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I don’t have too many favorite TV commercials. Mostly, they’re an unwelcome interruption. But occasionally one comes along and gets my attention. That’s what Allstate’s Mayhem commercials did. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? Since 2010, actor Dean Winters has been making me laugh with scenarios from trees falling on cars, to cats turning on water in the upstairs bathroom, to the discount game parking guy. The writers of these commercials should get some kind of award. I have a feeling Allstate isn’t getting these things on a pro bono basis, though, so…

If you get a chuckle out of these, I’m pretty sure it’s because you’ve either had something similar to the scenarios happen to you, or you can imagine them happening. And when you get to personify the mayhem, it’s even better.

Everybody has to deal with mayhem. It’s just a part of life. I blame Adam and Eve. Ever since the Fall and the Curse, no matter who you are, mayhem’s been in the script for us.

Marriages and families are way not exempt from mayhem. In fact, some of the most frustrating, even devastating mayhem happens there.

As in the rest of life, some of (maybe most of) the mayhem in marriage and family life is the result of choices we make. Not all, but most. There are things that happen – mayhem we have to manage to get through – that comes to us because of decisions other people make and things beyond our control. We really are innocent victims of mayhem sometimes. A car pulls out in front of you. You get to your destination just fine, but your luggage doesn’t. The dog eats your homework.

But most mayhem comes our way because of something we did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say. I don’t know how you could ever reliably establish a percentage for it, but I’d have to guess it’s way north of 50%. Maybe even in the 80% neighborhood.

I don’t think it’s possible to make mayhem never happen. There are too many other mitigating factors. But it’s got to be possible to minimize it, doesn’t it? There’s got to be a way to set ourselves up for less mayhem, or at least get hurt less by it when it happens.

Here’s the simple answer: Don’t make dumb choices. That’s pretty indelicate, but it’s the best way to minimize mayhem and its effects in our marriages and families.

OK, so how do you do that?

Start here: learn how to respond instead of reacting. This is a lot harder to do than to say. Most of us have lived a good bit of our lives in the reaction mode, and turning the dial to responding instead is a difficult task.

Reactions come from what neuroscientists call the “primitive brain.” This is the part of the brain where instinct and emotions (among other things) reside. It’s a very powerful part of your brain. There are pathways connecting this part of your brain with the executive centers of your brain, in the prefrontal cortex, where reason resides, but they’re often underutilized and weak. Lots of people use the pathways between their primitive brain and the executive center so seldom it’s almost like the pathways don’t exist. These people are usually slaves to their emotions. They usually react to stimuli instantly, and then, on reflection, wish they’d done something different. Except by then it’s too late.

Now, reactions aren’t all bad. God gave us this capability to react as a gift. It’s part of the marvelous survival system He put in us by design. If you can’t react quickly to a threat, you just might get taken out by it. So reactions aren’t all bad. But not all reactions are good.

What separates reactions from responses? Just one thing, really. Thought. Conscious thought. Reactions require no thought at all. In fact, thinking just gets in the way of reacting. If you’re a cornerback in the NFL, you need to have grooved your reactions in so well that you don’t have to consciously think through what your best counter move to a wide receiver’s juke is. You just react to it. That’s what 10,000 hours of productive practice does. It’s the same with virtuoso musicians. They don’t consciously process through where to put their finger next. They’ve practiced putting the finger where it goes so often and so well that it’s now in the category of reaction, not response.

But none of them started there. These well-trained, grooved-in reactions are the product of training their brain to respond, over and over again until the time between stimulus and response is so short, it’s really equal to a reaction.

That’s the challenge with mayhem. When it happens, your first instinct, your reaction, may not be the best response. In fact, it may only compound the problem. Learning how to widen the gap between stimulus and response is the key. Training yourself to give yourself a second or two instead of a millisecond or two between what happens and what you do about it is a process you get better at over time. That’s the nature of training. It’s not an event, it’s a process.

Did your mom or grandma ever tell you to count to 10 before you got angry? If she did, and if you tried it, you probably discovered that giving yourself that 10 second gap kept you out of a lot of trouble.

In marriages and families, to move from reaction to response when mayhem strikes, there needs to be a lot of counting to 10. Shoot, I’d be happy if I could pull off counting to 3 sometimes! The point is, when you give your prefrontal cortex time to catch up to your primitive brain so it can filter your response through a grid of thinking, you move from simple reaction to more productive response.

