "no" out of habit, it will just frustrate them, and they will be more likely to battle me over the things that really do matter.

2. As they grow older, I allow more independence and give more responsibility so that by the time they're 18, I can treat them as adults in my home. By fourth grade, both my boys were capable of making their own breakfasts and lunches. As they grew older, their bedtimes became later. By high school, I no longer enforced my older son's bedtime at all. He got up and was ready on time every morning and maintained good grades, so no bedtime was necessary. He no longer had a curfew by 17, except for what was required by state law. He still had to tell me where he was going and when he'd be home. I also lifted my restriction of certain movies, TV shows, and books as he grew older. I just asked that he respect the values of our home, and he agreed.

3. Teaching at a middle and high school, I have witnessed many broken relationships between teens and their parents. One night as I was putting my oldest son to bed when he was about six or seven years old, I was struck by how much he loved and trusted me in that moment. I thought, "How can I keep him feeling this way into his teenage years?" I decided to monitor the temperature of our relationship on a daily basis. The Bible instructs us in Ephesians 4:26 not to let the sun go down while we are still angry. We usually think of that verse in relation to marriage, but why not apply it to our children? Those teenagers at my school who are angry with their parents were not born that way. Something triggered it. Mostly likely it began with a fight. Angry words were said, maybe on both sides. They went to bed angry and got up the next day, still angry. Day went into day, but that relationship of love and trust were never restored. Instead, hurt piled onto hurt. That doesn't mean I don't set limits with my kids so that they won't be angry with me. It means setting limits that are reasonable (see #1) and then reminding them of my love when they're upset with me: "I know you don't like me right now. That's OK. I still like you, and I have enough love for both of us."

I look awful in the picture below, but I love it. My son was so grumpy that evening at the fair, and I'm loving him right out of his funk. He was in a good mood by the time we were ready to go home.

4. I make a habit of catching them doing something good and praising them for it. I point out the specific thing I saw them do, and I commend them with sincerity. I make an extra effort to point out those things that show good character: kindness, responsibility, honesty, integrity, hard work, etc. Instead of saying, "You're so smart" when I see a good test grade, I say, "I can tell you really studied hard for this test." In addition to praising them for specific things they do, I give them messages telling them I love them just for who they are: "I'm so glad I'm your mom. I love having you for a son." I greet them with a smile and hug or kiss when they get home form school and when they get up in the morning. I do this even if I'm tired and wish they'd slept in longer. I let them know by actions as well as words that I like their company. Of course, it's important that kids feel loved, but I believe it's just as important that kids feel LIKED by their parents.

5. I become involved in what they are interested in. I can't emphasize how beneficial this has been in relationship building with my boys. When Mitchell was about nine, he got his first video game system, a handheld "Game Boy." He began to drive me crazy talking about the games ALL THE TIME. I had no experience playing these games, I didn't understand what he was telling me, and most of all, I was not interested. One day I decided that if it was important to him, I would try to become more interested by learning how to play it. I borrowed his Game Boy and had him try to teach me how to play the game. It was hopeless. I tried for probably 20 minutes, but I just didn't get it. I could tell Mitchell was getting annoyed with my constant questions, so I finally gave up. Years later he told me that he remembered those 20 minutes because it meant so much to him that I was trying to connect with what was important to him. It was much easier when he was a teenager and became interested in guitar playing, songwriting, and singing. I am probably his biggest fan. Now it looks like I need to start watching football in the fall since that became a new interest for Isaac last season.

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