Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stop saying stop - one thing I do

I have a parenting proverb that I play in my head sometimes. "If you have to tell a child to stop doing something three times in twenty minutes, you need to tell him to do something." The times when it seems like I am telling them every few minutes "put that down, leave that alone, don't do that, stop touching your sister, he might not WANT a hug right now! etc." At those times I need to stop and advise them of the road ahead and how to handle it. "You need to choose a book and sit down until I finish up here" or "There is ten minutes until tea. I will set the timer and you need to pick up all the blocks before it goes ding, let's see how you go!". This works best if you can muster a bright, gentle tone of voice (not always easy!) and make it sound like you're doing them a great favour with the suggestion (I am, I am helping them see their next birthday! LOL).

Usually the effect is immediate. Hands that had been idly roaming about the room get busy, eyes that had been restlessly shifting, looking for something unknown, become focussed and on task. Responding whinges or moans are fairly uncommon as the task usually gets changed to something far less pleasant. Attention seekers become more settled as they realise that attention is coming later down the line and they have something to distract them, the indecisive are relieved of the sometimes overwhelming task of deciding what to do next. They are aware of the consequences of disobedience, I don't need to remind them of those very often, and they are very savvy on what shouldn't be done - especially if it's a sibling doing it. What I DO need to remind them of is what they SHOULD be doing, making sure their hands and mind are occupied positively. If you don't know what they should be doing, other than not bothering you, it should be no surprise that they don't either! If you don't tell a child what to do, how are they meant to know?

It also gives me the trump card. If the child chooses not to follow the direct instruction, their action can be clearly dealt with as defiance and disobedience. It isn't waiting until Mum is stressed enough to scream, there is no confusion about an honest mistake or misunderstanding. If they have met my eyes and acknowledged and instruction, yet still choose not to follow it I can be firm and immediate with consequences knowing that I am responding to their need for boundaries and discipline, not to my own stress levels.

*warning, soap box parenting philosophy ahead* LOL

I believe this way of doing things also relates to the Biblical edict to "train up a child" (Proverbs 22:6). If you had a new apprentice mechanic, you wouldn't just point them toward the workshop tools and say "knock yourself out kiddo!" You'd teach them actively, give them tasks to meet their skill level and the odd one to stretch them a bit to help them develop new skills. If want our kids to grow up with life skills, values and the general aptitude to succeed in life (however you define that), we need to get in there and get proactive NOW. It can start with teaching them how to choose a fun and appropriate game or task. Teach them, train them, equip them, allow them time, space and autonomy to practice the skills, then offer direction if it is needed and train a little more. Gradually you find them making the positive choices on their own and using those skills, so hard earned, effortlessly. Let them know about the road conditions ahead (even the ones YOU are experiencing if and when that is appropriate) and how to handle them (Deut 6:7, 1 Cor 9:24, Heb 12:1). When our little ones are struggling, a pep talk and some direction from their 'coach' is sometimes all it takes to start running the race well again

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