I’m a big fan of the ‘do-over’ when it comes to parenting. By which I mean: my kid messed up, so I correct her as necessary, ask her to say she’s sorry for the wrong doing, and then have her do it over. Go back and walk through the scenario in the right way, as it would have been done had the sinful attitude or behavior been absent.
I’ve blogged before, especially in my post Practice makes perfect, about how several of the parenting authors I admire encourage this and clearly spell out the spiritual importance of doing this. In Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Ginger Plowman says:
“It’s important to rebuke our children when they do wrong, but it is equally important, if not more important, to walk them through what is right – to put off as well as to put on (referencing Eph 4:22 – 24)… First, work through what a biblical response would have been. Second, have the child follow through with it… When we correct our children for wrong behavior but fail to train them in righteous behavior, we will exasperate them because we are not providing them with a way of escape. This sort of neglect will provoke them to anger… Anytime you correct your child for wrong behavior, have him walk through the right behavior… Pull out what is in the heart of your child, work through how your child can replace what is wrong with what is right, and then have your child put what he has learned into practice.”
Fine. All review so far. Here’s the new part: I was recently startled to discover that I was completely overdoing this, especially when it came to sibling conflicts. Example: son takes away daughter’s toy, daughter cries, I correct the situation, ensure that son gives toy back and apologizes, and that daughter verbalizes forgiveness of the transgression and (if she was rude in turn, which often occurs) repents in kind. This type of thing might happen five times in a day; on a bad, bickery kind of day perhaps up to ten.
Then in Boundaries with Kids I read this passage:
“Every time I sat down to read the paper or talk to my wife, I’d have to drop it all and play judge. The boys relied more and more on (us). ‘Let’s change this deal,’ I told them. ‘From now on, nobody comes to me or Mom unless you’ve spent some time working it out between you. Try to fix the problem. Then, if it isn’t better, you can come to us. But if you do come to us, the person who was wrong will probably suffer a consequence.”
That one little example was a real eye-opener to me. Of course my kids have fallen into the habit of relying on me to arbitrate their tussles for them; I did it every time. They knew that I’d step in and correct the wrong-doer (or -doers), walk them through the repentance and correction exercise, and seek to restore order. They were becoming lazy about it. Often they played the victim, and they were generally unmotivated to be proactive in working through their own problems.
So I followed suit. Now when I hear a disagreement cropping up I say: “You two work it out together and figure out a way works OK for both of you. If you can’t figure it out, you come tell me but you might not like how it turns out.” And they have. It’s not perfect and I still have to step in (needless to say, I monitor how they work out their ‘solutions’) and correct. But more often than not a more constructive thing happens between them than would have if I had stepped in and directed the ‘solution’ in the old way.
Turns out that I was so focused on correction and rehearsal of the right way to behave that I lost sight of empowering my children to work out their own sins and problems. It wasn’t that they didn’t know the right thing to do (requiring me to instruct them in it), it was just that they weren’t doing it. In stepping in and overseeing their do it over the right way, I was actually robbing them of the opportunity to practice figuring things out on their own. By raising my expectations for their relational skills, I’m teaching them to become more proactive in solving their own problems and giving them room to grow in this area.