Dealing with discipline issues in your home? Do you kids fuss and complain about doing chores? Have your kids developed a sense of entitlement?
Last year at this time our family would have answered a big YES to these questions.
The fact is that four grouchy kids (and two extremely frustrated parents) lived within our four walls.
And no matter what “consequences” we implemented to try to change the behavior, our kids continued to persist in their negative attitudes.
And then we finally figured out what was going on.
What Wasn't Working With Our Kids
After weeks of lackluster effort at chores (along with lots of whining), my husband and I felt we'd exhausted every effort to change our kids' behavior, namely:
- We'd taken away privileges;
- We'd restricted or temporarily eliminated screen time;
- We'd added in extra chores as punishment for not completing their regular tasks; and
- We'd talked their ear off with the “freedoms” and “responsibilities” lecture (you know the one).
And yet, here we still were–chores not getting done, bad attitudes prevailing, and a feeling of exhaustion over our home.
Can you relate? Does this sound like a scene from your home too?
We realized that what we were doing wasn't working (sometimes in parenting that's a huge win in itself, right?) and we decided to make some dramatic changes.
Changes that we knew at first would probably cause even more drama.
But after much prayer and tears before God, these were changes we knew had to happen.
The Real Source of Our Children's Poor Behavior
We have good kids. Kids who are polite in public and typically make the right choice. Kids who have been taught to listen and to make wise choices since the moment they were born.
So that's why it was so frustrating to see the bad attitudes about chores and sense of entitlement.
Last year, my husband and I had a hunch that our character training had helped our kids learn to obey, but that we'd created a home atmosphere that made it difficult for them to practice that training.
We realized that our kids were tired–not from a lack of sleep, but from a lack of soul rest–and our home environment was partially to blame.
Through our lifestyle, we'd inadvertently taught them two things:
- Screen time equals rest time.
- It's good to fill all our free time with planned activities.
In an attempt to give them what seemed normal “fun” activities for kids in our culture (screen time and lots of fun things to do), we'd mistakenly taught them that these activities were avenues to rest.
Is this happening in your home as well?
While every home environment is unique (and there are no “one-size-fits-all” approaches), I want to share with you about our mistakes and what changes we've made so that you can see what might work in your family's situation.
Our Mistake #1: Screen Time Equals Rest Time.
Everyone needs some down time. And we couldn’t fault our kids for wanting their version of down time (video games and movies).
However, we’d inadvertently taught them that rest time meant escaping… mainly through electronic entertainment.
We didn't see them playing creatively anymore. We saw them choosing to stare at a screen as their main source of relaxation.
And in fact, overall, our kids based their “quality of life” around how much screen time they could have every day.
Non-school time spent on chores seemed a huge headache because it was “stealing” from their electronic time.
Plus, one of our kids had been lying (a lot) and it usually was in connection to using the iPod. Without even realizing it, he'd made this tiny box of electrical circuits his “god”–even choosing to risk hurting our relationship so that he could spend more time playing on it.
Clearly electronic time was separating us and creating an entitled mindset in our kids.
But honestly, we were partially to blame.
By stating things like, “finish your school and your chores and then you can have screen time,” we'd inadvertently elevated electronic time as the “ultimate” reward for our kids. We'd taught them that screen time was something they “deserved” after a hard day's work.
Instead, we'd missed the part that screen time is one part of a balanced diet of down time, and that it is in no way related to true “soul rest” (something we all need in the midst of a hectic lifestyle).
And so, with the intention of wanting “more” for our kids and for ourselves, we decided to completely remove ALL electronics for a long time (6 months). No TV, no iPods–nothing.
Our hope was that this extended break would help them re-discover a healthier version of soul rest.
P.S. What was the end result of our experiment with removing electronics for 6 months? I'll let you know at the end of this post.
Mistake #2: It's good to fill all our free time with planned activities.
There was a second issue that was also going on: We'd scheduled and programmed our kids to the extreme.
By keeping their days overly filled with activities and “good things,” we'd not given them the freedom to create, to explore and to just be kids! Here were the results we noticed:
- The Innovator wasn’t creating his crazy inventions anymore;
- Renaissance Man no longer was drawing everyday;
- My daughter's dolls and toys were gathering dust in her room;
- Free reading time (outside of school assignments) was non-existent;
- All the kids were spending less and less time in our wonderfully open backyard (the main reason why we’d moved to the country).
As a mom, I'd made the mistake of planning every second of their day and involving them in too many extracurricular activities.
So this too was an area where we needed to cut back (and we did).
We excused ourselves from some commitments… and gave our kids their free time back.
What were the results of this dramatic experiment? And what is our family life like now one year later?
And most of all, what big picture lessons can your family learn from what we've gone through?
Teaching Our Kids About Soul Rest: What Happened During Our Experiment
The first few days were the hardest (as we figured they’d be).
There was lots of “Mom, I don’t know what to do…” and “I’m bored!” heard within our four walls.
But around Day 5, I noticed a sense of calm coming over the kids. A feeling of exhale.
And then, these words from Renaissance Man: “It’s been good to not have our electronics and to cut back on all that we do. I just feel like… I don’t know… I have more time to be.”
The bikes and go-carts began whirring outside again.
I started finding more drawings again on Renaissance Man’s desk. The Innovator launched a new side business.
And, on more than one occasion, I found my daughter snuggled up on the couch with piles of books or playing with her dolls.
They each experimented with what brought them true soul replenishment. They were being kids again, and it was a beautiful thing.
The Bigger Question of Soul Rest: Life After the Experiment
Now, a year later, we find that we've learned so much from that (not so little) experiment.
At the end of six months, my husband and I debated about whether or not to allow electronics back in our home (there was so much joy and loveliness without the screens)!
And yet, we realized something: How could we ever teach responsible use of it if we didn't ever allow it?
The same concept was true for the extra curricular activities.
All of the open free time was fantastic, but it begged the question: Were we going to keep them on this dramatically reduced schedule forever and possibly keep them from learning other important life lessons?
We decided to give them their screen time back, and slowly began adding in activities.
But, because of this 6-month experiment, here's what we also gave our kids: the ability to recognize their own need for soul rest, and to help them identify and practice activities that meet this need.
No one–including my family and I–has arrived in this area! We are still fumbling our way through it.
But we are discovering a few things together. We're also helping our kids:
1) Notice what happens when they choose to fill a soul-rest need with an empty activity. Sometimes, “How do you feel when you eat junk food versus when you eat healthy food?”
2) Determine if a “restful activity” is merely escapism—a way to numb out and to, for a few minutes, live the life of someone else—or if it consists of moments of replenishment?
3) Discover their own beautiful talents and passions. Ultimately, true rest is found in Christ, and of course we continually teach them about this. But, as humans, we also have been given unique ways to express ourselves (through our God-given talents and passions). Therefore, we're also teaching our kids to discover God's purpose for them, and along the way, what brings their soul great joy and deep soul rest.
What if we raised a generation of kids who valued (and practiced) the habit of building themselves up with soul-enriching activities instead of finding mere ways to escape after a busy day?
Wouldn't you agree that many behavior issues could be solved by simply paying attention more to the level of “true soul rest” in a child's life?
Since we're all made uniquely, I don't believe there can be hard and fast rules here–especially about what a family “should” and “should not” include in their home.
Instead, the answer comes in continually assessing the overall condition of our family atmosphere, and praying for God's wisdom about what will truly bring our family members soul rest.
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