Now you can!
Dr. Tom Hines is on the Board of Directors of The Apollos Project and is a pediatrician in Lincoln RI. In addition, he is a long time Christian and father of four grown children.
I sat down with him for an hour and recorded what he had to say. In his easy-going style he addresses all sorts of subjects: fear, media, structure and limitations, boredom and creativity.
Parents, you are going to want to listen to this. Grandparents, pass this on to others.
1:02 – The number one issue within parents: Fear
6:10 – The number one issue parents are dealing with: Technology
16:50 – Specific suggestions for media as well as some surprising medical research
22:35 – The overscheduled family and child
28:07 – The importance of family meals
32:33 – Introducing structure and limitations for little children
42:19 – Crying and your children – you are not a failure!
48:18 – Boredom, creativity, and toys
56:16 – Training your children to sit for a church meeting
I think you will agree with me that the information here is solid gold. Put it into practice and pass it on.
I am honored to have Tom on my board!
If you have other questions you would like to ask him, email me.
Episode Transcript (with minor edits for clarity):
Chap: I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to The Disciple-Making Parent, a podcast of The Apollos Project, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children.
I’m really excited about this podcast. You’re going to be listening in to a conversation I had with Dr. Tom Hines. Tom is on the board of The Apollos Project and he’s a brother in the Lord, and is just filled with wisdom- both from raising his own children and as a pediatrician for three decades. And so he has experience with hundreds or thousands of children and seeing what they’re facing today.
We were out for coffee and just the wisdom that was coming out of his mouth. I said, “I’ve got to sit you down, get you in front of a microphone, and start recording some of this.” And there was so much, we’re actually going to do two podcasts: this one and the next one. Just a lot of wisdom that comes from Tom.
So let’s listen in as we have a free-wheeling and fun conversation.
Let’s start with one of the things you talked about was with all the parents you see, and just some of the common problems and why you think they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Dr. Hines: Well, parents, come to me with lots of concerns, not always just health concerns, but often parenting concerns in general: behavior concerns and so on. But I would say the trend I’ve seen over the years is parents parent out of fear. That there’s a tremendous fear among parents in modern times. Fear of not doing things correctly. Fear of failing. Fear of not giving their child every advantage.
Chap: Fear of messing up my children?
Dr. Hines: Yeah. Messing up my children. You could make a very long list. A lot of that fear comes out of listening too many voices. Well, aren’t you doing that? Well, haven’t you thought about that? You mean you haven’t put them in such and such preschool yet? You haven’t bought them this educational toy? You know, they’re bombarded.
Google has both its pros and cons because just about anything they hear they Google. But the problem is when they get the information, they don’t know how to interpret that. Whether it’s a health-related problem or whatever. So there’s tremendous sources of information, some good, some bad, with difficulty in terms of interpreting it and applying it, and so on. They’re listening to their friends. They’re listening to their coworkers. They’re listening to the news at night. Of course, the news is designed to cause fear and panic so that you watch the news and increase their ratings. And to the Christian parents specifically, they can fall into the same trap. And yet as Christians, we should be listening to one voice and we should be taking our directions from the one who wrote the book on parenting, and that’s the Lord himself.
And so it’s a discipline parents have to learn. If I’m dealing with a non-Christian, they have to learn to trust me as a pediatrician; that maybe I know some things and maybe I’ve learned some things and I can try to alleviate some of their fears and guide them in certain decisions. But also for the Christian parent, God has plenty to say on just about anything we can talk about or bring up. So I encourage parents, especially parents of faith, to parent by faith and by God’s word, and to learn to trust God. That, look, little is much with God. In the eyes of the world, it may not seem like- why should that work? But in the wisdom of God, it says the wisdom of the world is foolishness.
And so God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. And that’s why we need to be listening more to him. Because he’s the one that can guide us through the rocky places and the stormy seas and so on. And when you begin to hear his voice more, it begins to quiet the other voices and to give a peace and a confidence in your parenting. And you really have to work hard to do that, you know. Because our tendency is to rely on our own wisdom and our own ability and what all the experts are saying. And I want to let you in on a little secret: most of those experts have messed-up kids, okay? And so they bring their kids to us, as pediatricians.
So just because someone has a PhD or even an MD doesn’t mean they always know what they’re talking about. They may mean well. They may be parroting what they’ve been taught. But it doesn’t mean they always have God’s wisdom in what they say. Wow. So that’s, I would say, a foundational problem that I see, because I’m dealing with parental fears day in and day out.
Then I would say that maybe the most common general problem of the modern age is technology and handling technology, limiting technology. It used to be, all we had to worry about was, Well, how much TV a day does your child watch? But it’s not that simple anymore when you have smart phones and iPads and tablets of every kind, computers and laptops and. . . And when parents do try to limit these technologies, the kids outsmart their parents.
Like one parent was trying to limit internet access to their child. And somehow through a smartphone they could access their Xbox and still access the internet. I don’t know how they did it, but kids are very resourceful. So it’s not just trying to outsmart and out-trick your children, but it’s from a very young age, it is managing technology on a day-to-day basis as they grow older. So it’s not like you give them all this freedom and then you decide, Whoops, this is not a good thing, and now you try to rein it in and restrict it. I tell parents, you’re always better off to begin a good habit than to try to break a bad one. Once you allow bad habits to form, then anything you do will be seen as mean or restrictive.
