Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Joys of Raising a Smart Alec Seven Year Old Boy - Part 2



Part 1 is here

Last time we covered some of the child psychology that is making your son act like a punk.

Yes, I said punk.

Walker and I decided that 'punk' was really the perfect word to sum up the annoying disrespectful punk our formally sweet six year old had morphed into. We never said it to his face - only behind his back. Cause that's the kinda parents we are.

But punk is one of those words that feels good to say and y'all know you could do a whole lot worse so - 

Say it with me now - punk.
Shout it - PUNK!!
See! You feel better, doncha? 

Some signs your kid may be in the Punk Stage:
  • A sudden ophthalmological affliction that causes his eyeballs to circulate when asked to perform a task
  • "Duh". Oh, duh. Sweet as a baby's laugh, duh is.
  • For this one, I want you to cock your neck back and get a scowl on your face. And you must say it accusingly, as though being asked the most asinine question imaginable, even though all I did was call your name. Don't forget to strongly emphasize the t.  You ready? "What?"
  • "What the". When I hear "what the" the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
  • Arguing with everything. Ev. Er. Y. Thing. With impressive tenacity. The Punk will not back down long after the battle has been lost. The Punk thinks he is Corey Hart and "Never Surrender" is his battle cry.
  • Once confronted with the err of his evil ways, the Punk will sometimes throw himself to the ground and engage in a temper tantrum the likes of which you have not seen since he was two while you stand and stare in shock and awe.
At least, that's how it played out in our house. 

I stated yesterday that although I believe this is a normal phase in child development, it's our job as parents to ensure that a Phase does not become a Personality. Because I know y'all know/may be related to some adult punks and you wish you could time travel a few decades back and give their mommas a talkin-to some gentle encouragement and redirection.

In order to discourage future time travel fantasies regarding your own child, you've got to Nip It Now, Momma. Back talk/rudeness/sarcasm/disrespect cannot be tolerated even once, even when you're tired, even when you want to pretend you didn't just see/hear that. Pull your own Corey. Never surrender.

Some of the best advice I ever got as a new mom was "the way they talk to you at two will be the way they talk to you at 15." The way they talk to you at seven will be the way they talk to you at 17. Nip it now while you outweigh them.

To steel yourself for battle, remember a couple of important things:
  • Your 7-8 year old is not an adult.  If an adult talked to you that way, they would be fully aware of the social standards and intentionally causing you emotional distress via their tone and words, and your elevated blood pressure and desire to snatch them baldheaded would perhaps be an appropriate emotional response. But your little kid? Not that sophisticated. Just three years ago he didn't know the days of the week, remember. He is still experimenting with language and the impact his words can have on others. And you? His unfortunate guinea pig.
I reminded myself of this just today when Ike, who is five, yelled at me to put his shoes on. I immediately bristled and got offended. Then I remembered that Ike doesn't really know that he is not supposed to yell at me to put his shoes on (he knows now.) Because Ike has never taken an etiquette class.

By saying their disrespect can be unintentional, I am not denying that our children are natural born little sinners. I'm just emphasizing that they are not natural born little sinners with good manners. Good manners must be taught. That's our job as moms. To create polite little sinners. 

  • You must refrain from being a Punk yourself.  
One of my least favorite parts of motherhood is the way that I can easily begin to engage in behavior exactly matching the age of the child I am trying to discipline. Oh, humility.  

Middle Years children learn this fun new concept called Hypocrisy and they will use it to call you out. 

Do not get sucked into the argument. Don't answer his smart alecness with a smart alec response - as tempting as it may be. Clamp your hand over your mouth if you have to. Bite your finger. Leave the room.  Scream if you must. But do not sink to his level. All it does is teach him new tricks and give him some ammo for his hypocrisy quiver.

