Thursday, February 23, 2012

Teacher vs. Student

In my recent experience with home schooling, a problem can arise among the triangle of teacher and two or more students.  An older (or younger) sibling may interrupt your instructions to their sibling with thoughts of their own on the subject.  They may provide answers, make sarcastic comments or present "how I would do it" statements.  While the interrupting child is generally trying to help, their actions mostly add confusion and frustration to the child being taught.  The teacher (whether Mom, Dad, or someone else) must remain the authority and instructor for several reasons.

1.  Honor thy father and thy mother.  When your child listens to and follows your instructions, they fulfill the fourth commandment.  By respecting your authority as their teacher, the child remains the student which is their calling as a child.  If another sibling interjects (especially something contrary to what you've said), the student may falter in their acceptance of your guidance.

2.  Being told.  Let's face it.  Nobody likes being told what to do.  It's even worse when you have several people giving you the same instructions.  (This is why familial discipline belongs to the parents only.  It is not the child's place to discipline their siblings, but that's a topic for another post.)  If you are teaching a child (particularly in a subject they dislike), receiving instruction from you is plenty.  Having a sibling interrupt with comments on how they would teach it, how the child should learn it, and how it's "so easy" can overwhelm the student to the point of shutting down completely.  The learning child will no longer be willing to even try if they believe they cannot succeed.  A sibling's peanut gallery comments do not help.

3.  Train of thought.  It has been my experience that siblings' interjectory comments come at the most inopportune moments, most often right in the middle of your explanation.  Being an adult raising children, it can often be difficult to regain your train of thought once it is derailed.  This is confusing for the child being taught and frustrating for you.  Couple this with your already short temper (unless you happen to be an angelic mother who doesn't have frayed nerves), and you have a recipe for disaster.  I know you cannot avoid all interruptions (especially with numerous children), but the fewer you have, the easier school will go.

All in all, keeping the instructions solely within your realm of authority is a good idea.  I do not, however, object to useful comments from siblings.  While these comments should not arise in the midst of instruction, oftentimes a sibling's observations can lend a new light to your potential difficulties in teaching.  Please ask your children for suggestions regarding new ways to make learning more interesting.  I have often given my two cents worth regarding various school subjects (most especially Latin), and I like to think that my personal experience with home schooling through high school lends a bit of authority to my musings.  I can only relate what I have learned or observed for myself (which I know cannot apply to every person), but I hope that some principles remain the same throughout all learning children.  If you have taken up the wonderful cross of home schooling, don't be afraid to ask for advice, even from your children.  Just make sure that while the teaching is actually happening, your children remain simply students.  Let them enjoy being a child without having to teach their siblings.  If they won't fight for their right to learn and not instruct, then you must.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Let Them Scream?

I'm sure that anyone who has cared for an infant or young child knows the heartache of listening to the child's lamentations at nap time.  If you are new to the baby world, you will most likely feel an uncontrollable urge to dash into the nursery, lift up your distressed child and rock them to peaceful quiet.  Don't.  While you can sometimes put a child to sleep and then keep them sleeping as you transfer them from your arms to their bed, it is not as frequent as we'd like.  Rather, we must let them fuss and cry to sleep.  The question is how long do you leave them screaming?  When do you cater and when do you turn a deaf ear?  

If you rush in at the first whimper, your child will quickly learn your weak will and exploit it.  Whether they are tired or not, they will scream if they know you will come and give them attention.  Give your crying child a few minutes to accept the fact that it's nap time.  Let them cry out their frustration before succumbing to the bliss of sleep.  If you find crying difficult to cope with, go in every five minutes or so and comfort your child.  Do not necessarily remove them from their crib; rather, you can stroke their back and whisper soothing words of comfort.  Before you enter to comfort, however, be sure that their screaming has not decreased in volume or intensity.  Oftentimes, a child will cry for several minutes straight, but they gradually quiet down.  If you go in just as they are calming themselves down, you can destroy their sleepy mood.  The screaming will start again, and you're back at square one.

