Parenting/Big Siblinging Tips

[Sorry to anyone who got the email with only part of this post… I accidentally hit “publish” before I was done. 😛 Here’s the rest!]

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Now, I know I’m only 22 and I don’t have any children… Perhaps I really don’t have much to say on this.

On the other hand, though, I do have seven younger siblings, have read several parenting books, sat in on parenting talks, observed many different styles of parenting, have spent many a sleepless night and dealt with countless arguments and I have just generally thought about it a lot. [As I am writing this my baby sister is telling me,” ‘ch’is ” which is her word for “Watch this” and now she’s saying “get off!” so I’ll be back.] And I have a few little tips I thought I’d share… they are very simple, but they are things that I’ve been integrating into my interactions with my siblings with success…. so here they are.

{Note: some of the pictures go with the points, and some are just cute. Don’t hurt yourself trying to figure it out… :D}

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1. Use chores to build character in children–don’t use children to do chores. To be honest, we could do many chores better than they can. So why let them help? Sometimes we simply have to because there is too much to do–but often, I think it is very wise to let them “help” even when it isn’t much help. Why? Well, for one thing, you get to spend more time with them. For another, they will learn–not only the chore, but diligence and having a good attitude. Provided, of course, that your attitude is good. The character of children is way more important than a perfectly cleaned room.

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2. Relax. Seriously. I promise, they will live if the house isn’t up to USDA sanitation standards. Dirt is fine. What isn’t fine is a mother/father/big sister/brother who is really stressed out and is more focused on keeping a clean house than on loving the children. Perhaps the clean part isn’t an issue for you–but just whatever it is, from homeschooling to laundry, calm down. Think about it in the perspective of eternity. Sometimes, sitting around reading good books to children (who won’t be children long) is more important than folding laundry. True, we do have to do things around the home–see point one for that. 😀

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3. HAVE FUN!!! Slow down and enjoy the simple things like they do. When we take walks, it takes WAY longer with Esther. Not because she walks slow, but because she is so fascinated by everything. She bends down and pokes anthills (While telling us “ants. bite you.”). She picks up seed pods and calls them babies and hangs on to them the whole time. She stops and stares in amazement when she sees a leaf apparently floating in mid-air–we know it is hanging on a spider’s web, but she doesn’t. She picks flowers we overlook as weeds and sniffs at them hopefully. The temptation to hurry her is strong (and sometimes we have to.), but if we instead look through her eyes, the whole experience changes. The world really is a wonderful place. Do those random things the children ask you to do with them–like yesterday, when myself and my two littlest brothers and littlest sister went outside and made a tiny fire in a grill and roasted hotdogs and wrapped them up with kale from our garden (because we were playing “orphan” and didn’t have plates.).

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4. Pray. Pray all day long. You can’t get along without it, and neither can they.

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5. Praise them far more for character than for accomplishments. I heard this at a homeschool convention, and I thought it brilliant. Don’t just praise them for getting something done–praise them for the character qualities it took to do it. Be honest, of course. Don’t make stuff up. But if they did it cheerfully, praise them for serving with a joyful heart! If they scored high on a test, rejoice, yes, but praise them more for persevering and trying hard. Especially love. Always notice loving attitudes and actions.

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6. Think/pray before you discipline. I used to just go straight to spanking (once I was old enough that is.) [my 10 year old brother just came bursting in telling me about three really long black snakes!], but I’ve since realized that there are many other ways to deal with a problem, and some are more effective at different times and for different children. Sometimes I’ve simply corrected them with my words and then hugged them and spent time with them–the problem may be more one of needing more positive attention. Sometimes I’ve ordered them to go outside and breathe a little. Sometimes I’ve made them stay in their room. Sometimes I’ve had them go and pray, especially the older ones. Sometimes I’ve prayed with them. Sometimes I’ve taken them to the Bible. Most of the time I point out the rule they’ve broken, and ask them to make it right. Sometimes I’ve taken a privilege–for instance, if they hurt with words, they can’t talk for 5-10 minutes. There are many ways to do it.

P.S. Also: do actually discipline them. I see so many parents in stores and so forth that probably have a no-spanking rule–until the child get so out of hand that the parent gets so angry that they start slapping them and screaming. Awful, awful stuff. That, my friends, is child abuse. Not a calm, loving spank.

