Thursday, February 25, 2010

Instilling Values in a Smaller Family?

The Question:

Dear Jane, 

I think it's wonderful that you've been able to have so many children. I come from a family of 5 children and always hoped I would have a larger family. After my husband I I were married a year and a half we learned of our inability to have biological children. We didn't waste any time and now six years into marriage we have adopted 2 beautiful children and hope to adopt at least one more. With adoption being so very expensive, we are feeling lucky to have the 2 we have! 

In your earlier posts you mention about the decline of large families and I'm with you about your thoughts of what and how children learn from having a lot of siblings with parents whose budgets need to stretch to take care of business. I only hope my children can learn those same lessons (lessons I learned growing up), but I'm afraid we'll have a smaller family. 

Do you think those same lessons and experiences can be taught and observed by children who come from smaller families? Maybe there isn't much to this question, but I do feel like the decline in family size might have a lot to do with growing infertility in couples. It's very common in today's world whereas when my mother was having children, she didn't know of anyone who struggled to get pregnant. In other words, sometime choices and options are limited (or more difficult) when it comes to building a family.  Thanks for your time! Kate

The Answer:
Dear Kate,
Let me just say first of all, sight unseen, that I just love you.  Your letter went straight to my heart.   And I'm so proud of you and thrilled that you've been able to adopt two children. 
In response, I would just say that it's very possible to instill wonderful values in your children even though there aren't as many.  Big families learn the art of give and take and doing without because they don't have a choice.  You just have to be more disciplined about it.   You have to take care not to indulge your children.  You'll need to find opportunities for them to serve.  Teach them to work.  Encourage them to earn their own education.  
As my family winds down, we have four children left at home.  I face this same challenge with a smaller family--having to create circumstances that happened naturally in a big family.  But I've discovered many wonderful benefits too.  I have more time to spend with each child.  We are more able to serve people outside of our family.   Things are a little quieter!
Each of us, as we approach our family--whatever its size, need to decide what we truly want our children to learn--what qualities we want them to develop.  Then we ponder and pray to know how to instill those qualities.  As we implement the ideas that begin to flow in, we see results.  It's an amazing process.
May the Lord bless you in your efforts.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lasting Unity Between Siblings?

The Question:

How have you fostered unity, love and respect between your kids? What can I do as a Mom to encourage this? Neither my husband nor I are close to our siblings and we both feel a void that we want to make sure our kids don't. Any insights would be so greatly appreciated! -Anonymous

The Answer:

I'm so impressed by your desire to change things in your own family--in terms of relationships among your children. You are really on the right track because you recognize that void and you have a strong desire to turn the tide in your own family.  Here are some of my thoughts:

It is important to understand that favoritism causes tension between your children.  As a mother, you have a responsibility to fully love and appreciate each one of your children. If you find yourself preferring one child above another...well, you just can't. This is a topic all its own, but just realize that if you favor children, your family will suffer. Do everything you can to know each child and appreciate their differences.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are certain lines that children should never be allowed to cross in their relationships. No physical or verbal attacks of any kind. Simply do not allow them. Don't assume that this type of fighting is inevitable.

A steady stream of family prayer and scripture study invites a type of light into your home that encourages positive relationships.

As you and your husband speak to eachother and to your children with love and respect, you will set a positive emotional climate for your home.
I was mulling this question over on the way to a soccer game yesterday so I threw it out there for my children. "Why are you growing up to be such good friends?" I asked. Silence. "What are things we do that make you love each other?" I tried. Finally Seth said, "Well, I think it's when we work together and study and go places and do things together, we all start to think alike." I think that's true. We develop a family humor, family standards, a "family" way of viewing the world that bonds us.

Finally, think of that very profound line in the Family Proclamation that says, "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Every so often, my husband and I choose a commandment and commit to "up" our observance of it. Whenever we do, we notice immediate rewards in our family--observing the Sabbath day, serving others, fasting.

Don't approach this problem with fear. Keep a clear vision of what you want and move forward with faith. With the Lord's help, you can create the family you want to have.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just a bunch of practical advice

Dear Jane,

I have a few questions about the mechanics of family life, not so much the eternally important things. I hope you don't mind me asking those types of questions. I don't mean to waste your time, I just feel like you probably have some really good ideas about this stuff in addition to your marvelous testimony that shines through your blog posts. Love, Heidi

The Question:

Have you discovered any stain removal secrets you can share with some of us with less experience? Specifically, how do you get chocolate out of kids' clothing?!

