Categories
Parenting Self Development

Going Down The Waterslide In God’s Embrace

Sara is the youngest of our three children. She was always more cautious than Emily or Andy. I don’t know why. We never tricked or deceived her. She was just more cautious. In fact, she was born two weeks late. If the doctor had not come after her, there is no telling how long she would have remained in utero.

For example, when we went to the water slide in our small Utah town, Andy immediately went to sliding, Emily gathered friends, and Sara hid in the car. Sara was only about six at the time. But it was not her age that explained her behavior. It was her temperament. She was cautious.

When I invited her to come into the water park with us, she set her jaw and declared, “I will not ride the water slide!” I assured her that she did not have to ride the slide but we would love to have her with us. She came reluctantly and warily.

When Sara had finally gotten comfortable in the park, I asked her if she would like to see what the waterside looked like. She eyed me suspiciously. But she took my hand. We climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool. Then again we climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide, laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool. Yet again we climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool.

After uncounted repetitions of the process, Sara asked if I could go down the slide with her, hold her tight, and make sure she didn’t drown. I assured her that I could. So, once more, we climbed the stairs. When it was our turn, Sara sat in front of me, I held her ribs, and we launched into adventure. Sara began laughing immediately. All hint of concern was gone now that she felt safe.

We laughed our way through the drops and curves. As we approached the end of the tube, I checked my hold on her ribs. When we shot out into the pool, I pushed her into the air as I sank to the bottom of the pool. We worked our way to the side with me sputtering. As we climbed out, Sara enthused, “Let’s go again!”

The waterslide of life

For some people, trusting God is as natural as eating. It seems to be written in their natures. For others it is as hard as it was for Sara to launch into the water slide. (Lest the metaphor be misapplied, I should note that Sara has great faith, has served a faithful and loving mission to the people of Paraguay, and is now married to Mike, with whom she is raising sweet baby Gabe. She is a magnificent daughter of God.) Yet those who never climb to the top and rush down the slide—however reluctantly—miss out on the biggest adventure and central purpose of life.

There are those who study the waterslide from a distance. There are also those who read about it or write about it. There are those who hide in the restroom. And there are those who claim to be involved in worthier pursuits than water sports. But the fact remains, we all must finally say, “Okay. I’m not sure what this will be like. But Father has promised to take care of me. I will go. I will trust Him.” To fail to do so is to miss out. Or, as Robert Louis Stephenson has said, “To miss the joy is to miss all.”

I love the story—and the lessons of the story—told by Francine Bennion:

For the Dominion Day celebration in July, my parents and some friends arranged to meet in the afternoon for a picnic at Park Lake. My family and two others arrived first. Camp kitchens were filling fast, and we needed a stove for hamburgers and hotdogs. The men stayed at the entrance of the park to meet our other friends, and under a darkening sky the mothers and children walked some distance round the lake to a three-walled rectangular shelter complete with roof, two wooden tables, and a metal-covered cement stove for wood fires. A violent thunderstorm came up, splits and rumbles shaking the universe and us with light, sound, and finally a deluge. Under the sheltering roof we huddled in wonder, till an astonishing clap of brilliance, tingle, shaking, and smell came all together: lightning traveled down the chimney and exploded our stove. Pieces of cement flew into bare arms, children were thrown against walls, purple-brown lines streaked down necks to ankles, and I ran out into rain and tall wet weeds screaming my question: “I thought heavenly Father would take care of us?” No one was dead or permanently damaged, and my mother came into the rain answering me, “What do you think he did?” (p.108, 1986, A large and reasonable context. In P. L. Barlow (Ed.), A thoughtful faith: Essays on belief by Mormon scholars, pp.103–116, Centerville, UT: Canon Press).

“What do you think He did?” A wise mother saw the protection beyond the pain. This story is instructive not only for those who have tried faith and felt let down; it is also inspiring for those of us who forget our faith. Sometimes we forget to see every experience of life through the lens of faith.

In all things

President Kimball quoted Orson Whitney’s instructive observation:

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God. . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 98).

We are commanded to give thanks in all things (Mosiah 26:39, D&C 59:7): “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” That is the perspective of faith. Every experience has purpose. “Faith always sees more with her eye than logic can reach with her hand” (Harry Emerson Fosdick (1918), The Meaning of Faith, p.8, New York: Association Press).

Trusting God

Some of us want God to sign a contract before we trust Him. We want assurances related to every contingency. We want guarantees. William James encouraged a more trusting stance:

Just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn—so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods’ acquaintance. (p. 9 in Harry Emerson Fosdick: The Meaning of Faith, 1918, NY: Association Press.

For those who are cautious, this willingness to trust may strain every particle of courage. God graciously allows us to take baby steps in the journey toward faith. “Yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you” (Alma 32: 27).

The perversity of faith

Faith would be simple if we had immediate and incontestable results from our mini-experiments in trust. We believe. We are blessed. We believe. We are blessed. But God is aiming for something more mature than vending-machine mentality. In response to our faith, we will often get new challenges—along with inner assurance. It seems that God is pointing us away from the evidence of convenience toward the assurance within. W. E. Orchard said it well:

Oh God, too near to be found, too simple to be conceived, too good to be believed. . . . Show us how foolish it is to doubt Thee, since Thou Thyself dost set questions which disturb us; reveal our unbelief to be faith fretting at its out worn form. . . . Teach us to trust not to cleverness or learning, but to that inward faith which can never be denied. Lead us out of confusion to simplicity. Call us back from wandering without to find Thee at home within” (Fosdick, p. 34).

So faith invites us to evaluate God and His work by something more than the material evidence. He invites us to listen to the whisperings of that still, small voice that testifies that God is good, He loves us, and He is blessing us in the way that is perfect for us.