So from the moment you start watching television, movies, with your child, you have to limit from the beginning what is appropriate for that child. I go to some movies and I’m seeing a six-year-old in a movie that’s clearly inappropriate, you know? So when you’re talking about screen time, you have to include all these other devices now. And media becomes an electronic babysitter. It becomes a method of defilement in the way children think and what they see; it shapes their attitudes and their mindset. The problem with electronic media in general is it often bypasses the intellect and appeals to the emotions so that you make conclusions based on feeling, not because you have clearly thought out what you’re watching.
And so from the very beginning of introducing media, you should provide a running commentary on what your children are seeing. What do you think about that? Do you think that’s really true? Is that what you would do?You can ask these kinds of questions to see how your child is thinking. And I tell parents, even the American Academy, they say, look, a child under the age of two shouldn’t watch any television, but I can’t tell you how many children under the age of two watch television. They don’t recommend a television in your bedroom, but I can’t tell you how many kids have TV in their bedroom. And they certainly suggest, you know, you have to watch violence, you have to watch sex, all those kinds of things, but parents are so numb themselves. We’ve become so callous ourselves. We allow ourselves to watch things that we shouldn’t watch that we don’t think it’s a big deal to our children, or we refuse to deny ourselves and deny our children for their sake and for our sake. So it’s very easy to go with the flow because your neighbors are doing it or their friends are doing it, or so-and-so does it, well, I guess it’s okay.
When I was a young Christian, I had a very interesting experience. There was a hot, new summer blockbuster. I won’t mention the movie because I don’t want to get anybody feeling guilty, but a Christian friend said, Oh, man, this is a great movie. We gotta go see it. And so a whole group of us went. This one couple that we knew went with us and just a little bit into the movie -and they were very gracious about it- they just said, You know, this really isn’t for us. You guys enjoy it, but we’re going to go do something else. And they paid good money for that movie and we didn’t feel guilty. They didn’t make us feel guilty. They were very gracious. But ever since that moment, I always ask myself the question: What would make me walk out of a movie? Where would I personally draw limits for myself and do I draw them? And then for parents, where do you draw limits for your children? So you have to have an awareness. There are plenty of resources available for parents who evaluate what’s in a movie. Plugged In Online or even in IMDB, Internet Movie Database, there are parent guidelines for almost every modern movie.
Now, it gets extremely explicit. It’s almost defiling to read through the parental guidelines. But you really have to be aware. When our kids were young and they were going to see a movie or we were going to show the movie, I almost always previewed the movie.
Chap: That’s the rule in our house. Are you saying you previewed the movie to look at it?
Dr. Hines: If I could watch it, I might watch it. I might at least read the review on it. I never let them blindly go in to see a movie. Or if I knew it was more adult content, maybe it would appropriate if it was appropriately discussed, you know? Some movies deal with difficult topics, like a Schindler’s List or something like that, an R rated movie. And that might be appropriate for a teenager to see if there’s proper follow-up and discussion and things like that. But I never let my children just blindly go in and see a movie without being aware. So you have to be mindful, to be aware of what they’re watching, be aware of how much they’re watching, be aware of how much time they spend on electronic media.
And then it’s not only the content they’re watching, but there’s the whole social media aspect. I don’t even know where to begin there other than it’s out of control. So kids are staying up till 11 or 12, texting their friends and sending little Instagrams and so on. But they’re doing this on the sly. I’m not real big on cell phones. I grew up in the age where we didn’t have cell phones. Somehow my parents always knew where I was at. Somehow we could always communicate. Somehow I lived to adulthood. So there is this expectation that these things we cannot live without. And I would humbly suggest that we could certainly live without most of this stuff that we have. They’re conveniences.
And be very careful at the ages that we introduce some of these things to the lives of our children, because they can take them over. When my kids were growing up, the primary thing that I had to monitor was the internet. That was expanding by leaps and bounds. I think all my children at one point stumbled onto pornography. It was something I monitored. It was something I had to discuss with them. It was something they weren’t looking for necessarily, but you know, a lot of these porn sites are designed to entrap children when they’re searching for other things. But in this day in age, it’s all over. If kids have smartphones, it’s accessible through the smartphone, if they have tablets it’s accessible through the tablet, the accessibility of this stuff is just out of control. And so as parents, to make a long story short, I would say media- and you know, we could spend a lot more time on it- is something to really give significant thought to establish limits and rules early on. As children show responsibility and trustworthiness, you can expand those limits, but still, keep electronic media away from the dinner table. Keep it out of the bedroom. Keep it away from family times. Don’t let it interrupt conversation. If the child is abusing that, then it needs to be addressed. And you will be unpopular. I’ll just let you know, you will be unpopular, but you will be thanked down the road. You’ve just got to wait for it.
Chap: So just as long as we’re talking about that, are there specific suggestions you’ve given parents, or parents that have had a problem that have implemented suggestions?
