Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

The Joke’s on Me

on May 10, 2010

I’m getting closer to my first year homeschooling. I even finished laying out Term 1, started setting up my binder, laid out my weekly plans, and collected some additional curriculum to help me along. So far it’s looking like I’ll be able to start when the school year ends in June, as I’d planned.

But something else has had me anxious. Part of Charlotte Mason’s teaching is that during these early years—up to 6 years—one huge thing to be focused on is Habit and Character training. Really, that’s what we should be doing as parents anyway, but it’s heavily emphasized throughout the school years with Charlotte Mason’s method. And I’ve been at a total loss.  I haven’t been able to find any practical advice on how to proceed. I keep reading things like “Don’t allow your children to such and such”, “Require that they” etc, “Expect for them to” blah blah blah. I did ask on my Yahoo group forum for some practical tips in some areas of training—because I never saw an explanation of HOW to “require” certain behavior, especially in kids as young as mine. I did get some good tips, but again, either it didn’t work, or I really can’t implement it. Things like nap time (or quiet time, which I’d be perfectly happy with, I really don’t care if they nap anymore). I read “REQUIRE that they be quiet in their rooms for at least an hour.” But Isaac especially can’t seem to go 5 minutes. And I mean that literally, a new strategy I’m using is, instead of a full hour, I’m starting really small and then I’ll work my way up, and I start with 5 minutes. I mean it, less than 3 minutes later I’m adding more time to the clock because he couldn’t make it. So I KNOW he has trouble lasting 5 minutes. One suggestion I received was to stand outside the door and police, and after a few days they should get it. Well, I have done that in the past, and it would work, until I’d stop doing it. And now I can’t do it every day because of the baby—if he’s awake, or it’s his feeding time, I simply, physically can’t. Besides, from all I’ve read of Charlotte Mason’s ideas on habit training, in order to reach a place of masterly inactivity, I need to not have to maintain such a vigil.

So as I’ve been growing closer, I’ve been growing more panicky. I cannot get from wake-up time to morning snack without constantly nagging, reprimanding, reminding . . .pretty much all the things I should be slowly letting go of. I can’t do dishes, finish laundry, complete a Mother’s Day project, clean the office, anything, because of what happens or might be happening if I disappear for 2 seconds. If this is going on while I’m NOT engaged in some homeschool activity, how on earth am I supposed to manage THAT? Not that homeschool this year will be all that intense, but there will be times I need to be focused on Caleb and showing him something, and I don’t see how I can unless I can get some sort of grip on things.

"Let children alone-…the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose."

How on earth do I first secure that? Well, I’ve been asking God for help, and I received an answer twice, once in a blog and once in a passing joke by another mom.

The blog I ran across, in Adventures on Beck’s Bounty, was a very brave account by a veteran homeschooler about how she found that, as teenagers, her children still had not acquired any of the habits she thought she had taught them. Now, I’ve read blogs in which the blogger has plainly said she will not include any of the bad days or negative things because she wants to be an encouragement to others who may be wary of the homeschool adventure, new and uncertain, etc. But frankly, I don’t get a lot of encouragement from successful-results accounts. It makes me feel like an unusual failure that, in trying the same methods, I can’t get the same results. Of course, that’s me forgetting what’s more important—my actions or the results I want to see—but still, it doesn’t help my stress level. So reading this account was extremely encouraging, because I saw that it’s never too late. Especially since mine aren’t teens with years of bad habits ingrained, there are things I can do to change both me and them right now.

The other thing that changed me was a joke. I was leaving Caleb’s school, everyone in tow, and walking under the breezeway we were heading straight towards a line of kids being led from one class to another. With a double stroller and two walking kids in tow, I wanted to stay as out of the way as possible, so I steered Caleb behind me and told Isaac to hold on to a strap on the diaper bag. We’d only taken 2 steps when he let go and veered left, directly into foot traffic. I pulled him back and repeated that he hold on to the strap. But he only held his hand limply and refused to grab on and when I tried to hold his hand at least he did that weight trick: buckled his knees so all his weight went down. Giving in was not an option—never is—so I picked him up around the waist and was going to lug him and push the stroller single handed. He screamed about this, and I asked, “Are you going to be good and hold on?” “Yeah!” he moaned. So I put him down and he did as he said he would, he grabbed onto the strap.  This all happened just as the teacher (who I know from AWANA, her daughter was in Cubbies with Caleb this year) was walking by. She commented, “Oh, bargaining! Good luck, never works with my kid!”