You can’t make mayhem go away. There’s no witness protection program to keep it from finding you. But you can learn how to widen the gap and give yourself a chance to respond. Do it experimentally. Give yourself grace. And partner with God on this. He wants you to learn how to respond more than you want to learn it. Call out to Him and count on Him for His help. It’s the best way to protect yourself against Mayhem.

The One Thing That Will Make Your Marriage Sizzle

With a title like that, I’d better come across with something hot. Right?

So am I going to talk about sex?

Better than sex, actually.

Better than sex? Nuts, I forgot you’re an old guy. That’s the kind of thing an old guy would say. Or a preacher. Or an old guy preacher.

Great sex will make your marriage sizzle. I’ve got to be honest. But for sex to be great, and for your marriage to sizzle for the long haul (which is what you want), there’s got to be One Thing that’s working in your relationship, beyond great sex. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s the most powerful dynamic in marriages that actually sizzle.

It’s F O R G I V E N E S S.

Yer welcome.

Nothing derails any relationship more quickly and more dramatically than unforgiveness (which isn’t a word, but should be). Without forgiveness, here’s what the process looks like in human relationships:

It’s a steep and slippery slope from being hurt to hurting someone else because they hurt you. And for lots of people, it takes no time at all to get from Offense/Injury all the way down to Aggression.

There’s only one thing that will interrupt this negative and destructive cycle: forgiveness.

Here’s maybe the two most important things I can tell you about forgiveness. First of all, it’s not an event, it’s a process. The process begins when you choose to forgive. It’s a simple process, but it’s not easy: you choose to forgive the person who hurt you every time the injury comes to mind.

If it’s a shallow wound, it won’t take too many laps in this process to have forgiven the person. But the deeper the wound, though, the longer the process of forgiving usually is. My experience is that when people seem to have sloughed off a deep wound from a very intense emotional injury, they probably haven’t done as much forgiving as they think they have. They’ve probably only stuffed the offense and their feelings about it down in their emotional gunny sack where it won’t get in the way, but they’ve probably not done the business of forgiving. At some point, the gunny sack’s going to give way, and these stuffed feelings are going to come out. It’s never pretty when it happens. It’s never convenient, either.

So that’s the first thing. It’s a process. Choose to forgive, and choose it again over and over. Sometimes for a very long time.

The second thing is that forgiving someone doesn’t equal fully trusting the person you’ve forgiven. I can’t remember where I first heard it, but the saying is true: forgiveness is free, but trust is earned. God said through the Apostle Paul, Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV) But he didn’t say, “And fully trust them, because if you don’t trust them, you haven’t forgiven them.” When you forgive a person who has injured you, you aren’t compelled to trust them until they have proven that they can be trusted.

A couple of seconds thought should connect this forgiveness thing with a marriage that sizzles. You can have a sexual encounter with someone you haven’t forgiven. It might even provide you with momentary exhilaration. And that momentary exhilaration might feel like sizzle. But until you choose to forgive your spouse (because sex with your spouse is the exclusive and only context for sex), all you’ll have is momentary exhilaration that will wear off more quickly than you’d like, not the deep connection and almost irresistible sense of attraction that forgiveness can give you. And that’s what you’re after if you want a sustainable, long-term, life-long sizzle. Right?

What Your Kid Needs Most

The question is: What does your kid need most? There are a ton of answers to this. Especially in a culture where there are no standards, where there are no absolutes. And in a world of instant electronic accessibility, there are a ton of experts who voice their opinion on this question.

I’m as into leveraging tech as much as my brain allows (which, I admit, isn’t too deep a dive) for voicing my opinions. I do Facebook like a Jr. Hi kid. I send and receive more email than surface mail. Snail mail, for those of us who are techno-hip. Shoot, I’m typing this directly into my blogging software, with no word processor help. So I’m way not against the many cyber-options we have for expressing our opinions and learning about other opinions.

I have concerns, though, over the fact that it seems that so little common sense is in operation with so many of the opinions I read. It’s always been this way, I guess, but it seems more so now than ever in my memory – common sense isn’t so common.

What I want to propose as the answer to my question comes from a place of common sense, along with some substantial behavioral science. What kids need most is (a drum roll, please) SECURITY.

Don’t mistake security for protection. Yes, our kids need protection. Some kids need more of it than others. But protection – removing risk – isn’t what I’m talking about when I site security as their greatest need. The kind of security I’m talking about permits kids to take appropriate risks to become who God intends them to be.