The best advice is to develop a bit of a cold shoulder and tough love aspect.  You must be able to withstand the screams because you know what is best for your child.  They need a nap, even if they think otherwise.  It can be painful to listen to your young one whimpering and bewailing their cruel fate.  You can endure, however, with great patience.  Just be sure to learn the difference between a child crying themselves to sleep and a child who screams for 20 minutes straight with an ever increasing volume and earnestness.  Sometimes you simply have to go in and take care of the screaming.  But don't buckle within the first two minutes.  Give your child some time to adjust and calm themselves before rushing to the rescue.  You'll thank yourself so much!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Art of Sacrifice

Lent speedily approaches with Ash Wednesday eagerly waiting just for tomorrow.  For any non-Catholics, you probably simply acknowledge today as Mardi Gras and then wait the next 40+ days for Easter enjoying all of the federal holidays and St. Patrick's Day in between.  For us Catholics, however, today symbolizes the last day before entering a season of penance and preparation.  The Lenten season is a period of time for a more earnest bettering of oneself as well as offering up suffering for the sake of others.  For most children, Lent means giving up sweets or tv.  For adults, the sacrifices vary quite widely, especially based on how ignorant they are or choose to be.  In my case, I have discovered that Lent is a beautiful time to strive for things which you should already do on a regular basis.  Give up something to which you are addicted such as coffee or pop.  Focus on developing your spiritual life through Scripture and prayer.  Reach out more to your fellow human beings.  For myself, furthering the spiritual aspect of my life offers the most difficulty; therefore, I have determined to spend a greater amount of time in prayer and spiritual reflection each day.

But what does all this have to do with children?  Lent is a terrific time to teach your children the true art of sacrifice.  By guiding them through their Lenten sacrifices, you can show them both how to suffer and how to offer up that suffering for the souls of others.  A young child will most likely hate losing their sweets or computer time, but you can help them understand how their discomfort and annoyance can be turned to graces from Heaven.  Furthermore, you can focus on how greatly and intensely Our Lord suffered for us when He died on the cross.  Tell your children how their offered up suffering helps ease the suffering of Christ.  By relating their Lenten sacrifices to Christ's sufferings, you may draw a greater attention to the true reason for the Easter celebration.  The fact that Christ offered up His life for our sins and thereby redeemed our souls for eternity is the greatest gift of self-sacrifice ever known or ever shall be known.  If you can spend the next 40 days in penance and preparation, the true joy of Easter will appear ever more present.  It will no longer be simply a secularized holiday filled with chocolate, bunnies and hunting eggs.  Take back the true reason for Easter and celebrate all its glory and wonder.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Crime & Punishment

First off, the book Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky is amazing.  Yes, it has its dark moments and depressing scenes, but I absolutely loved it.  But that's beside the point.  The point for this long overdue post is finding a punishment that fits the crime.  Throughout literature (since I'm an English major), authors have presented sinners paying for their faults in fitting means.  Dante Alghieri's Divine Comedy, most specifically his Inferno, depicts numerous sufferings that vary depending on the specific sin.  Gluttony punished by swimming in putrid and rotting food.  I would not recommend this book for children.  It's a bit dark and scary.  A happy alternative, however, is Tomi dePaola's enchanting story Strega Nona.  This tale tells of how Big Anthony uses Strega Nona's magical pasta pot but cannot turn it off.  His punishment is to eat all of the pasta he created.  Needless to say, Big Anthony did not ever touch Strega Nona's pot again.

When your child requires discipline, it is often ineffective to simply use the same level of punishment for all their misdemeanors.  Failure to clean their room vs. being disrespectful to your authority are on different scales, generally.  If you simply send them to their room for everything, they won't learn that various actions have various consequences.  The specific example I have in mind is when your child loses something important, such as their art class paintbrushes or soccer cleats.  There are a few steps that should be taken in these cases, and a very motivating punishment as well.

