Skipping the Conversations

“Bill, I don’t know what to do. Every time my son needs correction, I try to sit him down, talk to him about his heart, read to him from the Scriptures and instruct him, ask him heart questions, then discipline him, pray with him, and assure him of my love. But every time I do, he just won’t listen and he fights against me and sometimes just leaves in the middle of it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

“Remind me again how old you little guy is.”

“He’s two.”

“Ah, yes, I know what the problem is: he’s two. All that talking and instructing and asking questions–he’s just too young. A time will come for that, but you’re just not there yet!”

I remember having this conversation with my friend several years ago. I was a few years ahead in parenting and freely felt I could tell him that while those steps are great, his son was simply not old enough and developed enough. I felt then (and still do) that there’s really not much conversation that needs to happen in those younger ages. You just don’t reason with a toddler. I mean, seriously. It’s painful to try. They certainly need instruction, correction, and assurance of love, but there’s not usually much more to it until they grow older.

The problem is that I had this conversation six years ago. And I said it knowing that “there would come a time” when conversations would increase and discipline would involve more dialogue than it ever had in the past. But now I have an eleven-year-old and somewhere along the way I missed my exit, still cruising on “How to Raise a Toddler” highway.

Which means that a whole lot of my parenting is a whole lot of my talking and my kids doing a whole lot of not talking.

Honestly, I’ve not transitioned well. And I really like that my kids are hitting that tween phase. But the reality is that I’ve transitioned poorly to having intellectually and emotionally capable kids who want to talk and process, and I don’t afford them the opportunity.

So, what does that mean? It’s funny, because it’s still in many ways new territory for me. Like Hermione Granger, when at loss I turn to books! I’m slated to read Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp soon and hope to follow that up with Everyday Talk by Jay Younts. And in these opportunities for talking and discussing, I know there are a few goals I want to accomplish:

  1. Hear from my kids and help them learn to talk through their sins, temptations, and troubles. This is something I’m particularly poor at even as an adult, so I want to train my kids how to speak openly and plainly about the deep matters of their hearts.
  2. Help them go to the Scriptures and understand how they apply to them. I’m certainly capable of doing this for them, but they’re at the age where I need to start handing them the reins. I want them to start making the link between their attitudes and behaviors to God’s Word, because I can’t meditate on the Word for them.
  3. Teach them how to process their sin against God and against others, and the appropriate responses for those sins. While this would certainly include seeking forgiveness from the one sinned against, what I’m particularly thinking about here is determining if any restitution needs to be made. I always find this tricky, because I don’t want the kids thinking they can atone for their sins (they can’t). Rather I want them to see that all sin has temporal consequences in addition to eternal ones–and they have a responsibility for those temporal consequences, whether that’s replacing something or offering a service or whatever. But I want to lead the kids into figuring this out instead of simply telling them.
  4. Begin the process (slowly!) of treating my kids like the adults they will be. Even though they’re not adults yet and still have years to go, there will come a day when they are neither under my watch nor under my authority. I want my children to see that my authority has always been derivative. Self-discipline and self-assessment will be the tools to remind them to follow the authorities that will come after me, and much more the authority of the triune God himself. This is really just a fancy way of saying I want them to learn obedience apart from my presence–because God is ever-present.

What about you readers out there? Those of you with tweens and older, how have you found ways to connect with your kids? What have you done to train them for the day they won’t be under your roof anymore? Do you have any resources you’d recommend?

Kids and Sleep

20160724_160613000_iosOur sweet friend, Leia, who we made a makeshift bed for during our gathering one Sunday.

When I first had Liam, my mentor gave me the best advice on practical parenting I’d had before or since–make sleep the biggest priority for your kids.

Thank you, thank you, oh Yoda. Your words have served our family well.
(Her name isn’t actually Yoda…)

Her philosophy was that most behavior problems in children come from a lack of sleep. I’m far too lazy to look up any research to back her up, but trust me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was right. OK, OK, theologically their behavior problems come from sinful heart issues. But we’re body and soul together, where our flesh affects our hearts and our hearts affect our flesh. It goes both ways.

For instance, there are many times my physical body is broken down, maybe from hunger or fatigue, and sometimes the gift God gives you to fight temptations that invariably increase during those times is to simply eat something or take a nap. Same for our little ones, even though they can’t quite evaluate this for themselves. Sleep is an important tool to help our kids, even the littles, fight the temptations that come from living in our sinful flesh.

Now, before I tell you how the Bells have handled sleep so far, remember that kids aren’t robots. None of our children fit into a perfect box here. I know you’ll hate this, but you just have to use the instincts God gave you according to each child’s needs.