I’m not a fan of helicopter parents who hover over their kids to make sure everything in their world is suitable. Generally, these parents favor giving participation trophies and not keeping score, ever, for fear of damaging the fragile psyches of their dear children. They raise snowflakes. Sorry. I calls ’em like I sees ’em.

When their helicopter parents are no longer there to cushion every fall and turn down their bed every night (the bed the helicopter parent made that morning), these kids struggle to figure out how to make life work. Which is often no biggie, because major college administrations are making all sorts of rules and policies that will continue the protective and sheltering philosophy these kids were raised under.

If this feels like a rant, well, I guess it was. Sorry. Not sorry.

What I mean by security often looks very far from protectiveness. It is, in fact, often NOT protective.

There are certainly things children should be protected from. There are plenty of unsafe environments kids need to be protected from and removed from. Violence in their home isn’t acceptable. Physical deprivation is never acceptable. Kids should be protected from this. You can make your own catalog of these sorts of things. It’s irresponsible to expose kids to unnecessary and harmful risks. That’s not what I’m talking about, though. I’m talking about the normal difficulties of life. The normal difficulties of life don’t fit in the bucket of things from which children should be protected.

It astounds me that there are parents who don’t give a thought to the fact that their young kids are watching R rated movies on the cable on-demand channel, and laugh when their kids quote lines from them, but who bristle to outburst when those same kids have to deal with a kid in their class calling them a name, or a teacher who doesn’t give them credit for work they didn’t turn in. You get the point.

I believe there are two primary things that give kids security. First of all, there’s consistency. I’ve written about the need to make the rules clear, and then for them to be enforced and observed consistently. (If you want to read it, click on this link:

When the rules are enforced inconsistently – when one day a behavior is winked at or laughed off, but on another day, the hammer comes down hard for that same behavior – kids will be insecure. When the boundaries are unclear, there will be insecurity. And that’s not all. When the rules clearly don’t consistently apply to everybody, insecurity will often become resentment, which will eventually become bitterness and rebellion.

When there are rules that apply only to them, you, as the parent, are tasked with the job of explaining as best you can that there are rules that don’t apply to everybody. Some rules that are right for 3 year olds will probably not be right for a 6th grader. There really are some rules that apply to kids, but not to parents. If you want to give yourself the best chance of success in this rule thing, you want as few of those kind of rules as you can.

Rules and rule keeping aren’t the only place consistency is essential. You showing up emotionally and consistently being present with your kids and the rest of your family is perhaps equally as important.

You consistently showing appropriate physical affection for spouse, if married, is essential. If you’re divorced, you consistently NOT disrespecting your ex is essential.

Consistency is huge. Lots of bad stuff grows out of inconsistency from parents.

The second thing that gives kids security is knowing they’re safe if they fail. One of the biggest reasons kids feel unsafe to fail is that they believe they won’t be loved and accepted if they don’t succeed. Or that they’ll be more loved and more accepted if they succeed, which isn’t really any more positive. Kids who sense this will run on a performance treadmill. They’ll put in the effort, but never feel that they’re making any progress. Many of them will be on that treadmill for their entire life, not just the few years of their childhood.

Notice I wrote, “Kids who sense this…” You don’t have to tell kids they’re less loved and accepted when they fail. They figure this out on their own, even if it’s not the truth. If you don’t go out of your way to make it clear that they’re loved and accepted even when they fail, they’ll sense that they’re less loved and accepted when they fail. Even if what your kid feels isn’t the truth, they will go with it as fact. It will have the power of truth in their lives. It’s part of our human brokenness. So you have to help them get the truth into both their hearts and minds.

Your words are important in this. Choose them carefully. And your actions are powerful, too. So choose them wisely. Be intentional about what you do and what you say when your kids fail. Go out of your way to affirm how much you love and treasure them. You don’t have to pretend they didn’t fail. That models dishonesty, and you don’t want to do that. Be kind, but be gentle. This isn’t being soft. It’s being loving. Tenderness as a response to failure goes a long way.

Maybe thinking of it this way will be helpful. If a colleague in your profession whom you admire and respect failed, how would you talk to them about it? That’s probably going to be useful for talking to your kid about failure, because, although you may have to use a less professional and adult vocabulary, that’s how you want to talk to your kid about their failure.

The Apostle Paul advised, “…speak(ing) the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) That’s what I’m talking about here. Speaking the truth in love requires maturity, though. Sometimes a LOT of maturity. Well, you’re supposed to be the mature one in the relationship. So muster your maturity and apply truth with love when you talk to your kids about failure.

