Monthly Archives

January 2018

Parenting

Reading Children’s Instruction Manuals

I have heard the saying “children don’t come with instruction manuals” hundreds of times. The saying has always annoyed me; I don’t believe it.

Children do come with manuals. They are the manuals! In everything they say and do they are giving us instructions. The problem is that we don’t use the manuals they give us. We don’t understand their instructions, or we don’t take them seriously. But the instructions are there. Clear as day. If we read them.

An amazingly sensitive and insightful mama called me this week. She told me about her son in kindergarten who has started misbehaving. Rather than his usual happy and docile self, he has been angry and contrary. He has picked on his sister and has rebelled against his mother’s influence. None of the usual family systems are working for him. He seems to have become a rebel.

The natural response is to punish the child into submission. “You will not act that way in this family.” There is an enticing logic to such a response. We love to set limits and ladle out consequences. And we try to convince ourselves that they are necessary for children. Yet unwisely done, our usual punishments are like pouring gasoline on a fire. They make things worse. They make life more confusing and lonely for children without teaching them how to manage themselves. And they damage the relationship of trust that should exist between parent and child.

I don’t believe that the rebel boy was just letting his badness take over. I think he was trying to tell his mother something important.

So that sweet mom and I talked. I asked her what was different in her son’s life. What was he trying to tell her about his experience? Could kindergarten be upsetting to him? Could the addition of the baby to the family make him feel less noticed and appreciated? Had a friend moved away or turned against him?

Mom thought. “Actually his just-younger sister has recently become the star of the family. She has been cheerful and loving and may have crowded him out of his starring role in the family.” Mom thought some more. “And his dad uses too much sarcasm with him. I’m sure it feels like criticism and maybe even mocking to our son.”

There it is! Mom is reading her son’s manual! Using her natural compassion and great insight, she is getting vital instructions for helping him.

I suggested that she take one-on-ones with her son and ask him what he is loving about his life and what is bothering him. There is nothing quite like listening attentively and lovingly to learn what’s happening in a child’s life. She reported later that she spent a day with her dear boy and learned many things about his life, worries, and joys.

A great deal of misbehavior in normally-pleasant children is a plea for help. “I feel lost! I feel unimportant and worthless! Do I have a place in this world?” I suggested that her dear boy might need more mama time and more opportunities to work through his worries and burdens.

Will extra love teach him to misbehave in order to get extra attention? It can. But usually only when children think that is the only way to get some attention. When their misbehavior gets them needed help, they learn that their world is a safe place.

The child’s manual will also help a parent know when a child needs firm limits and appropriate consequences. I definitely don’t believe in smiling benignly while children destroy the world around them. But our actions should match their needs rather than our mood. Sometimes they need someone to clearly state that certain words and actions are not acceptable in our families. They often need teaching. There is a place for consequences. Yet, more than anything else, they will need parents to reassure them that we will help make the world a safe place for them.

Haim Ginott tells of a boy who visited his prospective kindergarten with his mother. As the teacher provided a tour, the boy gruffly asked, “Who made the ugly pictures on the wall?” Mom was embarrassed: “Those are lovely pictures.” But the teacher recognized what was written in that boy’s manual. He wondered if only children who were good artists would be appreciated in this classroom. The teacher wisely responded: “We are glad for all kinds of pictures in this class.” The boy was pleased.

Of course new chapters are always being added to each child’s instruction manual; we must keep reading carefully. And mastery of one child’s manual does not make us masters of another child’s; we must study each child as a unique creation.

It’s not true that children don’t come with instruction manuals. I hope we will all become fluent in reading the manuals we have been given: Our children, their moods, their words, and their actions.

Invitation: Do you have a child who is particularly hard to understand? Pay close attention. Can you find sensible, adaptive reasons why the child does what he/she does? How can you read that child’s manual?

Recommendation: John Gottman, the world’s leading relationship scholar, recommended Ginott’s Between Parent and Child in strong terms: “This is the most important book ever written on parenting and the emotional world of children. It is a must that every parent and teacher master the skills taught in these pages. Written by Dr. Haim Ginott, renowned child psychologist—and in my opinion, a true genius—Between Parent and Child goes far beyond telling us how to discipline and control our kids, and explains how to raise children who are not only well behaved, but are also emotionally strong, independent thinkers, and compassionate toward others. This newly revised edition is better than ever. Take my advice—buy this book! Read this book! You and your children will be forever grateful.”—Dr. John M. Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Self Development

Getting Heavenly Guidance

Our friend John wondered why there were so few crickets. They used to make a racket every summer evening. Now they were almost silent. What was the reason? Pesticides? Winter freeze? Migration?

