How do you raise hardworking, cheerful children who look for ways to serve those around them? It’s easy when you start on day one. The day they are born, training begins.

Don’t think I mean spanking because I mean nothing of the sort. Most people think of training very differently than I do. Training is in everything we do. We train them whether we mean to or not. We train them with what we say, with what they’re exposed to, with the tone of our voice—every single thing in their life is training. Because children are learning so quickly, by the time they are 5 years old 90% of their brain is developed. Here are four principles I use to train my babies.

First, it’s so simple yet so important: our babies need to feel loved and completely secure. As soon as my babies are born, I like to make sure they have a lot of skin-to-skin contact. All they have ever known is being in your belly, so if they are away from you, they’re not going to have that close, secure feeling, hearing you, feeling your movements, soaking in your warmth, and touching your spirit. Even newborns can be alarmed at the sudden change of their environment. So stay cuddled up skin to skin and let your newborn get accustomed to being outside his safe cocoon. Touch is so important and soothing to them. Massage their body and lay them on your chest so they hear the familiar beat of your heart. Talk. People often talk around their babies, but don’t actually talk to them. Your baby is learning so fast, and he needs to know he is being spoken to. I talk to my baby every single day, all day long. He heard me while he was in my womb and he heard me continue when he was born. Every day he hears me say, “I love you baby, I love you, I do, I do.” I know people will think I am crazy and I am sure it was just an echo from him, but when he was eight days old he said, “I love you, I do.” My husband and I were sitting on the bed and we heard him echo that, and we thought, “Whaaaaaat?” We stared at each other like, “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” We were totally shocked. I know that babies are absorbing everything. I’m sure you are wondering if he kept saying it after that. No, but he echoed basic sounds of words from the very beginning.

When we are talking to our little ones, our language, our body language, and our tone are all important. We need to engage with our children. When I was growing up I saw a lot of parents who communicated well with everyone else, but I never saw them really talking to their children. You may have noticed kids who don’t quite make eye contact? It’s because they are not accustomed to having adults look them in the eye unless it is to fuss at them. Not my children. They are the most important people in my life, and I let them know it by how I talk with them. I start the day by saying, “Hey kiddo, how are you doing? Oh, it’s so good to see you this morning! I’m so glad you’re up with the sunshine! Your face is like sunshine itself! Gimme a big ol’ hug. I need some sugar from you!” I make sure the words as well as the sunshiney tone are clearly there. It’s going start their day off with such positive, happy thoughts.
People say babies are too young to know what is happening, but I think mothers know best! By giving a sound of “psh, psh, psh, psh” every time I felt my day-old baby’s diaper get warm with pee, I trained him—or you might say conditioned him—to that sound. By day three of his life, I put him over the tub and made the psh, psh, psh, psh sound. He peed in three seconds. He did it the next time and the next time and the next. The rest is history. He knew from day three that I wanted him to potty when I made that noise. So whether we are outside or in a bathroom in a restaurant, he goes pee when he hears me make the sound. He is 9 months old now. His big brother takes him potty and even his 7-year-old sister can hold him over the tub so he can pee.

Second, when training children, make sure they have purpose! Most parents of small children are just trying to keep their children entertained while they are on Facebook or Pinterest. Such a waste of the best training years. Parents need to stay focused that this is the time for building character and brains! Young children need a purpose or they are going to be ornery. You think this doesn’t apply to the 2-year-old? Think again. All children need to feel they are NEEDED, not just loved and adored. From very early they need to feel they have something worthy to contribute in service to others. Otherwise, a child will grow up lazy, selfish, foolish, and frustrated.

What do I mean by having purpose? A child needs to see that he is doing his part in making things happen that help the whole. My baby knows he is an important part of the party and an integral piece of the project. He wants to be in the center of everything. For example: I’m cooking and he’s (at 8 months) on my countertop. I hand him a big spoon and show him how to hold it and say, “Hold this.” I wait, and then say, “Now give me the spoon so I can stir, but now hold this other spoon.” After one or two times, he will stare at me with great concentration, knowing he is part of what’s going on and that what he is doing is important. Of course, he isn’t actually helping, but he’s a part of the current activity, he’s included in the project. He feels valued and needed. When he is helping, I have a conversation with him, and when someone takes note of him helping, we speak of him being a good helper. By the time he is 2, he will be actually serving people. He will be useful in this world and in our home. I have raised two children this way and they both love serving others. My parents raised my siblings and me to serve others; it was one of the most important aspects of our youth, and I am thankful. I am embarrassed for parents when I see their teenagers mad because they want something or want to go somewhere while their mama waits on them. There is nothing nastier than a lazy girl unless it is a lazy boy who avoids work and thinks it is funny to skip out. That is silly as well as lazy. Give your children a purpose by allowing them to be an active part of everything you do.