Dr. Hines: Well, for example, when kids have smartphones, those often go to bed with them. And so whether it’s for dinner or whether it’s for bedtime, I tell parents to have a little basket and all portable electronic media goes in that basket so it does not interrupt dinner and it does not go into the bedtime. Practically, what happens is these kids are losing an hour or two of sleep every night. And the latest thing, which sounds kind of silly, but a lot of these portable devices and tablets emit a blue light, which apparently is stimulatory to the brain in a sense that it becomes almost an anti-sleep. So not only are they spending a lot of time delaying trying to go to sleep, when they turn it off and try to go to sleep, it actually now has inhibited them really from being able to fall asleep. So whenever there’s a problem, you always have to come up with a cure. So now the latest thought is to give kids special glasses to look at their tablets before they go to bed that screens the blue light out of the spectrum. I know, it sounds really silly.
Chap: So as opposed to, just don’t have them use their device before they go into bed.
Dr. Hines: Right. Like, give them a paper book and have them do some light reading about a half hour before for a bit. That actually has been shown to be quite beneficial. So any kind of electronic media, whether it’s television, the blue light thing is more of a smartphone/tablet kind of a thing, has been shown for years to be causing delayed onset of sleep. And so when kids swear up and down that they cannot fall asleep without these things, every study has shown them that they’re wrong. That’s what they think. It’s just like the myth of the multitasker, right? Everybody thinks they can multitask, but when they really measure productivity, you can only really do one thing well at a time.
So other than you have to limit. . . Some of our best conversations with our kids were in car rides.
Chap: You’re talking about your kids.
Dr. Hines: My kids. Yes. Electronic devices can and be the intruders of just daily family life. And so you’re talking to your child, but your child is not listening because they are texting Susie five miles away, and then they’re sending a picture of something they just took outside the car window. It could be music. And I haven’t even really touched on music, but music was something else. I think you need to know what your children are listening to, and have a discussion with them about it. I mean, you don’t have to be legalistic about all this, but you need to be aware and talk to them and have these ongoing in conversations about these things.
So car rides, don’t underestimate your ability to communicate wisdom to your children. But if you haven’t cultivated the conversation from the day they were able to talk and even before they were able to talk. . . you know, you cultivate that conversation all their lives. And I’m just saying, don’t let electronic media intrude on that. Limit it, use it for good, because it can be the source of much good if you use it wisely. But don’t let it diminish family life, take away from family conversation, interrupt family time, and practically affect sleep and everything else.
It’s using a little common sense, and you really have to keep yourself a little bit technologically savvy in this day and age, not that you’ll ever keep up with your children. And that’s why parents often will parent out of fear. But you have to be aware. You have to have an awareness, and know each individual child where you need to draw the limits for them.
Chap: That’s really good. As you’re talking, I hadn’t really put this together, but there are the commands of Deuteronomy 6, to talk about these things at all different times. So that’s a positive command, to speak about the Word as they go down, as they get up, at dinnertime, as you walk along the way. But the problem can be that we’ve got electronics. That’s actually squeezing that time. So here’s time that the Lord has ordained in Deuteronomy 6 to have conversations, and you’re going to lose that because electronics have come in.
That’s great. Yes. I’d love to talk to you a whole other hour. And that wasn’t even one of our questions we were going to talk about!
So talk a little bit about overscheduled kids and parents, just does that flow out of that whole fear thing?
Dr. Hines: Well, it does, and I understand, parents want to give their child every advantage, right? So it’s the ballet lessons Mom was never able to do when she was a girl or the dad who wants their son to be the star athlete. More often than not it’s sports for boys, it’s gymnastics and dance and ballet for girls. Not to stereotype, but I’m just saying, that’s what I see. But the whole family life becomes centered around the child. Everything- the family expenses, the family time, is going to this practice, this practice, this meet, this tournament. And though families view it as family time, they’re just sitting in the bleachers. It’s not family time. You’re in the same building, but it’s not family time where there’s quality time together and conversation and intimacy together. You become almost like the chauffeur and you really do become that. And so having said that, I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t give kids opportunity to learn a sport, learn a skill, play piano, all these things.
But too often, I see children on a regular basis involved in at least two or three activities during the week. And why do parents do that? They want to give their child an edge and opportunity. And again, a lot of it is fear. Sometimes I feel that parents are trying to live vicariously through the lives of their children to become what they never could become. I think there that aspect. But what happens? You’re running here, you’re rushing here, you’re dropping off this kid, you’re picking up this kid. You eat out all the time because you’re never home for dinner. And by the time everybody drops into the home, basically it’s time to clean up, get your jammies on and go to bed. So over the course of an entire day, families are actually together and in conversation or with an opportunity to actually talk probably less than 30 minutes a day. And I say to parents, “Is that the total amount of influence you want to have on your children, not even 30 minutes a day? You want your life to totally be organized and prioritized around all these different activities?”