If you’re a parent, you already know that your kids have their best moments when they know they’re secure. They do their best when you’re consistent in your response to their obedience and disobedience, and consistently show up in their lives. They do their best work on every level when they believe they’ll never risk your love and appreciation if they fail. This kind of emotional security frees your kid(s) up to be the best version of themselves.

When you do this stuff, you’ll be modeling the only Perfect Parent there has ever been or will ever be, your Father In Heaven. This is how He works with His kids. And guess Who wants you to pull this off more than anyone else. Yep. Him. So partner with Him and give it your best. Because with Him, you’re secure.

The Key To Your Child’s Heart

The Key To Your Child’s Heart

Gary Smalley was one of my favorite teachers and writers. Actually, just one of my favorite people. I got to be around him and interact with him a few times and always felt he believed in me more than I believed in myself. I think he was this way with most people he connected with. I was sad when I learned that he had gone home to be with Christ, but thankful that he was finally released from the many physical things that had been holding him back and making his life very difficult for several years. His gain was heaven. How could I be sad for that? But His gain was our loss.

He wrote a book many years ago entitled The Key to Your Child’s Heart. It was a short book, but it carried a very powerful message. On a thumbnail, his message was that the key to your child’s heart is them hearing that you love them in language they understand. Simple, right? Simple, but not easy. If you’ve been trying to tell your kid that you love them, but not connecting, the simple-but-not-easy advice I’ll offer here (by the way, none of this is original with me) could breathe new life into your relationship with them, and give them the one thing they most need. I’ll tell you the one thing they most need later.

Here’s what usually happens: a parent tells their kid(s) that they love them in terms that they (the parent) understand.  and then when the kid doesn’t respond, the parent gest frustrated because they’re not responding. 

You see the problem with this immediately.  It doesn’t work!  Your kid isn’t you.  You get what you’re saying.  Completely and instantaneously.  You’re speaking your language.  So you expect your kid to get it.  But what if your kid doesn’t speak your language?  You get your meaning effortlessly, but what if your kid just doesn’t connect with it, even if they try to (which they probably won’t do)?

When this happens, most people eventually react out of their frustration.  They’ll say it again, usually just like they said it the first time.  Maybe the kid was distracted and just didn’t hear you.  So you give it another shot.  When the kid still doesn’t get it, you repeat it again, this time with a little more intensity.  Still no connection.  So you move into full “you’ll hear me and you’ll understand” mode.  What started out as an attempt to say “I love you,” can become a really ugly memory for both you and your kid(s) of you saying, “I love you, you idiot!  Why aren’t you getting this?!”

I don’t have any pixie dust to toss on this, so I can’t just make the problem go away.  But I have a suggestion that has helped millions of parents begin getting this life-changing message of love across to their kids.  It’s a message that gives a kid the one thing he or she most needs.

A very wise man named Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, back in 1992. Our three daughters were all in high school and college by the time I came across it. My wife, Debbie, and I both wish we had known what Dr. Chapman wrote in his book when our girls were little. It would have made us way more effective parents, and it would have been so much better for the girls. I’m so thankful that by God’s grace they all three got that we loved them, but not without struggles.

Dr. Chapman’s thesis is that there are five ways people give and receive love. These are called Five Love Languages. It’s hard to imagine, but these five languages really do cover the subject. They cover it for you, your spouse, your kids. Even your boss.

All of us have a primary love language. Most of us have a secondary one, too. In fact, most of us have a little bit of each one of the five, but they’re not all equally strong for and in us.

So here are the five:
Quality Time,
Giving & Receiving Gifts,
Words of Affirmation,
Physical Touch,
Acts of Service.

The question to ask yourself is, “How do I most often show love to my wife, my kids, etc.? Of these five things, which one am I most likely to do when I want to show love?” Here’s another question: “Which of these captures what I most appreciate when someone does something from one of these categories for me?”

Usually you’ll get a pretty good idea of which your primary love language is by answering these questions about yourself. It’s a little harder to answer them for your spouse and kids. Do the best you can by thinking about them as you answer these same questions.

Then after you’ve spent some time thinking about this, get on the Internet and go to this website: You can fill out an inventory for yourself, each of your kids and for your spouse. The results I’ve gotten every time I’ve done it are accurate. So go ahead. Click it up. I’ll wait.