Third, learn to have correct reactions. The way you react will determine how your child reacts. This is where wise training comes into play. For example: Let’s say baby bumps his head. How will you react? Often parents rush to the child, “Oooooh hooooooney, I’m so sorry that you’re huuuurt! Oooooo!” Our smart baby responds to our pitiful tone by being pitiful, and so he is trained. He thinks, “It’s time to be upset! There’s a problem here! I need to scream and the louder I scream, the better!” Your pity makes him feel distressed. Your reaction to him getting hurt is sad, so this sets him off. Can you see that he is being trained that when he feels a small twinge of pain it is time to scream? WAIT, parent. It is time to think this through. By reacting with a pitiful tone and words, you are causing your child constant emotional drama—not helping him! You are not being good to your child by making him weak. Instead, when your little one falls over and has a slight pain, say, “Woooo, you’re tough; you’re so strong! You big boy, are you okay? Here, let me give you some kisses for being so tough.” Mama is saying with a tone of joy, “I am so proud of you!” And the child is being trained that a little pain is nothing to be upset about. Falling is nothing to be frustrated over. A child who is trained like this will look at you when he gets hurt, making sure you see. Then he will give you a suave look that says, “Yeah, I’m cool.”

Training can be both positive and negative. For example, often when a baby is nursing, even before he has teeth, he will bite your nipple. And he’ll bite kind of like he’s experimenting, right? Instead of not reacting because it’s not painful, say, “Stop it. Don’t do that.” Your tone should show dislike because you are training him to not bite. Don’t make it fun, and don’t make it a game. Show a negative reaction. “No, no. Don’t do that. That hurts.” Babies take their cues from our tone. They learn that “if I bite, it’s going to hurt someone.” Be consistent. If they pinch you or hurt you, look shocked and say, “No, that hurts.” They are learning, and they only KNOW what you train them to know. Have you ever seen an ape train her baby? She is FULL of reaction! And the baby is not offended about the mama’s reaction because the mama is not angry. She is not upset; she is communicating to her baby that that is dangerous, or it is bad and or is not good. Our babies are certainly more intelligent than apes! It is time we start training them. If you react properly, your children will never be offended—and they shouldn’t be. This is just training. Parents do this by default! If you expect offence, you will get an offended child. Teach them from an early age not to be offended when you say, ”No” or when you say, “That hurts!” A child will stop nursing and stare at you, searching your face for rejection. Instead you should be pleasant but firm in your tone, “Stop. It hurts.” Half of training your children is first training yourself to control your reactions.

Finally, training your children to be confident will help them adjust to new experiences. Children like sameness—same cup, same seat, same blanket, same bed, etc. But in life, everything isn’t always the same. When we are going to go somewhere, do something, meet new people, or see new sights, we can make these experiences something of wonder or dread depending on how we introduce them to our children. I have heard parents say, “Ooooh, what are we going to do? What are we going to see?” or “Oh, does he look scary?” or “Are you scared?” This is the wrong approach. You build confidence in your child by your tone, words, and body language. If your child is going to be sliding down a big slide, say, “Pfff, you’ve got this! No big deal!” You may be freaking out inside, but to your child you must show confidence. Watching my 9-month-old learning to walk has me on pins and needles, but I remember I am training him to have confidence. Generally, but not always, daddies can be rougher than mamas. I can be cringing inside, but I don’t show my panic outside. I just say, “Wooo, good job, kiddo!” My goal is to not raise a whiney child who grows up without any confidence. I want my son to feel confident going into new experiences and doing new things. My 7-year-old daughter could go into a restaurant by herself and order a meal and pay for it. Would that be new for her? Absolutely! She’s never done that! But I have taught her that new experiences are okay, and I’ve also taught her how to handle new experiences when they don’t go right. It starts with building confidence in babies with something simple like falling. We all have moments of hurt, panic, or confusion; we want our children to be able to handle them as a matter of course because they were trained from the beginning.

These are four ways I train my kiddos. A child’s brain is soaking up everything around him, so be teaching all the time. You will find me singing the alphabet, teaching my baby phonics, showing him sight words, constantly holding stuff up and saying, “This is a pink pen—actually, it’s a marker!” I am always teaching and interacting and he is taking it all in, absorbing good things and learning thankfulness.