Become hyper aware of the way you speak to others. Do you answer irritatedly when your husband asks you where the milk is and it's staring him right in the face? Do you get short with your kids around day 26 of your cycle? Do you roll your eyes when you are on the phone with your mom? Do you - brace yourself - throw temper tantrums when you don't get your way?

Modeling is always the best - and scariest - way that we teach our children. We've got to get control of our own selves first. We must repent of our own sins before we can concentrate on the sins of our children. 


And I just socked my own self in the gut.


Moving on to the the practical responses:

  • All the Parenting Experts (like me, bahahaha) will tell you that you can't reason with a 2 year old. It's true. Here's the good news - you can reason with Mr. Age of Reason. You can sit him down and tell him something like this, "Words are very powerful. Lately, the way that you have been using your words is disrespectful and really hurts my feelings (he's learning empathy, remember? Work it.) I know you don't always realize that, and part of my job as your mom is to teach you how to speak respectfully, and in a way that makes people happy, not mad or sad, and you're old enough and smart enough to learn this now. It's going to help you at school and your whole life. Some people never ever learn this, bless their hearts they didn't have a mom like you have, and they have a hard hard life! A lot of them go to jail!" If you have any childhood stories about how you or Dad once suffered mightily after a particular smart alec incident, this would be the time to share.
  • Seven year olds are very into justice and fairness. Use it against them, muhahaha. Feel free to say, "I asked you to do something nicely, and it is not fair for you to roll your eyes at me." Scooch right up close, but don't quite book, that guilt trip.
  •  Try Again. This is an oft-uttered phrase around here. It is simple but very effective. Start by saying, "Try and say that again more respectfully." Soon this can be shortened to Try Again. (If he doesn't feel like trying again, he can go to his room till the urge overcomes him.) Por ejemplo:
"Shep?"
cocked neck-scowl "WHAT?"
"Try again."
"Yes ma'am..."

You may have to give him the words at first, but he's smart, he'll catch on quickly. We are training them by teaching them alternative means of communication. Training takes time and repetition, whether it's a sport, a puppy, or a child. Polite little sinners are made, not born.

  • Be a memory versing fool. There are so many good ones on taming the tongue. Here are just a few:
Romans 12:10b
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Psalm 34:12-13
Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.
Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord.

Proverbs 15:1-2
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 18:13 (The Message) (he'll love this one)
Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. 

Proverbs 21:23 (The Message)
Watch your words and hold your tongue; you'll save yourself a lot of grief.

Proverbs 30:17
The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.
(Kidding! Skip this one, please. It has a nice ring to it though, eh?)


The concept behind heart based discipline is to address the heart, not the behavior. Kids at this age truly might not know that they are being obnoxious. It is our job to gently point it out to them. Once they know the law, we must get to the heart of the matter, to where the sin lies.

At the heart of all sin is a lack of honor, towards God and others. Once you have explained to your kids what honor is (the book tells you how), that word has power. "You are not honoring me" is a strong statement in this house. And remember what I said about hypocrisy? Yeah. Get ready to hear that one yourself, because we are obligated to honor our children too. (And man alive it's hard when he is acting like a PUNK.)

Here's the coolest part - when we point out that disrespect/dishonor/smartalecness is a sin, then it leads to wonderful discussions about how we are all sinners, and how we absolutely positively do not have the power to stop sinning all by ourselves, but God in his mercy sent us Christ who died for those smart alec sins so that we are forgiven of them, even before we do them - but wait, there's more - after he rose again he left with us the Holy Spirit whose very job is to help us not sin, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we honor one another because we're all just punks without Jesus! So let's pray right now for the Holy Spirit to help you when you go Punky Brewster and for the Holy Spirit to help me not wring your neck too, okay? Because lately it takes a whole lotta Jesus to be your momma!!

(Just don't say that last line out loud.)

Stand fast, Momma. Pray unceasingly. Never surrender. Forgive yourself on the days when you completely blow it - don't worry, he'll give you another chance to do it right tomorrow. And remember the Mommy Mantra: This too shall pass.



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