By Dr. Henry Brandt, Ph.D.
We’re going to talk about the mechanics of working together in a family. The first thing you think about is setting limits. This is a man and his wife sitting down to decide what the limits are going to be. They ought to be as few as possible. When you stop to think about it, say of preschool children, there aren’t really many limits involved. You decide when bedtime is, you decide when you eat, you decide what you’re going to do about the toys, and there’s not much more to it than that. It’s really not that complicated. The complex part is for you and your partner to agree on what they are.
I agree they ought to be as few as possible. The thing you’ve got to face when you set a limit is that the people that are affected will resist that limit. For instance, let me give you an illustration. We had a rule at our house when our children were smaller that whenever you finished playing with the toys, you pick them up, and put them away. Now that sounds simple enough doesn’t it?
Well, I came home from work one day and we had one of the neighborhood children at our house and she had blocks all over the living room. That’s fine, we enjoyed having the neighborhood children over, and it was fine for them to be playing with the blocks, but this child announced, “I’m going home,” and I said, “Well, you have to pick up the blocks first.”
See, our limits applied to anybody’s kids that came around. They were the Brandt limits at our house. This little child said, “I won’t pick up the blocks.” Well, now what do you do when a little child won’t? Now here’s a very simple principle for all of you to try out. You help them. She needed help, and she needed a lot of help. What kind?
When I told her she had to pick up the blocks, she headed for the closet to get her coat. So I had to catch her in order to help her. Dragged her back into the living room, and she was kicking and screaming and saying, “Leave me alone!” See, she needed help. What she did not need at that point was a lecture on respect for adults.
All I needed to do was to quietly help her. So with my hand in hers, we started picking up blocks. I wasn’t doing it for her, I was helping her. She was saying, “Leave me alone. I’ll do it myself.” That’s okay, so I left her alone. As soon as I left her alone, she took off for the closet. That’s resistance. So I had to go and get her and drag her back into the living room, and keep helping her. Finally, she said, “Leave me alone. I’ll do it myself.” This time she just stood there watching me do it. That’s no good. I wasn’t going to do her job for her, but I was willing to help her.
With my hand in hers, we picked up the blocks; and when we were finished, she looked up at me and she said, “I’m going home and I’m going to tell my mother on you, and I am never ever going to come back.” She gave me one final dirty look, and away she went. Do you know that little girl liked to play at our house? Her mother described her this way, she said, “We are raising a juvenile delinquent.” All the rest of us on the block agreed. She was a nasty kid, but she did like our house.
Now what she would do on the sidewalk, for instance, if she wanted a tricycle, she would knock the kid off the tricycle and say, “Give me the tricycle.” That’s the way she was. Now at her house, she couldn’t find any boundaries. If she yelled loud enough, or if she cried long enough, if she made herself obnoxious enough long enough, she could always end up getting what she wanted.
Now that poor little kid was lost. It’s as though you walk up to a wall and lean up against the wall and the wall collapses. Now that would make you pretty uneasy, wouldn’t it? That poor little girl couldn’t find any boundaries at her house, and that’s why she liked our house because there were boundaries there. That’s what little children need, they need limits. They really need limits. Fair, reasonable, as few as possible, and what the limits should be should be the considered united judgment of a man and his wife.
Whenever you set limits, you can expect the people affected to resist those limits. I’m a business man, we have a bunch of employees (about three hundred employees in our business), and we have among those people twenty-two employees who don’t work. They don’t work at all. Do you know what their job is? Their job is to make sure that the rest of the people work.
Do you realize that it takes twenty-two people to make the rest of those people work? Now mind you, we’re not talking about children, we’re talking about people that we pay. They agreed to do a certain kind of a job. You don’t expect people when you hire them to just go ahead and do the job.
Any of you that work, you expect to have a supervisor don’t you? Now why? When can you tell an individual, when can you come to an agreement with a person that they will do a particular thing, and you can expect them to do without checking up on them? It doesn’t happen. Anybody that’s in a business world, anybody that wants something done, knows that you have to have supervision because people tend to go their own way.
That’s what it says in Isaiah 53:6. It says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray.” We’ll stray away from our own limits. We have gone everyone to his own way. Now you can see that tendency to go your own way full blown and very obvious in little children, and little children will test your limits.