After you do the online inventories, I have a feeling you’ll want to read the book. Actually, Dr. Chapman has written a variety of Love Language books. You saw them when you clicked up the website I gave you. You can buy these in audio format, too. I highly recommend that if you have any kind of commute to and from your work, you buy the audio book and listen to it back and forth.

I’ll come back to the Five Love Languages in my next post with some practical ways to utilize what I think you’ll learn about yourself and your kids. When you leverage your understanding of your kids’s, your spouse’s, and your own love language, you can address the single greatest need your kids have. What they most need is…

I’ll tell you next time.

To Pay or Not To Pay

That is the question…

I wrote a little about the dilemma of whether or not to pay your kids to do chores around the house in my last post. There are a few different schools of thought on this, and, honestly, I’m not sure I know which one is always right. This may be because one may not always be right… But it’s worth thinking through the issue. So here’s some thoughts on it.

One school of though says kids should never be paid for pitching in and helping with family chores. Paying them for these things will set them up to believe that they need to be paid for everything they do, and we all know that’s not how life works. In the real world, you don’t get paid for everything you do. So don’t get this bad idea started with your kids. They need to learn how to contribute to the welfare and care of their/your family without some kind of monetary payment for it. Doing chores is just part of being a part of this family.

There’s merit to this.

Another school says that paying your kids for doing chores around the house is a way to motivate and incentivize them to be consistent in fulfilling their responsibilities. If they do the chores, they get the money. If they don’t do the chores, they don’t get the money. It’s a matter of planned consequences. It can get more complicated than this, but this is the heart of it.

A permutation of this says that says kids need to learn how to deal responsibly with money, and paying them for chores is a good way to help them connect work with income.

There’s merit to this, as well.

Another school says kids don’t need money of their own. For crying out loud, they’re kids, not Wall Street traders. So don’t worry about it. Just give them money when you’re convinced they need it. One advantage of this approach is that it keeps you in the driver’s seat.

And then there’s the school of thought that says you should give your kids an allowance and not connect it with work. Everybody in the family gets a share of the resources because they’re part of the family.

And there are probably another half-dozen permutations of these ideas. The subject is a little confusing. And the proponents of these various ideas are usually passionate about their proponenting…

My answer for this is simple and complex at the same time. Here’s the simple part: decide which method best matches your kids’ personalities and your goals.

Some kids are highly motivated by the altruistic value of service. They don’t need external motivation to do chores and pull their weight in the family. It’s just in them. They just naturally pitch in. In my experience, these are few and far between, but they do exist. They’re not quite in the category of Sasquatch, but almost.

Some kids need to be motivated to do chores and pull their weight. You can threaten these kids with punishment and negative consequences if they don’t do their chores, and that might work a little, but it won’t motivate them over the long haul to do these things on their own, usually. The carrot on the end of the stick might, though.

Look at your kids carefully and decide if extrinsic motivation (cash for chores) will be good for them or bad for them. This is the complex part. You have to make this call. Nobody else should. If they are best extrinsically motivated, then construct a system of payment that will help them grow more responsible. If not, then figure out how to somehow reward them for their responsible behaviors and contributions without using money.

What you don’t want to do is send them a very bad message: you’re valuable when you do what we tell you to do, but not if you don’t. Kids need to know that they are loved and valued no matter what. Getting a few bucks for doing their chores doesn’t make them more valuable. It only puts some money in their piggy bank.

For me, the target I want to hit, the thing I want to leverage with this whole thing, is helping my kids learn how to be responsible with money. They can’t do this without getting money, somehow. Whether it’s through an allowance that they get just because they’re one of us, or through income from doing chores that need to be done to make our household run smoothly depends on how they’re wired. In either case, I want them to learn how to steward resources. (I think nearly all of life can be summed up in those two words, actually.) This will not happen accidentally. Being a wise and faithful steward is a learned behavior and mindset. None of us come with that software already installed.

One of the things this means is that I don’t just toss a couple of bucks at my kids and hope they’ll figure out how to do something good with it. I have to guide them in the allocation and use of their income, even if it’s a tiny income.

I like the Wesley approach to this: give 10%, save 10%, spend the rest with thanksgiving. If a kid can learn this in their grade school years, and then carry it on into their adult life, they’ll have a much happier and more productive financial life. Imagine what this could mean for them if they do it from the time they first start getting an income, and continue it until they retire.