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7. Rejoice in opportunities to sacrifice. The Christian life is all about sacrifice–and those who care for children have plenty of chances for it. Be grateful, and seek to truly surrender your wants, your selfish desires. Don’t just give them up grudgingly because you have no other choice–be glad for the help in letting go of your flesh.

8. LISTEN. Oh, I can’t possibly emphasize this enough. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers–this is far more important than you realize. I know that listening to them rattle on and on about some book or computer game or recent adventure doesn’t seem important, but it IS. Do you love and value these children or not? If you do, you will value what they value enough to at least try to listen. And listening to those seemingly pointless things will provide the trust for them to share real, deep things with you. Really, it works. I’m still not fantastic at listening by any means, but I make effort–and I have had talks with younger siblings about everything ranging from the occult to pornography to crushes to evolution vs. Creation to God. Just about everything. They trusted me to listen–because I listened to the other “random” stuff. If you ignore everything else on this list, at least do this. If you don’t listen when they are 22 months old and when they are 3 and when they are 9 and when they are 11, don’t complain when they don’t talk to you at 15 or 21 or 33. For the sake of not only your children, but the whole nation–listen. Better listening equals better relationships which equals better families which equals a stronger nation. (There, now you know how to solve our nation’s problems: listen to childish prattle about bugs and baby dolls. *grin*)

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9. Focus far more on the inside than the outside. You can spank and threaten children into “being good” on the outside, but let me tell you: It. Won’t. Last. As soon as they can, they will get out from under that oppression and go be the opposite. You’ve got to pray with them and for them and set a good example and have good literature/movies/music and keep them around good people and let them admit when they are struggling. You’ve got to be real. I would rather have an outwardly rebellious child than an inwardly rebellious one. Much rather. If it’s outside, you can deal with it. You can work through the issues, because you know what they are. With an inwardly rebellious child, you’ll think all is fine and pat them on the head for being “good”–until one day you wake up and they’re gone. Perhaps not literally, but definitely inside. Trust me, I was that inwardly rebellious child. You don’t want it. It’s only by God’s grace, really, that I didn’t leave. Not that my parents are awful by any means–they’re awesome. It’s just this very common problem in Christian circles of making everything look right on the outside and stopping there. I learned very young that what people meant when they said, “well behaved” was relatively quiet and relatively still. That’s easy. What isn’t easy is having a quiet and still heart before God.

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10. Don’t Idolize your Children!!!! Sorry, I normally don’t believe in doing multiple exclamation marks (especially not four) but this one is so desperately important. Not only will it kill your relationship with God, but it will also kill your relationship with your children. Children are NOT to make you happy. Children are NOT to make you feel fulfilled. Children are NOT to make you look good. Children are NOT to be another you. Children are NOT puppets. Don’t let your worth become tied up with them. I see this so often–parents get embarrassed about their children’s behavior in public–not because they love them and want them to grow up right, but because, How dare you make me look like a bad parent/person?!! Don’t try to make them in your own image. Don’t try to get your fulfillment out of them. Go to God for that. Idolizing puts WAY too much pressure on them, and to be blunt–they will fail miserably at being God. Just sayin’. Simply love them. Desire their best–the kind of best that God desires for you. Don’t know what that is? Go read the Bible! 😀

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11. Recognize the difference between Childish Incompetence and Deliberate Disobedience. There is a super major difference between a child making a bed sloppily and a child refusing utterly to try to make a bed. And if you don’t recognize it and act accordingly–loving instruction on the first, and loving discipline on the second–you will hurt your relationship and make them not want to try at all, since they never can please even when they try hard. When they try hard to clean the bathroom to please you, don’t–oh, please don’t–immediately point out the streaks on the mirror and the splashes of water on the floor. Be thrilled and pleased and love them for it. And, later, maybe give them some pointers. But not now. For now, enjoy them in their eager attempts to help. Soon, sooner than you’d like, they’ll be able to clean a mirror perfectly. But right now–right now, enjoy your little one and your streaky mirror.

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(Yes he really is playing two Age of Empires games at the same time.)