It really was just a joke, from one empathetic mom to another. But it stung. Oh I by no means blame her! I’m fine with her and her comment. But one thing plaguing me lately was that we have always demanded first time obedience, with very little leeway, and I could not understand why we weren’t seeing it at all in any of the kids. Her comment, though, showed me that we’ve only partially demanded first-time obedience.  Because she was right: I WAS bargaining, and that is a big no-no in first time obedience training. And I do it ALL the time! Part of it is trying to offer a chance, trying to offer grace, but really Christian grace and parenting aren’t supposed to mix in that way, mainly because a child that young does not understand that they’re receiving grace.

But it got worse. It wasn’t just, “You promise to be good now?” that was the problem. I later noticed that, when they ask wrongly for something—a demanding tone with, “I want crackers!”; a whining tone with, “I want pancakes”; or a simply expectant tone, “I want sandwich”—we always respond. Not that we always say compliantly, “Ok sweetie, here you go”, (in fact we never do that), but that we always say things like, “Not until you ask properly” or “That’s not how you ask” or “I don’t respond to whining”. Doesn’t sound TOO bad, right? Only here’s the thing: after saying that 50x a day (not exaggerating), you would think it would be a learned habit to say it politely the first time. But instead what is a learned habit is that mom and dad will always say the same thing.

So this weekend, we started doing things differently. Catching myself in bargaining was hard enough; catching myself (and Steve catching himself) in correcting their bad manners was ten times worse! To do that, we had to practice ignoring them when asked wrongly—that means not correcting or reminding, and removing privileges when they whine too much (Caleb didn’t get pancakes at breakfast, and Makenzie lost bacon, as an example). They all three KNOW what the right thing is to do, so they shouldn’t need reminding.  At first, Steve said he agreed, but wouldn’t you know, he’s sick this weekend! And as any parent knows, when you’re not feeling well it’s much harder to hold the parenting boundaries. So the first day we gave in a few times. But yesterday (another “wouldn’t you know”, it was Mother’s Day!) we really put it into practice. It was so incredibly hard! Mainly because, in ignoring them when they asked wrong (over and over again), we discovered just how bad things really are! They couldn’t say anything that wasn’t a demand or whine! We had to completely lean on and support and remind each other (when our knee jerk reaction was to say, “Ask nicely”) all day long.

The end result? They are already catching on. The number of times they asked nice the first time. Increased throughout the day. This morning, it was even more interesting. Caleb wanted to watch “Pistachio” (new Veggie Tales video, and another wouldn’t you know: it’s all about obeying your parents LOL), but he kept saying, “Mommy, I need to watch new Veggie.” I kept walking away from him and doing other things. After the fifth time, Isaac said, “Caleb, you need to ask NICELY!” So Caleb said, “Mommy, can I watch new Veggie please?” I’m totally fine with them reminding each other!

Not only that, at the end of the day yesterday, we felt 100% better than we do most other days. We didn’t feel parent burn out, we didn’t feel wearied in soul, we didn’t feel the need for a break from the kids, resentful, angry, bewildered. . .none of those negative feelings that plague us on a regular basis. As hard as it was to retrain ourselves, we still felt like good things happened.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but we are so grateful to be learning while they are all young and still trainable. It was bothering me that they not only talk this way to us, they talk this way to and with other people. To hear Caleb, when he’s at the front of the church for the children’s lesson (mid service, the kids are all brought to the platform and given a short lesson before the sermon), saying, “I want that!” if the instructor gives a child something to hold, is embarrassing. Embarrassed for him and for us, worrying the rest of the day, “How on earth do I teach him not to do that?” But now we think we know.

About that blog: she talked about her teens making their own lists to remind themselves and take responsibility. Well, mine are too young for written lists, but again, in God’s providence, just a few days ago I found an ebook from Grace Bound Books that talked about using picture cards for teaching young ones responsibility. I’m waiting for some new toys (Xyron Creatopia and Personal Cutting System), and when they come I’m going to make large charts for all three: “Today I Will” and “Today I Will NOT”. I then will find clipart that represent behaviors, habits, and characteristics. The kids will then set about putting together their own “lists” to refer to throughout the day. I’ll let you know if it works. 🙂

Parenting is always a work in progress. I just hope we start to see the progress soon.


One response to “The Joke’s on Me

  1. rye rye says:

    fun to read your new blogging venture and there is much to learn in reading other’s experiences with parenting. I am half way asleep right now so did not have the capacity to read all that you wrote. but i am still a firm believer in Parenting with Love and Logic, just the whole premise of instilling responsibility in children at a very young age, and have seen the fruit of it. of course it needs to be accompanied by the use of emotional intelligence. there are many brilliant books and methods out there, and some do work better than others. I always just focus on the fact that all children I meet and work with are brilliant little people that already have deep feelings and convictions and will one day tread their own path, and how can I help guide and nurture them. I am rambling out of deliriousness. but really just wanted to encourage you on this adventure you are on and am proud of the fact that you are taking the humble steps necessary to raise healthy children. The willingness to recreate and change directions is admirable and that is the key to good parenting.

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