To interpret difficulties and disappointments as blessings is a perverse set of mind that requires a lot of faith. And that is what God is looking for.

Learning faith

If a friend asked me to define faith, I would find it difficult. It is more than believing there is a God. It is more than loving Him. It includes trusting Him—but it is more. Maybe it is the willingness to do the things that we think He wants us to do. That is a complicated formula.

God often invites us by His subtle messenger the Holy Ghost—who is never announced by blaring trumpets. He gives subtle hints. When we practice noticing them and following them, we grow in faith. When we disregard them or demand more specificity, our faith turns to confusion. So faith is the willingness to listen carefully and follow gladly—even when the message is nothing more than a hint. When God heads toward the waterslide, I want to follow Him.

I also compare having faith to a horse that does not have to be dragged by the bridle. Rather, as the rider leans in the saddle, the horse senses—and follows. Or faith can be compared to going toward the light—even small hints of light. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Stretching our faith

Lest any be smug, we should all ask—even the most faithful among us, “What is the next opportunity to grow our faith?” Are we ready to see God’s goodness in our difficulties? Are we willing to see God in the ordinary? Do we seek God actively? Do we thank him for every breath we take?

With beloved, departed Elder Maxwell, I rejoice in the words of Malcolm Muggeridge:

I feel so strongly at the end of my life that nothing can happen to us in any circumstance that is not a part of God’s purpose for us. Therefore we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about except that we should rebel against his purpose and that we should fail to detect his purpose in things and fail to establish a relationship with him. On that basis there can be no black despair, no throwing in of our hand.

You know it’s a funny thing but when you are old as I am there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, 3 a.m. and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. It seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the city of God. In this limbo between life and death you know beyond any shadow of doubt that as an infinitesimal particle of God’s creation you are a participant in God’s purpose and that his purpose is loving not hating, is creative not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular.

With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy. Nothing that happens in this world need shake that feeling. All the happenings in this world, including the most terrible disasters and suffering, will be seen in eternity as in some mysterious way a blessing, as a part of God’s love. We ourselves are a part of that love and only insofar as we belong to that scene does our existence have any meaning at all. The necessity of life is to know God. Otherwise our mortal existence is no more that a night in a second-class hotel.

Whatever the stature and vigor of our faith, may we be strengthening and growing it. May we be reaching toward God.

Categories
Parenting

Feelings Come First

A Great Idea …“When children are in the midst of strong emotions, they cannot listen to anyone. They cannot accept advice or consolation or constructive criticism. They want us to understand what is going on inside them, what they are feeling at that particular moment.” (Haim Ginott, child psychologist, in his book, Between Parent and Child, p. 82)

In Other Words …Our children’s strong emotions send us a clear invitation: Deal with the feelings before worrying about anything else. A child may want a few words of understanding: “Wow! You’re really upset!” or “You’re very disappointed.” Some children may want to have a few minutes to settle down. Some may want to be hugged. The feelings must be dealt with before solutions can be discussed.

How This Applies to You …The next time your child is angry or upset, deal with the emotions before trying to deal with the problem. Consider how your child likes to be comforted. After the child has calmed down, then you can talk about what happened and discuss what needs to be done to prevent the situation from happening again.

To Find Out More …For an excellent (and free!) program on parenting, see The Parenting Journey at www.arfamilies.org and if your children are younger than six, check out See the World Through My Eyes. For more in-depth reading, we recommend Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman or Soft-Spoken Parenting by H. Wallace Goddard.

Categories
Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other (Part 2)