The Answer:

I have a stain removal secret for you. After using “Shout”, if I find that a stain still hasn’t come out, I put it in “the pile”. When I have accumulated four or five items, I make the brew. I fill a sink about 1/3 full of hot water (not too hot to touch.) I then add about a half cup each of bleach and powdered dishwasher soap. It has to be powdered. If the clothing item is colored, I dip it in the bleach water again and again until the stain disappears. Usually, the color stays fast. Then I quickly rinse it and add it to my laundry. If the item is white, I just put it in the water and leave it for a few minutes. This concoction has worked miracles for me. It’s a last ditch effort because sometimes (rarely) it causes the colors to fade. I’m not sure the amounts are right. To tell you the truth, I just pour them in.

The Other Questions, followed by The Other Answers:

The following questions were posted by my cousin on our family website. As I was contemplating them, I wondered what Jane would say about each one:

1. Question 1...bedwetting:) Our son still wets the bed. He is 5 1/2 years old so I know that is not terribly old, but if there is anything I can do to expedite the process than I'd like to try:) My husband and I both stopped when we were two and three...Our other child too. Our son wears a pull-up at night. We've tried to have him not wear them and see if that helps him to make him more aware, but then I just end up washing sheets every day. Any suggestions?

I did have a couple of kids who were late bed-wetters. It wasn’t every night, but often. I tried to watch their liquid intake in the evening and I would wake them up before I went to bed and take them to the bathroom. This didn’t always work so I washed sheets. I remember having them help me change the sheets but I think it’s important not to shame them. It seems like a developmental thing because in time, it just went away. If your son seems emotionally healthy, I would just ride it out.

2. Question 2...Sacrament Mtg reverence:) While Sacrament Mtg in general is getting easier as the kids get older, we still struggle with this. With four little kids, sometimes I feel like we are the loudest family in the ward. Any ideas you've tried that have worked?

Ah, Sacrament Meeting. I used to sit down and apologize in advance to whoever was sitting behind us. It’s rough. But I learned one little thing by accident. One day, I forgot my well-equipped Sacrament Meeting bag. I was terrified. No crackers, books, pens and paper, toys, nothing. And to my surprise, it was our best Sacrament Meeting yet. It occurred to me that I might have been over-stimulating my children. After that, we had nothing at all until after the Sacrament. Then maybe just a small tablet and pencil. I encouraged them to draw pictures of things they were hearing in the talks. My husband and I had the deal that I always cared for the baby and he always held the next one up.

3. Question 3...Any fun family home evening ideas your families have done? I know there are tons, but anything that really stands out as a great idea?

I’d like to invite our readers to each share their favorite one ever.

I’ll tell you mine. This was somewhat elaborate and it wasn’t my original idea. I read it somewhere. Also, our children were a little older. We each wrote our testimony. Then, using a code, we carved them onto plates (We wrote gently with pen on foil covered cardboard pages). When we each had our page, we bound them together with rings and explained to our children that our collective testimonies were like the scriptures. That would have been great as it was, but we assigned our son, Eric to bury them somewhere in the yard-- which he did. During the week, he "appeared" to Kristen and told her where they were so she could dig them up and bring them back. She did and we used the code to translate each testimony. I don’t know about the kids, but I never forgot it!

4. Question 4...How do you handle your kids going over to other people's houses to play or spend the night? Now that the boys are in school, they have been invited to playdates at people's houses that I don't know. In the past their friends have mostly been people at church whom I know... I have never felt comfortable with sleepovers in particular either...any thoughts?

We didn’t do sleepovers. We were famous for “late-overs”. This was highly inconvenient, but we would let our children spend the evening and enjoy the fun and then at bedtime, we would come and get them. I got this from my older sister who had read some research that indicated that most sexual experimentation and crude discussion (between boys especially) happens at sleepovers. So as a protection, I have avoided them. On some special occasions (like a best friend’s birthday) if I really feel comfortable with the family, I make an exception. With so many children, sleepovers would have been very disruptive to our family.

For play dates, I think it’s important to meet the parents, have the child over first and teach your child how to call you if they ever feel uncomfortable.

5. Question 5...Chores How do you work chores/jobs? I am embarrassed to admit I haven't really done a structured way of doing chores up til now. They just kind of help me do jobs around the house as they are interested in doing them. But I think it's time a little more is expected. Do you rotate, have charts, have allowance?

We’ve done all of the above. Our main workday is Saturday. We spend all morning cleaning the house and I usually try to find a fun interesting way to do it.

We’ve earned beans for jobs and then had a little store at the end.

I made a board game (very simple out of construction paper) called Jackpot that had all the jobs on it. When you landed on a job, you had to do it and at the end, we all won the Jackpot (a bag of candy.)

