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Blanket Time

In the space of six years I gave birth to five children.  My only hope for survival was to train those kids properly.  God, in His mercy, met me in my exhausted desperation and opened my eyes to the fact that getting a firm start was all part of His plan.  I didn’t wait till my kids were old enough to reason with, but conditioned them to respond appropriately even before they had a clue why it was the appropriate response.

The result was five energetic, but well-behaved, children who could sit respectfully through a church service or quietly through a restaurant meal.  They were happy, balanced and filled with the desire to please.

The reality is, we had our moments…and plenty of them.  But our “training” was done at home so that by the time we entered the public arena they knew what was expected of them.  The key element is consistency.  Do not expect behavior from your kids in public that you do not require of them in the home.  It will not happen, except by mistake.

Two years ago, we welcomed twin boys after 6 years without a new baby.  I suffered what I am now fondly calling parenting amnesia.  Somehow my parenting style turned more into “grandparenting” (this is not a reference to age…I am still firmly–and happily–in my 30s!) and my little boys took the helm before I even realized it.  They were training me.  That is NEVER a good idea.

It finally hit me that I had allowed myself to be conditioned to put up with poor behavior and outbursts of temper until I reached my limit…and then my tone of voice and body language would change indicating to my mini-terrorists that it was time to temporarily heed Mama in order to avoid combat.  I’m sure I don’t need to spell out for you how ineffective this was or how frustrating it became!

Thankfully, the Lord prompted my husband and I to seriously reconsider our approach.  And what we realized was that we needed to establish authority with a calm, level voice and an attitude devoid of anger.  Easier said than done, right?  Surprisingly, not really!  Dealing with little infractions as they arise trains a child to understand that stepping out of line isn’t acceptable, so they do it less and less.  And with fewer “fights” Mama isn’t so weary as she begins to see progress.

I wanted to touch on a few elements that may be helpful as you navigate the baby/toddler years…

  • Expect your child to obey.  Children tend to live up to our expectations of them.  If we send the silent message that we don’t believe them to be capable of obedience in a certain area, they will take that memo and run.  Why listen if Mom doesn’t even think you can?  Set boundaries and enforce them, fully expecting compliance.
  • Don’t let your little one fool you.  A baby of 6 months can and will exert a willful nature.  This isn’t cause for alarm but it’s important to accept it for what it is.  A little back that arches in protest and a fit of tears is testing out its powers.  At this point, you need to establish yours instead.  By simply holding the baby in place, you signal to the little one that they aren’t calling the shots.  It’s perfectly reasonable to set the baby down to wiggle or squirm on the floor if that is what it seems they are wanting…but only after they have calmed.  There is no punishment or discipline…the child is simply being conditioned to accept your will over their own before they even have the mental capacity to connect the dots.
  • Blanket Training.  This is one of my very favorite tools.  Grab a blanket and place it on the floor close to where you want to work.  (The first few times, however, do not expect to actually get any work done!)  Set your child on it with a few toys that you reserve just for this time.  Firmly tap each corner of the blanket and tell the child NO in the calm, even voice you are training yourself to speak with.  Depending on the age of the little one, they may or may not see your instruction as a challenge.  A littler one will wander off without intent while an older one may well attempt to purposely toe the line.  Be firm but gentle.  No matter the age, enforce the boundaries.  I just continually returned my children to the center of the blanket and reminded them of the toys there and then once again tapped the corners of the blanket while saying NO.  We started with my twins at less than a year and it was a good bit of work at first…but less so each time.  It is critical to end on obedience, not by waving the white flag after a few failed attempts.  Even if you have to set your child in the middle of the blanket and catch them obeying for just a second or two, end on a positive.  By between 12 and 18 months they could sit there for 15 or so minutes without incident and now (at 2) they are able to remain quiet for a much longer period.  I don’t abuse it, though.  Little people have a lot of wiggles and a true need to move.  I don’t want to untrain them from being healthfully active. {Note:  The photo at the top of this post is blanket training in action.  The blanket pictured, however, is smaller than what we typically use. *That one is a wall hanging that was lovingly made by a wonderful friend…and we need to get it back on the wall since our little guys love it and would drag it everywhere if we let them!*  We usually use one at least twice that size to give them a little room to move.}
  • Lap Training.  Some children love to cuddle while others just want to be free.  Either way, it’s important for little people to learn to sit on your lap when asked to.  And the church sanctuary isn’t the place to train them.  This is an area where I suffered that parenting amnesia I spoke of and we are just getting down to the business of truly training them.  Take your child and place him/her in your lap.  Rest your arms firmly but loosely around their little body.  Expect resistance and be prepared to stand firm.  The back may arch, the head may bang against your chest and the vocal chords may be exercised.  Do not give in.  Tighten your grip on them only enough to keep them in place without allowing them to wiggle out of the sitting position.  Stay calm and relaxed realizing they aren’t battling you, they are simply dealing with their own self-serving desires as we all do…they just haven’t the concern for public opinion that keeps older children and adults in reasonable check.  Be consistent with your training sessions and you will very quickly find your child sitting through family worship and then church.  And you will seldom have to do anything but offer a reminder once you have established your expectations.

I’m at about double the word count for an average post so I’m going to stop there and finish up tomorrow {Read that post here}.  There are a few more areas I wanted to touch briefly on.

If there are any specific questions you have, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will attempt to address them in that post.  And, as always, your insight, inspiration and tips are always welcome!

Read part two here.