I was in an airport one time, and in wandered this big lady. She was as wide as this thing and tall, six feet. She came waddling in with this little bitty preschool child, and that child really looked small beside that lady. She eased herself into one of those airport chairs, and the little child started wandering away. This lady had kind of a deep bass voice, and she said to that child, “You come back here.” That child didn’t pay any attention to that great big lady, kept wandering away, and the lady said, “Come here I said.” That child felt perfectly secure, that big lady wasn’t about to budge out of that chair.
Now there are a lot of us that realize that, do we not? In the business world we have a term that says the employee will do what the boss inspects not what he expects. It’s the same way in parent-child relations. The child will do what you inspect not what you expect. You can expect your children to resist you. When our children were small, we had to make a choice, whether we would raise grass or children in our backyard, and we decided that we would raise children instead of grass.
We discovered that if you want children in your backyard, you won’t have much competition, and the neighbors weren’t competing for the children. So quite often, there they were in our backyard. We liked that because then we knew where our children were and we could keep an eye on them.
I was standing there one day watching these children play in the backyard, and across the ether waves comes this voice. There is one of these I suppose in every neighborhood. It sounded something like this : “Jooohhnnneee!” Johnny kept right on playing, and the second time and the third time comes this voice, everybody in the neighborhood could hear it and one of the kids even said, “Hey Johnny don’t you know your mother’s calling you?” He said, “I don’t need to go yet.” Then pretty soon you hear this voice, “Johnny!!” and away he went. His mother had two voices and he knew perfectly well that when his mother used that first voice she wasn’t about to do anything about it except make a lot of noise.
Now a lot of children realize that if we can adjust to mother’s screaming we can do anything we want. Children don’t need to be yelled at, children need to be helped.
I’ve had mothers say to me, “How do you get your children to go to bed?”
I say, “Well what do you do?”
They say, “Well I say, wouldn’t you like to go to bed now?”
You know you don’t want to order them do you? Kids don’t like to be ordered so you want to make them want to, and so you say, “Wouldn’t you like to go to bed?”
The answer is inevitable isn’t it? “No.”
Now how do you get a child to bed? The simplest way that I know is to scoop her up and plunk her into bed. That’s help. You can beg these little children, and as long as you want to beg, they’ll let you beg. I said to a lady one time or she asked me, “How do you get a small child dressed?”
Here’s this big lady and this little child, and what she would do in the morning was to approach the little child and say, “Don’t you want to put your dress on?”
The little child looks up at that big lady and says, “No.”
I think sometimes these little kids get a real big kick out of what happens to these big ladies.
She said, “I say to the little girl, if you put the dress on, you can have some breakfast.”
“I don’t want any breakfast.”
“Well if you put the dress on; you can play with these toys.”
“I don’t want to play with any toys.”
How do you get a dress on this little girl? Of course I’m a pro and I should know these things, stuff her into it. It just saves you all kinds of trouble, all kinds of time. What the child needs is a little help, that’s all.
Now you see what I’m saying? If you don’t understand human nature, and what is human nature like? - “All of us like sheep have gone astray and we have gone everyone unto our own way, ” - that’s the most normal, natural thing there is, is to want to do something the way you want to do it, if you’re going to have something done. That is, the child is that way. That child wants to do what that child wants to do, and they’re persistent, really persistent. I think I used this illustration once before, I want to use it again about our son. We had a rule that said before you come down in the morning, make your bed.
Just as sure as morning came, he would come bounding down the stairs and he would hit the bottom step and you would hear my wife call out, “Dick?”
“Did you make your bed?”
“Then go on upstairs and make your bed.”
He would plod plod upstairs to make his bed.
How long do you have to tell a fellow to make his bed before he does it automatically? Twenty years. We often said that if that fellow ever got that kind of persistence directed in a positive way, he would sure go places.
It turned out that way, too. That’s why you have to supervise people in a business. How long do you supervise people? As long as you have your business open. How long do you have to help people overcome resistance? That’s no problem to you if you will accept the fact of resistance and that’s just the way it is. If you have the responsibility for getting something done, then it’s a matter, first of all, of setting limits.
That’s a job for you and your partner to agree on. Setting the limits and then you spend the rest of your time helping your children overcome their resistance to those limits. How do you get them to want to keep the limits? I don’t know. That’s not our job. What limits do they want to keep? That’s not the question.
I had one lady say to me, “How do you get your children to do something that you want them to do without getting mad at them first?”
I asked her to give me an illustration. She had a ten year old daughter and this lady would, her job was to wash the dishes. These were the days when you still had milkmen. I’m sure some of you don’t even remember that, do you?