I made a tape (does anyone have cassettes anymore?) on which I said each job that I wanted done. “Clean all the toilets” “Vacuum the living room”, etc. Each child would accomplish a job and then turn on the tape player to get the next one. When we got to the end of the tape, the house was clean.

I loved Saturday morning work. I love the feeling of mopping a floor while I hear the vacuum going downstairs and someone dusting the living room. I think we all loved that feeling. After the work, we tried to do something fun or just let everyone go and play.

For weekday chores, we’ve used a rotating chart at times, but honesty what has worked the best for me is to assign each family member a responsibility for a month or more. For example--clean your room and the bathroom every morning before school. They get good at their job and there is no confusion about expectations. Even a very young child can make their bed every morning and then set the table for dinner every night.

I know there is a lot of disagreement about giving kids allowance. I confess, I’m a dismal failure at it. We’ve tried it off and on and it just never lasts. But I do keep a list of “extra” jobs that I am willing to pay children to do—Vacuum the van, Organize the storage room, etc. So there are always chances to earn money.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Setting Limits?

A few items of site business from Natalie:

Due to the number of questions we've received in the last few weeks, we'll be posting every day this week. We don't wish to flood your inbox, bloglist, or reader, so we thought about saving the questions and continuing to post once or twice a week. The problem, however, is that I'm not organized enough to keep track of the questions for that long and if questions keep coming, (as we hope they do) we'll never be able to get on top of things. Please forgive the lack of structure on this site as we figure things out. It is growing more quickly than we anticipated (yahoo!). The one thing you can count on: We will always post on Mondays. Some weeks may have more posts, we'll just see how things go.

Also, out of the goodness of his heart, my oldest brother surprised us by purchasing the domain names and so if you type those in now, they will bring you here! This doesn't make a difference to those of you already linking to this blog, it just makes it easier to remember. Plus it makes us sound more official, so thanks Nick!

Thanks so much for reading! We really love doing this blog and connecting with each of you. Now, finally, on to the question of the day!

The Question:

I sometimes get mad at my kids, and I always regret it after I do it. I am working on changing, but there is one area I really don't know what to do. My three year old often hurts my 10 month old. Sometimes it's to the point of very dangerous (smothering her with a pillow). Other times, he does things that are dangerous to him (running out in the road). I never spank or anything, but I usually get mad and am, well, too firm, because I want him to know that I am serious, it is serious. But I know there's a better way. What do you suggest? Thank you!

The Answer:

Dear Erin,

You are right. This is a serious issue. And it gives me a chance to talk about something I’ve wanted to clarify—setting limits. I recognize that all this talk about loving discipline might make this topic seem contradictory. But clear limits are vital to a child's security and safety. You as a mother will draw lines and carefully teach your children not to cross them.

First, I’ll discuss limits in general, and then we’ll talk about your son. The loving approach to discipline does not mean that children have their run of the house. You, as a mother, set the limits that work for you and you firmly enforce them. When a child is about 15-18 months old and you sense that he can really understand yes and no, you begin to give him limits.

Some limits have to do with safety, while others are more about personal preference. Here is an example of one of my personal limits. I don't allow my children to freely range through the refrigerator and cupboards and eat anything they see. There are some snacks that they can have anytime, like fruit or a carrot, but aside from that, they have to ask me. I might have plans for those chips. I might know that dinner is in 20 minutes. They have to ask. I teach them this limit very young. I am in charge of the food and they have to ask. Not every one cares about that so they don't bother with that limit, but I do so I take the time to teach and enforce it.

I have limits about rough-housing--never in the living room, mostly outside. I even have a personal noise limit. My family has learned what constitutes "too loud". People used to comment that our children were calm. I really think it's because my threshold for noise is fairly low. You can decide what limits are important enough to you that you are willing to teach and enforce them.

Setting and enforcing limits is vital to a peaceful home. Usually it doesn't involve much firm talk at all. You just teach it from the very beginning. "You may not open the pantry." "If you need a snack, you have to ask me." Then you follow through and are consistent. You thank them for asking when they do and you expect that they will.

When our children know that we mean what we say, they will usually accept our limits. It means we have to get up and follow through again and again, rather than yelling from the next room. Get right on their level and say "Remember, you are not allowed to play with this."

It's fascinating to watch tiny children accept limits. When all of my grandchildren came for Christmas, I showed each of the 1-2-year-olds how they could touch the ornaments carefully with just one finger. We never had any problems. They seemed to enjoy keeping my limit.

Most of our limits are dictated by the Lord's commandments and standards. These are the most important limits, and we try to live by them as a group.

