When there are sixteen children living together, it is only a matter of time before some serious shenanigans occur. Actually, I would be worried if they weren’t causing some sort of trouble. Kids need to be kids! They learn where they fit by testing the boundaries and exploring their creativity with the rules. So when I recently learned of a really silly stunt and I was thankful I could laugh out loud from this continent while not have to keep a serious face and manage the situation in person.
I can’t name the players of course. But I can tell you what happened and how we managed the problem. What I hope to accomplish by revealing the belly of our ministry is that everyone can have a glimpse into how we are parenting these sixteen children. This is not Mr. Vontrapp style with a whistle, uniforms and a sharp line to toe. So I invite you to see how we do this.
Basically a dare was made. Someone said, “ are you stupid enough to pee on my head?” Another said, “ Would you pee in a cup?” Well the challengers were begging someone to get creative and follow through. How could this child not find a way to be snuffed like that? So one silly child filled a water balloon with pee and poured it on the challenger’s head, and into a drinking up. Thankfully no one took a sip.
The team members in charge were aghast. How could these hooligans think this was acceptable behavior? Their chins dropped with disbelief. Their minds swirled wondering what do we do about this? And how do we teach them not to do it again? Ask Mama Tonya.
So I got the email and I read it to my boys. They responded through belly laughs, “brilliant use of a water balloon!” Sigh. Boys. After I laughed I really did have to begin thinking about the deeper issue of behavior management. I understand there’s some animosity among a few of the older kids. They just look for every opportunity to push the angry buttons. When they think an adult isn’t looking they will harass one another. So the goal is to get them to see how God wants them to treat one another even when no one is looking. They have been learning it all year long, they just haven’t connected the knowledge to their choices and behavior. I thought this is a good opportunity to show them their choices do not actually reflect what their words are saying. Oh I was raised being told too many times, “actions speak louder than words.” So these kids are going to get an earful of it as well.
During my morning quiet time I went through Proverbs and found some verses that are specifically about children. Here’s the list I sent for Phiona to use to teach the children in their devotion time:
Proverbs 22:15, 20:11, 13:13, 13:18, 12:15. There are many more but five would be a good start. She sat with the children in their familiar circle for devotions and as they discussed these verses in light of the foolish choices that were made with a water balloon and a dare their hearts were burdened. The children began to see they are not just getting caught. They are disappointing God. As the children read these verses together they were surprised. They didn’t know really that God has expectations for children too. Somehow they thought faith was a knowledge exercise and grownups were perfect but kids could be kids.
Their hearts were convicted. They really love God so much, and they are so eager to understand his plan for us so they devour the teachings in the bible. But this new information about how they are expected to actually do it now was surprising. They need to learn to show one another the same love and grace that God shows us.
The next step in handling this discipline matter was for the offenders to write a letter and list twenty things they appreciate about the other. It is easy to write a list about how someone bothers us. But to find the things we appreciate and admire takes a lot of thinking. I am not sure if they have finished these letters but I will ask for copies and I think it is wise for them to read the letters out loud to the whole group at devotion time. Perhaps, as I am thinking now, knowing Phiona reads my blog, each kid should write a letter to someone who annoys him or her a little, and practice this exercise.
In our home with our boys we did not tolerate animosity towards one another. Kevin and Jack have often been made to hold hands all through the dinner hour. We have had them write these ‘nice’ letters to one another before. There was a time when Jordan and Donny were little that I thought I was going six feet in the ground because these two hated each other so much. I determined if it were the last thing I did they would learn to be kind to one another and show love. It took years but it was accomplished. My boys don’t fight. They aren’t allowed to be disrespectful to one another. And I believe they really like being together. It was a long long road towards this result. But I didn’t give up and I’m not giving up on the relationships between our children in Uganda.
The final step towards discipline for their now infamous balloon stunt was to tell me on skype what they did. We have not done this yet. I am rethinking this because it is so impersonal using skype. They will be horrified to have to face me with this. So instead I am going to write each of them a letter about how it affects me and how I hope they will begin work to improve their attitudes and choices.
I’m fairly certain no one at the home will ever fill a water balloon with pee and pour it on someone’s head again. There will be more astonishing events I am sure but less and less until they are all just memories of their own foolishness. They will become the ones teaching the little ones about not being foolish and loving one another to please God and as a response to the grace we receive. All of us on the parenting team, we are tenacious, and they will not get away with disrespecting the expectations of God because we too know we are accountable to Him for how we parent.