Stay In The Game To Raise Great Kids

Not Staying In The Game Is Baffling

There is nothing that amazes me, no, baffles me more than a parent who doesn’t stay in the game. Ever seen a parent give direction to their child then turn away assuming the child is going to follow those directions?

Ha ha ha!!

When I tell my toddler to not hit the cat, do I really expect her to mind me? First, does she even understand what I said? Plus, it is in the nature of the child to not mind! Until they are TRAINED. And who is their trainer? The parent.

When we choose to become parents, we must also choose to do our job well. Truly, it is only for a season. In Raising Accountable Kids, we state if you have trouble with your teens, you most likely had trouble with your toddler. That’s because the foundation of character is formed during those critical stages, from toddling years to school years. Teaching a child that “no” means “no,” that you are trustworthy, and that respect begets respect begins early.

A Picture of Staying In The Game

Our toddler grandson, Archie, loves to play with a toy grocery cart when visiting. It’s his go-to toy. One evening, he started ramming the cart into our Shiba Inu, Mabel. I told him no. IMG_7132And, may I say, I did not yell from across the room or raise my voice, but used a firm, “Archie, no.” Not a long explanation. Not, “Now, Archie, you aren’t being nice to Mabel. That will hurt Mabel and if you don’t stop I will have to take your favorite toy away from you.”

Too many words – he’s not even 2!

I like to say that Archie, or any child, is doing a “very good job of being his age.” So this 19-month-old pushed the cart into Mabel’s face again. I said no, firmer this time with a touch to his arm. His response was to hit the cart and make a nasty verbal noise. The cart was picked up and put out of his reach immediately. You see, now I was doing a very good job of being Archie’s authority figure: someone whose job it is to teach him norms and boundaries so he can succeed in life.

Not. That. Complicated.

The tantrum that followed was epic. I calmly said, “Sorry, buddy. We don’t hit doggies.” More for my sake than his. What teaches a child Archie’s age is the action of denying him the favorite toy. Not a wordy explanation and a discovery of his feelings.

Archie ended his tantrum, with no replacement toy provided or cajoling by me. When he got busy doing something else, the cart magically found its way to the floor again. There was no fanfare or calling him over to let him know it was there. He soon found it, though, and started using it again. The next step is critical and this is where the parent is in the game or not.

It would be naive for me to assume he got the lesson the first time around. Or for a toddler, the 10th time! I must stay in the game. Sure enough, he headed for Mabel. My “authority figure” response (taking the toy away) was repeated and the toddler’s response (epic tantrum) was repeated. We did this once more which led to the three-strikes-you’re-out rule and the grocery cart remained out of his reach for the rest of the evening.

The Lesson? Stay In The Game!

When our son, Michael, arrived to pick Archie up, he asked how it all went. I pointed at the cart on the counter and he instantly knew—and chuckled. “Oh, my son!”

As Mike and I chatted, I reinforced that consistency and repetition are key. Can it be tiring? Yes! But you’re laying a foundation that will bear good fruit for years to come. The minute you step onto the sidelines and leave the game, allowing the child free rein to wreak havoc, you are going to be playing a much more difficult game in the future.

Here’s a truth:

Trying to catch up later on, reversing what was set in motion at this younger age, is way harder than remaining in the game at every moment NOW.

Mom, dad—are you staying in the game?

How about you? Do you stay in the game or is it a struggle for you to do so? Share!

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About Karen G. Miller

Wife of John G. Miller, author of the QBQ! book. Mother of 7 (plus 4 in-laws) and "Grandma Nonnie" to 7! Beach Body coach! Co-author of "Raising Accountable Kids." Follower of Jesus Christ.
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