Sunday, April 22, 2007

Testing Limits

One of the axioms of parenting is to always be consistent. If you are going to make a rule, stick by it. If you give a warning for a behavior, state the consequences and then be sure to follow through if the behavior is performed again. Like most things about parenting, this is another one easier said than done. I do try, though. I would say at least 98% of the time I stick by my decisions. And yet, my children still test and test and test, on the off chance that maybe just this one time, mom might give in.

Children need discipline in their lives. They need to know that there are rules and consequences for breaking them. They need to know that their parents care enough to set limits for them and to help control them especially when they have lost the ability to control themselves. A common punishment in our house is some time spent in the time-out chair. On a good day, no one has to sit in the special chair that resides in the hallway. On a bad day, it is like musical chairs with David and Isaac taking turns throughout the day. On a really bad day, a second time-out chair needs to be established so that they can both be on time-out at the same time in different locations.

Another popular discipline technique we employ is one where the item being abused is taken away. For example, if the boys are fighting over a toy, the toy goes on time-out. If a toy is being used to clock one's brother over the head, the offending child not only goes on time-out but loses the right to play with that toy for the rest of the day.

Sometimes, though, even when the punishment is clear, it isn't easy to follow through on. Tonight six-year-old David was in his top bunk getting ready to go to sleep and he decided to throw his teddy bear out of bed. I went and got it and handed it back to him. He threw it out again. I picked it up again and told him if it happened again the bear was mine for the night. A few minutes later, he threw it out again. Now, I should have immediately taken the bear away, but I didn't. I knew that this was his favorite , can't sleep without it, teddy bear, and I was trying to avoid a prolonged bedtime battle. So, I gave him one last chance. Thunk. The bear was once again on the floor. This time, I had no choice. I had to take the bear. I tucked it into my bed and told David the bear was sleeping with me tonight and that I would take good care of it. Of course, he grumbled and complained and even cried a bit. He no doubt took longer to go to sleep than he otherwise would have, but I know I did the right thing.

I realize this is such a trifling matter. The infractions and punishments are only going to get more difficult with time. My children will continue to test the limits I set for them until the day they move out. That is their job. They are trying to become their own people, to see just where the limits are, what they can get away with, and whether mom and dad actually mean what they say. My job is to stand firm and help provide the structure that they need to grow up to be good people, while at the same time letting them know I will always love them.

Even as adults, we like to test our limits. We have God's commandments, but we like to see how far we can push them. We can pretty much rationalize any behavior. When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me that God could always see me and that He could punish me worse than she ever could. Some people discount the idea of a punishing God, but I think that God does let us hang ourselves with our own rope sometimes. We make bad decisions and then have to face the consequences. God disciplines us because He loves us and He wants us to realize the error of our ways. He wants us to understand that we are on the wrong path and help us to make the correct decisions to get back onto the right one.

Life is so much easier for my children on the days when they choose to follow my rules. Life is easier for us as well when we choose to follow God's rules.

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