Happy Children Choose to be Happy | Teaching Self-Government

Happy Children Choose to be Happy


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Nicholeen: we're doing our best to implement a system of family government following your plan.  I have the 6 cd set and I've listened to them twice, and I'm reading the book as well...
...What do you do about a child who chooses to be out of instructional control forever?  Just give him his 3 square meals a day, food, clothing, medical care, education, and otherwise let him be?  I decided to further restrict his privileges by only letting him take one bath a day for 30 minutes maximum.  (He likes to take about 6 to 8 baths a day usually.)  I also will fill up his waking time with chores and SODAS, but if he refuses to do them as he is now, do I just wait him out?  Keep asking him every 15 minutes if he's ready to accept consequences yet?  What? He seems to enjoy punishment.  If we are getting along great and having a wonderful day he will look for something to start fighting about, because he's just sort of cursed to be contrary and angry and annoying all the time.  I love him dearly but each day this goes on I feel my love seeping away.  I keep praying all the time for it to grow back, because I know that the less lovable children are, the more love they need.  I try to show him love all the time in every way possible.  I work to praise him 10 times as often as I correct him, but I'm only able to make it about 2 to 1 right now because he requires correction so frequently.  I try to reach him by having heart-to-heart talks but he says he can't talk to me because I will never understand him. Any ideas of how to reach him?  I'm praying day by day for some inspiration, for more love, for more insight, and for his heart to soften.  What do I do?

I have a few thoughts at this point.  Are you showing him positive consequences when he does good?  Make sure you point out the positive consequences and show him you love and understand him by showing him the positive consequences, even when he has lost his privleges.  Meaning, if he says, "okay" and is calm, then praise and tell him he has earned something.  It doesn't need to be big, and could be saved until he has his privileges again if you don't like the idea of giving it right then.  Even a child with no privelges should feel happy when they choose good. 


I will never forget a circumstance when I had a foster daughter out of control for many hours.  I realized she needed to see I wanted her to be happy even though I still had to be consistent.  I went to her room and asked her if she was ready to follow instructions yet.  She was not.  I was holding a box of crackers, and this girls biggest motivator was snacks.  I looked at her and said, "Jane, I want you to choose to be happy.  Can we talk about it for a minute quickly?  Here do you want a cracker?" 


She looked at me in surprise because I had offered her a snack when she didn't have privileges.  She said, "I don't have my privileges remember." 


I said, "I know, I just think you might need a little something right now to make you more comfortable.  I think we need a good talk." 


She took the cracker, and I told her again that I wanted her to be happy.  We went on to talk about how she got to choose happiness in every circumstance.  She really saw I cared.  I know the crackers had something to do with it.  They showed relationship and concern was always more important to me than consequences.  She ended up getting ready to follow instructions very quickly after our SHORT talk and she chose happiness.  After this she did all of her chores and SODAS without complaining and with a much happier countenance.  She finally accepted her consequences.  Accepting consequences is key to learning how to govern yourself.  Each person has to take responsibility for their own choices, accepting consequences teaches this. 


Is there a way you can show your son that you really do want him to choose to be happy too? 


He obviously needs to see that good equals good.  I think right now he only sees that bad equals bad, and has trained himself to seek negative attention.  Praise him for seeking positive attention whenever he does it.  Don't let his emotions manipulate you.  It has obviously worked in the past, or he wouldn't keep trying.  When he is acting out, only describe and show empathy and love; other than that no emotion.  When he is behaving, be happy and have fun with him.  Try to make your happiest times of the day moments when you are playing and talking with him.  If you look forward to those times, he will too.


When a child is in a rut and trying to win a power struggle that you are determined to not even have, then he needs an extra motivational system.  He doesn't see a way out of it all.  He is overwhelmed.  He needs to see the small successes. 


Make a list of what things motivate him.  (baths, snacks, TV, computer, friends, time alone, time with mom and dad, etc.)  After you have made a good list, write each motivator on a piece of paper and put them in envelopes.  You may even want to have him help you make the papers if you think he would like getting involved in the deciding.  (some children do better w/o being part of the planning while others really own the motivational system if they are part of the planning.) 


After you have made a the slips of paper and put them in the envelope, tell your son that each day he earns his privileges he will get to pick a paper out of the envelope as a special bonus.  I have even used this system, with smaller rewards, each time a really unmotivated child chose to really follow an instruction correctly.  These systems are meant to be temporary until the child sees the cause and effect better and realizes that they get to decide if they are happy or not.  So, announce how long the system will go on at the beginning. 


All that said, make sure you take time to keep understanding him.  He obviously wants that.  He also wants to manipulate your emotions, so that gives you a clue that he is wanting control of himself more.  He must feel out of control.  This could be why he is choosing not to control himself, and focus on controlling someone else instead.  It is much easier to control someone else than to control yourself because controlling others only takes emotions while controlling yourself takes dicsipline and hard work. 


Don't let him control you.  He might still try to keep controlling for a while, but after a while he will see that he has no power over you anymore.  Once you accept his behaviors for what they are, just childhood behaviors, and choose not to take his outbursts personally, then you can more easily show calm emotions when he is raging.  I want you to know that I have had to wait for months for some of my foster children to finally see that they are in charge of their happiness.  Finally, it happened, but it took a lot of patience and made for some long days.  Hang in there.  Smile and breath deep as often as you can. 


Keep praying for love.  That is the best thing you can do.  Go for walks with him.  Talk.  Take time to look into his eyes and feel his soul.  The eyes really are the window to the soul.  He has put a wall up, the only way to take it down is to see deeper into him.   Have more than one family activity per week for a while.  You need time to talk and bond with him.  Many times children put up walls it is because there are other selfish behaviors which can be going on that you may not know about. 


I am not saying I know this, but does he do anything sexual, like masturbation perhaps?  It is just a thought.  People who get into behaviors like these are notorious for shutting people out and wanting to seclude themselves.  They also tend to put a lot of stock into emotions. 


Get all the busy stuff out of your life for a while.  Just focus on family happiness.  It sounds like your family project right now needs to be "feeling love at home."  I would pull back and just do family for a while if you can.  It is worth a sacrifice now for peace and love in the future. 


Don't forget to pre-teach him a lot.  Each time he seems like he is going to lose it, say, "..remember you can always disagree appropriately"  or "remember this is an instruction."  Then when he disagrees, reward him for his calmness by listening, and sometimes taking his side.  Maybe even reward him spontaneously with snacks etc.  Positive reinforcements promote more positive choices. 


Relationship building is key.  Call upon bigger powers to help you.  Have you knelt with him and poured your heart out to God in your son's behalf yet?  You should do this.  Show him your love by expressing it to God.  Tell God the things you understand about how your son feels.  Remember how I told the story of a great man called Gene Cook on CD five?  Do that story at your house too.  It really adds depth to what you are doing. 


Last, stay consistent with your system, if you break down now, he will always have this problem.  He needs to feel your love and see that you know he can succeed at stopping his emotions.  The best love you can give him right now is a kind heart, and a consistent family government.  He needs to stop now for success in the future.


It sounds like your son will take longer than the usual child to learn self-government.  He will have some more bad days I am sure.  Know they will happen, be confident. (pray for that too)  Know that your son and everyone else has agency, so you can't make his heart change, but over time it will if you continue to love and follow through.  


Keep Swimming!



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