Teaching them to give 10% is actually a spiritual thing. This is what the Bible calls a Tithe. When I was a little boy, my mom gave me my $1 weekly allowance in dimes so it would be easier for me, her math-challenged son, to figure out how much to put in the offering. I’m 66, and although I don’t take my income in dimes anymore, I still figure out my tithe first thing when I get paid. Thanks, Mom.

One more financial skill (one which I unfortunately didn’t learn until much later in my adult life) you can/should teach your kids is how to save toward a goal. If they learn how to save toward a goal, they’ll learn how not to do much impulse buying, because it will ruin their run for the goal. Learning how to defer gratification is perhaps one of the most valuable skills for anyone. Learning it early in life is a huge asset.

So there you have a few ideas to filter through the grid of your own personality and background, and your kids’ temperament. There’s a lot more that can be said about it, but maybe this is enough to spark your thinking. It’s simple and complex.

One last thing. DON’T BE RIGID WITH THIS. Be experimental. If your first approach doesn’t work, switch it. You don’t have to be locked in. Give yourself and your kids grace to figure out what works best. Partner with God and do the best you can. Actually, this is part of your responsibility to steward resources…

When Rules Get Broken

Making rules is such a smart thing to do. If you’ve started the process, Way to go! It’s hard work that will pay off.

But rules are going to be broken. Even the best rules ever known to mankind. See the Bible book of Exodus from chapter 20 on… God gave the best, most life-giving, most well-thought-through rules ever. The Children of Israel broke virtually all of these rules many times. Umm, so have we. So rules, even good ones, are going to be broken.

What do you do when a rule gets broken? You’ve got a few options.

Some people get angry and react in their anger toward the rule breaker. It may be verbal or psychological or physical, but there will be a lashing out of some kind with this option. It’s nearly always excessive, and often brutal.

Some people give up on rules because, really, nobody follows them anyway. They just sit down and sulk because their rules don’t get followed. They live the life of a victim. “These kids. They’re just uncontrollable.”

Neither of these options will do what rules are supposed to do. Rules are supposed to establish boundaries so that there will be the safety and security that order provides.

The best option I know of when a rule gets broken is to respond out of a plan, instead of reacting out of pain and anger or just throwing your hands up in surrender. You’ll need a plan if you want to respond out of a plan, though. Right? I want us to think about making a plan for this third option.

The thing that will make the plan and the rules work is summed up in one word: CONSEQUENCES. If you’ve been following me very long, you know that I’m a fan of leveraging consequences for discipline.

It’s usually easy to think of the negative consequences for breaking a rule. There should be negative consequences for breaking a rule. And your kids need to know what the specific consequence will be. (You may want to refer back to Some consequences will be natural, and others will be planned by you. The responsibility for planning consequences is on you as the parent.

Probably the first thing I’d encourage you with on this is Let The Punishment Fit The Crime. In other words, one consequence for all infractions won’t work. In fact, the same consequence for the same infraction for all your kids will sometime not work. Especially if there’s an age spread of several years between your kids. You have to take your kids’ developmental stage and age into account.

I wrote it last time, very young kids discover consequences by experience. So with these little ones, you need to know what you’ll do when they disobey, and you’ll need to tell them when you see them about to break a rule (“we don’t throw our food”), but they don’t need any further explanation, because they won’t be able to get any of the logic of it. They will eventually get that they don’t want to do the thing they did any more when they experience the negative consequence associated with the behavior, because that wasn’t fun.

Young kids (from age 3 or so, on up through mid elementary school) need consequences that they can connect to the broken rule. One easy example: if they break a rule about their bike, the consequence should be connected to the bike. Don’t leave your bike outside over night would be the rule. If they leave it outside over night, the consequence would be that it has to stay in the garage for the next day. Connect the consequence with the infraction. Sometimes it’s easy, but sometimes it’s a little more difficult.

Subtlety is pretty useless with kids this age. The consequence needs to be clear and easy to understand. This will be challenging and require prayer, thought and creativity, but you can do it. One thing that’s often helpful is to connect with other parents who have kids the same age as your child and compare notes on what has worked and what hasn’t worked.

From this fairly early age on up, it’s a good thing to involve your kids in determining what the consequences should be for infractions. You make the rules, and you approve all the planned consequences, but you can let your kids have input.

Call a Family Meeting and ask them what they think the penalty for breaking each of the specific rules should be. You’ll need to guide them to connect the penalty (the consequence) with the rule that was broken, though, because they don’t have much background with consequences yet. This dialogue is one reason you don’t want a ton of rules. You’ll never get finished with this Family Meeting if you’ve got lots of rules. So keep your list concise. Decide which rules are most important and go with them. If you try this and get nowhere with it, it’s plenty fine for you to construct the consequences and then tell your kids what they are. Come back to this when they’ve grown up a little more and you’ll likely have more success.

