Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Character and Correction.

Let me paint a common scenario in our home.

From 8am-10am I am at my children's beck-and-call. I feed them, play with them, watch them play, tear out coloring pages, reach shelves with special toys on them, build towers and train tracks, read them books, assemble Noah's Ark, and give permission for markers to be used. They have my full attention.

At 10am I excuse myself to brush my teeth after my final cup of coffee. I sneak downstairs, and no sooner do I have the toothpaste on my toothbrush when I start to hear requests.

"Mom, can I have some applejuice?"
"Mom, can you get me an envelope?"
"Mom, can I have some yogurt?"
"Mom, can I play outside?"

Honestly, it frustrates me and makes me mad. At four and a half years old, behavior isn't a big issue for us. There is always room for improvement, but generally the boundaries are defined and followed. Our bigger problem these days lies not with correction, but with character.

And at the moment, we have a pretty demanding character in the house right now.

That's not to say that Luke isn't a sweetheart and incredibly helpful--he is! But now, giving all I can only to be pestered the second I am diverted is taking its toll. The difficulty is that, unlike obedience, teaching a child to be generous and selfless is not easy! And me getting angry about isn't helping!

Last night at dinner our family had a long talk about how we could enhance the character and attitudes of its small members. How can we teach a child to put others before himself when children are hardwired to be self-centered? After much prayer, reading, and reflection, I still don't have the answers, but we are still going to try!

What do I want? The scenario above happened yesterday, as well as countless others ones while I was a) on the phone b) preparing dinner c) changing a dirty diaper, etc. At four, he can't see that I am busy and that I have bigger priorities than setting up the watercolors. I want him to see that; to recognize that others in the family need to come before himself at times.

And I want to teach the children this without yelling at him about how much there is to do. Why make him feel rotten when he doesn't have the capacity yet to put others ahead of himself?

I am beginning to realize now, that while the toddler years are incredibly time-consuming, requiring constant correction, that the school years are going be more challenging, simply because character is tougher to enforce than obedience.

We begin the journey...


Theresa said...

Every kid is like that. One exercise I found helpful though time consuming and patience building on my part is HELPING. Teaching them to help, allowing them to help, and making a big big big deal out of little helping tasks. Sure it might build their already monstrous egos, but it is so worth it when every once in a while you hear "come-on let's do ************ for daddy before he comes will make him happy." Believe me, it's worth the extra energy, patience, time, etc.

I have also been telling the kids what I am going to do before I do it so they know that I'm not trying to be sneaky. For instance, "Hayden, I need to run upstairs to get dressed and bring the dirty laundry down. I'll be down in a couple minutes. You stay here." Done. They aren't curious as to what I'm doing....unless I take my sweet time. ;-)

Or you could turn it around and tell them "you are going to play puzzles while I do the dishes and then WE are going to read ONE story."

It helps. It has worked for me on more than several occasions. But the helping is a big one. Wyatt is even picking up on it. If he gets all whiny and obstinate when I tell him no, I quickly try to divert the cries to "How about you be a big helper and wash the wall for me?" .... I'll hand him a dry rag and he's occupied for 15 minutes.

baby steps. all about the baby steps.

good luck. I understand your frustration.

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Monica said...

I have been realizing this same transition with Tori and Quinn both and just hadn't broken it down so well! Thanks for your thoughts on this. I completely agree that while behavior discipline is exhausting, teaching character discipline is much trickier. I really appreciate your insights! Here's to a good day of building character! :)

Elizabeth said...

I just rediscovered your blog and this post really hit home. I could have written it myself. My son is 4.5, one daughter is almost 3 and the other just turned 1. And I too, get soooo tired of saying "Can't you see I am busy right now?" Very frustrating! Anyway, the other advice readers gave was very good. I hope you find your solution and if you have any breakthroughs, please share!