Friday morning was not unlike most school mornings. With five people (3 under the age of 10) trying to get out the door at the same time, it’s usually a bit hectic. And in the midst of all the chaos, sometimes the right hand (me) doesn’t know what the left hand (Kory) is doing. And sometimes, both of us think that the other of us has the two-year-old in our line of sight. Sometimes, we do. And then there are the other times…like this morning.
It should have occurred to us that our little one was missing when we were all piled into the bathroom (me with a half-done braid of our daughter’s hair in my hands, and Kory with a wad of hair product and our middle son’s red spiky hair in his hands) and the little one was nowhere to be found. But it didn’t.
Then all of a sudden, our two-year-old burst into the bathroom with a big smile on his face. In his hands, he was carrying a bowl — filled to the brim with half and half — that he had poured himself and sloshed all the way from the kitchen, leaving a trail of mess behind him like the crumbs of Hansel and Gretel.
And with his proudest and most enthusiastic voice, he began singing:
Hap Birfday to you!
Hap Birfday to you!
Hap Birfday to Mommy!
Hap Birfday to you!
Kory and I whipped around to turn our attention from what we were doing, and we both had the same reaction. To instantly grab the bowl of half and half and to begin telling our son that he shouldn’t be getting into things in the kitchen. And then it hit us like a ton of bricks. A lesson we learned 7 years ago in a parenting class and to this day we sometimes struggle to keep at the forefront of our brains.
In Growing Kids God’s Way, Gary Ezzo, when teaching on the importance of the role a father plays in the life of his family, encourages us as parents to (1) guard our tongue and tone, and (2) learn to measure our response against the excitement on our child’s face. Ugh. We didn’t do the second part.
Thankfully, as a result of a prompting from the Holy Spirit, we caught ourselves going down the wrong path, and we were able to change our course.
Don’t get me wrong. Do we need to address the fact that our two-year-old was taking some freedoms in the kitchen that he wasn’t responsible enough to enjoy? Absolutely.
Do we need to tweak our system during our morning routine so that we can do a better job managing his behavior in the first place? You bet.
But did we need to launch into him with a list of all the things he was doing wrong before we praised him for his demonstration of generosity, thoughtfulness, kindness, and love by making mommy a birthday cake and singing to her with all his heart? No way. No doubt we needed to take a few minutes to praise the virtues he was exhibiting before we began training him with respect to all the things he shouldn’t have been doing.
It may seem like a small thing, but I think it has a huge impact in the area of child training. I believe with all my heart that as parents, we can accomplish far more through our encouraging words and positive reinforcement than we can through our negative correction and consequences. Both are essential to raising up children with virtuous hearts, but if we seize every opportunity to breath life into our kids when they’re doing something right (particularly as it relates to heart issues), chances are we’ll see more progress with respect to their training all the way around. But I also think it’s an easy thing to forget. Especially when we’re training young children — sometimes it seems like the do they wrong thing. All. Day. Long.
So I’m not going to beat myself up about this. Instead, I’m going to take note of the repeat lesson and remember that parenting is a discipline, just like any other. We study. We practice. We work at it. And we get better. And around every corner, there’s another opportunity to get it right.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul writes:
“Therefore, encourage each other and strengthen one another as you are doing.”
What can you do to encourage your family today?