In the previous post we described a common sibling squabble and two of the most popular methods parents use to stop the battling: parental intrusion and lecturing. Both methods have a serious problem, they fail to teach children how to navigate their disagreements.  I suggested five steps to help us engage our children and teach them to love and serve one another.  In this article I discuss those five steps in more detail.
1. Engage your child in a gentle way. Harsh approaches arouse anxiety and block learning. The child becomes focused on our anger, entering a survival mode of thinking, and completely misses the message we are trying to communicate. Further, when we are upset, we are not able to parent effectively. In order to truly engage our children gently, we may need to take time out to get peaceful. If a situation requires immediate action, we might invite our children to also take a timeout in their rooms to prepare for a productive dialogue. But, even without their cooperation, the point is for us to get peaceful. It may take locking ourselves in our bedroom in order to pray and ask for guidance. When we’re finished, our spirits will be more at peace and ready to teach. God counsels us to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and genuine love. It is important to get his attention without arousing fear: “Son, we need to talk. Your sister is very upset by the way you treated her.”
2. Give your child credit for anything you can: “I’m sure you didn’t intend to hurt your sister’s feelings.” We are often tempted to magnify the misdeeds in order to get our children to take our messages seriously. Yet when we “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37). In contrast, when we see our children through the lens of charity, we set the stage for love and learning. Just as we want to know our Heavenly Father still loves and sees the good in us when we mess up, our children need to know the same about their earthly parents as well. When we appreciate our children’s good intentions and sincere striving, we are more likely to find common ground.
3. Show that you understand your child’s point of view: “You just wanted to build without being distracted or interrupted.” Compassion is the key to connecting. When accusation rather than compassion is in our hearts, we alienate. When, in contrast, I see from the child’s point of view, I am able to guide effectively. It may help us to remember how we felt when we were children and felt attacked or thwarted. Compassion is the heart of the healer’s art. Once the child is comforted, he is ready to learn.
4. Draw the child’s attention to the distress of the victim: “When you ordered your sister to leave you alone, she felt sad. She felt that you don’t like to have her around. Maybe she even felt that you don’t like her.”
There are really two parts to this step. Just as the Lord teaches us in our minds and in our hearts (See D&C 8:2), so we must inform our children’s minds and hearts. Both are essential for right behavior.
We teach the mind about the law of the harvest—that timeless truth that we cannot sow weed seed and harvest a bounteous crop of grain. When we are unkind, we damage relationships. It is better to invite the child to learn his sister’s point of view: “I think your sister just wanted to be with you.”
We also train our children’s hearts. This is delicate work! Heart surgery cannot be done with sledge hammers. Rather we gently invite our children to feel love and compassion for their siblings. “You might not know that your sister looks up to you. She wants to be like you. I hope you can find a way for her to be with you while still accomplishing the things you set out to do.”
The objective in this approach is not for your son to be sunk in guilt but to be stirred to empathy and compassion. When we use harsh approaches with our children, they focus on their own distress and are likely to become stubborn and defensive. That’s not what we want. We want to help our children get outside their provincial view of their own needs and be able to see the needs of others.
We cannot rush this process. When the child protests, “But she is the one who messed up my work!” we do not have to argue. We return to the third step, showing understanding for his point of view: “It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it!” When the child feels genuinely understood, then he is ready to learn in his mind and in his heart.
Help the child to feel genuine compassion for the one he has hurt. If we want our child to show compassion, we must model compassion.  Naturally your child will resist your challenge: “She can’t start grabbing Legos when I’m building something.” We can argue that he shouldn’t be so unkind to his sister. And he will argue with us about his sister’s misdeeds. Rather than squabbling with the boy, we can show empathy: “It’s hard when you’re in the middle of a project and she interrupts you or starts using your Legos.” He does, after all, have a valid point. When we show him compassion, he is more able to show compassion for his sister. Incidentally, it may take several rounds of expressing understanding and compassion before he is ready to show compassion for his sister. Healing through compassion takes time, or, in the Lord’s language, “longsuffering and gentleness.”
5. Once the child feels understood (as evidenced by being calm and peaceful), then we can help the child think of a way to make repairs: “How could we help your sister feel loved and welcome without messing up your project?”
When hearts are right creativity can rule. “Maybe I could help her build a house” or “I could provide her with some of the blocks.” It is a joyous surprise when children feel safe and loved and naturally love and serve each other.
Any parent might reasonably protest that this process takes a lot of time. You’re right! Parenting is not quick, simple, or convenient. Parenting is a large and continuing sacrifice. Yet it is also true that, when we teach children correct principles, they are more likely to govern themselves in righteousness. An hour spent teaching them in their youth can save years of conflict, struggle, and waywardness.
In the midst of sibling conflicts, it is common to try to figure out which child is the offender. This is rarely productive. Each child makes mistakes. One child intrudes, another is stingy. Rather than try to weigh offences, we invite all toward repentance. In the above process, the focus was on the son’s repenting, but a parallel process could operate with the daughter. We could show her compassion and help her understand her brother’s need to be able to concentrate.
Getting our Hearts Right
 
Perhaps the greatest challenge to effectively teaching children is that we simply cannot do it right unless our hearts are right. We cannot teach peace while our souls are at war. We cannot teach them the principles of love and goodness while bubbling with anger or annoyed by distractions.
We draw on more of King Benjamin’s wisdom to learn God’s process. Let’s apply his general counsel to the task of parenting:
“For the natural [parent] is an enemy to God [and children], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit . . .”
We must yield to the gentle promptings and invitations of the Spirit if we are to be good parents. A parent who does so . . .
“ . . . putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint . . .”
Becometh a saint! We become true followers and disciples of Christ. Through repentance we acknowledge our limitations and turn to Christ for better ideas and motivation. When we have the mind of Christ, we are prepared to parent effectively—to teach our children the right ways to relate to each other. How is this change in our approach accomplished? What power changes us?
“ . . . through the atonement of Christ the Lord . . .”
As Elder Bednar has taught us, the atonement not only cleanses us, it enables and strengthens us . It is my conviction that we cannot parent as we should unless we allow the sweet peace and goodness that flows from Jesus to fill our hearts and souls.
What does the atonement look like in the daily lives of parents? It includes simple but powerful principles: having faith in the Lord, repenting of our improper acts, feelings, and thoughts, making promises to God, and drawing on the power of the Holy Ghost to change our souls.
Consider the wise counsel give by Amulek—and its application to the challenges of parenting:
Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. (Alma 34:17-19, 21)
The Christlike parent recognizes our dependence on God, calls out for mercy, continues in prayer, and draws on the power of heaven. In parenting as in all things, He is the way, the truth, and the life.
The process of forming our children’s souls requires great wisdom and patience. This should not surprise us. God gives us the opportunity to care for His precious children in His effort to make us more and more like Him—the Perfect Parent.
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Categories
Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other

Quarreling and bickering among siblings are painfully common in family life. While children are declared innocent because of the atonement (D&C 93:38), it is also true that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55).

Everyone who works with children knows that they can be not only charming, sweet, and delightful, but also selfish, pouty, and demanding. They are not automatically or naturally cooperative and peace-loving.

In spite of the challenges in getting children to be kind and considerate, the Lord offers this sobering injunction to parents:

And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin. (Mosiah 4:14, emphasis added)

It seems that God equates children’s fighting and quarreling with transgressing the laws of God and serving the devil. Since fighting and quarreling are so common, this commandment establishes a sobering challenge for parents. How can parents prevent contention between their children?

The Natural Parent

There are two popular methods for dealing with sibling conflict. One is parental intrusion. Parents separate the children, figure out who is the offending party, and punish them for their contention.

