Thursday, January 24, 2013

Character Crack Down

Tantrums.  Defiance.  A fight at every turn.  It's no wonder I was frazzled, frustrated, and angry.  It had been months since I could remember a good day with the kids.  They argued with each other, with me, and with their father.  They wouldn't eat the food we gave them without complaining, wouldn't give obedience a try without talking back, and were generally whiny and discontent.

What had happened?  I thought we were doing the right thing as parents.  I thought we were staying on top of the discipline and keeping the expectations high while still being reasonable.  Was it the move?  Surely being transplanted to a new place, meeting new people, and settling into a new routine were the cause for such a decline in behavior and attitudes.  But it had been 3 months since we moved and the kids seemed well-adjusted.  No.  It must not be the move.

I tried to find reasons for the bad attitudes - something to blame for the troubles we were facing day in and day out.  And then one day I just had enough.  I didn't care why the attitudes were bad, I just wanted to be rid of them.  Claude reached that point much sooner than I, but since I'm the one at home if I let things slide then they slide most of the time.  I decided that I wasn't going to tolerate the attitudes any longer.  Starting the next morning I would be cracking down on the defiance and disrespect.

My crack down list looked something like this:
-No choices.
-No complaining or whining.
-No nagging or badgering.  If you nag the answer is "No".
-Obey Daddy and Mommy.
-Be respectful to Daddy and Mommy.
-Honor your brothers and sisters.
-No tantrums, screaming, or yelling.
-No talking back.
-No fighting over chairs, toys, books, etc.
-No excuses.
-No TV/Movies.
-More responsibilities around the house.

When D-Day rolled around I was far from excited.  I knew the endeavor would be tough.  I knew to expect complaints, nagging, disobedience, disrespect, tantrums, screaming, talking back, fighting, and excuses galore.  And the kids certainly did not disappoint.

That first morning it took us nearly 2 hours to get ready for the day.  Those 2 hours were probably the longest of my week...not to mention how it must have been for the kids.  All three kids showed some pretty nasty attitudes.  All of the attitudes were corrected, all three kids appropriately disciplined, and all of us had worked up an appetite by the time we went out to the kitchen for breakfast.

Of course, the fun didn't stop there.  During the next couple of days our school time took twice as long as I anticipated.  After rounds of discipline, time outs, and other corrective measures, we still had to find time for phonics, math, and music.  I felt like all I was doing was correcting...and yelling.  I know...I broke my own rule by raising my voice more than once or twice.  We're all in the learning process over here!  ;)

I wasn't sure if the work was paying off until this week.  After tomorrow we will have been chasing out disobedience and disrespect from our household for three weeks.  And the changes are night and day!

The crack down has paid off like this:
-Virtually no complaining or whining.
-No more nagging or badgering.
-Many opportunities to praise the kids for their quick and cheerful obedience.
-Respectful attitudes most of the time.
-Sincere apologies when they have dishonored a sibling.  Better play time together.
-Virtually no talking back.
-Quicker resolutions and greater amounts of self-control shown during sharing conflicts.
-Very few excuses.  When excuses do arise, they are given over to obedience rather quickly.
-Two weeks without watching a movie or TV show.  More time spent reading, playing piano, riding on boats and building camps outside, and riding bikes.
-Kids taking initiative to clean up and do chores even when they are not asked, or going above and beyond the expectations of their chores.

We're still far from the goal, but I am so encouraged!  All around everyone is happier, more productive, and I know that I'm not trying to hide under my covers every morning.

And I think we finally figured out how things got so bad in the first place.  We started thinking that we could and should relax our parenting style.  The culture around us is saying that kids should be kids.  They shouldn't have to carry a work load around the house.  It's okay if they don't like what we make them for dinner - we can just offer them something else.  We should cater to our kids and seek their comfort.

That was the clincher...comfort.  I found myself saying to our 5-year-old son last week, "Daddy and I are not concerned about your comfort.  We are concerned about your character."  I don't want to raise a child who has everything he needs and more but who baulks at taking out the garbage or speaks disrespectfully to his boss.  I'd rather that our kids feel the pinch now while they are young and have a godly character later on.

We have seen several displays of blossoming character over the past several days, but there is just one that sticks out to me.  Last night Claude insisted that the kids eat all of the raw onions on their plates.  And he didn't just give them a tiny bite but several slices.  Hannah, our 4-year-old, nearly cried and started to throw a tantrum when Claude laid out the expectation:  Eat all of your onions then as a reward you will be able to enjoy some ice cream.  (Some may call this bribery...I like to think of it as motivation.) ;)

Hannah's first win was conquering the tantrum that welled up inside of her.  I was waiting for the wail and it never came.  She just sat up and started eating.  The onions, of course, were the last things left on her plate, but she sat quietly and ate each one.  Two weeks ago that scene would have been WWIII, but not last night.  Last night Hannah received more than a scoop of strawberry ice cream for her efforts.  She learned what it feels like to practice self-control and to persevere through an uncomfortable circumstance.  Her comfort in not having to eat onions would have lasted a few moments, but the character that she developed over last night's dinner will stick with her for the rest of her life.

Operation "Character Crack Down" = Success!

So, are you seeking comfort over character in your own life or your children's lives?

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