Some offenses are more serious than others. Eating something from the refrigerator is hardly on par with trying to injure the baby. There are times for real firmness. I found that if 98% of my communication with my child was calm and "normal", the other 2% was a very valuable tool. For example, if my child ran out into the road, I would swiftly grab him, carry him back, take his face in my hands, look right into his eyes and say sharply, "We never run into the road. Never!" I don't calmly explain all the dangers at this time. I am clear and stern (reproving betimes with sharpness). Because I don't speak to my child this way every few minutes or even every day, there is shock value. "I think she means it." I keep the child right by me for a few minutes and continue to reiterate the important message. "We never go into the road." When the initial emotion is subsided, I explain why. This method has worked well for me. I do this when a child endangers himself, when a child physically attacks another child (hitting, biting, etc.) or when a child is outright disobedient (when they do something I have just asked them not to do.) I know it seems like I'd be doing this constantly, but it's actually rare--and the rarity of it is what makes it effective.

Now...about your son. Some children require a great deal of supervision. I would be very vigilant and consistent with him. Know what he is doing and constantly be in a mode of teaching him and directing him to appropriate activities. He may have a jealousy issue with your baby. He may respond well if you give him a lot of extra attention and reassurance about his place in your life. You might give him preferential treatment for a while--setting the baby down when he comes into the room and holding him close and reading to him. Sometimes we think that the baby needs the lion's share of our attention, when that next child up is truly the needy one. He may be very aware of how your eyes light up for this little new-comer. When he feels secure in his place in your life, he'll be more generous in his attitude toward his siblings.

Is it hard to see how this idea of limits ties together with loving discipline? Well, the truth is, I rarely "discipline" at all. I just teach. We set up a framework of limits in our homes with clear expectations. When our children make mistakes, we talk to them, teach them, work with them and help them to succeed. When we handle their mistakes with kindness, we show them that our love is unconditional.

It’s an interesting process. I think all the time about how like my children I am—meaning well but making the same mistakes again and again. How gentle my Father in Heaven is with me. How generous is his Son. It always keeps me trying.

With all my love,


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Family Home Evening Success?

Th Question:

I am in desperate need of advise on how to handle family home evening with small children. I don't think we have ever had a peaceful home evening, there is always arguments over who gets to pick the song or the prayer, or someone is sitting to close...I could go on and on! I continue to have them because I know I should, and I know one day they will be better, but I find myself dreading it and I often end it feeling frustrated and sad. I want my boys to grow up remembering the time we spent as a family but I feel like they will only remember fighting and frustration!! Any advise on how to make this a more happy experience for us all?!


The Answer:

Dear Destenee,

I remember so well this frustration. I actually remember bringing home little chairs from the church and setting them up in a circle so everyone could learn to sit still and listen without touching each other! It didn't work. But those terrible little boys are in Law School now and that awful little girl is Natalie--the miracle worker with four boys of her own. I tell you that by way of reassurance.

But since you need more than reassurance at a time like this, here are a few thoughts....

Change your definition of success. My goal when my children were young became to have just one or two great moments. They would all stop talking when I held up a picture and I would tell them one powerful thing. That was enough. Anything else was a nice bonus. I considered it successful if there was ever a moment when we were all laughing at the same time. That was bonding. This usually meant that I had to loosen up and enjoy the unexpected distraction. If I laughed, everyone was happy.

Use a Family Home Evening Chart where the responsibilities rotate. I know that very young children may not grasp the concept right a way., but over time, they'll catch on.

Keep the lesson short, have a fun game and good refreshments. What family can resist that? I recommend gearing the lessons to the youngest child. The new nursery manual has wonderful short lessons that are interesting enough for older children--and perfect for them to present themselves.

We've had some pretty incredible family home evenings as our children have gotten older. Once, when Kristen was a teenager and was giving the lesson, she had us all go around and tell which commandment we loved the most and why? We ended up going around three times. I don't think there is anything more gratifying than listening as your children echo back the things you thought they weren't hearing all those years.

But for a long while, it's a leap of faith. My favorite line in your letter was... " I continue to have them because I know I should, and I know one day they will be better." That's called faith. And I can promise you that all of your efforts will accumulate and bear fruit in time.

With much love,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Loving Approach to Discipline?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

I was re-reading all posts on the blog, and I came across this paragraph from the very first post, when you were discussing showing love to our children and teaching them correctly:

Teach them to repent. When they make mistakes, our first impulse is to punish them or separate ourselves from them by having a time-out. Sometimes that's ok. But we need to take the time to explain simply what they have done and what the results were. How can we repair this? How can we make our brother happy? How will you clean this up? I could honestly address this for a few pages. How we deal with their mistakes is right at the core of developing their conscience. The more loving we are, the less shaming we are, the more free they will be to feel their own feelings of sorrow for what they have done. You said you could "address this for a few pages."