This method can only work as long as there is a parent available to intervene in the conflict. Even if this method interrupts the conflict it does not solve the problem; children do not learn new ways of dealing with their differences with their siblings.

The second method is lecturing. The main problem with lecturing is that it doesn’t work – and it generally insults and demoralizes children. Children respond to accusation with defensiveness; they blame their siblings and excuse themselves. The result is an increase in the contention in the family. That cannot be what God has in mind when he commands us to prevent fighting and quarreling. What’s the solution?

Decades of research have established that the best method for parents to influence children is something that developmentalists call “induction,” which is defined as parents reasoning with children and helping them understand the effects of their behavior on others. Induction, as defined by scholars, is strikingly similar to the methods of influence recommended by the Lord:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [or, presumably, parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;


By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42, emphasis added).

God has been teaching us from the beginning of time that we cannot teach goodness with harshness. We must use gentle and wise principles of influence. His recommendations from section 121 deserve a lifetime of study.

We can compare that instruction from the Doctrine and Covenants to directions given by King Benjamin immediately after counseling us to help children avoid quarreling and fighting:

But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:15, emphasis added)

Parents almost universally will agree with that objective. We want our children to love and serve each other. We want peaceful homes. We yearn for loving and helpful relationships between our children. But how can we make this happen?

Helping Children Find Something Better than Quarreling

Imagine that your 5-year-old daughter wanders into her older brother’s room. He is concentrating on building a Lego structure. Sister is fascinated by brother’s building. She watches and asks her brother questions for a time and then picks up some Legos to do some building of her own. He grabs the Legos from her, pushes her toward the door and shouts that she should stay out of his room. Little sister runs to you crying.

You are frustrated and angry. You are tempted to lecture your son about being kind and inclusive with his sister. Or you may want to lecture your daughter about respecting your son’s space.

But neither of these responses teaches the children to love and serve each other. Neither response helps the children work together. What would God have you do? The vast research on moral development gives us clues as to how to apply God’s counsel to our parenting . (1) That research together with God’s perfect guidance can help us establish five steps.

Let’s imagine that your focus is on helping your son respond to his sister more helpfully.


Here are five steps that summarize the counsel of research:

1. Engage your son in a gentle way.

2. Give your son credit for anything you can.

3. Show that you understand your son’s point of view.

4. Draw your son’s attention to his sister’s distress and dilemma.

5. Once your son feels understood (as evidenced by being calm and peaceful), then we can help him think of a way to make repairs.

These steps are consistent with the research on moral development and the research on emotion coaching. In the next article, I will give more details about these five steps.

You may be interested in Brother Goddard’s books such as Soft-Spoken Parenting, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, and Between Parent and Child. For more information about his books or his schedule at Education Week, visit www.FamilyCollege.com

(1) For scholarly sources, see Martin L. Hoffman, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice; John C. Gibbs, Moral Development and Reality; Wendy S. Grolnick, The Psychology of Parental Control. For applied approaches, see Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Child; John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Categories
Marriage Parenting Self Development

RECREATIONAL REPENTING OF OTHERS

I was walking along Canal Street in New Orleans with Bob, a friend, colleague, and a good Catholic man. He described his continuing challenge to be the man he wants to be. Often he falls short in one area or another. He told me that God occasionally taps him on the forehead with a twig—inviting him to overcome a fault. If he doesn’t respond, God starts tapping him with a stick. When that doesn’t stir him to repentance, God uses a railroad tie. Then he described a specific kind of challenge that often gets to him. “When people are overbearing, it gets me every time.”

I’m not sure if God uses railroad ties as one of His teaching methods. I’m not sure He even uses sticks. But I think that Bob was right about the central idea. When there is a flaw in our characters, God patiently provides opportunities for us to trade in the faults for a little more divine nature. The irritation we feel is an invitation to change the way we think and feel. Unfortunately, human nature commonly prefers our faults to His mighty change.

This provides an expansive opportunity for Satan. The prince of darkness tries to convince us that our faults are actually virtues. He laughs when we sin and feel noble about it.

You make me so mad!

Being angry is a prime example. We regularly get indignant when someone does something rude and thoughtless. Each of us has different triggers. But almost all of us have some predictable trigger that ignites our irritation. If we dwell on it, our irritation grows into anger and wrath. Someone is being wicked and we see our wrath as the instinctive (and righteous) response to badness. We put on the prophetic mantle and call them to repentance.

We only rarely sense that we add our own sin to the offender’s sin when we respond to badness with judgment and anger. Then the offender gets upset and defensive. He and I work furiously to justify ourselves and nobody repents. Satan laughs. We have been sucked into the vortex of judgment by our stubborn self-righteousness.

The call to repentance

Let me express the idea more baldly. When I am irritated, it is my fault. The irritation I feel is an invitation for me to repent.

Let me give examples. I try hard to be a positive guy. Sure, I have all the natural man scripts running like Muzak in the background of my mind. But I try to choose to see the good and dwell on it.

I have had amazing friends, teachers, and bosses who are wonderfully positive. Phil Ellis is one of those. His encouragement years ago still blesses my life. But I have also had bosses who are negative, critical, and seem to never see any good in my work.

My instinctive response to such bosses is to be defensive. I look for faults in the boss. I brood. Then my brooding spills into discussions with others. Pretty soon I have created a battleground on which truth and goodness are the inevitable casualties. I have responded to negativity with negativity. I am guilty of the very sin that offended me.

If confronted with my misdeeds, I might protest: “What was I to do in the face of such corrosive negativity?” Eternity whispers the reply: “You might have been a Christian.”

Ouch. That hurts.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matt. 5:44).