Now, it’s bad enough with just one child, but families are doing this with two children, three children, four children, and the mom never sees the dad because Dad’s taking Johnny to football while Mom’s taking Susie to ballet. And then she’s got a hurry up to pick up so-and-so from piano practice or whatever. How families do this, I don’t know. But I’m never quite surprised when within 10 years the parents are splitting because they haven’t made their marriage a priority. Everything has revolved around the children. And so you have just this overscheduled, busy, hurry-up life. So I encourage parents, and that’s one of the reasons- well, look, if the only time you’re home is for an hour, and then you put your kids in front of the TV? Now you’ve had zero family time. That’s the other reason to limit media. Because if Monday through Friday you are a busy family and you do have certain commitments that you feel you’re obligated to keep, God wants you to be involved with, whatever, that’s all the more to limit some of this electronic stuff- because your window of influence is very small. You know, they say TV is the number one teacher of children. And then you’ve got your school teachers. Parents come in a distant third, and it really should be more balanced than that.
Chap: Do you want to talk a little bit about family meals and just the importance of that? What did you do when your kids were small or teenage years?
Dr. Hines: Well, modern times is different. And yet there’s the ideal, and then sometimes you just have to get creative. So for example, there was a time in my life when I was in training, I was at the hospital approximately 120 hours a week. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for family life. My kids were kind of small at the time, but my wife made it a regular basis to come down and join me for dinner and bring all the kids. Now it cost a little bit of money. It wasn’t as easy, but we decided it was important. So if there’s a will, there’s a way, and it’s an old cliché.
I was just reading the, the story of the man who was kind of the founder of modern genetics. He lived in France. Now, in France they have the luxury of having a siesta every afternoon for several hours. But for all of his children’s lives- and he was a busy man and gave lectures all over the world- both he and his wife ate with their children three times a day, their whole lives. He would come home from work. He would go back to work and they’d have a late dinner together. I thought, Wow, that’s a tough act to follow. But I know one family that every Saturday morning Dad cooks breakfast. That’s a big thing. And those are wonderful family traditions to keep because that really becomes things that kids remember. And it bonds you together as a family. And remember, don’t bring electronic devices. But he’d make them pancakes every Saturday morning.
So you take your kids off for breakfast. So in the ideal world, you eat together as a family. Now studies would show that eating together as a family at least once a day is the most important thing in terms of preventing drug abuse and all these kinds of things. You’ve got to always take those kinds of statements with a grain of salt. It may just mean these parents care to begin with. And the family dinner is just one aspect of the parents that are involved and care about their kids, and they’re interested. So it’s not like family dinner will cure all your family’s problems, but it does show that you’re valuing it and you’re valuing time with your children and you’re valuing that experience.
And so once a day, try to carve out a family meal time. It might be breakfast. It might be going out for a little treat at night or something after a busy day. It might mean a family sit down meal together. It might be pancakes on Saturday morning. But you can find a way to make these things happen and make them fun. It doesn’t have to be time for Dad to lecture the family. So make ’em fun, make ’em interactive. Don’t let your children be the center of the meal, but include them in that and make them feel like they’re welcome and that what they say is valued and their opinions are important. And you want to know how they think, and you want to ask them questions. Because it’s your way of taking their temperature. You know, what’s the barometer, what wind are they sailing by? What are they experiencing? What are the problems they’re facing in school? Sometimes these things will come up at family meal times, so you can really use it in a very positive way, to kind of set the course of your family in terms of the children.
Chap: We’ll stop our podcast right there talking about meals. And it leads naturally into the next subject, which has to do with structure in the home. And for that you’ll need to tune in to our next podcast.
End Part 1
Chap: This is part two of a two-part series of an interview with Dr. Tom Hines. In this podcast, we’re going to continue just gleaning from his wisdom with dealing with so many children and the cultural age that we live in. And so specifically in this show, we’re going to talk about introducing structure and limitations for little children, and we’ll be talking about crying and things like boredom, as well as training your children to sit for a church service. So you’re not going to want to miss Tom’s wisdom.
Well, that gets into structure and limitations on little children. We started with media; let’s arc back a little bit down to little kids. I don’t want to squash their creativity; that if I say no, if I don’t let them wander wherever they want to, then in fact it’s going to squash their creativity. But we were talking about before, I know I did with my four children and you did as well: structure, limitations, both theoretically and also very practically, is fine.
Dr. Hines: I’m not sure where it comes from, but when I talk to parents of young children, they’ll often screen off a whole room for their child to play in and they think that’s a good idea. And I say, “No, let’s think about that. You’re giving this two-year-old or three-year-old a whole room of the house, just for their pleasure. What are you going to do when they’re five, give them the living room, too?” So again, children need structure, they need limitation. They need to learn to work and play in a sense within those boundaries and limitations. They expect it. They want it. They’re more secure when they have it, because within that structure and those boundaries and limitations comes the freedom in that secure environment for them to be creative.
And so what you might view as restrictive becomes, you might call it a playpen of creativity. The number one problem that I face when the kids are older is they can’t make them stay in one place ever. They won’t sit in a chair, they won’t stay still at the store. They’re forever chasing their children. But why should they be surprised? They never taught them otherwise. So a simple thing: I love the playpen. I love pack-and-plays. And I tell parents from the time a child’s about four to six months of age, start putting them in there and let them explore the confines of that environment. Now, the child doesn’t mind, they don’t care. And as they grow, it becomes kind of like their old friend; they’ve grown up with it. They’re comfortable in it. It’s a place of safety. They know Mom will come get them.
