Are you a parent that is always saying “no”? “Honey, don’t do that.” “Leave that alone.” “Sit down, be quiet, please be still, not now.” There are a thousand ways of saying it; you can even say it with your eyes and the shadow cast by your stiff body, but it all boils down to “no, No, NO!” And you, the zoo keeper, keep fussing at them, causing them to feel rejected and agitated for a few minutes before moving on to the next interesting venture, like Curious George. Phew! I am tired just thinking about it.
Even though your children are trained to obey your commands, you are not satisfied. Something is wrong. You feel like a tyrant. If you will admit it, you know that your heart does not reflect the heart of God. Jesus is the “Yes” of God.
“For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Just a few days ago a young mother asked me this question: “How do you ever get anything done? I feel like I am always running after my little one and there is no time for anything else, and I am always so tired and frustrated with myself and with him.” I told this mama that everyone, including her baby, needs absolute boundaries, which includes absolute free zones. Most people think of boundaries as a fence of NOs, but boundaries also prescribe liberties. What do I mean by absolutes? It’s simple; I just say, “You can play with this. You can not play with that. You may never go there, but you can always go in here to play. This is your drawer in the kitchen, but the other drawers are Mama’s; this is your shelf in the living room, but do not touch the other shelves; this is your box of toys in the den, but do not touch the China figurines. You always put your toys away before you leave the room. You eat at the table . . . no exceptions.”
From the time Gracie could sit up she knew that there was one drawer in the kitchen that was hers, and all other drawers were off limits. She has always accepted that distinction and respected it. There are no gray areas. Gray areas rot your gray matter. They will drive you crazy. Most mamas have gray areas as well as gray days when they do not feel well enough to deal with the child, so the child gets into the off-limits drawers. When the exception has been allowed even one time, the drawers are no longer absolutes. They are now gray areas, up for contention. By not constraining to absolute obedience, you have put them back into play. Now, each time the child wants to get into the drawers, he will expect protracted negotiations. It will likely end only when you get angry enough. But the “off limits” drawers are no longer off limits, just more difficult to access. The child thinks he has as much right to them as you do, so he will fight you for them.
I work part-time at NGJ, and Gracie always goes with me. It is a great joy to both of us to have this time working together. She sits on my lap or on my desk as we open letters. I keep her busy at all times. I started collecting stamps from the letters we receive from overseas. She pastes them into her own little book of stamps. I never leave her to fend for herself. I give her projects, chores, ideas, or set up a play area. Proverbs 29:15 tells us that a child left to himself will bring his mother to shame. It sounds like it takes a lot of time, but, really, it saves time. It takes me about 30 seconds to tell her to make a tent over her chair so she can have a “house” to play babies, or to hand her a book and colored pencils and tell her to do school. I let her deliver the mail to each of the office personnel, and she loves her job. There are many things at the office that a two-year-old child could get into that would not be acceptable, yet she never touches these things. They are absolute no-nos. There has never been a time that these no-nos were not absolutes. Just think what frustration she could cause if on some occasions I allowed her to get away with touching a no-no. Gracie and I would be in a “what can I get away with” struggle all the time. Are you in a constant struggle with your little one? Maybe simply setting up a play area in each room of your house could bring peace to your life.
This training translates to the shipping room as well. During the holidays the office was very disrupted because orders increased and office workers decreased as many of the staff took time off for the holidays. This year Teresa, who worked here in times past, came back to work for a few days with her husband, Tremaine. They are expecting their fourth child. It takes good parents, not just good children, for parents to be able to work ten full hours in a large shipping area with three small children. Tremaine was thrilled to have his family at work with him for a week. He sat his little 15-month-old son, Thaddaeus, up near the shipping rollers so he could watch his daddy pack boxes. It is a fast-moving line, about 60 feet long, where books are pulled, put in containers, and then rolled down to a packing area where Tremaine packs. Then they are sent down to the postal area.
Tremaine uses lots of different tools, such as tape guns, tape machines, small tape dispensers, bags, boxes, bubble packing, etc. Thaddaeus must have thought he was in kid heaven when he was first allowed to sit up close to the rollers in the midst of all this STUFF. Tremaine is teaching Thaddaeus his boundaries; or to say it in a different way, he is teaching him what he can play with and what he can never touch.
So Tremaine gave Thaddaeus a safe tape dispenser and a few other whatnots and told him, “This is for you to use, but do not touch any of these other things, because these are for daddy to work with.” A tape dispenser is an exciting object until you have played with it for ten minutes; then the other items begin to look more interesting. The first day, Thaddaeus would watch his daddy for a few minutes with his head down, but he kept peeking up to see if Daddy was looking at him. Then he would put his tiny hand just a little closer to the no-nos. His ever watchful daddy would lock eyes with his son and silently shake his head “no”. Thaddaeus would go back to his now interesting tape dispenser. Over the next few days Thaddaeus got new and exciting things to play with, and he was always expected to keep his hands off Daddy’s work items. It is amazing how obedient and happy a child is when he knows there are absolutes that will be obeyed.
There is a twofold secret to making boundaries (absolutes) work. First, you have to stick to your word. You cannot have a “sometimes I am a good mama and sometimes I lie on the couch and just don’t care” attitude. The second rule, which is just as important, is to have some things that are totally exciting to play with that are always available to the child. They need to be given a tape dispenser if you are working with tape. They need to feel like they are doing something that in some way reflects what you are doing. Gracie needs her pots and pans drawer in the kitchen, so when I get my pans out and start cooking, she can go to her work drawer and start to play cooking. When I go into my office to open envelopes, she goes to her box and opens junk mail. When I write notes, she writes in her little notebook. Her life is not made up of plastic toys that have no meaning. Her life is made up of things that she can do that relate to what I am doing.
Therefore, absolute boundaries require both taking and giving. It is your duty as a parent to set up your child’s limits as well as to set up your child’s exciting play matching your work. If you are a “No No” parent, yet offer very little real-life activity, you will raise children that are always looking for a way to jump the fence and experience life. If you are a lazy, sweetie-pie type that does not like to say “no” to anything (no absolutes), then you will raise children that lack self-discipline and may become inclined to self-loathing. If you are a wishy-washy type that is a stern religious master one year (all absolute no’s), and the next year you are a passive “don’t give a hoot” type, then you will reap an uncertain harvest.
Now, here are some simple ideas to help you begin to make changes your children will like.
1. Have your two-year-old help you choose a drawer in the kitchen in which to put her pots and pans, spoons, and such.
2. Take your four-year-old son to the garage and let him help you make an area where he can work with his own tools. Please do not make the dumb mistake of creating these play areas yourself. Half of the joy and success is creating these places together with your child.
3. Set up a shelf in the living room where the children can keep their books, papers, and pens. Teach them how to keep it orderly.
4. Take your little ones to the kitchen, set them up on the counter, and make cookies. Let everyone have a chance at stirring. It is like magic for a child, and it is an amazingly powerful technique for child training.