You may have heard me say it before. Too many parents train their children the same way they train their dogs. They wait until they mess up, then yell at them.
That’s obviously not a very encouraging or pleasant way to be trained. What we need to do instead is to prepare our children ahead of time. Then corrections can be fewer and more gentle. Everybody will be happier, parents and children alike. But how do we do that?
I came home from work one day when our four eldest boys were all six years old and under. I could tell my wife was upset. Something about the way she was hanging from the wall by her fingernails and toenails clued me in.
When I asked what was wrong, she said that she had taken the boys to the grocery store with her that afternoon and it had been a disaster. Not that the boys had been really disobedient; they had just been boys.
Firstborn Rickey, true to his nature, had led the way through the store. Mom would be busily comparing vegetable prices and all of a sudden would realize that Rickey had disappeared into the next aisle. Mechanical Tim had struggled to control his natural curiosity about how many cans could be removed from the tall pyramid of canned goods before the whole thing came crashing down. Sweet, affectionate Nathan had kept climbing on the cart to be closer to Mom. That made it hard to keep from steering the cart, including baby Josh in his baby seat, into the shelves of groceries.
This wasn’t a case for punishment, it was rather a case of youthful energies being misdirected. What to do?
First, we sat the boys down and announced a few simple rules for the grocery store. Stay in the same aisle as Mom. Look with your eyes, not your fingers. Don’t climb on the cart but it’s ok to keep a hand on it so you feel close to Mommy. Got it? Got it.
And that evening we went back to the grocery store. We traversed every single aisle, occasionally reminding a little guy of a rule and looking for opportunities to praise cooperation. It only took a little while.
Did it work? Well, our little boys were still little boys. They didn’t perform perfectly from that point on, but they understood how to please Mommy in the store and they made the effort. Grocery shopping was never a big problem again.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And it makes you feel so much better as a parent, to praise your children for doing right than to always be correcting them for doing wrong—especially when they honestly don’t know any better.
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