That is my desire, and my question for this blog: would you elaborate on this idea in a post? Basically, my question is, would you specifically address the question of loving discipline? You touch on a myriad of principles, just in this paragraph: connecting logical consquences to discipline; talking our children through their mistakes, rather than punishing them harshly; developing a keen conscience in our children; loving versus shaming; teaching repentance; and helping our children learn to repair themselves that which they have damaged. Would you elaborate? I am extremely interested to know what you have to say, and if you have any specific examples from your own experience as a mother.

Thank you for a wonderful read every week on the blog.


The Answer:

Dear Brynn,

The one area of parenting that has probably undergone the greatest evolution for me is discipline. When I started out as a parent, I was converted to the idea of "natural consequences." That is, that if my child did something wrong, I would allow him to suffer the consequences of his decision. Since many actions don't have immediate consequences, I would often create consequences when necessary. For example, if I told my son to be home by 5:00 and he walked in at 5:15, I would need to enforce the predetermined consequence. You will need to stay in tomorrow. I wish it were otherwise, but this is what we agreed upon. This method of discipline supposedly puts you and your child on the same side. You and he vs. the consequences. You "wish" he had chosen otherwise, but since he didn't...

This seems good and very logical. We are supposedly preparing our children for the "real world" with real consequences. But something about it really bothered me. It seemed very cold. And while, in theory, I was on the same side as my child, I felt like the enemy. And, worse than that, I wondered if they were feeling sorry at all for their behavior, or was it the consequences that they were regretting? At about this time, I discovered the book, "Raising Your Child Not By Force, But By Love". It's not a terribly "user-friendly" book but I couldn't put it down. It became a guide to me and changed my whole approach and as I applied its principles, I loved the results.

It is really based (as I mentioned in an earlier post) on the Golden Rule. We treat our child as we would like to be treated. How many times have we been 15 minutes late? We lost track of the time. We had a last-minute emergency. We were just trying to finish something up. With this in mind, when our child walks in later than agreed, we ask what happened. We tell them that we were starting to worry and that next time, we'd like a phone call if there is a problem. We give them a hug. Inside, they are feeling sorry and they resolve to do better. This pattern occurs again and again. Our child wants to please us and they want to do what is right. When we inflict a punishment, our child (who is not rational) feels anger, a sense of injustice (even though our consequence is perfectly fair) and distanced from us. They also feel (and this is a big key) that they have "paid" for their mistake and they have no need to feel bad about it. Either method will teach our child to come home on time or call. It's just that one method is externally motivated while the other comes from within.

I will give an example. My son Seth is 16 and a very good student. He's also very busy with sports, church, student government, etc. I noticed last semester that he wasn't spending as much time on homework as usual and I asked him about it. He reassured me. When grades came out, though, he was genuinely surprised that he had a C on his report card. I was tempted, of course, to lecture or insist that he give up something. But I didn't. I let him feel what he felt. Pretty soon he said, "I really deserved this grade. I just didn't do what I should have. I'm going to bring this up." And he has. The beauty is, that I assume a supportive role. I really am on his side and he feels it. I'm not the sheriff.

I believe that the reason Seth is this way, is because he has been raised for many years by love and not by force. He has a very keen conscience and we have a very close relationship. The real payoff for using this type of discipline comes when our children are teenagers. These principles of love and teaching didn't incite anger or resistance when they were children. Now that they are big and can assert their independence, we can rely on the fact that they will continue to make good choices because inside, they want to and because they love us. This is not a difficult or complex way to discipline. When in doubt about how to handle a situation, just think of the golden rule. It's that simple. How would I want to be treated? If I wrecked the car and came home, how would I want my husband to respond? If he rolled his eyes and lectured me (or grounded me from driving), I would feel defensive and angry. If he hugged me and sympathized with my experience, I would admit that I'd been foolish. "I can't believe I ran that light....I'll be more careful....I'm sorry." These are the sort of words that we will gradually hear from our children as we make them feel safe enough to say them.

When they feel genuinely sorry, a natural outgrowth will be a desire to repair their mistake. It's easy to help them find ways to do that. As they grow older, they will do it naturally. Yesterday my son Brian (14) was unkind to Peter (8). Brian and I went in his room and I asked him to tell me what happened. He told me what Peter had done--how he had badgered him until he had finally retaliated. I put myself in Brian's place and sympathized. "Peter really is at an annoying age. I can't believe how patient you are with him." That's all I said. Brian then admitted that he hadn't been very patient this time. Within a few minutes I heard him apologizing to Peter and things went well for the rest of the night.