And for the parent, it also becomes a place of freedom because they don’t have to worry about their child. They can go to the bathroom, they can go take care of something. Because I tell parents once a child is crawling and then you try to restrict them, it’s always going to go more poorly than if you’ve taught them constraint in a certain way by, say, using a play pen. For example, when our kids were growing up, we could put them in the play pen for at least an hour at a time and they would just play and entertain themselves without any electronic devices.
Chap: I notice a theme here!
Dr. Hines: But they would just be happy; they would just play and do things and so on.
Chap: What would you put in there?
Dr. Hines: Just age appropriate things, you know, just age appropriate stuff. So certainly by the time they’re nine months, they’re sitting, they’re crawling a little bit, but they would just play in there with their toys and cars or whatever they wanted to do. But you could just leave them in there. But I can’t tell you how many mothers will say, “The only time I can get anything done is when my children are sleeping” and parenting was not meant to be that way. It just was not meant to be that way. But by the choices and decisions we make from the time our children were young to going forward, we will reap what we sow.
So the other common one is the child at the restaurant, right? So, “Well, I can’t get him to sit the restaurant; I would never take my child to the restaurant. I don’t know what we’d do at the restaurant.” But why does that happen? Well, because ever since the child has joined the family at the dinner table, if they’ve ever joined the family at the dinner table- So a lot of times the child is in their throne highchair, having a separate meal apart from the family. They never join into the regular family meal time and the child should be doing that from a young age so they become part of the family dynamic. Now what happens though is, when they do join the family meal time, as soon as the child is done eating and they start fussing, guess what the parents do?
Chap: Let them down.
Dr. Hines: Let them down to wander around. Heaven forbid that we would make you sit quietly at the table until everyone is finished eating. Why we don’t think children have the capacity to do that I don’t know, but once a child has discovered that when I fuss, I get of my high chair, I get out of my playpen. I get picked up from my crib, they will fuss ad nauseum because they’ve got you on a puppet string. So if you are training your child to sit at the dinner table, you’re really training your child to sit at the restaurant table. And again, I, I can’t take credit for a lot of this. I’ve read a lot of people, but when you see problems arise in public, like how your child acts at the grocery store, how your child acts at the restaurant, how your child acts in someone else’s home, you have to take a hard close look at what you’re doing in your own home.
Now, you may not be connecting the dots, but, I’ll give you one maybe funny example. And that is this one mom thought she came up with this really cool idea. She emptied out all the lower kitchen cabinets because of course her child wanted to open all the kitchen cabinets and she put toys and stuff in there. So all the lower kitchen cabinets in their home were for the child. So he could just open and shut and open and shut and pull out and put in and pull out and put in. I go, “Boy, that’s really interesting. Now, what are you going to do when you’re at somebody else’s house, in somebody else’s kitchen? Because he’s going to think that that’s his play area. “
And it’s like her jaw dropped because she never connected the dots about what they were allowing in the home, and instigating and instituting in the home, and how that would play out in public or in someone else’s home. So I don’t know if she changed her strategy after that, but that’s what I’m saying. A lot of times we don’t connect the dots, but when we see something in public we’ve got to say, “All right, my child’s crazy at the restaurant.” If I am not challenging my child at home to the same extent they are going to be challenged in public, whether it’s restaurant or whatever, they will fail in public because we haven’t challenged them to that extent. So the first thing I tell parents is you’ve got to go back to the home and work on this area, or go back to the home and work on this area. And if you work on that area, the public problem will improve.
Chap: It seems that especially in today’s day and age, you want to correct in the privacy of the home- verbal correction or other correction. The hard work really is done in the home, and the fruit is borne in the public time.
You just touched on it, but I think it’s assumed that yes, it’s okay, actually, if the child cries. If, in other words, he or she fusses for a while, whether it’s in the high chair or play pen. Is there an assumption that if I’m a good parent, my child never fusses and if actually there’s fussing going on, or it reflects on me?
Dr. Hines: So, yeah, that’s an interesting question because, there’s so much stuff out there. I just can’t read it all, but I see the fruit of it. So for example, almost every child that has a major sleep problem, and I’m dealing with sleep issues all the time. You’ve got a one-year-old that’s not sleeping through the night or whatever. And so one of the first questions I’ll ask a parent is, “What’s the longest you’ve ever let your child cry?” And I can’t tell you how many times it’s like, “Well, we don’t.” It’s like if the child is upset, there’s this immediate response. A lot of times they do it they’re well-meaning, and I think this is where they read too much. They probably think that we’re causing psychological harm or this is bad for the baby or something like that. We have a lot of Indian families in our practice. I noticed that every time the baby cried in the office, they really just went crazy trying to calm the baby. I mean, ultra crazy trying to distract and calm. And so I just started asking them, “When a baby cries, what does that mean to you culturally?” And culturally, for them to allow baby to cry means they’re a bad parent. And so I have to kind of re-educate them that, no, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent because sometimes allowing a baby to cry might be an appropriate thing to do if you’re trying to get them to go to sleep.
