First, Best Teacher

It’s back to school time for those 5 years old and older. Yet our role as our child’s teacher begins long before 5 years old and that role doesn’t come with summer breaks or holidays. It is seven days a week, 360 days a year. Yet, there are great and lasting benefits!

This may not be a job we planned on signing up for when we became parents, but each of us finds ourselves in this role none the less…teacher! Parents are the first teachers a child ever has. From the child’s very first cry and the mother’s and father’s first embrace, teaching is taking place. We show our child how to get our attention by responding to those cries and meeting the child’s needs. This is not a surprise, nor should it be. We expect to teach our children how to talk, walk, put their clothes on, eat with a spoon, etc. What we may not have realized is just how important that role , teacher, will continue to be as our child grows older. Even when our children attend school whether it is a public, private, Christian, or secular, our role as a parent remains of utmost importance. We must lay the groundwork now for being effective as teachers of our children’s moral and spiritual development, as well as their intellectual and physical growth.

In the early years the brain nearly triples in size and weight. Up until age two there is a huge buildup of neural connections. This is followed by a massive pruning. This brain reorganization is often characterised by the Terrible Twos. The erratic behavior of the child reflects the changes taking place in the brain. Pat Wolfe; Brain Matters

Current research in brain development validates what many of us already know – the toddler years are a challenging time. Yet it is also a time when the brain is solidifying connections that will greatly impact our child’s growth and development intellectually, physically,  emotionally, and spiritually.

I would like to address one of these four areas for each of the next four weeks. First – intellectual growth.

The brain responds to repetition. Current brain reasearch shows this – but any mother of a toddler knows that they love to hear the same story over and over again. They learn colors, numbers, names of things, and people by hearing them repeated over and over.

Learning is the act of making and strengthening connections between thousands of neurons (neural networks)

Memory is the ability to reconstruct or reactivate the previously made connections.      Pat Wolfe – Brain Matters

So, repetition is an essential part of teaching our child about the world around them. As a child begins to remember information, they are using words they have heard repeated over and over and those words contain meaning for them. The more those neurological connections are used, the more permanent they become.

Think about this – do you remember the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”? When was the last tine you practiced repeating it? It may have been years – yet those early neurological connections were made permanent by the repetition of that verse when you were young. This holds true for our children as well. It would bless our children if we are intentional and careful about what we allow them to see and hear over and over. Neurons are continuously “firing”.

Reading to children is the most important intellectual preparation parents can provide for children. Stories build vocabulary, make connections to the world around them, and provide sequential information, while providing pleasure, humor, and closeness as parents and children read together.

Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

The God who created our brains will also lead and guide us as parents to be the teachers He desires us to be.           What a privilege and blessing!

Next week we will look at teaching healthy physical development.

 

 

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Think on These Things

My friend Alice Marie and I recently attended church with her mother and the pastor said that many of us suffer from a syndrome called “ANTS”  – Automatic Negative Thought Syndrome. I remember being affected by this malady  – especially as my children were going through one or another  “phase”. I KNEW meal time would be a whine fest, nap time a challenge, and bath time a wrestling match. By anticipating negative behavior, was I setting myself up for difficulty? Probably so. Children do go through phases and their brain development as toddlers does precipitate some erratic behavior, but I know that when I expect the worst – that is most likely what I will get.

You’ve heard the saying (pardon the grammar, Phil) “When mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” We mothers do set the tone in our homes. If we are negative, our children will be as well. If we respond to whining with a firm, “Tell me what is wrong, I can’t understand when you whine”, instead of whining right back with, “You always whine and it’s driving me crazy!’ we will redirect the negative behavior. It is not easy – because whining DOES drive us crazy, yet as an adult, I must choose to model a positive attitude.

Philippians 4: 8 says,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ”

Paul is encouraging us to choose positive thoughts with which to fill our minds. Thoughts determine our speech and then lead to the actions we take. If my thoughts toward my children are lovely and admirable, it follows that my speech will be as well.

When our children were young my friend Carol made me a cross stitch of this verse which I hung in my kitchen. It seems like I needed it in the kitchen the most. You might have a room or a situation that is a challenge for you, where you feel “ANTS” taking over. If it would help, make a list of true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable thoughts. Hang it up. The list may change from time to time.  Yet the principle remains the same. Think on these things. 

 

Start Early, Stay Late

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.”       Genesis 1:27

The physical differences in males and females were God’s idea. The above Scripture refers to God’s work  before the fall, so our sexuality is something that was part of God’s plan from the beginning, before sin entered in. Often we as parents are uncomfortable with teaching our children about their bodies and celebrating in a positive way the unique qualities of males and females. Our culture is saturated with sexual messages and much of what the media promotes is not the image we want our children to have about sex. To counteract the negative ideas children may assimilate from media, older children, etc. parents must be proactive. Being a girl or a boy is a wonderful thing!

