Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do as I'm doing! ...or not.

Let's be honest: Kids usually don't sit and focus for any long period of time. In our church's primary (the classes for the children), we have "wiggle songs." These are songs that involve a lot of movement with the goal of getting their "wiggles" out. One such song is called Do As I'm Doing. A child will choose a movement--clapping hands, jumping up and down, nodding your head, etc.-- and then the children will do that movement while singing the song. Hopefully, their wiggles are out by the time it's over. If not, someone chooses another movement and we sing it again.

This song greatly describes how children learn, that is, by doing as we do.

On one hand, some of my greatest joys have come from seeing my daughter imitate something I did.

On the other hand, some of my greatest concerns have come from seeing my daughter imitate something I did.

Children are certified experts in the subject of reality checks. You think you're doing okay, and then your child imitates something you just finished doing or saying and you're like "oops." What we teach them really is that big of a deal. They'll imitate you whether you want them to or not.

Not only do they imitate, but they love love love to ask "why?" and answering them with "because" doesn't cut it. Sure, we usually know what we want our children to learn from us, but we don't always think about the "why," do we?

So, I got to thinking: My children won't ask me "why?" about everything, but what are some of the reasons behind what I want them to know?

It's just a good thing to know
I want my children to be ready to move out of the house by the time they're 18, whether or not they actually do so at that time. My job as a parent is not to do everything for them; to the contrary, it is to teach them how to be responsible adults, independent of me. That's one thing that I'm eternally grateful to my parents for doing: teaching me basic practical skills. I don't want my sons growing up believing that a female will always be around to cook their food. I don't want my daughters to have this subconscious idea that if her car gets a flat on the highway, a male will just magically be there to fix it. Some things are just good to know.

Tradition! Tradition! (Watch Fiddler on the Roof if that just went over your head. It's worth your while, I promise.)
A tradition is anything a family consciously chooses to do on a regular basis. That may be choosing to have dinner at the table every night or how you open presents on Christmas morning. Every family has traditions. Traditions are good! They give families something to look forward to, and consistency in childhood has been shown time and time again to be a preventing factor in tons of adulthood problems.

It will get you far in life
Why teach Grammar? Regardless of how great that resume looks, employers are not hiring people who write things like "b4" instead of "before" on their job applications. Knowing how to speak and write appropriately for the appropriate situation has gone from commonplace to a dying art; those who have it will get very far in whatever they choose to pursue.

Why teach Etiquette? Elbows off the table; napkin on your lap; cover your mouth when you sneeze; say "excuse me" when it's called for; when you ask for something, say "please"; when you get a compliment, say "thank you"; if someone thanks you for something, say "you're welcome"; watch your language; make eye contact when you talk to people; smile when you say "hi" to someone. Etiquette and manners may seem like a thing of the past, but when you look at the most respected people in the world, it's something they've got down to a science.

Why teach Hard Work? Laziness has been the main culprit for immense amounts of failure. Even studies have shown that generally speaking, children who grow up with the "work before play" mentality still know how to have tons of fun in adulthood. In fact, they have been shown to have more fun than those who play before work because they either (1) don't have any pressing things to do once their hangovers wear off or (2) have prioritized their projects so that they won't be behind on anything after the party. They can actually relax and more fully enjoy their down time.

Why teach them to Laugh at themselves? If you take yourself too seriously, you tend to take life too seriously. Knowing how to laugh at your own stupidity and clumsiness and move on is something more people need these days. It also helps you to remember that others aren't perfect, either.

On that note, I also want my children to understand the line between laughing at yourself and laughing at others; just because what Billy did may be funny to you doesn't mean he thinks it's funny.

Why teach good Dress and Grooming? No one expects you to be in your Sunday best when it's Saturday morning, but if you're expecting company, it's just respectful to make yourself look appropriate. The way you dress and groom yourself says a lot about your character and where your priorities lie. If you take this aspect of life seriously, your children will, too.

Why teach Tolerance and  Acceptance? Many loud people these days would have my children think that tolerance and acceptance are synonymous with agreement. This is not true. Genuine tolerance and acceptance comes when you can call someone a real friend without agreeing with everything he/she does and without getting into arguments about your differences.

Why teach Conflict resolution skills? Being the one who can keep a cool head and diffuse an otherwise tense situation will always have the ball in his/her court.

I am a person who tries my best to adhere to that which my religion teaches. If my children choose to follow the religion that I do, I want them to take it seriously as well. If following my religion to the best of my ability is important to me, chances are very high that it will be important to my children.

This also includes knowing why I follow the principles and policies taught in my religion. "So-and-so said we should do this" may be enough when my children are little, but won't cut it later on. The religion I follow teaches its members to be a question-asking people--if you don't know/understand why you're supposed to do something, you won't do it and neither will your children.

And last but not least:

What do you think? Why do you teach your children the things you do?

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