I have a confession to make about #30DaysChivalry: I didn’t have a plan when I started.
Yes, the cute graphics were all done. That was the easy part. The hard part was coming up with fresh content every day for thirty days about the theme of chivalry. Sometimes it was easy, like what was your most romantic moment. Sometimes it was serendipitous, like when I discovered Courtney Devon was a relationship coach and I stumbled across a Ted Talk. But generally speaking, I met my goals: I promoted the idea of good, respectful behavior between men and women.
Over the last few days, though, I discovered that my content was geared less for adults and more for children. I spent the last three days talking about my solutions when it came to teaching my girls about wisdom in these areas. I think, though, I need to step back again. I need to address someone even younger than teens. I need to talk about toddlers and preschoolers.
I believe that all the chivalry talk in the world will not help a young man or young woman who was not familiar with discipline and self-control as a child. As I have not-so-perfectly raised my own children, I am fully aware that the habits and character developed under the age of five will be set in stone by the time my child is a teen. This post is about that: just one of the things I did to instill inner character in my little ones.
Perhaps I am just tired. I did have my fifth baby at 38. Perhaps I’ve gotten lazy, thinking that my vast mothering experience will make everything easier. Or perhaps my suspicions are correct, that my youngest child, my beautiful blonde, blue-eyed daughter was the biggest challenge I ever faced as a parent.
I’ve kidded that if you took all the willfulness of the previous four children, put it in a pot and cooked it down until it was concentrated, you still would not get the willfulness of my fifth. Perhaps it’s best that she was last. If she were first, she may have been the only. We’ve also kidded that if she decides to get married at sixteen, we’re going to let her. Now can I find a boy, ages 8-12, who is college educated and has a stable job to marry her? (This is a joke. Really.)
All the other children napped until they were four. She stopped at eighteen months. All the others read early, she didn’t want to try until she was six. When I turned on my mean mom voice and said, “Come to me this instant!” all the other children obeyed. She was the one that took off running. All the others were convinced that getting an M&M for tinkling on the potty was a great bargain. She sighed, rolled her eyes and said, “Do I have to? I did this yesterday.”
The terrible twos are to expected with every child. This is when a toddler realizes that they are an independent entity from their parents and that the world is a great place to explore. With my daughter, however, things didn’t calm down when she turned three. Nor did they improve at four. Her vocabulary just got bigger and her demands got louder and I was, far more frequently than with the other children, at my wit’s end with her behavior.
I know how to do this, I would think. Why does she give me so much trouble?
One summer morning, during our habit of reading a book, the battle between my daughter and I started again and I very nearly gave up. If God had not intervened and given me practical ideas on how to manage her, I don’t know what would have happened.
We had a stack of books to read on the porch. She sat next to me on the steps and sat through the first one pretty well — just a few interruptions and no more wiggling than I would expect in a four-year-old. I let her choose the next book. She chose The Very Noisy Cricket. The novelty of this book is that in the back flap there is an actual cricket sound that ties in with the story. I opened the first page to read and she put her hands on the book.
“No!” She demanded. “Go to the back!”
“No!” I said calmly. “We’re going to read the book together, then when we get to the end, then, we’ll hear the cricket.”
“No! I don’t want to do it that way!”
“Yes. This is the way we’re going to do it. If you want to read with me, you will listen to the story first.”
“NO!” She yanked the book out of my hands and flipped it to the end of the book.
“What are you doing? You will not act this way!” I took the book from her. Her requests were not unreasonable, but her manner and her disrespectful tone with me were so out of line, I could not, under any circumstances, allow her to get her way.
“I WANT THE BOOK!” Now, she was red in the face and screaming. She stood up and jumped up and down.
“No! You are done. You will not get the book. You are going into the house, right now!” I grabbed one of her hands to lead her into the house, she fought me the whole way. “I want the book! I want the book!” She was so angry that she was beyond comprehension. She screamed, stomped, clenched her fists and fought me. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t even nine o’clock in the morning and we were already having a battle like this. I thought to myself, this could be the first of many.
I led her to her bed and said, “You are to lay down. You will not get up until I say so. No more books. No television. No toys. Nothing. Not until I say so.” Her behavior was so horrible, that she deserved to have our version of a spanking. But I was so upset, I knew that I would not administer it in the correct manner. For now, the time out would have to do.
But she did not submit. While she was horizontal, she was not still. Her fists were still clenched and she still screamed. She kicked at the wall, pounded her legs on the bed and roared in anger. All of this because I wouldn’t let her listen to the cricket.
I could have let her have her way. But while that would certainly make our reading time better in the short term, it would only encourage her tantrums in the long term. I did not want a little girl who screamed to get her way. I wanted a little girl who could control her emotions, who could comply with rules, who was nice to spend time with. How do I get that little girl?
This episode made me doubt everything. How could I not control her? I had been a public school teacher. My first year I had 27 fourth graders. I did a better job with those children than I’m doing with my own daughter? Why can’t I figure out a solution?
And then I prayed. God, I need help. Give me an idea. I need something that works. Fast.
