As parents, we raise our kids, hopefully trying to do a little bit better than our parents. We strive to create a balance between grace and boundaries, hoping to nurture a love of God’s laws and His truth, trying to instill good behavior and minimize the bad ones. In an effort to do that, it’s human nature to spend a lot of time criticizing and less time training.
I’ll admit, it’s not easy. From a personal perspective, it’s taken me a lot of energy, growth, and reflection. I’ve really had to take notice of where I need to grow, so that my kids can grow, too.
However, today the Lord reminded me of something important. It came from my time running a Montessori school not long ago. During this time, I learned a lot about how to teach children effectively. I wish more schools and parents would be shown and encouraged with the Montessori Method, which focuses more on training and modeling and less on correction. To me, it reflects how He deals with us through the His church, His Word, and the Holy Spirit. Discipleship. I know God does correct us, buy how He does it is different than how we may approach it in our humanity. Here are a few things I learned about helping foster good character traits, which I hope will help you:
- Take time to train – Choose something you want your child to grow in and take time out of your day to teach them about it. Use creative methods, like role playing, puppetry, visuals, a song, or a story to bring the concept to life. Perhaps you want to help them understand how to handle a sibling who bothers them, or how to have better table manners. No matter what the topic, bring it to life so they can connect both sides of their brains and remember. This is a creative avenue for renewing their mind. Today I sat down with my kids with a white board and drew pictures and wrote words as we discussed how to handle conflict. They were really into it and asked to draw and write, too!
- For non-emergency situations, just make a note. Sometimes, our first inclination when we see something being done wrong is to address the issue then and there. In the Montessori classroom, we had a notebook where the teacher or her assistant would write down observations, both good and bad. It allowed them to communicate with each other about the children, but gave them items to address later. Then, at an appropriate time, when there was peacefulness and open hearts among the child or the entire classroom, such as during morning circle time, the teacher would take time to do #1. We may talk about how to clean up or how to interrupt someone politely, or maybe how to hang up your coat correctly, or perhaps how to handle someone who is bothering you.
- If at first you don’t succeed..Let’s face it, children don’t always get things right the first time….or the 100th (and neither do we I might add), especially when it comes to behavior. That’s why #1 has to be repeated many times. It would be foolish to expect a child to nail the task of not touching things that didn’t belong to him after the first lesson. We are battling the human soul and flesh, afterall ! Therefore, we train and re-train and re-train again, as long as necessary, so as to ingrain the concept in his mind through repetition. We could call it the establishing a new, better habit more so than removing of a bad one. The brain is so fascinating! Habits are formed when neural pathways form deep grooves from repetitive behaviors, whether it be negative or positive. When the Bible talks about renewing the mind, what we spend our time hearing, seeing, and experiencing can actually change the physical make-up of our brain. Therefore, we can help our children think and respond differently when we develop deeper grooves of the good stuff in their neural pathways. However, this doesn’t happen without repetition, which is why as adults we do things like meditate on scripture.
Now, all this to say that we are not perfect. I certainly don’t get this parenting thing right all the time. I lose it sometimes. But today, I am reminded of how gently the Lord deals with me. He is patient and He often repeats Himself in many different ways without making me feel ashamed or discouraged. My heart wants to pursue Him more because of how he teaches me, so I try my best to imitate that to the best I know how. Simply put, I learn more from Him when my heart is open. I feel like this approach helps the seeds we are trying to plant in our children actually go into fertile soil.