1.  The child should look for the missing item.  Scour the house.  Dig under their bed.  You may help them search, but do not do all the work for them.  
2.  If the item is not found, make the child pay for it (or at least part.)  Having to part with even a small amount of hard-earned money will burn the lesson into their minds.  They will be extra careful with their possessions and take special care not to lose them again.
3.  Oftentimes, the threat of having to pay themselves for the missing items increases the determination to find the lost thing ten-fold.  Good luck!  And you can, of course, always pray to St. Anthony, patron of lost causes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

22 Things I Have Learned

1. Don't grab the stick, sharp object, etc. that a child has if you are trying to get it away from them. You may very well get sliced fingers in the process. Come up with alternative punishment when the "Put it back" statement is ignored.
2.  Holding a sleeping baby is a beautiful balm for loneliness.
3.  If you touch really hot chicken nuggets too many times, your fingers will eventually lose all sense of heat.  Therefore, ask the kids if their lunch is actually warm enough before serving it to them.
4.  It is much easier to keep children happy if you simply have to entertain them.  When they are required to actually work (such as do school), the task becomes more difficult.
5.  If you choose to give the child two options, make the one you want them to pick highly more desirable than the other.  Example:  You can either clean up your toys, OR I can pick them up and throw them in the garbage can to be taken to the dump and rot away into nothing.
6.  Children have a very innocent and charming way of viewing life.  Example:  Your birthday is on Friday; therefore, you get the day off, right?
7.  When picking children up from school, bring food.  It helps appease them immediately.
8.  Watching movies from your own childhood helps the de-stressing immensely.
9.  You're never too old to re-learn your elementary lessons.  Example: I am still baffled by diagramming sentences, although it is becoming clearer since I am attempting to teach them to a child.
10.  Getting up earlier may seem like a drag at first; however, once you are up and running, you will feel a lot better.
11.  It is really easy to spend a lot of money in the movie department.
12.  The hand-made gifts and drawings from children close to your heart brighten your day considerably.  When received, make sure to hang them prominently so that when you're feeling down, you can look at them and smile.
13.  Buy a dry-erase calendar.  It's very useful for a busy and fluctuating schedule.
14.  Having access to a microwave is almost indispensable.
15.  You can do anything you put your mind to, even if you don't think you can.
16.  If you act like the schoolwork is way tougher than it actually is, most kids will buy in to the bluff and laugh off what you think is "hard."  Trust me, it works!  "Don't freak out!  Are you sure you can handle this?  It looks really hard."  "Of course, I can."  Generally accompanied with a look of shock and disbelief that you think this is "hard."
17.  It is amazing how quickly a clean room becomes messy.
18.  Buckets for toys are amazing inventions.  As are shelves upon which to place the buckets.
19.  Listening to music can be very relaxing.  It also makes housework more endurable.
20.  Silly Bands do have a purpose!  They can be used to keep kitchen cupboard doors closed.
21.  Every family faces its own problems.  Each parent chooses their own battles.  If you become a nanny, it's best to figure out which battles the parents fight, and follow their lead.  It helps a lot when you are all working together.
22.  Setting a budget may seem daunting, but it is a highly useful and effective tool.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Can't You See Him?

When I was young, before I had siblings, I had an imaginary friend whose name was Jeffery.  Jeffery went with me everywhere.  The two instances I remember most clearly (one of which is a story my mother tells) are these:  1.  I was throwing a tantrum in the car, and my mother finally said, "Rebekah, Jeffery doesn't like it when you scream."  I promptly stopped screaming long enough to say, "Jeffery loves it when I scream."  Not exactly the most flattering story of my childhood, but there it is.  2.  Jeffery came with me to Chuck E. Cheese's and went down the rolly slide.  He also hid in the playhouse because he was shy.  I remember trying to coax him out to play.  I don't know how many children have imaginary friends or necessarily where these friends come from.  But here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

Imaginary friends appear when a child has nobody to play with themselves.  A child who has no siblings or close friends may create their own playmate to share in their adventures.  I don't remember when Jeffery disappeared, but I have a feeling that it was around the time I had my own baby sister to look after.  

Imaginary friends may often have the same fears that the child has such as timidity or shyness.  I was (and still am to a certain degree) very shy growing up.  Perhaps Jeffery being shy as well provided me with a way to talk myself out of being shy.  Obviously it didn't really work, but it may be a theory.  

Imaginary friends are there for you to confide in and tell all your secrets to, especially when you don't have a best friend.  I'm sure that Jeffery heard lots of my worries and plans even if I can't remember telling him about them.  

If your child has an imaginary friend, don't squelch it.  Encouraging them is a tricky business, but having a friend of their own creation helps nourish their imagination.  Eventually, kids will discover that their closest imaginary friend isn't actually real.  If not, you can guide them along.  But don't strike too soon.  Let your kids enjoy their imaginary friends.  They only last so long.