When my children were toddlers I read a parenting book that really influenced my thinking on discipline called Love and Logic. A basic premise that I still try to ascribe to is to have logical consequences for inappropriate behavior. For example, if a toddler continues to throw their cup on the floor after being reminded not to, give a verbal cue that a consequence is coming "Uh-oh" and remove the cup.
I really appreciated this simple if/then concept because it required me to start thinking about the reason I sought to change a behavior. Instead of always using time out or taking away a favorite toy (which served to punish but not necessarily teach) I tried to get more specific with consequences whenever possible. If I couldn't think of a legitimate negative consequence to a particular behavior it gave me pause. Was there a negative consequence to this or that or was I just grumpy/annoyed/micromanaging my kids?
As my children have grown, I've realized this is essential in helping them understanding the impact of their behavior. When something is broken physically or relationally as a result of misbehavior, the consequence is to restore. If a particular struggle continues to trip up a child, they write sentences about the issue, its consequences and alternative behaviors for 'next time.'
The trio's current behavioral challenge has stumped me a bit. There is a listening problem in my home. My kiddos, by virtue of being very close emotionally and at eye level with one another get totally in the zone with one another and frequently tune me out. I know this 'gang mentality' issue is not isolated to triplets, but I cannot help but think their 'bond' makes it worse. Especially, with all the time they have spent together this Summer, their inside jokes and shared excitement over common interests, I find myself really struggling to snap them out of their world and back into mine sometimes.
Although I am currently only a head taller than them, I find myself wishing I could shrink down a bit and enter their world as a nine year old from time to time for a little chat. One on one I have their attention, but in their crowd, my voice tends to get tuned out.
And yesterday, during a very frustrating outing it dawned on me that the Lord must feel the same way about us sometimes. We get so caught up in our 'stuff' we can't hear His voice.
"Hel-lo, children, I am up here. I know you are in the thick of your adventure, but I have resources and a heart that ADORES you. I can help."
The most frustrating aspect of this struggle is when they are trying to help each other (for which I am grateful) but are in over their heads and could really use the experience or muscle of someone stronger and wiser. Like when the bikes have fallen on top of each other in the shed and there's a tangled mass of gears and handlebars. They cannot physically fix that without intervention. Or when I heard them in the next aisle of a convenience store this week sounding out the word c*nd*m and trying to figure out what it was. (Thank you, store management for placing those at eye level at the checkout. UGH!!)
And like the kayaking moment last weekend, sometimes they are just frustrated and overwhelmed and need a voice of levity to reassure them that all is not lost-- It will be OK. How can I train them to hear MY voice in the midst of fear/chaos? More importantly, how do I help them learn to train their ears to always hear His?
As exhausting as it is to watch/experience, I realized yesterday that I can totally relate. How often I am tempted to google a behavior issue or make a bunch of phone calls to friends who are just as overwhelmed, limited, confused as I am before pausing to pray to my Father who is none of those things. (Phone calls to friends are fantastic, by the way...I just need more reminders to 'put the Throne before the Phone.') And, honestly, I think Summer is the worst for me: worn out and unplugged from my normal routine of Bible Study, I am a bit unchecked, unstructured and undisciplined just like my kids.
Of course, I can (and do) demand the attention of my children, especially when there is imminent danger, but that's a short term strategy. I would rather teach them to recognize when to call out for the input of One who loves them and has all the power and perspective to meet their needs. Right now that means a lot of calling out to the Lord to lead me in how to do so...I have a feeling we are going to be working on this lesson for a long time.