One Simple Step to Changing Your Child’s Behavior

First things first: I am no expert oBenjamin grumpyn parenting. Most days I’m either sending up desperate prayers for wisdom or lying in the fetal position as my 3-year old sends himself flailing on the floor after a failed attempt at putting on his own shirt or, heaven forbid, being given the wrong cup at the dinner table. OK, the fetal position is a bit of a stretch, but you get the picture. Threes are tough! And I never really realized this until recently because my first has always been pretty logical and mostly non-reactive. All that to say, I’ve had to take a step back and do some evaluating to figure out how to help my little man through his dramatic season. Today I want to pass along some information that I recently read in The Connected Child (recommended in a friend’s blog a few times, so I finally downloaded a copy of my own). Although the book is written primarily to adoptive parents, it has plenty of great advice for everyone with kids. One particular insight made a lot of sense to me- changing behavior through repeated practice. In the book it’s referred to as “the beauty of the re-do”.

Here’s how it works in real life. Say your toddler, when asked to share a toy, instead throws it in anger because his turn is over (completely hypothetical, of course ;)). Every single time he throws he gets a meaningful consequence of some kind, so you’re puzzled. Why in the world would he continue to throw toys when he knows for a fact that the result will not be pleasant?

The authors of the book say that one of the reasons is that the child’s brain has cemented the wrong behavior (throwing) and not had adequate training to produce the right behavior. We see this in grown-ups all the time. We do what we’re in the habit of doing, not necessarily what we know is best for us. So the question becomes, how do we change the child’s habit?

Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it.” Here’s google’s definition for train: “to teach a particular skill through practice and instruction over a period of time.” The keyword is practice; it’s allowing the child to physically rehearse the right behavior. So often I was correcting my son’s behavior and giving a consequence, but I didn’t actually go back and allow him to re-enact the situation and make the right choice.

The key is having them practice what you preach.

Here’s a quote from The Connected Child about why this is so effective:

“By actively replacing misbehavior with correct behavior in your child’s memory banks, you can help the child encode competency. A re-do ‘erases’ the muscle memory of the failed behavior and gives the child the physical and emotional experience of substituting a successful one in its place. Re-do’s are a wonderful tool for reshaping behavior. They help a child feel successful and activate motor memory.”

In the example above, the child would be taken back to the place where the misbehavior happened and guided through gently handing the toy to his friend or sibling. Once practiced, the child would be praised to reinforce the right behavior and build confidence in his ability to stay calm and make a good choice. This method can work for anything from table manners (making the child repeat “May I please have…”) to chores (having the child re-do the chore when it’s not done properly) to treating others with respect (making the child re-phrase or change the tone of his/her words).

So there you have it: “the beauty of the re-do”, a common-sense principle that helps the right behavior stick. I hope it’s helpful for you (and me)!

Pain Precedes Purpose

Peru 2

If you could choose just one thing to change about your life, what would it be? What causes you the most discomfort or pain? What tempts you towards apathy or discouragement?

Last week while in Pulcallpa, Peru, my husband met a man named Victor. Victor contracted polio as a small child and was left paralyzed from the waist down as a result. As he got older, he became painfully aware of how much he burdened his family, both socially and physically. The cultural norm was to shame families of those with disabilities, so for years Victor was hidden away in his room as much as possible. On top of the embarrassment, his daily care was a burden to a family that was already struggling to meet their very basic needs.

When Victor’s hopelessness about his situation became more than he could bear, he decided to take his own life. He wrote his family a note, left it under his pillow, and wheeled himself to a bridge with rushing water below. He figured that this was the most selfless thing he could do. Just as he was about to drive his wheelchair off the bridge, an acquaintance from the town drove by on a brand new motorcycle. The man asked Victor if he wanted a ride. Thinking it may be a great last thrill, Victor agreed to go.

Once the ride was over, Victor worried that someone may find his note before he had actually followed through with his plan. He rushed home, hid the note, and decided to try another day. Thankfully that day never came because he and his mother turned to God in prayer. One night his mom, full of emotion, earnestly begged God to heal her son’s paralysis. After the prayer, Victor’s feet began to tingle. Through the night, the tingling increased and spread to his legs. By the next day, he told his mom he needed to stand. Not believing that was possible, she reminded him that he was paralyzed and couldn’t get out of his wheelchair. But he was insistent that he needed to walk, so she reluctantly helped him up. From that day until now, Victor has walked on his own.

So what is Victor doing now? He has founded and directs The Refuge of Hope in Pulcallpa, Peru where he and a team serve abandoned and disabled children that are walking through the same trials he experienced. God used the many years of despair that he endured to give Victor a heart for this ministry. Now hundreds of children, once rejected and without hope, have found love and healing at this center.

There are many takeaways here, but two things I want to emphasize: 1) God will not waste our pain. 2) Our situation is never beyond His mighty hand.

Sometimes in the middle of a trial, we just need to be reminded that there is purpose in our hardship. God used the years that Victor was paralyzed to give him a heart for children with disabilities; this passion eventually led him to open The Refuge of Hope that has changed hundreds of lives and brought countless children to Christ. Maybe your pain is marriage difficulties. Maybe it’s a wayward child, loneliness, infertility, financial crisis, or work issues. Whatever it is, God will redeem our stories and use it for His glory. As impossible as that may seem right now, He is more than able.

Which brings me to my second point. Our trials are never beyond the hand of God. It may feel funny, but I’d encourage you to say it out loud: My trial is not beyond the hand of God. Doesn’t it feel great to speak in faith? Now, let’s really freak out the co-worker in the cube next to us or our little people at home by saying things like this out loud all day! When we pray, we aren’t talking at the air. We are petitioning a God that heals the sick, calls out demons, opens wombs, raises the dead, parts seas, and calms storms. And not just thousands of years ago. No, he does these things today. If you find that hard to believe, I’d encourage you to buy one of these books to boost your faith in a BIG God: The Heavenly Man, Living Water, Revolution in World Missions, and Miraculous Movements (just to name a few!). These books are filled with present-day testimonies of God’s miraculous hand throughout the world.

Be encouraged! You may be in the oven, but God has his hand on the temperature dial and the door. When you’re perfectly prepared for your next assignment, He will turn off the heat and direct you into your destiny. He sees you. He hears you. His hand is on you, and it’s mighty to save!