The day I tomato staked my children was a long time coming. Why hadn’t I done it earlier? I was lazy, quite frankly. Tomato staking takes a lot of intentionality. It means being present with your children…all…the time. There is no freedom for them. There is no freedom from you. So why take such a dramatic parenting stance? Do you want the simple answer? It was needed.
Why is Tomato Staking Necessary?
When I sat down my children to tell my children that they were going to be tomato staked, they had no clue what I was talking about. You might not have a clue right now either, but stick with me. We have grown a garden with tomatoes in the past, so they are very aware of what is needed to make a tomato plant thrive. They are able to recognize that the tomato plant needs water and sun, and the vine needs a stake. We talked about why the stake was necessary. My oldest was able to communicate that without a stake, the plant would fall over and not be able to grow strong. A stake is there as a guide and to give support. The tomato has to grow up close to the stake so that it can bear fruit well. Children are the same way. They need to grow up within the close care and guidance of their parents. Of course this happens on a day to day basis, but when things feel out of control, it is time for them to truly be staked to their parent.
We were out of control. My children were not making wise choices. I have one daughter who is fairly impulsive. She is also full of ideas and creativity. The combination has been frustrating. Sometimes I quote Curious George books by saying, “They are good little monkeys but always very curious.” We have had much destruction in our home, and some of that has funneled to my other children as well. We have had Sharpie on all kinds of surfaces, water all over the bathroom, items of ours ruined, and huge messes made. Becoming a parent, I don’t think I took into account that children come into this world knowing nothing. What is a good idea is not always intuitive. Like I said, you need to be teaching…all…the time. What I see as common sense, they see as exploratory or fun. Tomato staking is not only reigning in the “creative” issues I described, but it is also a chance to teach more and better. Trust me, I am all about creativity, but it has to be managed in a way that is not destructive. Tomato staking is being intentional and keeping them close so that they can thrive. It does not need to only happen when children are making impulsive and destructive choices. It can also be done when you are dealing with certain behavioral issues like fighting, dishonesty, rage, or defiance.
What Does Tomato Staking Look Like?
- Your Children Are Close – What do I mean by close? For us right, it means they are with me or my husband…all…the…time. If they need to go to the bathroom, we all go together. While I am doing the dishes, they are in the kitchen reading, coloring, doing homework or some other activity. Do they want to play upstairs? If it is convenient for me, I am there with them. If it’s not convenient, they get to be where I am. There is not a break. It is challenging, believe me, but it is necessary. They need to learn that freedom and privileges come with demonstrations of responsibility. I can’t trust them to be alone right now. They can’t be alone.
- It’s Time to Teach – We have ways we like our home to operate. Put your shoes in a cubby when you walk through the door so you don’t track in dirt and you know where to find them later. Clear your dishes after you eat. Put your toys or game away after play. These are things we want them to do and remind them to do…all…the…time. However, we go lax and aren’t on top of every single thing all the time. We end up with shoes scattered all over the entry, dishes all over the table and toys all over the house. It doesn’t only happen with cleaning, it happens with how they treat one another and how they choose to obey. When we let the 3 kids lose around the house and aren’t on top of it…all…the…time (sensing a theme?), things start to slide and the home quickly becomes an unpleasant, frustrating place. When things work more efficiently and thoughtfully, there’s more time to enjoy each other. What exactly does this look like while we are tomato staking? We watched a movie. I reminded them of how to handle a disc properly so it doesn’t get destroyed. We made popcorn, and rather than just moving on, I taught them that their fingers were greasy, so we had to use a napkin and wash before we moved on to other things. We played a game all together, and we change focus on until we all worked to put the game way. The kids weren’t interacting in a positive way with one another. I was right there to teach them how to respond well when we are frustrated. They can voice their frustration without freaking out, and the other person can respond with respect. There are things to teach around every bend when you have let things go lax for a bit. When you are present, you can be intentional in every moment. I find when I am present, the frustration isn’t as present. I seem more aware that this teaching is just a big part of kids understanding how to function well in our family and in this world.
- Teach What You Know Works – I have passed along many parenting tips that are “works for me” moments. These are ideas that have worked for us…at least when I am doing them well. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get lazy in my parenting. So, well I pass along these parenting tips, I’m not always as on top of it as I’d like to be. This is part of the downfall in behavior I have described. Use your time tomato staking to be on top of the parenting tools that work for you. Here are some of the things we needed to get back on top of during this time: “Yes, Mommy,” being on top of whining and crying, using positive reinforcement, teaching kids to say please and thank you, and being good about setting clear expectations.
- How long is this for? This is going to depend on your children more than it depends on you. How bad has it become? How well are the kids responding to your teaching? For us, we did the tomato staking during spring break…double whammy, I know! A mom on Twitter recently said something along the lines of, “What is the opposite of break? because I want to re-name spring break from a parent’s perspective.” Yes, it was harder to do it during spring break, but I wanted this time to be intense. I wanted them to feel it. I needed them to feel it. We started on a Saturday, and I didn’t let up at all until Tuesday. On Tuesday, I gave them little glimpses of freedom. I would say, “I’m going to trust you to take this upstairs and put it away by yourself, but I need you back downstairs in 30 seconds.” They did fairly well with those little moments. They knew this was part of the process. Wednesday I gave them the freedom to play outside for a bit. Another reason for tomato staking is that two of my kids have gone over to our neighbor’s house a couple times when they weren’t home, opened the door and kidnapped their dog. I know…right? Despite previous instructions that they shouldn’t walk into other people’s houses without being invited, they disappeared during their time of independence on Wednesday. I noticed within a minute because they were still on a short leash. The result? They were tomato staked for the rest of the day. By Friday, I let them self-govern themselves, and this day went very well. They basically played independantly for much of the day, and we didn’t have any incidences. It was a short leash, and I check on them often, but we were making progress. My plan is that when we have incidences of distrust in the future, they will immediately be tomato staked for the rest of the day. Yes, it will be inconvenient at times, but the theory is that intense training now will lead to more responsibility, more fruit and more freedom in the future.
