Teaching Children Joy

Thanks to all the parents, who attended the Dare to Discipline seminar. As for the ones who could not make it, here is a wonderful how to article in our series ‘Teaching Children Joy.’ Happy follow up!


“Train up a child in the way he should go: & when he is old, he will not depart from it.”–Proverbs 22:6

The Child’s Perspective

Romping out of the fruit store, our four-year-old Saren, just learning to count money, discovered she had been given change for fifty cents rather than a quarter. Initial excitement: “I’ve got more money than when I came, & the fruit.” Then conscience: “I’d better give it back to the man.” Then the real joy as she came back out of the store: “Daddy, he said he wishes everyone was honest like me!” There is true joy in simple, voluntary obedience to moral law.
That story reminds me of another time, another store, another child–Saren’s father. I was eight years old & buying my first bicycle. I had $25 saved up from Grandma’s gifts & from collecting & returning coat hangers & pop bottles. In the store were two used bikes for $25, one a red Schwinn & one a silver Silverchief. I couldn’t choose. First I wanted one, then the other. My wise father took me back out to the car, found a large, white sheet of paper, & drew a line down the center. “Let’s list the reasons for the red bike in one column & the reasons for the silver bike in the other,” he said. I did. I remember the thrill of thinking in a way I had never thought before. When the list was done, the silver bike was selected. (After all, no one else had one like it.) I kept that bike for ten years, & the memory of the joy of deciding on it never dimmed.
There is tremendous joy & satisfaction in learning that things are governed by laws. Psychologists tell us that small children usually believe that their desires control circumstances & cause things to happen. The time when a three- or four-year-old realises that this is not the case, that things happen independently of his wants, can be very traumatic. Or, if he is being taught about laws in a positive, constructive way, it can be a time of real awakening joy.
Children need to be given the latitude to make their own decisions. They will make some wrong ones, but will learn, with our help, from the consequences. While they are young, the decisions & their consequences will not be weighty enough to do permanent damage. And by the time decisions become important, they will know how to make them.

How To

Teach children to distinguish between situations governed by law & those governed by decision.
1. Make up stories that ask, “What should we do?” (Is there a law that tells him, or does he make a decision?)
2. Tell a story about a home without any rules. What happens? Is the family happy? (The story could also be about a school without rules.)
Expect & demand “cheerful obedience.” Teach children that “cheerful obedience” means to say, “Yes, Mommy” or “Yes, Daddy” & to obey immediately whenever they are told to do or not to do something. This may seem arbitrary or militaristic, but children inherently love discipline–it gives them a feeling of security that is otherwise unavailable. Always say “please” to children so that they feel your respect & love. Make “please” a trigger word by teaching them that whenever they hear it, they should say, “Yes, Mommy” & obey. When they do not respond quickly, just say the words “cheerful obedience” to remind them to say, “Yes, Mommy.”
Children should know that they have the right to ask why, but that cheerful obedience (with the “Yes, Mommy”) is expected right after the “why” answer is given.
Design frequent opportunities to make decisions. Let the children choose the bedtime story, have two kinds or colours of juice to choose from, etc.
Tell stories about wise or foolish decisions you have made & what the consequences were. Reinforce & discuss the consequences of decision. “What will happen if you do that?” “Will that make your sister happy or sad?”
Teach the principle of apologising. Children should learn that through genuine apology they can avoid punishment. Teach children the beauty of saying they are sorry to each other. We have learned in our family that when one child teases or hurts another in some way, a simple form of apology can restore good feelings much faster than punishment. We remind the guilty child, “You’d better apologise.” The process for our children consists of three things: (1) A hug for the other child; (2) a request, “Will you forgive me?” & (3) “I’ll try not to ever do that again.” (Editor: This depends on the degree of hurt, of course. Punishment would be appropriate if it was serious & intentional.)

The Family Laws Chart

One of the most memorable evenings we have ever spent together as a family was the night we agreed to the “family laws.” We had prepared a framed piece of heavy poster board & put a nail in the wall to hang it on, & then we explained to Saren (four) & Shawni (three) that this was to be a list of our family laws.
“What are some laws for our family that, if we keep them, will make us happier?”
“Don’t hit other little girls.”
“Don’t plug in plugs.”
“Don’t ruin things that are not for ruining.”
“Say the magic words (please, thank you, excuse me).”
We had to help with some that they didn’t think of:
“Stay in bed when put there.”
“Sit down in the back seat when riding in the car.”
“Always sit while holding the baby.”
“Don’t go into the road unless holding Mommy’s or Daddy’s hand.”
“Mind without backtalk.” (Saren added a clarification: “But we can ask why!”)
We really didn’t realise, at the time, what a help the list would be. Rather quickly the children grasped the idea that they were obeying the laws that they had helped decide on, laws that would make our family happier.
Some time later, we decided as a family which punishments should go with which laws. On some laws, we decided that one warning should be given before a punishment would be required. We voted on each punishment & wrote it on the “family laws board.”

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