In every experience of irritation, Jesus invites me to become more like Him. I can see the offender with compassion and I can act with charity. To be specific, I can see a boss who is stressed and overwhelmed. I can see jibes as an attempt to connect and communicate. And, if I call on the Fount of goodness, I can respond redemptively.

A parenting example

We have a grandson whose boundless energy regularly gets him crosswise with the world. The doctor says he has ADHD. His teacher says he is careless. His parents are overwhelmed with the unique challenges provided by him and his three siblings. One day, playing ball with me and his sister, he knocked her down in his drive for the ball. I am tempted to be angry with a boy who seems to always be hurting people around him. The natural man is inclined to lecture and punish him. But, if I apply compassion and charity—as God is inviting me to do, I respond differently.

Compassion calls me to realize how often this goodhearted little boy gets in trouble. I realize that he doesn’t get much kindness and appreciation to soothe his soul. Such compassionate thoughts soften me. With compassion in my heart, my mind is energized to think redemptively.

I put my arm around the boy. “Oops. You knocked your sister down. Let’s sit and think for a moment.” The boy sits while his sister and I continue to play. He knows that his job is to take a few deep breaths and prepare to do some repenting. After he has a few minutes to self-soothe, I sit by him. “Can you tell me what went wrong?” He starts to tell me what his sister did wrong. But I figure that each of us should repent only ourselves. “Take a couple more minutes and see if you can figure out where you went wrong.”

His sister and I play a couple more minutes and I sit with him again. I put my arm around him. “Can you tell me where you went wrong?” He is softer now. “I pushed my sister in order to get the ball.” “Yeah,” I reply. It hurt her, didn’t it?” He nods. “What do you think you could do differently?” He sighs. “I could play gentler.” “I think that would make you a better ball player and a better brother.” I squeeze him. “Are you ready to try again?”

If we play very long, there is a good chance that his energy will again bump into some else’s well-being. We will have another chat. It takes a long time to learn to manage all these human impulses–especially when we have so much energy. But we who love these little people must be prepared to provide healing love and patient teaching for a lifetime.

A marital example

In parenting, irritation comes and goes. Marriage is the perfect arena for steady irritation. In fact, if we practice our irritation faithfully, we can learn to think of our partner as “a teeming flaw colony,” as Dave Barry described the attitude.

At the beginning of most relationships, things were different. We dwelt on the good and minimized the bad. Over time some of the shine wore off. We became less willing to focus on the good. We let the irritations bother us more. Eventually irritation can become the theme of the relationship. We’ve all seen it, couples who have been together forever but argue about everything. They live what the song title describes: “I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Almost Like Having You Here.”

Let me give you an example of a newlywed couple we love dearly. The husband is an easy-going and funny guy from a small town. The wife comes from the city, works in the fashion industry, and is wound tighter than her husband. You can see the battle coming, can’t you! He is heedless of appearance and says things she considers goofy. She appreciates his kindness but gets irritated by some of his actions.

Being in the early years of marriage, they are laying a foundation for what is to come. She can pester him about his shortcomings. He will become more distant and sullen. Or maybe he will deliberately annoy her. The years will pass and the bad feelings will accumulate. They will be one of those couples that can’t stand to be together and can’t stand to be apart.

Or there is another choice. Each partner can see his or her own irritation as an invitation to repent. Irritation is not so much about what my partner is doing wrong but how I am thinking wrong. I can repent. I can choose to see the good. I can see the differences as a blessing. I can allow my partner to be different from me. I can choose to learn from my partner and to feel blessed by my partner.

Fixing people is really God’s prerogative. Only as we become more godly should we presume to change another person. And here’s the great irony: As we become more godly, we enjoy people more and more just as they are. I don’t care if they change.

Let’s all repent.

Categories
Marriage Parenting Self Development

Newton’s Third Law

Newton’s third law of motion teaches us that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. I suspect that his law applies to human relationships just as much as rolling rocks. Every action evokes a reaction. When we attack someone, they counterattack. When we send love, love is returned. Clearly this law does not operate on a simple level. Past attacks can cancel out today’s loving words.

 

Do any of you have experiences that illustrate this law of relationships?

Categories
Parenting

The Surprising Cost of Parenting Programs

by H. Wallace Goddard

All ideas on parenting are not created equal, and some “good ideas” may not be so good as others.

There is a general law that you get what you pay for. It seems that cheap chips are less flavorful. The price of an inexpensive car is multiplied by the costs of repairs. A discount wig may look like road kill.

Even such ephemerals as love have a high price. Love is not the spontaneous flood of emotion portrayed in popular media; Meaningful love is the result of serving, adapting, appreciating, and forbearing–over the course of years and difficulties. Great love is built at great cost.

There are, however, notable exceptions to the general rule of economics. I can think of none more conspicuous than in the area of parenting programs. Some of the best programs in the world cost the least.

Many commercial parenting programs were developed by business people. They are supported by effective marketing and skillful persuasion but many of them are filled with high-sounding nonsense. They offer simple solutions with strong assurances. But some of the medicine is simply not effective.

There is no magic parenting wand. Timeout is no panacea. (In fact it is commonly misused.) Consequences are no better than punishment when used without wisdom and compassion. Rewards are often counterproductive, damaging the internal motivation that we hope to encourage in children. Discipline is not the most important issue in parenting.

Assessing Parenting Programs
What are the touchstones for assessing the quality of a parenting program? Two are vital. The first relates to the theme of all Jesus’ teaching: Love. He tells us that the characteristic of love will be the measure of any follower: “By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). I think Jesus would put love first on His list of parenting recommendations.

Not surprisingly, research has found that loving children is the single most important thing parents can do for their children. Not only does love have direct effects on children but it also mediates or moderates the effect of other parental behavior. Even discipline by a loving parent is more effective than discipline by a less loving parent.