Then he got hearing aids. The first night after getting those devices, he asked his wife, “The crickets are so loud! Have they been that loud all along?”

Many of us know someone whose hearing has declined and finds it difficult to interpret the voices around them. The same thing can happen to our “spiritual hearing”. Over time our sensitivity to spiritual messages can diminish or disappear. We can become spiritually deaf.

“Ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Nephi 17:45).

There is an older high priest I know. When asked about his greatest spiritual experiences, he still referenced his mission which occurred 60 years ago. While he certainly should remember and treasure wonderful spiritual experiences during his mission, it is unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge any more recent meaningful encounters with the Spirit. Has he stopped seeking the Spirit or craving heaven’s counsel? Does he imagine that the Spirit has gone silent regarding his life?

I contrast that high priest with David Biliter. When he was in our stake presidency, he typically began temple recommend interviews by asking, “Do you mind sharing with me the last time you felt the Spirit?” Every time he asked me that question, we were both flooded by heavenly light. Just asking the question invited the Spirit into our lives.

Our responsiveness to God is like being a horse on whom God is the Rider. When he pulls the bridle one way or the other, a reluctant horse may resist—having his own course in mind. A good horse will respond to the direction. A great horse will turn when God merely leans in the saddle. Our whole orientation can be welded to His will. But only if we welcome it.

How do we enjoy more of His influence and guidance in our lives? There are stock answers to that question. But those stock answers can be somewhat shallow. And they suggest there is a standard “one-size-fits-all” process to follow in order to listen to the Spirit. That is not the case. Each of us has our own communication style and learning process. Our Father understands us individually and customizes the way that He reaches out to each of us. Instead of trying to follow some standard recommendations, we should explore how God tailors His communications to us.

For some, the surest way to bring Him present is music. For example, I cannot play Glorious by the One Voice Children’s Choir without weeping with joy. It always touches me!

Others are inspired by nature. Time spent in God’s creation makes a heavenly connection for them.

Some connect best through prayer. Yet there many ways to pray. When we try to follow someone else’s formula, we may get frustrated. Elder Douglas Callister recommended that instead of offering the same rote prayers every day, “Choose what you want to talk to Father about. Just one, or two, or three things, not a great deal. But talk to him the way a child talks to a father that is much loved. When you get up from your knees, you’ll remember what you prayed for and it won’t be the same thing as the night before or the night which follows.” (“Take Control”, Devotional at Snow College)

Some may be uplifted by testifying. I love speaking and writing about God’s amazing work! As I share, He teaches me new things.

Some find the Divine through pondering. Some connect with the Spirit by asking questions and then listening for answers to come.

We can learn to hear the voice of God in scripture. There are thousands of different ways to find Him from reading and reflecting to using study guides and studying with friends. Our study program will change as our needs change. And they will vary by our personality.

What works for you? As you think of the best experiences you have had with the Spirit, how have those experiences been achieved? In what way does Heavenly Father connect with you individually? How do you best seek His voice and receive His messages? How can you have meaningful experiences with the Spirit more often?

Each of us must earnestly seek to find the way to cultivate the Spirit in our unique individual lives. The Holy Ghost is dedicated to the very serious business of getting us through the mess of mortality and back to Father. It makes sense for us to cooperate with Him.

If you had the opportunity for a great historical figure to visit you, how would you prepare for that visit? Chances are you would take that opportunity very seriously. Probably you would prepare carefully. You might think of questions you would want to ask. You likely would listen carefully and respectfully. You might earnestly take notes. You would probably reflect back upon the conversation afterwards. So shouldn’t we approach the opportunity to spend time with Heaven’s Messenger as seriously? We should grab that opportunity as often as we can! We should notice and honor His presence. We should be respectful of impressions He shares with us. We should give serious consideration to the truths He delivers and take action upon them.

For that reason I keep a small joy journal. Every day I record the things that went well. Naturally that includes any messages from Heaven. They come wrapped in joy. They inspire, comfort, and guide. I want to notice them, remember them, and guide my life by them.

Invitation: What could you do to be more mindful of God’s messages? What can you do to better guide your life by them?

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.

Recommendation: Consider reading a book on personal revelation such as Hearing the Voice of the Lord by Gerald N. Lund or Personal Revelation: How to Recognize Promptings of the Spirit by JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton