Raising Joyful Soldiers: Practical Methods for Teaching Children to be Responsible, Productive Leaders in a Survival Situation – Part II, by Dr. W

  1. Infants and Toddlers
    1. Obtaining sleep is critical, and one wailing baby in the night can have devastating effects on everyone’s ability to make sound judgments and work cohesively the next day. We eventually learned (the hard way) the value of training babies to sleep in many conditions, whether alone in a bed or sharing bed or tent space, in an atmosphere of quiet, or in an atmosphere of chaos. We often used a sound machine that had several different sounds on it, and made sure there were some nights without it, so they would not become dependent on the noise for sleep.

      Sleeping with the lights on is another important skill, though small sleep masks are in everyone’s BOB. You may have to spend a little extra time to cultivate this skill at first and use some TLC– a soothing backrub, a lullaby or psalm, staying with your child until they start to drift, et cetera– but it’s doable. Leaving the blinds open during your baby’s daytime naps can also help. Additionally, we try to utilize deep breathing exercises, something that a toddler can do. Of course, praying before bed also eases anxiety at the end of the day, whether it’s the parent praying aloud for their baby at bedtime or very young children learning by example to do the same.

    2. The Quiet Game is fun, but it’s also training them for potential life-or-death scenarios. This training begins at infancy with Mama showering attention on happy babies but not overly responding to willful cries that are not coming from legitimate needs (e.g., boredom, crankiness, tiredness). This is a controversial and very personal matter of wisdom for each parent, but the goal is to consistently reward desirable behaviors, and that process begins early. As toddlers are able, The Quiet Game transitions to little contests to see who can earn the prize by staying quiet the longest in a car ride, outside while hiking or observing wildlife, in the grocery store, or at the table. Naturally, ongoing dialogue with our kids is a constant, but we have tried to play this game in as many settings as possible, including sitting our children in empty pews at church after hours, while Daddy went up front to read from the driest, most monotonous book he could find. This practice was something our fellow churchgoers came to appreciate when they realized they didn’t have to panic and make a beeline for the other end of the sanctuary when they saw our family seated with all our kids in the service rather than in Sunday School.
    3. Delayed gratification can be instilled at a surprisingly early age. Give your toddler a piece of candy and tell him to wait to eat it until you give the signal. Stretch it out–– half a minute, two minutes, five minutes, et cetera. They can touch, sniff, or squish it, but they must wait to eat it. Give ample applause and celebrate the final eating. It sounds silly and simple, but my very self-controlled 18-year old credits this to helping her win most of our family’s contests of “Who can make their treat last the longest?” Obviously, this self control has served in numerous other ways as well.
    4. Before the age of two, children can help immensely in running an orderly home. They can put toys away, dry non-breakable dishes, grab a diaper for Mama, help shuck corn, and more. Our kids always received one additional chore for each year as they got older. By the time our oldest was ten, she could prepare simple meals for the family, do the laundry, and organize her siblings to help clean up the living room in under five minutes.
    5. Teaching babies sign language, which has increased in popularity in recent years, is easier than you may think and has many obvious benefits when a degree of silence is preferred. Many resources can be found online for using sign language with babies. As children get older, this idea of using non-verbal signs translates seamlessly into training children to watch for prearranged signals from their parents to communicate danger or caution.
  2. Young Children
    1. The Obedience Game was another fun yet critically important training tool. I recall laughter-filled afternoons, sitting in a circle giving my children outlandish commands. Stand up. Sit down. Five jumping jacks. Run and get Teddy. Now run and put him back. Run and get him again as fast as you can! Go get the trash and empty it in under 20 seconds. Kiss the baby on the head and then go wash two dishes in under a minute. Our house rule has always been “Cheerful, immediate obedience,” and The Obedience Game has helped us get closer to that ideal.
    2. The Blessings Game has cultivated joyful, thankful hearts. Non-readers can take part in a contest of Who –Can-Name-the-Most-Things-You-Are-Thankful-For, played as a round robin where nobody is allowed to repeat what’s already been said. This is great for memory skills and long car rides. Young readers and writers can practice penmanship in creating and then sharing their lists. In hard times, this activity could be a vital morale booster—for kids AND adults!
    3. Field trips in our own neighborhood (usually with homemade cookies in tow) were always a boon. On our street alone, we got to know our closest neighbors and in doing so we not only helped our kids develop social skills, but we also learned about carpentry, building an airplane from a kit, growing apples, making a quilt using a 100-year old manual sewing machine (my son won first prize in the fair!), riding quads, and butchering elk.
    4. Family time spent reading exciting survival stories aloud has fostered a proactive, think-on-your-feet mindset. We personally prefer books over movies so that we can control the stories, when needed, by editing on the fly to avoid objectionable content. It’s easier to stop reading a page than to win a split-second race to the stop button on the remote when a graphic scene pops onto the screen which could haunt kids (or adults!) for years. The alternative is to preview all movies, and many excellent family-friendly movies and books are recommended on this site.
    5. As our children were learning to read and write, we bolstered our cache of the Word of God in their hearts and focused on specific character traits by utilizing selected Bible verses. The books of Proverbs and Psalms are particularly helpful in fostering responsibility, maturity, and a robust confidence and hope in the benevolent providence of God, no matter the outer circumstances we may find ourselves in.
    6. As we teach our children the value of truth-telling, we are faced with the challenging task of also teaching them discernment regarding when it is appropriate to avoid telling the truth in order to protect lives (e.g., families who hid Jews during Nazi Germany). Unfortunately, young children are the most vulnerable to disclosing secrets in the tragic event that they are threatened with physical or psychological pain to try to “get them to talk.”

      Because this discernment comes with age, when our children are young we can make it easier for them to be able to tell the truth under coercion by giving them secret truths that are safe to disclose if they must. For example, if you think they may be vulnerable to being coerced into disclosing the location of a cache, then by all means have a small decoy cache that they can safely disclose, if under duress.

      As with all behaviors we wish to develop in our children, practice is key. Both the Tickle Game and playful wrestling matches (see who can go the longest without saying Mercy! or Uncle!) are excellent ways to practice self-control in this area at a young age.

  3. Older Children
    1. Over the years we have come to appreciate the joy of both growing our own food and of harvesting what grows wild on its own (prickly pear fruits, apples, citrus, dandelions, mesquite beans, berries, and so forth). However, once I narrowly avoided a trip to the hospital because I drank some prickly pear juice from inadequately washed fruit. Now we are beginning to learn about edible, medicinal, and noxious plants.

      Last year we took a trip to the local botanical garden to identify these categories of plants. When we came home I set up a contest. I gave each kid a digital camera, pen, and paper, and sent them out to photograph and name as many of these same plants in our own neighborhood as they could within a certain time frame. They came home and we compared notes, putting our heads together to try to identify any remaining mystery plants. The next step, had we not run out of time, would have been to go online to verify our answers, followed by some small celebratory feast, where we ate at least something edible that we found.

    2. With older children, it’s easy to assign each one the task of researching and learning a useful skill they find interesting. They then come back and teach others in the family what they have learned. This teaches them communication skills and fosters pride and confidence. I have learned from my children many things, ranging from how to trap lizards to how to treat sucking chest wounds.

      Our family dedicates Saturday evenings to Family Night. We try to turn off all electronics, and we don’t answer the phone. We rotate who gets to pick the entertainment for the evening. Family Night has been a welcome and cohesive anchor in our busy lives, and it also provides another platform for learning together. When it’s my turn next, since I want to learn to use the map and compass, I am planning some type of a game of Hide-and-Seek-the-Cache. It should be fun!

    3. Our family has a tradition once a month of fasting and praying, along with friends in other parts of the state. On this day, we abstain from food but not water. Depending on individual circumstances, the amount of food our children abstain from may vary. Our children may abstain from just snacks, from one meal, or from all meals for the day, participating only as they are able, always of their own volition, and as something we do before the Lord, not men. They learn not only a great spiritual discipline, but they also gain great confidence that they can go for a day (or part of a day) without food and suffer no ill effects; they can even sometimes gain unexpected benefits, like increased clarity of mind or decreased asthma and allergies. Additionally, after a day of fasting, which naturally cleanses the palate, plain food, including Mama’s infamous veggie smoothies, taste great! Should we ever have to face serious deprivation, we pray this habit of occasionally “going without” will serve us well. (Note: One should always consult a health practitioner before undertaking any type of fasting, for adults or children.)

The activities I’ve described in this article have been a tremendous blessing to our family. With a little creativity, you and your children will no doubt come up with equally beneficial ideas for your families.

Reality Checks

Excellent child training resources abound. Our family never would have become who we are without them. The ones that helped us the most in biblical, child-training principles were from NoGreaterJoy.org. They teach practical methods of capturing our children’s hearts, instilling first-time cheerful obedience, and teaching kids the virtues of hard work and self-discipline. NGJ offers extensive archived articles, ranging from how to potty-train a 2-month-old to safely teaching children the art of knife-throwing. Be aware, however, that among the plethora of child-training resources, there are many controversial opinions regarding the personal decisions each family should make about rearing their own children. So, caveat lector: prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.

Obviously, respect for a clear chain of command is needed in any societal endeavor and at many levels, from the family unit to the business model and from the military to the government. In a retreat situation, however, it becomes critical for survival. When it comes to raising children, because more is caught than taught, it bears mention that the degree to which you want your children to demonstrate cheerful, immediate obedience is going to be proportional to the degree that they can see this demonstrated in their parents. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In our own family, in spite of all the best principles and practices outlined above, sin remains alive and kicking in our hearts, and war must be waged daily against this enemy. Lest you think we are superhuman and you can’t relate to or apply these principles in your own family, please know that we, too, have had our fair share of selfishness, laziness, and strife. However, results speak for themselves, and the principles and practices outlined above have consistently produced either sweet or bitter fruit in direct proportion to how much we have applied them over the years. It’s an upward journey traveled via grace, so we keep moving forward, thankful for the forgiveness we have in Christ, and working toward the goal of maturity on every level in hope that He will finish the good work He began in us so that we can accomplish our work of building God’s Kingdom here on earth.