But you MUST tell them what the consequences and penalties are. Being punished for a rule you didn’t know existed, or getting a penalty you weren’t aware of sets a kid up for anger and eventually resentment. It works this way for adults, too, by the way.

There’s another side to this consequences coin, though: the positive consequences for following the rules and for doing extra things for the benefit of the family. For lots of parents, a monetary reward comes to mind first. There are lots of ways to do positive consequences, though, and not all of them involve money rewards. Getting to do something special, or getting their favorite meal or treat. Or simply getting a very affirming word from you can be a non-monetary positive consequence. (There are also lots of different views on whether to pay your kids for doing chores or making good grades. I’m not going to get into that right now. It would take too many words. I’ll write about it later. Sometime. Maybe.)

What you want to do is set up a dynamic principle for your kids to take with them into life, that when they do good things, they’ll get good consequences. This isn’t always 100% the case. I know there are times when doing the right thing actually costs you, and there’s a penalty for what there should have been a reward for. But when these things happen – when there’s a negative consequence for a positive behavior – you can use these disappointing times as opportunities to teach your kids how to cope with it when unfair things happen. Most of the time, though, we get good consequences from good behaviors. Maybe I’ll write about that later, too. Sometime.

Once you get the rules and consequences in place, then the task on your part is two-fold. First, you need to follow the same rules (within reason – if 8:00 p.m. is your kids’ bedtime, you don’t have to go to bed at 8:00 p.m., even if you’d like to; but if the rule is we make our beds, then you need to make your bed). If you’re exempt from the rules, what message does that send to your kids?

The second part is BE CONSISTENT. I don’t think I can overstate how important this is. I’m tempted to say nothing is more discouraging to kids than inconsistent consequences. “Nothing” may be too much. Almost nothing is more discouraging to kids than inconsistent consequences (but I can’t think of what that would be).

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul writes, ” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (It’s legitimate to read “parents” for “fathers” in this context.)

He wrote similarly in Colossians 3:21. ” Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Again, read “parents” for “fathers.”)

Inconsistent consequences exasperate kids. If it happens very often, it will embitter them. And once a child is embittered, their relationship with the parent(s) to whom they are embittered is usually badly damaged. Sometimes to the degree that it will never heal, even into adulthood. So don’t exasperate your kids. Don’t let your inattention to details and consistent enforcement of planned consequences lead them to be embittered.

So are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Like you’ve got to be vigilant 24/7 and have eyes in the back of your head? Like you’ll never be able to live up to this standard?

Well, the truth is, on your own, you won’t be able to. On your own, you’re toast. You’re right if you’re feeling inadequate on this. But God’s Spirit in you, working to make you more and more like Jesus, isn’t inadequate in any way. He can and will give you everything you need to pull this off. But He can only do this if you ask Him to, and then permit Him to be in control. Then you partner with Him. You join Him in His work in your life and family.

That starts with saying “yes” to Jesus on His terms, and then yielding your will to His, moment by moment. It’s not rocket science, but it’s challenging. If you have questions about this, or would like some help with it, I would love to hear from you and interact with you. Just connect with me through the comment button.

Making Rules that Work

This is a follow up from Rules Without Relationship…

You making rules doesn’t automatically make things work out well. Making rules is essential. It’s the starting gate for raising kids who will grow to be healthy, whole, contributing adults. You’ve got to have boundaries, and that means you’ve got to have rules. They’ve got to be good ones, though, or they’ll never do what rules are supposed to do, which is provide security, consistency, order. Sometimes, how you make the rules is as important as the rules you make. So let’s do some thinking about how to make good rules.

The first thing to consider is the age of your kids. Young kids need a different process than older kids. Very young kids don’t need a formal process. Because very young kids don’t really get language yet. So it does no good to sit them down and tell them what the rules are. They won’t get it no matter how compassionate and articulate you are. They learn the rules by what happens to them when they violate them – by experience. This is one of their primary jobs in the first year or two of life. They are designed by God to be explorers and experimenters. This is how they learn what they can and cannot do. Usually, they learn this without any language beyond the one word, “No.” So don’t list the rules on the fridge for them, and don’t explain why the rule is there and in their best interest. It’s a waste of your breath and their time. And they’ve got stuff to do.