The following are some strategies that may be helpful to keep in mind when addressing this important subject:

  • Start early giving children correct names for their body parts. That helps those children realize that they are normal and it is a natural part of who they are. We don’t call knees or arms “pet” names  – why should we do so with other body parts?
  • It is natural and normal for little girls and boys to be curious about the body parts of the opposite sex. Teaching children correct names for the body parts of the opposite sex will prevent possible embarrassment later on for that child.
  • Start early celebrating the fact that males and females are unique but equal in God’s eyes.
  • Start early teaching children to be modest and respectful of their own bodies. That means that they wear clothes in public, and they don’t let anyone touch them in private places without a parent’s knowledge.
  • Start early teaching children respect for other people’s privacy. Ask them to knock before opening a closed door, closing the door while using the bathroom, and not touching others in their private zones.
  • Start early answering questions about “Where do babies come from?” “How do babies get there?” There are some good books available if you want to show discrete pictures and share information in a simple way young children will understand. Small children only need bits of information at a time.
  • If a child asks a question that concerns you, ask them calmly “Why do you want to know?” or “Where did you hear that?” Children often hear things out of context and put pieces of information together wrongly. Asking them a question will also allow you to find out if they are being exposed to information or situations that you are not comfortable with.
  • Once a child comments on the body parts of a parent of the opposite sex, it is time for that parent to stop bathing with that child or allowing the child to see the opposite sex parent naked. This is a way to model modesty for the child and provide a healthy example of respect for the child’s privacy.
  • Stay late – continue talking to your child as they grow older and need more information. If you do not answer their questions when they are young, they will not come to you as they grow older. They will find someone else to answer their questions and it may not be the right individual.

Finally, I want to set the record straight once and for all. Our children will say that all we ever talked about at supper was sex. That is absolutely not true! I am thankful that we had open conversations about many  different topics, including sex.

In Psalms 139:14  David says ” I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. “ That is the truth we want to communicate with our children –  by starting early and staying late.

Learning to Choose

Life is full of choices, and learning to make positive choices is a life long skill. One mark of maturity is recognizing the possible results of a choice and because of that, choosing wisely.  Yet young children are NOT mature and therefore parents must limit their choices and help them learn to make positive choices. Some children are naturally “careful.” These children do not like to take risks. They wait and watch before jumping off the diving board and then they will decide if it is worth taking the plunge. Other children will “dive right in” literally and figuratively. They have no fear and are eager to try anything. These various tendencies  often show up early in a child’s development and follow them throughout life. (I remember asking one daughter to next time call me after she went sky diving so I did not have to worry during such activity!) Obviously daring children need to be monitored more closely than the more cautious ones.

Our goal as parents is to work ourselves out of a job. We will always be their mother, but we will not always be there to make decisions (nor should we). Here are a few tried and true strategies that  encourage our children to begin making good choices:

     1) Only offer a choice when you are really want your child to decide. This is not a game to see if they will choose what you have already decided is appropriate.

     2) The younger the child, the narrower the choices. It is best to offer a 2-year-old a choice of  “either or” between two items. As your child gets older, offering more choices lets them build skill in decision-making.

     3) Once a child makes a choice, require them to stick with that choice. If they eat half a red popsicle and see that their sister has a purple one, don’t allow them to change their mind and get a purple one immediately. Learing to live with our choices is also a life lesson. You can remind them that next time they could choose a purple popsicle.

     4) When it doesn’t matter what a child wears, let them choose. My mother likes to tell the story of the time one of her friends asked her “Why do you let Gayle dress that way?”. My mother responded, “Because she wants to.” (I know some of you are smiling now thinking about the way I have dressed throughout life.) We do want our children to be warm enough and safe, dry, modest, etc. but often while playing at home it doesn’t matter. I smile when I see an Indian Chief in full headdress or a princess in lacy gown and tiara in the grocery store! They have a mother like mine!

     5) If the consequences are not permanent or harmful, let your child suffer the results of decisions. Spending their money at the carnival on a “trick” game will be a gentle way to learn that everyone does not win the BIG monkey.

     6)  Often small children want to choose a toy just because someone else is playing with it. If offering another choice does not work, ask the child to choose something else for a few minutes and then they can trade. If this is not satisfactory – you can remove the toy. Children quickly learn that if they want any chance to play with that toy – they must choose to share.

The most important choice our children will ever make is whether or not to follow God. When the children of Israel were faced with that choice after entering the promised land, Joshua said to them;

14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  Joshua 24: 14, 15

As mothers we often want to protect our children from hurting physically and emotionally. Yet if we are honest, some of the most important lessons we have learned in life have come as the result of suffering the consequences of our choices. We are able to model God’s unconditional love and grace as parents. When our children make a poor choice, we can forgive and instruct and help them to choose more effectively the next time.