The best parenting programs recommend love as the foundation, guiding principle, and informing spirit to all parenting efforts. They provide specific counsel on taking one-on-one time with children. They may even recommend specific methods for discerning children’s individual languages of love. There can be no good parenting without love.

The second vital element in parenting is a healthy attitude about agency. Agency was the core issue in the war in heaven. It is also the core issue in most family skirmishes. It is not helpful to grant children unlimited freedom nor is it productive to be over-controlling.

Unrighteous Dominion
Devoutly religious parents at different points in history have thought it was their job to teach children to submit to them in preparation for submitting to God. Such a noble rationale has cloaked centuries of unrighteous dominion. It is plausible but wrong. God’s message to Elijah was that the Divine was not to be found in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the still, small voice (I Kings 19). We can help children submit to the holy inside of themselves as training for lifelong submission to God. That is very different from getting them to submit to mom and dad. Unquestioning submission to parents sets them up as gods. Unfortunately mortal parents are not perfect. When parents point children to their own promptings, they are pointing them to a Source that never errs.

The most exciting new research on moral development teaches parents to activate their children’s empathy. Compassion more than control, rewards, or guilt is the basis of morality, according to this line or research. If one grants that empathy is one of God’s messages to our souls, then this recommendation is exactly the same as the recommendation to point them to the holy inside themselves.

Excellent parenting programs teach parents how to point children to their inner messages. Rather than manipulation and punishment, they teach parents to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness (See D&C 121:41). They teach parent to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) for effective parenting requires more than the right attitude; it requires wisdom and inspiration.

Two Characteristics
When the two characteristics of great parenting programs, love and respect for agency, are combined, agency is taught lovingly, compassion is taught by example, loving is taught as the highest use of agency.

Where are the best parenting resources to be found? Some of the best are very affordable. For example, the best parenting book ever written (outside of scripture), may very well be “Between Parent and Child” by Haim Ginott. Though it is currently out of print, millions were printed. It can often be bought at used bookstores for less than a dollar. (My judgment on the merits of that book may be tainted by the fact that I am currently working on a revision of the book that will be released in 2003. However, “The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Books” places Ginott’s two parenting books on the short list of all-time great self-help books.)

John Gottman’s “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child,” though limited to styles of guidance, is a wise and balanced book–available for about $12. It can help parents set bounds with compassion. Gottman calls it emotion coaching.

Another choice: You can buy “The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life” at deseretbook.com for $2.99. (Disclaimer: I wrote it.)

At the high end of the price spectrum, six excellent videotapes on raising the young child are available for $25 (http://www.iamyourchild.org/toc.html). The tapes cover issues such as safety, learning, discipline, bonding and other essentials for launching a healthy child. Like many of the best resources, they are produced by organizations with an educational mission. Not only are such works cheaper, they are usually better than those produced by for-profit organization in part because the sponsoring organizations are more likely to partner with universities or non-profit institutes that do not have a canned message to sell. They are driven by on-going research on human development and relationships. They adapt according to new discoveries.

More Surprises
But there are even greater surprises. Many people do not know that the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) that provides counsel on pruning trees and canning tomatoes also provides research-based information on family life. CES is not in business to make money. The organizational mandate is to get the very best research information to the citizens of the country in useful resources.

Chuck Smith at Kansas State University had been very progressive in his development of family materials on line (http://www.ksu.edu/wwparent/wondhome.htm)

One of the parenting programs I know best is the one I wrote for Auburn University. It is available at www.humsci.auburn.edu/parent/ The units can be read online or ordered for a dime each or printed online with original design and layout at www.aces.edu/department/extcomm/publications/he/hefcd.php#infants

Recently, Steve Dennis and I have created over 60 family units on subjects from marriage to development, from optimism to traditions, from timeout to nurturing. They are available free online at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service web site(www.arfamilies.org click on Family Life).

A broad array of family resources can be found at the Children, Youth, and Family Education and Research Network (http://www.cyfernet.org/) All are free, of course. Many commercial web sites also provide useful family guides.

There are times when an appropriate program is costly. Counseling and residential treatment cost more than information just as surgery costs more than aspirin. Yet, as a general rule, if you are paying lots of money for a parenting program, not only are you spending unnecessary money, you are probably getting an inferior program. The best parenting programs in the world are some of the least expensive.

Categories
Parenting

The Problem with Bribing Your Kids

A big chunk of parenting time and energy is spent trying to get children to do some things or stop them from doing others. In the course of trying to get our children to “behave,” most of us have tried a lot of things that don’t work very well.

One popular method for directing children’s behavior is the use of rewards, gold stars, and bribes. These methods are very effective—if your goals are very limited and short-term. Rewards can sometimes buy compliance, but they don’t build character. So, the lure of rewards is much like getting children to eat by offering an all-chocolate diet; the child may be delighted initially but, over time, the child will get sicker and sicker. This is not a good strategy.

Let’s consider an example. Imagine that it is time for you to dash out the door but your little one is resisting getting dressed. Every effort to hurry her results in more resistance. We have all resorted to forcing clothes on the child who cries and flails. This is bad for parents and bad for children. Brute force does not teach maturity, sensitivity, and civility.

Maybe we decide to try something that seems more enlightened. We offer the child a toy or treat to get dressed. If we have ably chosen the reward and the child is not past rationality, a bargain is struck. The child gets dressed and parent and child go merrily on their way. It may seem like it worked.

But research underscores the long-term negative consequences of using rewards to motivate children.

An astute child will become a mercenary. “I shouldn’t do anything without a reward. In fact, if I often delay and resist, I am more likely to get more goodies.” Children do not learn the joy of goodness but the value of resistance.

