My kids are famous for being screamers. I mean the LOUD, embarrassing, over-the-top, uncontrollable shrieks. They were quick to anger and always shut down when we tried to train. Four kids under four is not easy.
I did not come from a background of happy family training. It has been like a foreign language to me. I wanted to learn it, but where would I start? I have always felt like there were so many random pieces to child training. Without the fundamental foundation, I was failing to train up my children in the way they should go. I felt hopeless as a mama.
I had reread the books To Train Up a Child and the NGJ volumes many times. I had taken time to study and focus on training my kids. But we were at the end of our rope. Our 5-year-old’s attitude was bad more than good. What were we missing? Was Landon mildly autistic, perhaps on the spectrum? No. Did he at least have a sensory processing disorder? No, we knew he wasn't. Maybe I needed to understand his personality better, so I started studying the different personality types. Nothing helped pull our sweet, smart little guy out of the dark hole.
I am a physical therapist. Shoshanna, (Mike & Debi’s youngest) is one of my favorite people to work on. We always have wonderful conversations. I am blessed to call her my friend.
"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much . . .” (1 Kings 4:29). Like Solomon, Shoshanna was blessed with abundant wisdom, especially when it comes to child training. I told her my plight, and this is what she suggested.
“Here’s what you’re going to do. Wrap five presents for each child from least to greatest. Excitedly tell your children that you guys are going to play a surprise present game.
This is how you play:
1. Every day you will get one present. YAY! Isn’t that fun?
2. You will have a line-up of five awesome presents, starting with a big one and getting smaller as they go. At the end of the day you will get one of the five. It is up to you which one you get.
3. Every time you have a bad attitude or disobey, one present is taken off the table, starting with the big one.
All of the presents are so fun to open! You are just going to love this! I am excited for you guys! Even if the big present gets taken off the table, you still have the next great one that is so much fun. Oh, but you will love the bigger ones even more."
#1 (smallest) a couple of raisins
#2 chocolate chips, raisins, and nuts
#3 a few stickers and three chocolate chips
#4 a bath toy and three chocolate chips
#5 BEST present – A dollar-store puzzle, flashlight, or other thrilling treasure from the thrift store.
I explained the fun new activity to Landon as I placed the wrapped presents in a line. He watched with his huge eyes. He wanted to win this game. And he did win! He earned the biggest present the first day. Since that initial day several weeks ago, Landon’s bad attitude has disappeared. No more outbursts. He rarely loses a present and spanking is a thing of the past for this boy. There’s just been no need. We get our affectionate, kind, brilliant son all the time now! Landon has two little sisters who also participate in the daily challenge. The baby watches every evening as his three siblings rush to open their present after dinner. I suspect he won’t ever need this game; obeying and being happy will just come naturally for him. He’ll follow his leaders and fit right into his family’s new normal. My children are learning the great reward of having self-control and delayed gratification. I am BLESSED!
Landon’s buddy Blake came over the other night. They are the same age. Landon rushed him inside to show him the present table, and I overheard him proudly explaining the entire system to his intrigued friend. “Blake, you have to tell your mom to get five presents, line them up like this . . .”
Others might have thought Landon was on the autism spectrum with his minimal eye contact. Without eye contact, training is very difficult. But refusal to look you in the eye can also be from a defiant heart, lack of respect, and disgust for the person in authority. It is a way to say, “You do not have my heart. I hate you.” If this continues, it leads to unhappiness in life. Anger, rage, and a perpetual victim do not make a good husband or father. We have been thrilled to learn that training can–and should–be fun. Landon is enjoying the rewards and so are we.