I’m sure you are not having any trouble getting your kids to behave, but just on the off chance that you might, some day, or know some one who is, having this sort of trouble, here’s something to think about.
Are you wearing your child’s name out?
I noticed this a few years ago in a little class I taught for homeschoolers’ kids. Lovely children, smart. But interesting: Many of them did not respond to their own name!
I talked to The Chief about it and we agreed that we can hardly imagine it. In fact, he remembers thinking, as a young child in school, that one’s name, spoken out loud, had an actual, physical effect on one.
In his experience as an elementary school student, hearing “Philip!” gave him an electric shock, and he thought this was a universal phenomenon, well known to science.
But everywhere you go, there are children running around whose response to their name isn’t an electrical shock, it isn’t a “Yes, Ma’am?” (oh, how I wish I were born Southern and could have taught my children to say Ma’am and Sir!), it’s…
Because their families have worn their names out!
Their mom has desensitized them to their own name!
Here’s how it goes.
Whether knowingly or not, “your friend” subscribes to the disciplinary method that has its roots in the philosophy of that well known child-abuser, Rousseau, who, at the very time that he was abandoning his offspring, convincingly argued that children are born in a state of nature, with a personality that will gently unfold into perfection, if we only would let it.
I say convincingly because even folks who profess the opposite — that we are born into a condition known as Original Sin and need to learn self-control — in effect raise their children as if they opened the wrong philosophy textbook by mistake.
Anyway, be that as it may, the point is that these folks (not you, but others with unruly children) don’t have a coherent way to deal with the inevitable — that is to say, the naughtiness of children.
They take advice from Rousseauians, whose own children are not well behaved (if they have any).
Why? Because it seems nicer, and it demands nothing at the moment of them. It’s far easier to explain things, after all, than to put your phone down, get up, and be that mean, authoritative parent who administers the appropriate reality conditioning at the moment. Unfortunately, this brings not “the peaceable fruit of justice” of discipline but the long-term unpleasantness of bratty children who don’t even answer when you call their name!
The child does something wrong (or heck, just acts like a child) and there is one response, and one only: To explain to them why they should reconsider and, becoming one with the darling flower child they are, deep within, act nicer.
To start that process, they say the child’s name. “Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, no Timmy, Timmy, don’t hit your sister, would you like to have someone hit you with a Lego, Timmy, Timmy, TIMMY, TIMMY…”
What would you do under these circumstances, which include precisely no consequence for the action, other than interminably hearing your name?
Why, you would stop listening!
Here is my solution.
First, admit that you (read: your friend) are not being effective. (If this doesn’t apply to you — if in fact, you are wildly effective and your children listen to you the very first time you say something to them, then move along to the next blog!)
Knowing is the first step.
Then, resolve to say your child’s name under two circumstances only, for a whole week:
1. In an outright, honest bellow, to prevent him from chasing a ball into the street and
2. With great affection, like the name of a long-lost friend.
I met a lady to whose home we were graciously invited at one of our kids’ graduations far away. She’s the mother of said kid’s roommate, with a boatload of children (talking double-digits here), including, at the time, a toddler. By all rights, this lady should have been a basket-case, sitting in a corner, putting straws in her hair, and mumbling gibberish into a stiff drink. You would have expected her to do nothing other than randomly, peevishly say her kids’ names over and over, purely out of habit.
But I noticed that, to the contrary, she was poised and attentive to all, and when her blurry (because just that fast and busily about his own business) ten-year-old ran through the kitchen, she stopped what she was doing (which was attending to a million guests) and, with a smile and eye contact, said, “David! I haven’t seen you in a while! How are you doing!”
In other words, what I was struck by was that this child heard his name spoken with real affection. I paid attention then and later when they stayed a few days with us (always the test), and these parents said all their children’s names this way. With affection.
It made me think about how I feel when someone greets me, putting warmth in my name, this name that I’ve been given precisely for their use. Actually, I feel wonderful. It gave me an examination of conscience about how I say my own loved ones’ names, let me tell you.
I have another friend (also with a stunning amount of children — just so you don’t excuse yourself) who calls them “Beautiful” or “Handsome,” depending. That’s right — all day long, “Handsome, put this over there.” “Beautiful, come here by me.” Softens the edges, right?
It’s not like they don’t know what to do. Lord knows you’ve explained it a million times. Really, stop all the talking.
Just have the goodness to get up and do what has to be done to make them obey.
Give the request/order/direction clearly, having considered within yourself if it’s really worth it! (Otherwise, skip it.)
Move their body where it needs to be. Put the naughty miscreant in the corner (facing it — much better than time out). Or yes, administer a spanking. If the child is over the age of about seven or eight (that is, too old to spank), you will have to get creative in your punishments, but make them immediate and painful (not threatening), like doing an extra chore or going to their room.
I just started Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoffer. The first chapter deals with his early life and family. His father was calm in his authority, imparting high moral standards and a firm sense of identity to his brood, with love (“… Despite having eight children — which seems an enormous number in times like these… ). (This is circa 1909, amusingly!)
His mother was energetic, artistic, and idealistic (it didn’t hurt to have a bunch of servants, I’ll grant you that, but it seems like Paula was practical too). Karl, in a letter, said, “… we endeavor not to spoil them, and to make their young years enjoyable.” She taught the children at home until they were eight or so, being “openly distrustful of the German public schools and their Prussian educational methods.”
I have to say, I really love them.
Dietrich was a man of wonderful temperament (even as a child) who heroically sacrificed himself for others in WWII, as you know. Yet, “he was often mischievous and got up to various pranks,” a maid remembers, “… especially when the children were supposed to get washed and dressed quickly… to go out. So one such day he was dancing around the room, singing and being a thorough nuisance. Suddenly the door opened, his mother descended upon him, boxed his ears right and left, and was gone. Then the nonsense was over. Without shedding a tear, he now did what he ought.”
I think there are so few examples for us of what confident, experienced (Dietrich was among the younger of the children), devoted mothers actually do. We listen to “experts” instead of being able to pattern ourselves on what works. Maybe if we can be honest about what is not working we’ll be able to find a good way of fixing things.
Saying your child’s name until he stops hearing it is not working!
It will take about a week of to change things if you work on new habits like simply saying your child’s name less often, and with either more affection or (rarely) outrage, using more effective methods instead to ensure obedience.
Things will get better, I promise you!