Often unnoticed in the bargain is the fact that the parent also learned unhealthy lessons. The parent learned that bribes can replace the more challenging path of teaching and motivating children. The parent short-circuited the important work of motivation. Just as surely as bribes corrupt politics, so they also corrupt both parents and children.

Consider an alternative. Imagine that a wise parent plans ahead, considering not only the schedule but the disposition of the child. Maybe the parent knows that one particular child does not like to be rushed. Or surprised. So that parent helps that child get ready. Ahead of departure time, the parent might say something like: “In a little while, we get to go visit some places. One of them is the grocery store. I know you like helping me there! Is there anything special we should buy for our lunch?” Maybe parent and child plan some lunch purchases. “I like your ideas! What would you like to wear to the store? Do you want to get ready now?”

Notice the effect. The parent gives the child information and invites her to help in the planning. The invitation to get ready for the outing does not depend on power or bribes but on respect and cooperation. It creates a very different mindset in the child from the use of power or bribes. It fits beautifully with the research recommendation that we use as little power as absolutely necessary.

Some may object that this method takes a lot of time. Yes. Building character and relationships does take time. We will reap as we sow.

All of research is perfectly compatible with the Lord’s instruction:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— (D&C 121:41-42)

When we use rewards to motivate children, we distort development. Research shows that children stop doing things (such as creating and cooperating) for the sheer joy of doing them and start doing only those things that pay dividends. Also, with the focus on rewards instead of joy, the quality of their work suffers, and their generosity shrinks.

More importantly, God’s system of motivation is undermined. God’s highest motivation is His relationship with us; the best motivation for children—and the best preparation for them to be in relationship with God—is the loving, patient, teaching relationship we provide them.

It will take time for us to cultivate a trusting relationship with each child. That is how God designed it. There is no shortcut to character and connection.

Invitation: Think about the “friction points” in your relationship with one of your children. Consider how you could use more time, teaching, and connection to win cooperation and teach teamwork.

Recommendation: For more about the problems of rewards, see Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. For more about the research on the subject, see the work of Mark Lepper or Martin Hoffman.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her editorial suggestions.

Categories
Parenting

When We Ask the Wrong Question We Always Get the Wrong Answer 

by H. Wallace Goddard

Recently I served on a panel at a parenting conference. At the end of the panelists’ presentations we invited questions from the audience. A young and earnest mother with a baby in her arms asked, “I have a 6-year-old boy at home. I can’t get him up in the morning to get ready for school. I have tried everything! Nothing works! What should I do?”

There are as many answers to her question as there are experts. One of the panelists suggested that proper use of timeout would shape his behavior. One suggested talking with him at a peaceful time to get his ideas of how to start his day. Some might suggest providing rewards for the desired behavior. We moved on to another question before we had really given her a good answer.

I had the good fortune of being seated next to the mother at the banquet following our session. We were able to continue the discussion. I learned important new details when I asked about the boy and what he loved and how he responded to correction. She told me that he was very active but also tenderhearted. He was occasionally very affectionate. His feelings were easily hurt when he was corrected. As she talked lovingly about her son, some of the answers seemed obvious. There were also factors that were not obvious to her but might be seen by an outsider. For example, while the mother was very dutiful and a morning person, her son was not. (Sometimes our best efforts to motivate our children do not work because we are only using the tools that work with us but do not match our children’s needs.)

I invited the mother to try a different approach from the traditional begging, threatening and cajoling: “Would it work for you to go to your son’s room 5 or 10 minutes before he needs to be up and lie down beside him? You could talk with him quietly and stroke his face. Allow him to wake up slowly and in the arms of your love. Would that work for William?”

She responded with a smile and the addendum, “Yes, he would like that. It would also help if I told him that as soon as he was dressed he could watch cartoons until he left for school.” This “impossible” situation yielded viable solutions when she thought about her son and his unique personality in a spirit of helpfulness.

Of course it is natural to object to such suggestions, “But that boy needs to learn to obey without all the mollycoddling.”Hmmmm. President Hinckley answers that concern better than I can:

How much more beautiful would be the world and the society in which we live if every father looked upon his children as the most precious of his assets, if he led them by the power of his example in kindness and love, and if in times of stress he blessed them by the authority of the holy priesthood; and if every mother regarded her children as the jewels of her life, as gifts from the God of heaven who is their Eternal Father, and brought them up with true affection in the wisdom and admonition of the Lord. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Behold Your Little Ones,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 20)

Much of my professional activity is dedicated to parenting. Most of the questions I get from parents have the general form, “How can I get my child to do what I want him/her to do–especially when they don’t want to do it?” That question has no satisfactory anwer; there is a problem with the question itself. We might better ask, “If I consider my child’s world at a time when I am filled with love for the child and inspiration from heaven, can I find a way to draw that child toward better behavior?”

Turning again to prophetic counsel,

Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! and prove to them that you do love them by your every word or act to them. . . . Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly toward you. Use no lash and no violence, but argue, or rather reason–approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. . . .You can’t do it any other way. You can’t do it by unkindness; (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.316)

I remember when a devoted mother approached me with a parenting quandary. Her 4-year-old daughter had been playing with her older sister and the sister’s friend. The 4-year-old had gotten upset about something and scratched her sister’s friend. The mother asked, “How can I teach my daughter that her scratching is unacceptable?” Many questions went through my head, “Does your daughter scratch people often? Was she under a lot of stress at the time of the incident? What are the ways that soothe and teach your daughter?” Before getting to those questions I asked, “How did you respond to her scratching?” The mother replied, “I grabbed her and scratched her. Then I confined her to her bedroom for three days. I wanted her to learn that such behavior is simply not acceptable in our family.”