What to Expect When You are Tomato Staking Your Children
- There will be Kick Back – At first it might be a novelty to your kids. It was fun for mine. They followed me around like the Pied Piper. They got more mommy time. My four year old said funny thing like, “Mom, I’m your tomato, come with me.” He also said, “I gotta go to the bathroom. I’m the tomato, and you’re the chicken. Come on.” Chicken? Obviously my description of “stake” was lost on him because he was confusing “steak” with “chicken.” We all laughed. After the novelty wears off, there will be frustration. They will not always want to travel in a pack. They will not want to get permission to move about the house. They’ll be yearning to do it on their own. Expect kick back.
- Teachable Moments will be EVERYWHERE – Keep your eyes open. Teachable moments are all over the place. You will suddenly be aware of how much you let slide and realize the reasons for your frustration. This is time that you get to regain your patience and be intentional about teaching…all…the…time. You’ll find that you will enjoy it more than you thought.
- Frustrations will Lessen – You think of time staked to your child, and it might not feel very exciting. It didn’t for me. I like my independence as much as they do. Something that will be a sweet surprise, however, is that your own frustrations will lessen. First of all, you will be present. I find that when I’m not distracted by my own agenda, I’m a better mom. Secondly, you will be right there making sure things run well. Games will be put away after they are played with. Paint won’t be spilled everywhere because you will be there to teach them how to be careful and thoughtful in the process. Arguments will be fewer because you’ll be able to guide family interactions. Messes, fighting, disobedience won’t get the chance to escalate because you are there being a teacher. You will do your job more intentionally, and your exasperation will diminish.
- Your Kids will Yearn for Freedom – This is a good thing. We are raising kids who will be completely independent from us some day. Our job as parents is to lessen our grip on them more and more as they age and show responsibility. They will want the freedom, and they will learn that freedom is earned through demonstrations of maturity and the ability to be trusted. Their desire for freedom will be a motivator in behavior.
- The Final Results – Are there really ever final results in parenting? You’ll always be a mom or a dad. I am experiencing that things will be better. They will be more trustworthy. If they are not, it is time to tomato stake again. Our home feels more peaceful and less out of control for these few post-tomato-staking days. Time will tell if it made a lasting difference in our home. That said, this concept is not something I made up. I have watched families I know and trust do this with their children with great results. It gives kids a sense of direction, security and a desire to demonstrate more responsibility.
One of the families that taught me about this technique wrote about it on their personal blog here. Another mentor family that recommended this type of parenting to me when they heard my stories was the Pritchards. I know one of the families that inspired this post had really been influenced by the blog Raising Godly Tomatoes.
I am hopeful that my children will bear much fruit. It takes pruning, and it takes you being a strong stake that they can rely on for guidance. This is definitely a more authoritative approach to parenting, but I am encouraged by that. After all, leading brains specialist John Media, notes in his book “Brain Rules for Babies,” (affiliate) that studies show that children thrive most in a home that has a nice balance of being authoritative and responsive. I learned this in child psychology when I took it in college too. We need to be parents who find a good balance of love and discipline to watch our children grow strong.
If you are a parent working on raising up your children in a way that teaches the truth about God, I want to provide you with a few of our family favorite resources. (affiliate links)
- Jesus Storybook Bible – This is my favorite. I tear up throughout the story, and I am amazed at how beautifully they tell the gospel story and weave Jesus into each story from the creation of the world to the end of the New Testament. I even buy this book for friends who are wanting to learn more about the Christian faith. It tells God’s story in a way that makes so much sense.
- Long Story Short – Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God – This is the Bible Study we are currently doing as a family, and I love it. I love that it ties the Old Testament stories to Jesus, like the “Jesus Storybook Bible.” It is an engaging way to interact with your kids, with questions geared for great discussion. My oldest (age 7) is especially loving it, and it always the one who goes and grabs the book to make sure we get our devotion done. There are 5 lessons a week that take about 10 minutes. It is super manageable and brings a lot of intention into your Christian parenting journey. Even today, my daughter was whining about not getting something her sister was able to get. They had learned about the story of Cain and the word “envy.” It was a great tie in to discussion about her current feelings. Although I haven’t read them, the same author has two other books – Old Story New and The Gospel Bible Story.
- Seeds Worship CDs – These are my favorite kid music CD’s to play in the car. They are not annoying! The music is well composed but straight scripture. My kids have easily memorized scriptures since we have these playing in the car. Here are some of their CD’s: Seeds of Courage, Seeds of Praise, Seeds of Character, Seeds Family Worship
- Grace for the Moment – I haven’t actually gone through this one with my kids, but I have heard great things. It is full of 365 different devotions to last throughout the year. It’s written by Max Lucado, and I tend to love all of his work, so I look forward to doing this one in the future.