But once they can engage in conversation (not just talk; actually engage in conversation), they can begin to “get” rules. Before that time, they need to hear, “No! We don’t do that,” when they break a rule. They may need to heart it 200,000 times. A day. But once they can begin to reason well enough to have a conversation, you can start talking about rules. Not a hundred rules. A few. Keep the list manageable for them and you. There’s no golden number. Just remember that the best number is probably less than you may want to have. In this, less is more.

When your kid is at this stage of development, where you are routinely having conversations with them, engage them in a conversation about rules. “Who makes the rules in your house?” The answer should be, “Mommy and Daddy,” or, “Mommy does,” or, “Daddy does,” in a single parent home. Start there. Who gets to make the rules is YOU.

There is a broken school of thought that believes the child should make the rules and the parents should figure out how to guide the kids toward acceptable behavior through the use of these child-made rules. The premise is that it’s just so mean to make rules and enforce them on kids. Won’t that make them angry and rebellious? No. Not if you do this thing right. If you’re still making all the rules and handing them down from your parental authority when your kids are 9 or 10, the anger and rebellion thing will come into play. But young kids aren’t benefited from making their own rules. Generally, they can’t make good rules. They don’t have the background, experience or neurology for it. They can benefit from having input into the process, but don’t expect more of them than they’re capable of coming across with.

Before you attempt this conversation, you and your spouse need to decide what the rules are going to be. Even in a divorce situation with shared custody, it would be wise for both parents to have a talk about what the rules are going to be. This will be difficult in many situations, impossible in others. But if you can do it, it will be so much in the interest of the kids(s). Living under two sets of rules, one at one parent’s and another at the other parent’s produces confusion at best, and at worst, sets the kid(s) up to learn how to play the system.

Whatever your marital situation, you need to talk with your spouse or ex-spouse about what you will agree on for the substance of rules at your house before you have a talk with the kid(s).

Boil it down to the most basic rules that will provide safety and security for everybody in the family. What falls into the category of, “That will never be OK”? You need a rule for what that thing (or those things) is/are. You may have several in this category. What falls into the category of, “This will always happen in our family”? There’s got to be a rule for those things.

Make rules that are about behaviors, not attitudes. You can much more easily (and accurately) judge a behavior than you can an attitude. So don’t make rules about the kind of attitudes you require your kids to have. That’s a backfire waiting to happen. Make rules about behaviors.

Many rules will be connected with chores. These are behaviors, so they can be measured, and that’s good. I found a good resource on the interwebs for this: I like how they’ve broken things down by age development.

But please don’t lay out 200 chores for your kids and make a rule for every one of them. Decide what you think they’re capable of doing (even doing poorly), and make a rule that we all do our chores. That should be enough.

When your kids begin to develop more cognitive skill, about age 9 or 10, (“about” being the operative word) the conversation changes. There’s more dialogue. The kids should begin to get more input. Be open to their suggestions, but come to the table with rules that you will introduce into the conversation.

When your kids are teens, you’ll need to be creative, thoughtful and non-combative. That last compound word is really important. You don’t want this conversation to become a fight. You don’t want it to spark more friction. You’ve already got plenty of that. So be calm and non-combative. This conversation about rules isn’t a chance for you to punish your teen with another rule. If you can’t be calm and non-combative, you probably shouldn’t have the meeting. Strike “probably.” If you can’t be calm and non-combative, you shouldn’t have the meeting.

The nature of rules changes as your kids get older. Older kids should generally need fewer rules. Especially if you’ve been working rules with them for the previous years. Even a few previous years. The rules still need to be about behaviors, but you don’t target the same behaviors for a 5 yr. old and a 16 yr. old. Their needs and their capabilities are vastly different. In fact, you may want to consider reviewing your rules about every 6 months to see if they’re still worthy and valid. If you discover they’re not, can them. Kids outgrow rules like they outgrow sneakers.

You’ll notice I’m not including any specific rules you should make for your kids. Here’s why: I don’t know your kids. Rules are best when they’re forged with specific kids and specific goals in mind.

I’ve got one more big thing to talk about, which I’ll leave until next time. But there’s this one thing to close with, that should have been at the front end. P R A Y. Ask God to make you wise. He wants to. Ask Him to help you work in productive ways with your kids as you set rules. He wants to do this.

Don’t start any part of this process without prayer. It’s way too hard for anybody to do on the basis of their innate senses. No mortal is that smart. No offense, but that includes you. And me.