Sunday, September 18, 2011

The example of the bath

At the time I was learning to decide what was important and what was not, the Lord also taught me something important about children. Teaching children takes time and often feels completely unproductive, even when great learning is slowly happening. Again, I learn by stories and analogies, and the Lord had one for this.

Miss E had graduated from the baby tub in the big tub to bathing in the big tub itself. Of course, the bottom of the tub was slippery. Standing up, especially for a wobbly toddler, was not safe. And, of course, all she wanted to do was stand. I was so frustrated. Every bath she had for weeks would involve her standing and me sitting her back down as I said, "We sit down in the bath tub." We would do this over and over and over, probably 4-10 times a bath. I was certain she didn't understand and I was getting nowhere, but I didn't know what else to do. Then, suddenly, one day she got it. All the repetition clicked, and she understood.

Teaching children is one of the most frustrating things I do. It is truly exhilarating to watch them learn, but the work to get there drives me crazy. I've learned that children need lots and lots of patient, firm, consistent, kind repetition. Whenever I yell, things at my house go from bad to worse. When I'm not firm they know they can walk all over me. When I'm not consistent, they hold out the bad behavior, hoping to get away with it this time. And if I'm not kind, my children become an emotional mess (see yelling.) But if I'm patient, firm, consistent and kind long after I think I have to be, they learn and they are confident that they understand both my love for them and the boundaries in our house. Having my children have the security that comes from this type of learning is priceless. I think this is why my mother would say some things over and over and over, even when we didn't seem to be listening. (It reminds me of dealing with teenagers.) Eventually, when it seems least likely, children (and teenagers) hear what we as parents have been saying for so long.

One thing I've learned from the example of an aunt of mine is that this repetition isn't always doing the same thing. Sometimes it is changing the program but keeping the principle the same until something works. This is true for things like chore charts, reward systems, potty training, family prayer, and family scripture study. It isn't that you always do the same thing, it's that you always teach the same thing.

The other main example of this for me (and the time the Lord is most likely to remind me of it) is bedtime. There comes a point with each child where they are capable of getting up whenever they want. Teaching them to go to bed often involves repeatedly returning them to bed or encouraging them repeatedly to return to bed. Eventually they figure it out.

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