Don't mistake this merciful, loving approach to discipline for overall permissiveness. We have very high standards for our children. We just promote those standards without shouting, punishing or belittling. But.... I must admit to semi-frequent soapbox lectures. I think they help me vent. My kids humor me and listen to them and as long as the lectures don't attack them personally, I think they're fairly harmless.

This is it in a nutshell. I encourage you to experiment with these principles for a long enough time that you see results. I'd love to hear your experiences.

With love,

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fostering Obedience?

The Question:

My daughter's attitude is driving me crazy! She is 7, and had always been a very obedient, intelligent, loving kid. Over the last few months, though, trying to get her to do ANYTHING is like pulling teeth! We ask her to clean her room (a job that should take 5 minutes if she's doing it right every day) and 15 minutes later we go in to check on her and she's playing house with her stuffed animals. We take away the distraction and remind her that she's supposed to be cleaning, and 5 minutes later we find her making blanket forts in her closet. We get upset and threaten to take away a priviledge, and then we leave. 5 minutes later she's hiding under her bed, reading.

She acts like this with chores, homework, eating, helping around the house, ANYTHING that means she has to pay attention to her little brother..... I don't know what to do anymore. Here's what we've tried so far.

We have tried a red light in the hallway to remind the kids not to come out and get distracted.
We've tried a coupon system.
We've tried taking away priviledges.
We've even thrown out the things that they refuse to take care of.
We've tried sitting in the room and babysitting her while she does it. That just results in her stuffing things where they don't belong when she thinks we aren't looking.
We've had many loooong discussions about the choices that Satan wants you to make vs. the choices that the Holy Ghost wants you to make, and she's always the first to point out disobedience as a "Satan Choice".

She's a very maternal girl, so we've even thrown in the discussions on how and why she needs to be a good example to her younger brothers. RIght now we have a system set up where every day that their chores get done they earn 5 minutes on the nintendo, and when they earn 1/2 an hour, they can cash it in. Her 5-year-old brother has earned 1 1/2 hours in the time it's taken her to earn 20 minutes. I'm having a hard time buying into the idea that maybe she's just becoming a flake because it's ALL THE TIME, but I'm also having a hard time believing that she's being openly disobedient. Maybe I'm just in denial? If it is just her being flaky, how can we help her focus more? And if she's being disobedient, how to I teach her that this is not OK, since nothing else that we have tried seems to be working? Sorry it's so long, but thanks for any help you can give me!


The Answer:

Dear Mary,

I want to recommend a book that I have come to value very much. It's called, "Raising Your Child, Not By Force But By Love". I warn you right up front that I've recommended this book many times before. Some people have thanked me profusely, while others have politely returned it after a few days. But I love the approach. Rather than being based heavily on natural consequences (the Law of Moses), it's based on the Golden Rule. I see it as a higher law. You treat your child as you would like to be treated. And as they feel very secure in your love and that their agency is important, they will do what is right...eventually.

I think you're in a negative spiral with your daughter. She doesn't really care if she pleases you and she isn't really responding to her conscience. She knows what is right but she doesn't feel motivated to do it. So you can force her to do it. You can stand over her and cajole her and blackmail, threaten and bribe and indeed, the job will get done, but what has been the price?

I would start at square one. I would work first on the relationship. Focus heavily on your daughter for a few days without making many demands. Give physical affection. If she is resistant to this, it's because she really doesn't feel loved by you. I know that's not true, but that's how she's feeling. Do lots of things with her and for her and win her heart back. Ask her to do something and give her a deadline. "Your favorite show is on in 15 minutes. Can you have your room cleaned by then?" If you come 10 minutes later and it's not even started, say (you're not going to believe this) "Oh no, I don't want you to miss your show. Can I help you? ....Can I do it for you?" I know what you're thinking. What??!!! What is that teaching my daughter? I'll tell you. It's teaching her that you love her absolutely unconditionally---without manipulation, no strings attached. You clean her room and leave a piece of candy on her pillow with a note that says "I love you." This consistant show of love will accomplish two very important things. Your love and regard for her will grow. Her anger will subside and she will feel free to act. The whole time you're working, she really will feel that she's been unfair. She'll be waiting for you to snap, but you won't and when she sees that, she will step up...eventually.

I keep a steady constant pattern of this going in my children's lives. It doesn't mean I'm permissive---far from it. I just keep them always within the circle of my love. I give and I ask things of them. I do many things because I love them. They do many things because they love me. As they turn into teen-agers, I know they'll be wonderful if I haven't killed their conscience and their love for me by dominating them when they were children.

