“Don’t tell Dad! Please, please don’t tell dad!”
That is what I heard last week after my 8-year-old son said his first curse word (at least the first that I heard), and he felt a deserved consequence was coming.
He sprinted downstairs and pleaded “You heard me! I’m so sorry! You are not going to tell dad what I said, are you?”
Hmm… so I have a choice to make. The problem is I am no parenting expert, and my instinct was to do a prompt discipline… the “Why would you say that!” type of discipline that would come out in a loud voice with furrowed eyebrows. Instead, I felt a whisper reminding me of the bigger picture.
Earlier this year I read a book by parenting expert Tim Elmore and he explained that in the U.S. today there is a huge misunderstanding of how to develop close relationships with our children. He said we “hover” over our kids when they are young, and then give them their “space” when they are teenagers. He argues, based on research, that the opposite approach is far better. In other words, in the teenage years, when the consequences of poor choices are life-changing, your child needs you then the most. And likewise, when they are young and the consequences are far smaller, don’t hover; instead, use this time to calmly teach and mentor so that they develop the trust needed to come to you later when the stakes are the highest.
Thank goodness for the parenting experts….. “Calmly teach lessons now so I get the trust later.”
So here was my chance. How do I teach a lesson now that will cultivate trust later? In the future, I will need him to react in a way where his first instinct is “I want to tell my dad,” not “don’t tell dad.” I want my kids to know that my husband and I are a safe place; the spot where no matter what has gone wrong, they know we will work them through it, even if a huge consequence awaits.
So I replied to my little guy (in my calmest but serious demeanor possible), “Buddy, I am not going to tell Daddy what you said, but you need to. You’ve got 24 hours. If I have to tell him, there will be a consequence. But if you tell him… you and I both know he will help you through it.”
He hung his head, and I could tell he was preparing for the inevitable conversation to come. I scurried away, called my husband, and we both understood the plan. (I love teaming up on my kids!)
Later that night, my husband did three things to “get the trust in the future.” He thanked him for “manning up,” he assured him that even though he messed up, he was still loved like crazy by Jesus and us, and he told him “always come to me, and I will help you through it, no matter how bad it is. I am always going to do everything possible to help you become the best of what Jesus wants for your life. And to help you remember this forever, I am going to spank you over and over again!” (Just kidding on that last part. 🙂
You can tell it left a dent on my little man, stacking the cards in the favor for trust now and later.
Every once in a while as parents we get the chance to do it right don’t we? Often we blow it. I blow it. It’s so easy to raise my voice… I do it way too much. So let’s pray about that. Our years of disciplining and training our sweet kiddos are short.
Let’s pray that God would give us the energy and patience to see our kids’ issues as opportunities to calmly teach now, so they will run to us and, more importantly, Jesus, when they need us the most.