With every child born into our family, I become a better mother. Not just a better mother to my children, but to other kids too. I am SUCH a more compassionate, sympathetic, caring, and understanding Mommy–that I definitely was not before. I simply could not understand other children’s behavior, actions, etc. AND, some of the things their parents did and more importantly did not do left me scratching my head all the time. But, as our family has grown–I’ve grown. Thank heavens. Because you know what? Some kids take a lot longer to be potty trained than others–no matter what you do. Some kids are just more aggressive than other kids and it takes a LOT more effort to teach them self control than other children. Some kids will do the opposite of what you ask of them every. time. While others jump to obey. And with each of these differences, we as parents have to adjust our parenting style. Lucky you if all your kids are the same and what you do for one works for all of them! But chances are, if you have more than 3 kids, your armor has softened, your heart is a bit more tender and you are a little more sympathetic…at least I am.
Character is a BIG deal for our family. So much more important than being a reading wiz or math genius–we want our kids to love Jesus and love people. And for us that starts with their character. But, besides telling them what they should/shouldn’t do, or expecting them to just know what to do, we’ve begun modeling it through acting and story telling. And, so far this has been the most effective tool for our family.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we were running late (SHOCKER!!) for Hannah’s ballet class. I let Hannah out first, telling her to run to class (not wise), as I shuffled the other kids out. And as we entered the building, I saw Hannah tearing down the hall to get to class on time. And after she turned the corner, I heard it. THUMP! Waaahhh!! Oh dear…
I rushed to see what had happened. A little tyke was toddling around the church hallway and Hannah flattened him. 5 year old vs. 1 year old never ends well. The Mom was super gracious, telling me “it’s ok–he’s got lots of older siblings and is used to it,” but I felt TERRIBLE! I ran over to Hannah and told her she had to apologize to the little guy. She flat out refused. Oh, if there is one thing that gets this Mommy flat out angry–it is an ill mannered child–especially MY CHILD! Oh, if you could picture it…me death gripping her arm, speaking slowly and lowly into her ear with that deep down, through gritted teeth talk “you’d better go over there and tell him you are sorry Hannah Elizabeth Benjamin, or we are going to have SERIOUS words when we get home” kind of voice. Didn’t matter. She refused. And apart from me hog tying her and moving her mouth and lips for her, there was no way an apology was going to happen. So, I profusely apologized for my child flattening her sweet boy (ugh), and went home hot with frustration at her behavior.
What in the world? What is so hard about apologizing? I know she didn’t mean to run him over…just say SORRY!!! Then, in honor of Despicable Me 2, a “light bulb” moment occurred. She was embarrassed. Completely mortified to the point of hardly being able to stop crying and hiding in my legs. And after I realized that, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, if I show her what to do, it won’t feel so foreign. So when the time comes again, she will know exactly what to do and why she must do it.
So, after ballet that day, we talked about what had happened. Sure enough, she felt terrible and couldn’t face the boy or the Mommy to apologize because she was so embarrassed. But, I explained to her that even when we hurt someone on accident, an apology is necessary to show you care. No need to ask for forgiveness–that is for intentional hurt. But, saying sorry–yes. So, we re-enacted the whole scene again at home. Everyone played a role: we had Hannah–the running maniac child, little dude–the sweet boy who was flattened, and Mommy to little dude. And, can I tell you–they had SO much fun! And, I could see in all their little faces that they “got it.” Now understanding that no one is mad at you in such an instance, but that an apology is showing care, concern and love to whomever was hurt accidentally. Hence the birth of the Benjamin acting school. Now, we act out everything we can. The sky is the limit! We do Bible stories to bring them to life and every kind of social situation I can think of. We act out what a bully looks like and what to do if you see it happening– if a child “looks different,” and other kids are making fun or being rude. We tell them “exactly” what to do and say. I am talking VERBATIM.
This may sound crazy, but again I will go back to coaching–I cannot help it; it is what I know. As a player, my coach could tell me over and over how to adjust my arm swing or correct my platform for passing, and I understood a little. But, if he actually showed me or had someone else show me–ah-hah!! Yes! I can copy that. We are visual; kids are visual. Give them something tangible to copy. And as you can imagine, I didn’t get it right the first time I tried to adjust my arm swing. But after practicing it over and over and over and over the RIGHT way, it was second nature. I no longer had to think about it. It was what I did.
So yes, we parents need to be examples to our kids in our own behavior. But, I believe we need to do more than that. We need to act scenarios out, make up stories and have our child be the hero in it–oh how my kids LOVE those stories. And not the typical hero saving the damsel in distress…no, simple, everyday heroes–like talking to the new student who is sitting all alone, asking the teacher if they can help clean her classroom, or be kind to the girl who just spoke ugly to you, tell someone to STOP if they are talking ugly about another child, offer to go last instead of pushing your way to be first (unless of course we are playing a sport), you get the idea.
Are my kids perfect? Heavens NO!! But, goodness they are sweet and they are making improvements daily. And, at the end of the year awards for Hannah’s class a week ago, she was not the top reader or the math or science wiz, but she did receive something far greater in our economy–the “Hero Award.” Her teacher went on and on about this “special friend” in her class, who had great integrity, honesty, kindness, perseverance, etc.–I was tearing up for whoever this child was–and then she said it was Hannah Benjamin. Proud Mommy moment? You bet! Now, I am fully aware that my girl is VERY capable of behaving totally opposite to all her teacher was saying. But, the fact that she’s working on it at home and doing a pretty good job of it at school…I will take that. Yes, I will most definitely take that–and celebrate it!! And, if you are in the middle of training your children like I am and your child has a moment like my Hannah did (plowing over a kid and refusing to apologize). Don’t fret. Just politely tell the other Mother/Father : “Sorry, we are currently working on that character trait.” And leave it at that. Then work on it at home. They will improve and most assuredly do better the next time. I am wholly committed to train this next generation of kids on how to LOVE in both words and actions.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
Blessings Sweet Mamas,
For more on saying “sorry” vs. “asking for forgiveness” check this out :