The first thing that she would do would be to wash the milk bottles and put them on the dish drainer and then the little girl’s job was to take those milk bottles and take them out on the porch. The mother would call out, “The milk bottles are ready.” Real nice, and what happened? Nothing. She would call out again, “The milk bottles are ready.” Nothing happened. “The milk bottles are ready!” No child. “Did you hear me? The milk bottles are ready!!” No child.
She said, “By then I’m so mad I wipe my hands on my apron. I go out into that living room and I say you get out there and take those milk bottles out on the porch and then she does it. Now how do you get her to do it without getting so mad at her first?”
I said, “Lady, do me a favor. Tomorrow night when you wash the milk bottles would you call out just as nice as you know how, the milk bottles are ready and then go after her?”
That was one of the most surprised kids. Imagine an adult meaning what they say when they’re in a good mood. All that had happened here was that this little girl had discovered that mother isn’t serious until she’s fighting mad. So you don’t really need to pay attention to her until them. Now this is just as normal and natural as it can be. This matter of dealing with the resistance of your children to certain limits.
Now obviously your children aren’t going to resist all your limits. I can remember at our house, my son, we didn’t have any trouble at all with him about keeping the car clean. He wanted to keep the car clean. In fact he was on my back, “Dad, you should take better care of the car.”
Now you don’t have to do this with all limits but you do have to do it with the limits that your children don’t particularly care about. Whose decision is it what the limits will be? It’s yours and your partner’s, not your children. Now I am well aware of the fact that what I am telling you goes cross wise with what you’re accustomed to reading.
Nowadays, you see so many children who are allowed to chart their own course, and set their own limits, and do what they want. They get so used to their mothers yelling and screaming at them, and I hear parents say, “These children nowadays won’t listen to you. How do you get these children to want to do something?
The psychologists tell ‘em that we should get our children to want to do something. We shouldn’t frustrate them. Our children won’t do it. Those kinds of people that give you that kind of advice, they don’t know what the Bible says. You're not listening to a fellow that understands Biblical principles, and these things that I’m telling you. Any of you that have children, you know exactly what I am talking about, don’t you? Children tend to go their own way. Where do they get that from? Obviously from their mothers because their mothers are that way, and their fathers; and where did they get that from? From their mothers and from their fathers.
This is one of the normal, natural characteristics of a human being, and you can trace it all the way back to the beginning of scripture. That’s been the issue between men and women. This is one of the reasons why we have so much difficulty in marriage these days.
You've got a woman who wants what she wants, and you’ve got a man who wants what he wants, and when you put them together, there comes a time when it is inevitable that you can’t both have what you want. Isn’t that true? For example, if you sleep in the same bedroom, how high will you raise the window? How cool will that bedroom be?
You’ve got to get together on that one. That is if you want to stay in the same bedroom. How many people have found that this is an issue? If you have a given amount of money to spend how are you going to spend it? You’ve just got a given amount of money; you’ve got to get together on that. Any of you know that it doesn’t take you very long to get at cross purposes with your partner.
Now that same tendency to go your own way becomes very clear and very obvious in your small children, isn't that right? All you need to do is set a limit, and you can experience people’s resistance to that limit and this applies to small children, and this applies all the way up to anybody that you are responsible for what they do. So, any of us that understand that principle, if you’ll simply accept the fact of helping your children.
One lady was saying this to me, “How do I get my daughter to stay home? I say to my daughter I do not want you to go out tonight and she walks right past me and out the door. You just can’t do anything for these kids these days. They won’t listen to you. What do you do?”
I think the solution is simple, get between her and the door. You need to help her stay home. You don’t expect her to jump up and down with glee. Your responsibility is not to keep that child happy, your responsibility is to guide that child in the way that it should go according to your judgment, and your judgment is not necessarily going to be understood by your child.
I’ve heard people say, “Well, your children would obey if you would explain to them why you want them to do what you ask.” If you’ve ever had any teenage children, have you ever tried to explain to them why it’s in their best interest to stay home tonight? Listen, they could care less about your reasons. What they want to know is how can I get out?
The smarter they are, the more ingenious they’re going to be to try to do what they want to do. What do they need? They need a good humored mother who appreciates the contest and enjoys it. They need a good humored father who is backing her up. All they really need to know is that if they don’t like what mother asks me, they’re going to ask Dad and they need to know that they’re going to get the same answer from Dad, that’s security.
What these children need is a couple of good humored parents who love their children enough, and believe in them enough that you’re going to give them whatever help they need in order to do what, in your judgment, is best.