This isn't just a nice theory. This is a wonderful way to parent. It is consistant with God's plan which is based heavily on love and agency. Maybe the reason I gravitated toward this method is because it goes well with my personality. I'm not sure if it's for everyone. But since it's me you asked, I will tell you that it has made motherhood a joy instead of a burden. And my children have grown up to be my closest friends.

With all my love,


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teaching Honesty

The Question:

How do you teach children to be honest all of the time?

The Answer:

On the surface, this seems like a simple question. I think most of us realize that our children will tell the truth when we make it easy for them to do so. When we discipline harshly, they will quickly learn to avoid physical pain by lying. When we stand over them with the broken vase and conduct a torturous interrogation, the truth loses its appeal. But we want our children to have the strength of character to be honest even under harsh conditions. We want their honesty to go deep. That’s why our teachings must reach below the surface and be foundational.

First, we teach them about God. We pray to him, talk of him, express our love for him and make him a reality for our children every day. We teach them that pleasing God is the crown jewel. Nothing else in the world matters as much. We point out the many ways that God shows his love for us and the ways that we show our love for him. This teaching is at the very core of honesty. There is no vase or toy or money or game that matters as much to us as pleasing our Heavenly Father. The Lord said of Hyrum Smith, “I love him because of the integrity of his heart and because he loveth that which is right before me.” I’m not suggesting that whenever we detect dishonesty in our children, we lecture them about the reality of God. Our teachings are constant.

We value honesty. When we play games with them, we notice and compliment their honesty. We remind them each day as they leave for school to do what is right—not just to get good grades. When we see their small victories-- for example, when they tell the truth in a sticky situation-- we honor them. “You remind me of Daniel. You do what’s right even when it isn’t easy.”

When they lie or take something that isn’t theirs, we help them to repair the damage immediately and then discuss with them how good it feels to be honest. “Then people can trust us. Heavenly Father can trust us.”

The most sobering aspect of teaching honesty might be in examining our own lives. Our children will probably never be more honest in their dealings than we are. They will rationalize the things that we rationalize because we will show them how!

Perfect integrity is indeed a lifetime pursuit. But what a blessing it will be to our children if we can teach and model for them, patterns of honesty that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bathtime Troubles?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

My question is about bath time. My kids (ages 4, 2, 8 mo.) LOVE baths and have a great time splashing and playing with toys together. Just recently, though, my 2-year-old does not want me to wash her hair. I try to convince her to lean back or look up at the ceiling (which she used to do just fine), but she hides behind the 4-year-old and cries that she doesn't want a bath anymore. This discussion gets us nowhere and I eventually do what it takes to throw water over her hair, scrub it down, and have her out of the bath as soon as possible (and then hold her and love her because I've just traumatized her again). It's a negative cycle that makes her even more afraid of soap and water- which makes the next bath that much harder. Any suggestions for a hair-washing battles?


The Answer:


I actually think that what you're doing is fine. Just be kind, gentle and reassuring throughout the process. "I'm so sorry. I know this is hard but we'll be done in just a minute." etc. Just keep the whole experience quick and low key and when she realizes that this is simply one of the patterns of her life and it's not going to change, she should improve. Praise her for her bravery when she does.


One On One Time?

The Question:
(Amazingly, I, Natalie, did not pose this question. But being in a strikingly similar situation myself, I'm so glad it was asked.)

Hi Jane-
Any advice on finding quality time with each of your children individually, away from the other kids? My active, attention-demanding boys are 4, 3, 2, and 8 months, all with needs and often at the same time. I barely find time to escape for a shower let alone a girls night out, and there is always at least one kiddo fighting for my lap if I am reading to another one. I'm not always able to bring in outside help and my husband does have a job, so I need to figure out tricks to make that individual time happen. Thoughts? -Anonymous

The Answer:

You are really a wonderful person. With four sons under five, you are surely stretched as far as you can stretch---but you're trying to figure out how to give more. Please don't worry. It probably isn't realistic or even necessary to be all alone regularly with each child or to take them on individual outings at this age. Your children feel your personal love in little snatches all through the day. It's true, they have to share you, but they each have their own relationship with you. You have a light in your eyes for each one. They are part of a secure little society.

Find consistant moments of connection. I always tried to hold my children when they first woke up in the morning-- or from their naps-- for as long as they wanted. Usually it was only a few minutes and then they were off and playing. There are occasionally those miraculous moments when only one is up. Read a story together or play with toys. I'll bet you're already doing that.

Even though you can't lavish each one with unlimited, individual attention-- you've given them something better--eachother! This may not always seem like a benefit to them now, but as the years go by, there is nothing to compare with brothers. And as the years go by, you'll actually have more time and flexibility, even if you have more children. I loved Christina's comment on "Feeling Overwhelmed". Read it if you haven't had the chance.

