Trips to the grocery store with young children can feel a bit like a series of battles in a never-ending war. From safely buckling everyone in the car to crossing the street, just getting into the store can feel like a minor victory. The momentary relief felt upon arrival is quickly subdued as the next hurdle presents itself: getting all the children into the grocery cart.
Chubby legs kicking, back stiffened straight, child wailing, “NO mommy. NO get into the cart.”
Have you ever faced that moment? Perhaps for you it is not the shopping cart, but some other circumstance when you ask your child to do something that he or she simply does not want to do. This unwanted request sparks a tantrum, pouting, hitting, or some other negative form of expression in your child.
When these moments arise, how can we proactively help to encourage our children to do what is right? How can we take a difficult circumstance and use it for a time of growth rather than spend our days frustrated and angry?
While parenting three children with very different personalities, I have found four “Rs” of encouragement (Remember, Review, Reward, and Reinforce) that can help most children as they are learning the blessings of obedience.
Children, just like us, are slow to learn. It takes repeated instruction over the course of many months and years for them grow in their understanding. If we want to teach our children well, it is important to remember that learning obedience takes time. This expectation gives us patience and understanding in our interactions with our children.
Take a moment to consider your own children. What particular areas of obedience are difficult for them today? Reflect upon this area as you go into your day. Pray for your child’s heart to be changed, as well as for patience in your own heart. Remembering their struggles helps us to proactively prepare our children for situations they will encounter.
In addition to considering circumstances that are difficult for a child, it’s helpful to provide repeated instruction. For instance, if your child struggles with grabbing other children’s toys, then it might be helpful to review the following questions on your way to a play date:
Do we grab toys from other children?
What would be a nice way to ask to play with a toy?
If someone grabs a toy from you, what should you do?
Asking simple questions like these help to review expectations with our children. I find that it is best to do these on the way to the play date, grocery store, or park. It is far easier to teach before an encounter than in the midst of it. If we wait until the toy is being snatched or another child is being hit, then usually it is difficult to gain a listening ear (the child will be too distracted by what they want).
As we prepare our children by remembering and reviewing, it is also beneficial to plan a reward for obedience. A reward is different than a bribe in that it is promised beforehand as a proactive means by which to encourage right behavior. It is parent directed, rather than child demanded and it is given with motherly delight rather than parental frustration.
I find it helpful to use the items that I planned to give my child anyway (an extra book to read at bedtime, a fresh baked cookie, or a fun bubble bath) as a means to spur them on in their tasks. Just like the promise of a paycheck encourages us to work diligently, we can use rewards as a proactive means to guide them in what is good and right.
It is also important to be on the lookout for ways we can reinforce a child’s good choices with praise. If a child is going through a particularly difficult season of disobedience, some days he or she can feel as though nothing they do is right. In these moments it’s especially important to try to catch them doing something (anything) positive and praise them for it.
This type of reinforcement benefits our homes in two ways. First, it teaches a child what is correct in a positive manner. Saying, “You did a great job carrying the plate to the sink” instructs and motivates our child. Second, as we reinforce with praise, it allows our homes to take on a different feel. Rather than succumb to battle mode against our child, our interactions start to feel as though we are all on the same team, encouraging one another towards love and good deeds.
Remember, Review, Reward, and Reinforce – by taking a moment to consider our children we can turn daily battles into opportunities for positive interactions.