12. Let them find new ways to do things. Your way is not the only way. If they get the job done, even if it was not how you would have done it, thank them! Praise their ingenuity. If it was wasteful or something like that, you may kindly suggest ways to improve on it–but mainly just focus on the end result.

13. Hold Them. My mom is great at this–she always gets so upset when people talk about spoiling babies by holding them. She thinks it’s ridiculous. And I agree. That’s not spoiling them! Spoiling them is when you give them everything they want regardless of whether or not they should have it. They should have holding. It provides comfort and security and it’s very God-like. It’s not a waste of your time. They’ll only be babies once, and for such a short, short time. Enjoy those moments. I remember when Esther was a baby baby (we still call her a baby… but really she’s not anymore. So baby baby means really a baby.) and I would be putting her to sleep… she’d be on me, and I’d think, I need to go do something else… and then I’d think, yeah, but this is Something. I won’t get to do this much longer. And you know what? I’m so, so glad I did. Because she’s too big now, already.

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(In case you can’t tell, that’s an ice cube Esther is holding on her bread. :D)

14. Tell them Why or Why not. Now, you veteran parents and older siblings know when it’s a genuine “why?” inquiry and when it’s a buying time why inquiry. I mean the first kind. For children like me and my brother Matthew, it’s ever so much easier to willingly obey if you understand why it is important to do thus and so. Some children don’t care–others really care. Plus, when you tell them why, you’re helping them to think things through and to do things because it’s right.

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15. Stay Calm. The calm person is the person in control. Always remember that. If you lose your calm, you lose control–of not only yourself, but of the whole situation. Speak gently. If you are really angry, LEAVE. Wait until you can be a sane person again. Deal with the anger (pray, journal, punch a punching bag, walk really fast, chop up veggies with a vengeance–whatever it takes.), don’t just stuff it. Eventually it’ll blow– way worse.

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16. Don’t start battles you don’t have time/energy for. Heard this one at a woman’s conference thingy from a really wise Mennonite lady. Super smart. Basically, if they are doing something naughty (that won’t kill them), and you are way too busy to deal with the problem properly, don’t even say, “stop doing that.” Sure, we don’t want them to get away with stuff, but it’s better in some cases than being inconsistent and teaching them that you don’t always mean what you say. Pick your battles wisely. Somethings just aren’t worth it.

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17. Rarely threaten. And if you do, only say something you WILL DO. Don’t threaten them with knocking their teeth out or grounding them till they are 30–keep it realistic and, um… well, humane? o.0

18. Let them be their own person. Don’t worry, I don’t mean to let them separate themselves completely from you or to do all kinds of odd piercings or something–just simply recognize that they won’t believe identically to you–in some ways their standards might even be higher. I know it is like that in our family some. There will be a lot of similarities, to be sure. But trying to force them all to be exactly the same, and not letting them have any individual preferences and such will likely cause even more striking differences–the whole perverseness of human nature problem. 😛 When they become adults, let them be adults. It’s okay if they make bad decisions sometimes. Counsel them, definitely–but remember that now they are directly responsible to God for their choices.

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19. Let them struggle. I know it sounds a little heartless–but then again, if the Mother Hen tried to help her chicks instead of letting them struggle, they would die. I know it’s hard to just let a little one struggle–but they will be the stronger for it. Encourage them to keep trying, be there to keep them from hurting themselves TOO badly, but let them try. Let them get a little hurt. If they are genuinely stuck, of course, help them. But they’ve got to struggle some.

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(how’s that for real?)

20. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t try to be like other parents/older siblings. Don’t pretend to be perfect. Just realize that you will have strengths and you will have weaknesses. Operate in your strengths–for instance, if you are wonderful at writing but not so great at music, don’t try to learn every instrument and teach them yourself. Just teach them writing and let someone else teach them music. It’s okay. You don’t have to be everything and know everything and do everything. Be yourself–God put you in that family for a reason. Not because He needed someone else there, but because He needed–well, you. (And also because He knew that you needed the character development that that family provides.) Trust Him to fill in your weak areas, and remember that is why there is such a thing as the church body. And please, let other parents/older siblings see that you struggle too. It’s horribly discouraging if we all pretend to be perfect–how can we ever get help? How can we ever give help? How can we ever get beyond surface friendships? We can’t. We’ve got to be real.

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