I've enjoyed a great deal of one-on-one time with my children as they've grown older--but I've rarely had special nights out with them. I just take one along with me when I go to the store. I turn off the radio and we talk. I buy them a candy bar or an ice cream cone. We play a game of Yahtzee or I read them a chapter a night from an exciting book. We go for a walk. It's all very natural and inexpensive and I love it as much as they do. Just last Saturday, I went with my 15 year old son Seth to his High School basketball game. He invited me. These good moments are in your future.

So just know that you are doing enough. Your children have you with them every minute of every day (and all night too.) Everything is unfolding as it should.

All my love,

Picky Eater?

The Question:


I have a sweet wonderful, terrible 2, picky eater! She has been picky since she was born. She was a fussy nurser, weaned herself at 8 months, refused formula and milk and basically left us pulling out our hair!! Still she is the same. The catch though is that it's not that she doesn't always Like the food, it's that she has an incredibly STRONG WILL. I consider myself and my husband to be strong willed people but she has us beat! I try to pick my battles carefully because they can be such a disaster. Is eating a battle I should pick? I do worry for her nutrition, Ive tried to disguise fruits and veggies in shakes but now she refuses those too. She won't touch meat, and literally she will sit at the dinner table all night if we tell her she has to eat something. Then what when bedtime comes around? Is she too young to pick this battle?

Oh one more thing, sorry I know this is long. Pediatricians always say " kids won't starve themselves" which when I let her get hungry enough rather then eating what I offer she will just get really grouchy and ruin the feeling in the house for everyone. She doesn't understand that if she would just eat she would feel better.


The Answer:

Dear Emily,

This is a controversial issue and my opinion is just that--my opinion. But I've never been one to make a big deal about eating. I'm uncomfortable with parents turning mealtime into a stand-off or hovering over their children and counting every bite. If your daughter is within the normal range for height and weight and your doctor is not concerned, then just ease off. Steer away from too much sugar that can kill the desire for fruits and vegetables. Find things she likes and let her eat them. I remember one of my daughters eating peanut butter sandwiches for two weeks straight. I asked my doctor and he said, "Great, no problem." Gradually, she turned into a normal eater.

I wonder if we ask for trouble by making food such an issue. Little children are rarely hungry during our three designated mealtimes every day, but sometimes, mid-afternoon, they'll come in for a snack...and they'll really want to eat. I just always fed them-- and catered somewhat to their schedule. I know it sounds completely without structure but it's ok. Mealtimes are very important to me and as my children grow up, they fall into the pattern. It's just while they're small that I am more easy going. This method seems to work. So far, everyone has grown up strong and normal, not very picky and no eating disorders.

I hope this helps,


Monday, February 1, 2010

Exercise in the Midst of Motherhood?

The Question:

How do you get exercise when your kids are really little? As I've asked this same question of friends and family, their solutions don't always work for me and my situation. Some have their husband watch the kids while they get away to exercise, but my husband is in school all day and studying at home...I can't really ask that of him at this stage of our lives. Some say they join a gym with babysitting, but the student budget doesn't allow for such splurges. I used to take them along in the stroller and speedwalk at the mall, but that was when there were two who fit in a double stroller. Now that there are three, I can't spring for a triple stroller. I tried making the oldest walk along side but his four year old legs couldn't keep a pace that made me feel like I was getting any real exercise. He doesn't yet peddle a bike fast enough to create a workout, either. Do you have any suggestions?

The Answer:

I have just four words for you--"The 30 Day Shred". It's a short but powerful workout video. It's done in levels so you can move up and kids love doing it with you. It's not for sissys. My college-age daughters love it and are challenged by it. My daughter-in-law, Andy has been doing it all through her third pregnancy. I think I paid about ten dollars for it on and it's one of the very few videos I've bought that has delivered my money's worth and then some.

Some other suggestions: I used to take a brisk walk with my friend for a half an hour after my kids were in bed. It was dark alright and I never felt like putting my shoes on at the end of a long day. But I was always glad when I got going.

If you're an early riser, you might prefer exercising before your husband leaves in the morning. Several young mothers I know meet at daylight and walk or run for 45 minutes.
You might mix it up. Run when you can and do the video when you can't.

I was never a faithful runner until I was finished with pregnancy and nursing. Trust me, that was a lot of years of hit or miss exercise. I'm not sure I would have had the energy to go every day back then. It was such a happy surprise to find that I was still intact enough to start a program at my age. So don't push too hard. Just do what you can and if you stay active, play with your kids, run up and down the stairs and watch your diet, you'll stay in remarkably good shape considering the amount of time you are able to put into it.

Good Luck,