I believe that God hears us and wants to give us practical solutions to our problems. Within minutes, I realized, or rather, God showed me, that the tools I used as a teacher would work with my daughter.
I was taught, as a teacher, to make rules clear to children. I was taught that they should take ownership of their behavior on a daily basis, that they should have things explained in their language, have visual reminders of the rules and to know precisely what the consequences are. Is it possible that I could implement this theory in my home?
After I calmed down, I came up with a plan.
In my daughter’s world, the greatest pictures of all were of princesses. On a piece of card stock, I had her draw four. One pink, one purple, one red and one yellow — two on each side. At the end of the cardstock are loops of ribbon, so that this card can be hung from a bulletin board, where she can reach it. One of the princesses will be seen at all times.
I talked to her about her behavior. I told her that how she spoke to me and how she acted was unacceptable. I told her that she should ask me to forgive her. She did.
Then I asked her how princesses should act. In her world, they were pretty. I said that pretty hair and eyes and pretty dresses are just part of a princess, what comes out of their mouth is also part of it. She understood this. I said, when you yell and scream and want something when I say no, you are ugly. You can’t be a princess like that.
“You can’t?” She was confused.
“They will not let you be a princess if you are ugly on the inside.” This sobered her. “I am going to help you be a princess with this card. Every morning you will be a pink princess. But, if you are naughty once, let’s say you say no to Mommy, then you become the purple princess.” Purple was always second to pink in her little mind. “If you do another naughty thing, then you become the yellow princess. If you are yellow, I’m taking away Baby Cinderella for the day.”
She gasped. She could not imagine life without her favorite dolly.
“If you do another naughty thing. If you go all the way to red, then,” I paused for effect. “Do you know what happens to you?”
“You and Daddy will have a long talk in the bathroom. And you will not like it.” I was alluding to a spanking. She fully understood what I meant.
“But the good news is this: if you stay on pink all day long, you can watch a princess movie!” This was a real treat for her. She smiled and clapped her hands.
I didn’t stop there. I made her repeat to me what the steps were for each princess, for each level of offense. This would not have worked if she were not developmentally ready. Then we talked about what kind of behaviors should be punished. I was surprised at how many she came up with. Then, I allowed her to do the drawing and decorating of the card. This allowed her to take ownership of it and feel like it wasn’t a mandate from the mean Mommy. I also told her that her behavior of the morning put her on purple for the day. But tomorrow was a new day, she would start every morning on pink.
We hung it on a place where she could reach and flip it herself. When her brothers and sisters asked about it, she explained what it with pride. I was amazed. And I prayed that this would work.
Over the next few days we consistently used the card. Any offense, saying no to me, using her hands in anger, disobeying, was punished by a flip to the next color princess. I could tell her to “flip to yellow” calmly without raising my voice. And she, surprisingly, felt more remorse. She was trying to stay on pink and when she did, and Daddy saw at the end of the day, everyone celebrated with her.
In the next few weeks, her behavior changed dramatically. We could get through a day without a tantrum. Then it was a week. Then it was a month. She started staying on pink so frequently, that there wasn’t even a need to use the card. And I encouraged her often and I told her, “You are becoming such a beautiful princess. You are fun to be around. You are pretty on the outside and the inside.”
I even made a modified card for her brother with NFL teams on it. If he was well behaved, he was a Miami Dolphin. If he had three offenses, he was a Dallas Cowboy.
My daughter is now seven. She is an entirely differently child than when she was four, even though the princess obsession hasn’t waned at all. She is still spirited, opinionated, boisterous and a bit loud. She is incredibly artistic, she can read! and she will probably run a Fortune 500 Company someday unless I foresee a Bridezilla in 2033 first. But for the moment, thanks to God, and his practical solutions, I enjoy being with her.
How to Make Your Own Card:
1. Consider if your child is developmentally able to handle this. My daughter was four. Not every four-year-old can get it. If your child can communicate to you what good and bad behavior is, then it’s likely this will work for him.
2. Make the illustration personal. (My then six year old son would never have changed his behavior for princesses.) By adding their least favorite colors and their least favorite teams for the worst level, they could sense the severity of the offenses. By letting them choose the pictures, and coloring them makes them proud of themselves.
3. Be clear what is acceptable and what is not. Your instructions to your child should always be specific. “Lower your voice and speak respectfully” is more effective than “Get your act together.”
4. Communicate to them that you’re working together as a team to help them become wise. They are not “bad”. When they do make mistakes, stay as calm as possible and remind them of the consequences.
5. Choose your rewards and consequences with care. Make them specific. You’ll know you have a good consequence for bad behavior when they looked shocked. My son was not allowed to sleep with his stuffed penguins if he got to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was torture for him.
6. Be consistent. This will not work if you do it on Monday and Tuesday, yet forget about it the rest of the week.
7. You can also use this when you are out. If you child acts up, just say, “When you get home, you’re flipping the card. And I will not forget about it.”
This has worked miracles in our family. It may work for yours too.
If you want to try this and have questions, leave a comment. Or if you try it, and it works, tell us about it!