So again, I use crying as one example, and it’s not that crying just for the sake of crying is what I’m talking about. But it’s this sense that parents have that to ignore a child’s wishes is harmful, is a destructive parenting idea. And again, they do it often because of bad information, but often out of fear- again, getting back to fear, because they’re afraid that they are causing harm to their child. I understand there’s true neglect and parents leave their kids unattended. That’s not what I’m talking about. But for example, if you have a nine-month-old in the play pen and he’s been in there for 20 minutes, and now he’s getting fussy. Well, if you immediately jump to his rescue and pull him out of the play pen, you’re teaching that child that when I fuss, it’s going to deliver me. Whiny children are whiny for a reason: it works. But if you were to ignore him from day one, once he saw that fussing did not avail him anything, he would go back to playing. He’d go back to imaginative play and making things up. Now go get him out of the playpen, because he’s just a happy camper. But he’s also learned that just because he’s unhappy, he’s not going to be immediately attended to. In fact, he’s going to be ignored.
And so if you can appropriately ignore your children at the times that they really should be ignored instead of responding- And again, parents respond because they’re embarrassed. Parents respond because they’re are fearful. Parents respond for a lot of reasons. So what I try to do is just instill a confidence in parents that under these circumstances it’s okay to let them cry a little bit. It’s okay to ignore them. It’s okay to let, them be a little bored. It’s okay to not respond. It’s okay to make them wait. It’s okay to say no, and somehow they’ll survive.
Chap: Your four kids did.
Dr. Hines: Yes. My four kids, none of them are brain damaged, as far as I know. They all are mentally healthy and they’re all very creative. But we said No plenty of times, they all grew up in the play pen, and they all don’t remember it.
Chap: Well, that’s the other thing with discipline or this type of structure that you’re actually training into young children. Just like you said, they don’t remember it.
Dr. Hines: Yeah. It’s like the things that we think are such a big deal are really not that big a deal. You know, it just goes into their brain and out their brain, and it’s really harder for us than for them.
Chap: Well, while you’re on that, do you want to elaborate just a couple more sentences on boredom and creativity? And then, how do you think about toys that you recommend to parents and how does that all play together? Creativity and boredom.
Dr. Hines: Well, I don’t know the accuracy of the statistic anymore, but John Rosemond came up with a figure one time that the average American child has about 250 toys. Now we’re talking, just toys, nothing educational. And then I remember my daughter babysat for one of my patients. And even though I’m a physician, our children grew up in modest means. So she went to this house and the child had their own room, but then they had another very large room that was exclusively devoted to toys in addition to what they had in their own bedroom. And she said, “Dad, I could hardly even walk in the room because it was so. . .” I mean, she was aghast. She was a teenager earning a few bucks and she was just absolutely shocked at all the stuff this kid had. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that boredom is bad and that our children have to be entertained, distracted and so on.
Where the snare comes in is the young child that’s driving their mother crazy. I know that doesn’t happen in anyone else’s home, but it may happen in some of the parents I see. Anyway, so they turn the TV on and lo and behold, the child is in this transfixed gaze, sitting quietly watching the television, and now the mother can get things done and the house is more peaceful. Now, that’s a trap, too. Parents are starting to do this with their cell phones now. So their smartphones and their tablets become that instant electronic pacifier or sedative or babysitter, or all three. What begins to happen, then, is now instead of the child learning to entertain themselves and find expressive ways of creativity in terms of boredom, that creativity is zapped and the parents now are in the trap.
So guess what happens now? Every time they try to turn the TV off, the child once again begins to drive them crazy because they’ve never addressed the root problem. And that is, you’ve got a bored child who’s driving you crazy; what to do with them? And in my day it was real simple. I had to go find something to do, because my mom wasn’t going to put up with me and she wasn’t going to entertain me. You know? So sometimes in boredom is really the wellspring of creativity. What drives parents crazy every Christmas is when the child gets this very nice toy and they start playing with the box instead of the toy. The toy is bells and whistles and lights. That doesn’t encourage creativity. It just another form of entertainment.
What the child’s really interested in is the box because with the box, they can do stuff. They can make things up and they can put it over their head or whatever. That always drives parents crazy.
Chap: So make a much more inexpensive Christmas.
Dr. Hines: Boxes, just give your child boxes. Don’t give them any toys.
And again, electronic media tends to be a recurring theme. Now I’m not saying you completely ignore your child. This is where I think puzzles and books and Legos and hands-on things that really encourage creativity are useful. Make your home a house of peace and quiet where children can be a welcome part of it, but they’re not always getting in your hair because from day one, you’ve ignored their little whiny and fussiness. And they’ve just kind of learned to make do because mom’s not always there to bail them out of their unhappiness.
I find in big families, the happiest kid’s always the youngest kid. Why? Because he’s the one that’s been ignored. He’s the one that’s always been ignored because Mom’s taking care of everybody else. Those kids are just happy go lucky, they’ll eat anything you give him. Maybe that’s not your experience, but I’m just saying it’s like the less fuss we make about our kids, the more chill they get and the more we try to solve every problem, the more demanding they get. The more we distract them, they don’t know what to do when they’re bored. Let them be bored, let them figure it out. That will encourage creativity.