I am certain that the little girl learned a memorable lesson; I am confident that part of the lesson she learned was not what her mother had hoped to teach.

Study [your children’s] dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly, never allowing yourself to correct them in the heat of passion; teach them to love you rather than to fear you. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.207)

We deceive ourselves when we justify harshness as necessary or helpful for children. The Lord recommends a different course: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and genuine love (See D&C 121:41-42).

Every earthly parent acts harshly at times. Such occasions are cause for repentance rather than rationalization. It is a relationship of love that is the great motivator for children and for adults. The most important parenting questions we can ask are not about mechanisms of control; they are about love: “Wilt Thou grant me wisdom that I can understand my child and his needs? Wilt Thou fill me with divine charity to change my heart and fill me with love? Wilt Thou show me how Thou wouldst teach and bless this child?”

Better questions help us discover better answers.

Categories
Parenting

Solving Parenting Problems

Sometimes the harder we try to solve a problem with a child, the worse it gets. For example, when we nag children to hurry and get ready, they drag their heels. The more we demand that they eat a certain food, the more they will resist. In both cases the more they resist, the more we nag and demand. The more we nag and demand, the less they cooperate. This is not likely to have a happy ending.

The good news is that there are better ways to solve parenting problems! If you find yourself getting stuck in your interaction with a child, consider the following.

1. Deal with your feelings

When we are upset or angry, we have a hard time seeing clearly. Anger—and its cousin, frustration—narrow our thinking and flatten our compassion.
When you deal with a parenting challenge, if you feel angry, betrayed, impatient, disgusted, devastated or any other strong feeling, your first job is to put out that fire. When your own feelings are in turmoil, you may find it hard to see your child helpfully.

I learned years ago that I don’t have the right to correct anyone I don’t love—and not in some historical and generic way but here and now. If I’m not feeling love for the child, I need to take a break.

It may help to find a quiet place to relax and breathe deeply. It may help to pray or talk to someone who loves the child. As you feel more peaceful, you are ready to move forward.

2. Manage the way you see your child

When we think of the child as a problem, there is no good solution. When we see the child as doing the best he or she knows how, it will be easier to find good solutions.

As we face challenges with our children, it is good to remember that each child is an amazing and heavenly creation. When we remember the child’s greatest qualities, we are better prepared to turn problems into blessings.

Can you see clearly what his or her best qualities are? What do you enjoy about your child? What makes your child sparkle?

Before we can direct or correct a child, we must value that child. Do you feel loving and appreciative of the child? If so, you’re ready to move forward.

3. Understand what the child is trying to accomplish

People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When a child’s actions do not make sense to us, it is probably because we don’t fully understand the child’s needs and wants.

Even the most troubling behavior has its own logic. Maybe the child is feeling tired or sick. Maybe the child doesn’t know any better. Maybe the child is feeling afraid or lonely. Maybe the child is stressed. Maybe the child wants our attention.

We often misunderstand the child’s behavior because of what’s happening in our lives. Maybe we’re busy, unhappy, frustrated, or tired. Those feelings can keep us from seeing the child’s earnest motives.

When we set aside our own irritation and look at the child with kindness, we may be able to see what the child is trying to accomplish. Maybe a child is not trying to annoy us but simply engage us in his life.

When we are feeling peaceful, loving, and compassionate, we may be able to understand what our child is trying to accomplish. Then we can help her find a good way to get her needs met.

Step 4. Is there a better way?

As parents, we try to help children get what they want—in ways that make sense. For example, children who fuss for our attention should be able to get our attention—but in ways that don’t make us crazy. We might say to a child who is whining for attention, “I would love to talk with you or play with you, but I need you to tell me what you want in ways I can hear.”

Or, if a child has a hard time getting ready for school on time, we can start by figuring out why the child doesn’t get ready. Does the child need more time to wake up? If so, we might go in earlier and gently talk with and pat the child to help wake her up. Does the child find it hard to decide what to wear? If so, we might have the child decide what to wear the night before and lay out the clothes.

We can set our children up for success. There may also be times when we need to teach our child new skills. There may also be times when the key is your own mood—choosing to be patient, positive, and understanding.

5. Try something new.

The problems that have bothered you in the past will surely happen again.

Start with prevention:

An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of punishment. What can you do to make problems less likely to occur? How can you change the way you approach the situation? Can you modify the family schedule or rules to fit the child while still keeping reasonable expectations? Do you need to help your child find new ways of getting his or her needs met?

Change the way you react:

When you feel yourself being dragged into a familiar battle with your child, stop. Decide to do something new. Try staying relaxed. Try seeing the child as an amazing and delightful person. Instead of saying or doing what you usually say or do, try listening more carefully. Try understanding your child. If you can’t see a good way to react, maybe you will decide to delay a decision until you have had time to think. Since our usual ways of responding to problems don’t work very well, our best hope for better family life is to try new and better ways.

Learn from problems:

After you have tried your new plan, notice the results. Did it help your child act in ways that are better for him or her and the rest of the family? The successful parents are those who keep trying ideas until they find ones that work with their family. What makes an idea a good one? It is a good idea if it works and if it shows respect to all who are involved.

Get input:

Problems arise in all families. When you feel stuck, try talking to the wisest and kindest parents you know. Try reading a good book. Pray for help from your heavenly Parent.

As you learn to help your children act in better ways, not only will they become better people, but you will become wiser, more compassionate, and a happier person.

Invitation: Think of a recent challenge you’ve faces with one of your children. Apply the steps in this article to find better ways of responding.

Recommendations: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child; H. Wallace Goddard’s The Soft-Spoken Parent

This article adapted from Parent Guide written for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.