Also, as I’m preparing to write this, I’m thinking, “Oh crap! I don’t actually remember what we did with babies!” I’ve done the baby and sleep thing six times, and my youngest is only four, but yeah–you really do forget. This should let you know how helpful this article will be. Please excuse me while I refresh my memory a bit…

And I’m back! I’m sure you noticed my absence.

(The recommended hours of sleep are in parentheses beside each age, according to WebMD)

Newborns-4 Weeks (15-16 hours): During these first weeks, we do a mix of feeling out baby’s rhythms and helping them adjust to ours. We typically do a feed-keep awake for a short time to play-sleep routine. If baby wakes up before three hours, I feed them and start the cycle over again. If they try to sleep longer at this age, I wake them up at the three-hour mark from start of the previous feeding. We do the same through the night, too. Our experience has been that baby stretches closer to the three-hour mark if we really try for the play time right after the feeding. I have no idea why (WebMD should totally hire me to write for them with all my research), but baby just seems to sleep better when they’ve played a bit before naptime.

1-4 Months (14-15 hours): There’s a slow transition that begins here to let baby begin sleeping through the night. We gradually allow baby to have longer stretches during the night until their body adjusts to full nighttime sleeping. For our six kids whom we raised from birth, 10-12 hour stretches happened between weeks 9 and 11. That’s not right or better or anything–it’s just what our kids did. If your kids don’t, they’re still awesome and so are you. We still wake them up in the daytime if need be, we just switch to more of a four-hour instead of three-hour cycle.

4-9 Months (14-15 hours): At this point, our kids were on a schedule of three naps during the day, usually sleeping between 1-2 hours at a time and 10-12 hours at night. We still kept the same eat-play-sleep cycle with them. Dropping the third nap is different for each child. Two of my kids have always LOVED their sleep. Honestly, my ten-year-old could still nap every day if I wanted her to. They tended to hold on to that third nap longer than the others. If over time they simply don’t sleep, stop acting tired before the evening nap, or stop sleeping well through the night, it’s often an indication they need fewer naps. Dropping the evening nap can also means a bit of an earlier bed time for a transition period.

6-12 Months (14-15 hours): Our children still take two naps during this phase, and often we let this phase go longer than the 12 month recommendation, sometimes as late as 18 months. Again, it depends on the child’s needs. Twelve-hour nights of sleep are usually the sweet spot for Bell kids at this point.

1-3 Years (12-14 hours): Like I said, we often keep two naps past the one year mark, but most kids can switch to one nap a day not long after their first birthday.Our kids still sleep around twelve continuous hours during the night.

3-6 Years (10-12 hours): This is the point we usually start to look a bit different from other families. It seems like most families are anxious for their children to drop their afternoon nap so they can have more freedom to run errands, explore, whatever in the day. We typically don’t drop it until they’ve made it through this phase. Threenagers’ little bodies are changing so much, and it’s rough to make it 12 hours with no rest. Now, a couple of my kids did stop napping consistently when they were three, but I haven’t had one who was ready to drop completely at this age. This is where “rest time” becomes more the norm. They would read books in bed for an hour or two. A few days a week, they fall asleep, and a few days a week they don’t. Currently, one of my four-year-olds could take a four-hour nap each day if we’d let him (we don’t!), our other four-year-old sleeps 5-6 days a week, and our five-year-old sleeps 2-4 days a week.

7-12 Years (10-11 hours): We gradually let our children stay up a bit longer during this phase, pushing bedtime back by 30 minutes as the child grows. Our 11-year-old goes to bed around 9 and wakes up on his own between 7 and 7:30. He did recently get a late Friday night bedtime of 10:00, and he’ll usually sleep a bit later on Saturdays. This basically means he stays up later than me most Fridays. Dang, I’m a party animal…

12-18 Years (8-9 hours): No words here. I haven’t raised a cub in this age range yet. I just thought it was fun to include it like I have a clue what I’m doing.

One last thought here. I don’t believe in a child-centered home. Nor do I believe in a parent-centered home. I believe in a Jesus-centered home, which entails giving up your own desires as your Big Brother did. I mentioned this briefly above, but the biggest reason it seems parents push their kids out of the sleep they need (I do it, too!) is because we’re just weary of revolving our schedules around our kids. We’re ready for an easier season where we can add in activities we’ve missed or look forward to. Or we want more freedom to do things on our time for our convenience. Sometimes, the right thing is to blow off a nap or drop naps for necessity. But I think more often we need to remember that rest is a precious gift from God. It’s good for our kids, and it’s good for us. Sit and be still, knowing this season is from him and for him. Use their rest time to be content in this season. And if you do this well, let me know in the comments. I would love to learn from you.