Invest in toys of substance, minimize the fluff, avoid the latest fad, the latest culture thing. Be careful about what you encourage interest in. You know, do you go crazy for the latest Disney film and everything is Frozen now? That’s been the biggie this last year. So it’s Frozen t-shirts, it’s Frozen underwear, it’s Frozen DVDs, it’s Frozen, Frozen, Frozen. I have children in my practice that will watch the same DVD seven days a week. They will have seen a Disney movie a hundred times. Now you have to think about that. Really? I mean, they’ll watch it every day for day and days and days. So anyway, these things are all interrelated: parenting out of fear, parenting out of guilt, embarrassment, getting caught up with all the voices, bringing in electronic media, but allowing it to dominate and control. And so there’s this interrelation of all these things, and family life is deteriorating.
Chap: I think all of this flows out of a biblical worldview, which says a child is a welcome member of the home, but he or she is not the center. They are learning and we are the adults that are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. And sometimes that involves negative things, i.e. boredom.
One last question I’m thinking about particularly has to do with applying some of these thoughts to, specifically, Christian parents. Just the idea of having them sit through a meeting. So thinking about Sunday morning, or our churches had a lot of family Bible studies. I know you when your children were young, also had family Bible studies. And I think all these principles we’ve talked about apply to that, but there’s perhaps special application to a home Bible study, or even going over to somebody’s house for a meal, but let’s say home Bible study. What would you do as a parent, and what would you encourage young parents to do?
Dr. Hines: Well, if you think of the sum total of everything that we’ve been saying, you’re training your child to be constrained and self-contained and self-entertained in a variety of circumstances, whether it’s the restaurant or going to church on Sunday morning, or having people in your home, or going to a Bible study. Now, are you thinking of a Bible study in your home, or a Bible study you go to?
Chap: Either one, but I guess I’m thinking one you go to, and I remember you were talking about actually working with your children- it was a high value for you to have your children stay with you, sit with you. And I know we did that as a family, our children came with us to home Bible studies and they would bring things to do; they’d bring coloring books or their little Bible. But they were expected to sit there. And even in that time, something was being going on in their heads. They were listening to adults have conversations. So even at four and five, but that takes some work. That takes some training to get them to that point.
Dr. Hines: Well, a couple thoughts. First of all, having our children at the meeting was always an expectation, not a burden, and also to be demonstrating as parents that we value this, that meeting with God’s people is important, that worshiping God is something that we do, and we can hear his word. And so we’re communicating just the value of God’s house, God’s word, God’s people every day. So it doesn’t become, “Oh no, it’s Bible study night, let’s do this, this, this, this, this, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush.” It’s something we anticipate, we plan for, we look forward to. Now I understand that there’s the rush of life and so on. But again, children pick up on attitude. And so it begins with our own hearts as parents, and if we value these things, then that gets communicated.
The other thing is we don’t train our children to meet the expectation of other parents. We train our children to walk with God. And so our children are going to embarrass us and our children are going to fail at meetings, and not always say and do the right thing. You know, they’re kids, so don’t take it like you’re a bad Christian or something. They’re going to blow it. That’s where you teach grace to your children. And again, children know if you’re trying to make them look good so you look good. That’s not what we’re doing.
Now, having said those two things, a couple practical things. When children are very young, they’re infants let’s say, you can start at least adjusting their overall schedule in terms of sleep and nap times to maybe what would roughly fall around meeting times. So for example, because we put our children on a schedule when they were very young, we could manipulate that schedule in terms of bedtime because we ignored their fussiness. They always went to sleep for us. But if the meeting was going to start at, say, seven o’clock, their normal bedtime would be somewhere around 7, 7:30. And so my wife might hold them briefly at the beginning of the meeting. But then they were tired by 7:30, they ready to go down by 7:30 and we could lay them down right in the meeting and they’d go to sleep and sleep right through all the singing, all the music, whatever. Now, that didn’t happen by accident. It happened because my wife would lay them on the living room floor while she vacuumed. So in other words, if you tiptoe around your house and everything is quiet. . . Now, I know, some children are light sleepers. I understand that, but also you can train them to be heavy sleepers by ignoring their fussiness by allowing normal noise and sounds and door slamming. So they get used to distraction and noise and so they can sleep. That’s a simple thing. So adjusting their schedule to the meeting schedule.
When they get a little older and they’d bring their little Bibles or a little coloring book, we’d have them try to sing with us. But we’d also try to sing at the dinner table. So singing wasn’t some foreign thing that we only did at certain times. We might sing a brief little chorus or something at the dinner table. We might read the Bible at the dinner table, but when we go to a meeting, they would certainly stand and try to sing along with us. But if they were even too young for that, for the most part, we might ask them to hear a word from the song and draw a picture. So maybe all they heard was bird or something, and they would draw a little picture of a bird. Great! But what that was training them to do was listen, which is the first thing they’ve got do. So maybe that bird becomes a storyline a little bit. And then maybe as they start being able to write words, they start copying a word that was said or something like that. Or now they’re starting to read, so they can at least read along in their Bible a little bit with the text. Now, what that enables children to do then is they learn to become listeners. They learn to begin to translate what they hear onto the paper. We kind of made it fun. We kind of made it a game in a sense so that it wasn’t like, “Did you get a picture at the meeting?!” or something like that.
