Proactive Training is Necessary When Upskilling Children
A MOST IMPORTANT SKILL SET
One of the most critical skill sets for children to learn is responding immediately to a parent or teacher's call or request. It makes life more tolerable, and less frustrating when children have mastered this group of related skills. If children can carry these abilities into later life, their relationships are more likely to survive.
Issues relating to attending and responding can lead to arguments, friction and stress, in homes, schools and workplaces. Being attentive and knowing how to respond appropriately is a skill that is needed whenever there is social contact. Nearly all of us need to fine-tune our interpersonal skill sets.
AN IDEAL SCENARIO
Mum calls to her seven-year-old son, "Tim!" Mum waits for Tim to look at her. Tim stops playing and looks at his mother. She says, "Would you please stop playing and wash your hands for dinner?"
Tim replies, "Yes mum. I'll go and wash my hands for dinner." Tim goes immediately to the bathroom and washes his hands. He goes to mum in the kitchen and holds out his hands. He says, "All done."
Mum turns, faces Tim and with a smile says, "Well done, Tim. You are very helpful. You stopped playing, you listened to mum, and you did as mum asked. You're growing up."
Notice how mum gives Tim encouragement while reinforcing the good decisions he made. Mum could provide further positive feedback by appropriate physical contact, by speaking of his contribution to the happiness of the family or by saying, "Dad will be pleased with you."
On occasion reward a child with material things such as food, toys or trinkets. If this occurs regularly, the child could grow up expecting material rewards whenever they do something right. In the home, awards of the parents time can be motivating, not for doing what the parent wants, but what the child chooses, even if it is only for a short period. Children could accumulate more extended periods of time with parents to go for a walk, play a game, read a story and the like. Watching television together is not the best way of spending time together, it can be counter-productive to developing positive character traits.
TIM'S ATTENDING & RESPONDING SKILL SET
A summary of the skills Tim used in this scenario is STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, CONFIRM and INFORM.
- STOP - Tim may be engrossed in his play, really enjoying himself, oblivious to events occurring around him. To stop what he is doing he has to exercise self-control, deny himself and delay gratification, all good character traits. It's easier for him to do this if he is thoughtful of others, shows empathy and respect. Stopping an enjoyable activity can be very hard, even for some adults.
- LOOK - Mum taught Tim to make eye contact, not only to show respect but so that he will not be distracted and not hear the message mum was about to give. Looking at mum also helps Tim pick up on her body language, particularly her facial expression By is looking away from what he was doing forms a significant part in confirming his decision to stop playing.
- LISTEN - Looking helps with listening. Tim needs to concentrate so that he gets the complete message. He knows he has to focus so that he won't forget what mum tells him.
- CONFIRM - Mum taught Tim to reply to the request in a way that shows that he has understood the message she sent.
- INFORM - Tim knew that when he completes the task requested by one of his parents, it was his responsibility to report back to them and inform them.
These skills must be taught sequentially, one at a time. Parent's expectations must be age appropriate, allowing for individual differences in learning ability. Begin teaching 'STOP' and 'LOOK' as early as possible. Generally, a child can be taught these two skills before they can put words into sentences.
IS A CHILD BEING REBELLIOUS IF THEY DON'T 'STOP' & 'LOOK'.?
When a child is unresponsive to a request, we should take into account the child's motives and the circumstances surrounding the event. Before we make a judgment, we should consider the following:
- The child may not have heard because:
- The child was engrossed in what they were doing
- The child was talking to themselves.
- The parent did not speak clearly
- The parent was two rooms away.
- There was competing noise from traffic, television, dog, music, washing machine or children playing.
- The child heard but:
- Just wanted to continue to play, just like some dads when they are reading the newspaper or watching television.
- Knows the parent will call them another four times before taking action.
- Knows that there will be no serious consequences for not obeying immediately.
- The child refuses to respond because it is angry with the parent.
- Just wanted to put the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in place.
SOME POSSIBLE MOTIVES
There could be various reasons why a child does not respond to a request:
- Testing boundaries
- Grief or loss
- Lack of concentration
POSITIVE CHARACTER TRAITS
What are the benefits gained by children when their parents and teachers go to the trouble of correctly training them to attend and respond? In addition to the social benefits of a calmer home environment, closer bonds family ties, and a healthy sense of self-worth, children grow desirable character attributes. Imagine the life-long benefits gained by the child when they develop these character attributes:
- Respect for authority
- Ability to delay gratification
The attributes listed above, become part of a person's character after they make a determined effort to change. Through persistence better habits are formed, then, through repetition, those attributes become part of the character. Good choices generally follow the establishment of good habits. This process takes a long time, and parents need to prioritise those character attributes which are the most important; those that will make the most positive difference in relationships.
Good habits do not form if children are allowed to persist in behaviour that is counterproductive to developing positive character traits.
THE BENEFITS OF MODELLING
Even when children are very young, parents should model all the behavioural habits they are trying to instil in them. In other words, practice what you preach. Children learn more from observing and copying than from being taught.
RESISTANCE TO CONTROL
Testing boundaries is a natural part of growing up. Feelings of insecurity will often lead children to push the limits in an attempt to make their life more predictable. Insecure children will often try to control their environment to feel safe. Selfishness will often prompt a child to resist requests from their parents and others.
One of the best tools parents have in training their children is the ability to provide a calm, loving, respectful, healthful, safe and predictable home environment; a place where harmony reigns, a place where the child's needs are met but not necessarily their wants.
Do not let children get away with delaying, arguing, partially completing the task, throwing a tantrum, getting angry or making excuses. Don't let them attribute the blame to you or others. It is desirable that, while children are young, the habit of submission to parental authority is one of their skill sets.
It is natural for children to express their desires to parents, but the parents are not to become their slaves. Parents should not do for a child what they can do for themselves. As soon as you possibly can, teach your children that you will never fulfil a request from them if they ask in a demanding, grumpy, angry, whining, rude, bossy or disrespectful manner, even if they are sick. Don't let them use sickness or injury as an excuse for reversing the roles of parent and child. Don't let them usurp or even imitate your authority.