Friday, April 13, 2012

Christlike Parenting

We related well to Nonie's description of how challenging the "three's" can be for a toddler boy. As we've tried different tactics and strategies to improve our little three year-old's behavior, it occurred to us that our behavior needed to change as much or more in order to influence him positively. Rather than focus on what he was doing, we realized that we should focus on how we were parenting.

In the process, we have been asking ourselves some basic questions:
  • How do we ignite in a good, smart child a desire to behave?  
  • How can we show him that obedience = happiness?
  • How can we teach obedience without focus on rewards or punishments (consequences)?
I was discussing some of these ideas with my lovely mother, and she referenced (and sent me) a really wonderful book, "Christlike Parenting" by Glen I. Latham.  Isn't it right to start by looking to Christ, a example of our Father in Heaven and our actual spiritual Father, to know how to treat our children?  There are so many examples in the scriptures of how Christ responded to all kinds of behavior. 
We have just started reading and applying what we have learned, but we have already noticed a difference in Abraham, our relationship with him, and the level of positive energy in our home.  The basic points have been simple and compelling--so much so that I wanted to share some of them with you.
  1. Focus on values, not compliance.  
    1. "Forced conformance and compliance creates a coercive environment, which in turn encourages children to escape, avoid and countercoerce"
    2. Make a list of values you want to teach your children (honesty, kindness, etc).
    3. Give them opportunities to serve each other.
    4. Acknowledge the values when you see it, "You really showed patience when . . ."
    5. Your child comes to see himself or herself as a good person, rather than just a person who does good things.
  2. "As parents, it is our responsibility to create a Christlike “world” in our homes; a safe place where children behave well because they enjoy the pleasant consequences of doing so, rather than to avoid the unpleasant consequences of behaving badly."
  3. "Revile Not." Christ is the perfect example of nonreviling, even in the face of cruel and unwarranted assaults . . . though he could have called down “more than twelve legions of angels” (Matt. 26:53), he “reviled not.”  
    1. Respond as a highly civilized adult no matter how uncivilized the child behaves.   
  4. Unearned privileges.  This was a very unique perspective that I'm still trying to internalize. 
    1. " To the extent to which the child is unwilling to comply with family expectations, he deprives himself of privileges that would otherwise be available. . . .  He needs to understand of course, that these are not being taken away from him.  Rather, he hasn’t earned them, and he can only have what is earned. (i.e. if a child is yelling, he hasn't earned the privilege of staying with the family for a little while).   
      1. When having a conversation about behavior that is not appropriate:
        1.  Stay with your expectations;
        2. Be empathetic and understanding;  
        3. Be clear about consequences;  
        4. Avoid argument, reason, logic, good sense, appeals, threats, excessive or misdirected questioning, and anything else that will most certainly turn him off; and
        5. Assure the child he is valued and has your unconditional love.  
  5. One thing Latham says is that if you state your expectations clearly and peacefully (without focusing on the consequences if non-compliant) three times, children will most often do what they are asked to do.  This is something we started doing right way, and we have been pleasantly surprised at how often this really works, no coercion necessary! 
  6. If you want your children to behave well, pay attention to them when they are behaving well.
My thoughts are a little jumbled, but I hope there has been something in there that is of use to you.  It makes much more sense if you read the book (especially if you talk it over with your mom :).
 What have you learned by looking to Jesus Christ as the example of a perfect parent?


  1. I like the idea of stressing values when you praise children ("You showed patience when you..."). Little children have so many of those values inherently. If we emphasize and capitalize on them during the tender ages, they'll be more likely to stick.

    Jesus was surely a kind, thoughtful man. We know he talked with people, and I imagine he also touched people with care. Touch and talk are crucial. The more positive and respectful we are in our language and actions (coming to the child's level to give instructions rather than yelling from the other room, gently hugging an angry or upset child instead of responding in frustration...), the more peaceful our home is. Patience in parents breeds patience in children. "A soft answer turneth away wrath" is one of my mom's oft-quoted proverbs.

    Jesus also noticed people and knew how they were feeling. I believe parents are entitled to that same intuition about their children. Like Christ, we should notice every little good thing that we can about our children and talk to them about it in detail.

    THE most difficult thing for me is always responding like a highly civilized adult, especially when my own basic needs are left unmet. Wish doing that was as easy as wanting to do it because then I'd be a pro. Jesus Christ surely sacrificed his own needs countless times and still responded not only with civility but with real love. I work on this every day. If Christ is still patient with my personal imperfections, how much more should I be patient with the perceived shortcomings of my own children, who are much closer to perfection than I!

    Thanks, Ariel. I've heard of this book, but haven't read it. Please share more of what you learn.

  2. Ariel, this is a great post. I'm so glad to know about this book! It's something I think about often. Not that George is prone to huge fits these days, future parenting situations, I mean. Anything that can increase the love that my child feels, while at the same time helping them learn principles for happy living sounds great!

    Also it makes me think not only about how I treat my child, but about how I treat my husband when I'm having one of those moments of frustration. How many times can I calm myself to speak to my baby when I'm feeling overwhelmed, and yet at times it seems so difficult to extend that courtesy to my husband? But these principles do apply to everyone who lives in our house, our dog included. If my children are to learn these things, it is as you said, I have to correct my behaviors -- all of them.

    Nonie, I completely agree that parents are entitled to know what their children are feeling. If we can be blessed with empathy on behalf of those we serve who are not in our family, why not to an even greater extent in our own family? I too have much higher aspirations than I find myself living by.

  3. So many good thoughts. I especially like the idea of focusing on values over consequences. And I totally get the part about not trying to reason with a disobedient child, but simply stating your expectations. A person in a stubborn moment doesn't want your appeals to logic because she does not want to be proven wrong -- and she's just plum not in the mood. I've been on both ends of such exchanges.

    Much to learn from the way Father in Heaven fathers us.

  4. Hi Ariel, I don't know if you remember me but I did the co-op preschool with you guys a couple summers ago! Amy T.'s friend. How are things in DC? Amy just linked me to your blog, especially this post, after I lamented to her that "I wish someone would write a book called Celestial Parenting." This is pretty darn close ;) Thanks for the great post! I love the premise of your blog and am glad to know about it. I'm sure I will be looking to you and your friends for more inspiration in the future! Hope everything is well!!

    1. Hi Megan! Abe still remembers your cute Abby, she really made an impression on him! I still lament that I couldn't bring the co-op preschool to DC with me somehow. I hope the book/blog is helpful to you and that you're all doing well!

  5. She can loose it on a little brother in a way that is somewhat scary. But she is quick to apologize and take responsibility for her choices and actions. I can't wait to see how this little Lily keeps rolling along. read full review