Just, “Oh, no, there’s less time. Let’s see if you can hear” and “Oh, good job. Yeah, that’s right. We sang about a bird. Yeah, that’s right.”
Now, my wife was really good at this. But at every age, ask yourself, “What can my child do?” And if all they can do is stand and mumble the song, let them stand and mumble the song and just have fun. And if next thing all they can do is scribble, let them scribble something they think they heard. And if they’re starting to read, maybe they can read just a little bit along with the text. And then if they can it to draw a more substantial picture about something the preacher said, then they can start doing that. And then depending on how old the child is and, and how the Bible study is structured, maybe there might even be an opportunity for them to contribute to it.
So for example, when our children were a little older, my wife would read the chapter that we were going to be in or the text before the meeting. Like that day, they’d read it together and they’d actually kind of talk about it before the meeting. So now the child’s kind of prepared a little bit. We used to do what we call chapter summary where they might read a chapter, and all we would do is I would tell them to come up with a title. Just give the title a chapter, like Jesus loved or something like that. Now, you’re training them toward a goal. You want them to be participatory, not tuning out the meeting from the day they were born. So if from day one you’re communicating that you’re part of the meeting, it becomes a natural outflow as they grow older. But if you have the attitude that they’re just there to be seen and not heard, and that they’re not really able to enter in, then don’t be surprised when they’re 13 years old and they totally tune out the meeting.
We would have them bring certain things to the meeting and not bring certain things to the meetings. So for example, it wasn’t a time for them to be playing with Barbie dolls at worship. Now, maybe there was a coloring book with Bible pictures that they could scribble in, or maybe there was the picture Bible that they could be looking through. So we tried to make it a consistent experience. It wasn’t like “You do your church time and then you can play and do anything you want.” It was “No, we’re here for the Lord, and and God is here and we want to hear him.”
We understand children have certain capacities of attention span and so on. So you take where they’re at developmentally, their level of attention span. You always communicate to them that they’re welcome participants, that God can speak to their hearts. And God does speak to the hearts. You’d be surprised at the questions that children might ask you after meeting because they’re listening. Don’t ignore those moments. I remember our daughter wasn’t very old. But our Bethany was asking, and I forget how she put it exactly, but she was wondering where the Lord’s presents were. And my wife said, “What do you mean?” “Well, you talked about the Lord’s presents.” And she wanted to know where the actual presents were- presents with a ribbon and a bow, right? But she was listening. That was the important thing. And it was then for us to explain what we meant by that: that God was there. And so children are listening.
Now, I get a little distraught when I’m in church and I look at the family ahead of me and one kid’s looking at his Superman comic book and the other kid is playing a game on Mom’s cell phone. That’s the very thing you don’t want to do. You are communicating to your child that the meeting is not important. God is not important. Their involvement’s not important. So it starts from the day you take them to the first meeting and every day beyond that. I would say I could keep going, but I’ll stop there at just some things for parents to think about.
Chap: Well, that’s really helpful because I think that’s an application of a lot of things that have come out, which is on the one hand, that your house is filled with love, your heart is filled with love, you’re expecting them to engage with life, and yet you’re not giving them everything they want. So here, in terms of what you’re talking about in the meeting, there’s this expectation that they’re not going to engage, we don’t want them to be on board, talking about this hypothetical family. Assuming they can’t engage where your experience shows, yes, they can, but appropriate to their level. So with the little kids, it’s a coloring book and wherever they’re at. So, it seems like that comes out in a lot of different ways. So those themes.
Dr. Hines: I mean, it has to do with our expectations, and we need to have the right expectation as Christian parents. And this whole question began with my own personal “What’s my attitude, my value of the meeting” and all that. And my value of including my children in that. And I think sometimes parents have a good heart, they want to do that, but I just think to begin, it it’s too much input in their lives. They don’t know how to do it. They don’t see good role models in doing it. And there’s just a certain flow with the culture and the world that they kind had to buy into. And they’re really not doing their child a favor. And so if children grow up in this kind of loving environment and there’s a priority placed on God’s house and so on, it doesn’t become a forced thing. It becomes kind of a natural extension of what the family, this is what our family is about.
And it really gets down to family identity, which can be a whole other topic. As a family, this is what we’re about. And these are our values, and I know they don’t agree with your friends’ values or our neighbors’ values. But these are what our family’s about, and children can embrace that. But we need to bring it in young. The older we start, the harder we make it. It’s not that you can’t, but we make it more challenging on ourselves.
Chap: That’s probably a good place to stop. So, as we’re talking, I’m thinking I should entitle this What your Christian physician would say if he had. . . however long we had.
Dr. Hines: If you ask me.
Chap: If you ask! Yeah. This is so much wisdom. I’m excited. I can’t wait to get this up online, so thank you very much.
Dr. Hines: You’re welcome.
Chap: Let’s do this again with more of that wisdom. Thank you.
Dr. Hines: You’re welcome.
Chap: You’ve been listening to The Disciple-Making Parent podcast, a ministry of The Apollos Project. For more information about the book The Disciple-Making Parent, visit thedisciplemakingparent.com/
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