Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Exasperated Teacher

"You're such a pain in the neck.  You drive me crazy."

"I can't believe how stupid you are, you're an embarrassment."

I've actually heard parents speak this way to their children.  Nice parents who vow that they love their kids and want the best for them.  They are baffled that no matter how harsh they make their punishments, their child still misbehaves.

Then there are the silent messages parents can send.  Angry expressions on their faces, looks of derision, exasperated sighs, rolling eyes .... funny, the same obnoxious behavior we hate in rebellious teenagers.  I wonder where those teens picked that up?

There are times that your child misbehaves deliberately, out of spite or anger.  That requires swift and forceful discipline because a spirit of rebellion is rising up inside of him.  But there are many more times that your child doesn't obey which has nothing to do with being bad or selfish.  It's not an issue of character, but of maturity.  They are learning how to balance impulses and feelings with rational thought.  And we all know that impulses win out most of the time when we're young -  which of us doesn't still struggle with that even now?

Here's an example to think about:  Ben loves cars, trucks, boats - anything with an engine.  His teacher has been shouting at the class all day because kids are acting up.  Ben wants to do well in school, and likes getting good grades.  But today the teacher's voice sounds like a loud angry fog horn.  Without realizing, her monotone yelling has become so irritating to listen to and his mind deals with it by treating her voice like meaningless background noise.  He's quietly sitting at his desk when he suddenly sees out the window, a steam roller making it's way down the street.  It is the coolest most amazing piece of machinery he has ever seen, and for the first time in an hour, his mind is alive and alert.  The giant roller flattening out the fresh asphalt, the sound, the movement of the construction crew - it's a science lesson right in front of his eyes and he doesn't want to miss a thing.  He leans over and doesn't even hear the sound of Mrs. Perkin's voice getting louder as she walks right up to his desk.  He is rudely awakened by her angry face in his, threatening to send him to detention.

From a frustrated teacher's point of view, she has lessons that need to be taught, and no one wants to listen.  If she raises her voice and threatens, and they get  quiet for a moment. But like little demons, they just pick up their conversations again and drive her crazy. She has lost control of her class, and needs someone to punish.  Ben is quiet and will give the least resistance, so she goes right after him to make him an example to the rest, and more that anything, make her feel comforted that at least she's doing something about this exasperating problem.

At that moment, what happens inside of Ben?  Scientists say that a child's mind switches into survival mode when he or she feels frightened, threatened or shocked.  It's like the frontal lobe of their brain goes dim for about 20 minutes.  They can't think, they can't concentrate, they can't learn. They just react by doing whatever it takes to ensure that shock doesn't happen again.  But have they learned their lesson?  Will they be sure never to make that mistake again?  If that is the only form of correction they receive, chances are - no.

If this is the road his teachers and parents continue down, Ben will become convinced that he is bad, a scatter-brain, inferior, dumb.  Something inside him also knows that he really isn't all that bad and may try to react angrily against this unfair treatment.  Ben can easily become rebellious and turn into the slacker that can't get anything right.

So what's the solution?  Wise parents and teachers learn to use the power of praise and encouragement to bring out the best in their kids.  They know how to correct wrong behavior while always letting the child know that they love and value him or her.  They balance out their discipline by reinforcing the things that they do appreciate in their child, even if it's something small and seemingly unimportant.  For their child, any praise when they've just been disciplined is so very important.  When that happens, that state of shock quickly fades and they can go back to concentrating and learning.

Our kids futures are too precious to waste on our own impulsive anger issues.  If we want to fix our kids, we need to fix ourselves. Watch this space for more good tips...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Carried in Our Father's Arms

Every end of the school year in early June, our whole family was scheduled for our annual physical exams, blood tests and immunizations.  It was required by the Methodist Mission for all their missionary families who served overseas.  My mom and dad were working in Korea and every year was the same.  Our little arms were poked with a cocktail of so many disease fighting vaccines we were in agony for days.  Typhoid, tetanus, cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria, and more whose names I can't remember.  We would get feverish, our arms so heavy and painful that sometimes we'd have to lie in bed until we recuperated.

Korea was a very underdeveloped country when my parents first arrived in '57, and by the time I was in elementary school in the 60's, it had rapidly grown, yet most of the country still had no organized sewage system.  You don't want to know how they dealt with their toilet waste.  I'll just say that what we called the "honey bucket truck" didn't smell anything like honey.

I remember one particularly hot June when I was in so much pain from our many shots - I was about 6 years old.  My dad always tried to cheer us up with a special treat, and he had extravagantly bought us a patio table and chairs with an umbrella for outdoor picnics.  He announced it to the three of us kids as we all moaned our thanks from our beds, and then he proceeded to put it together in the living room downstairs so we could all appreciate it.  My brother and sister hobbled down the stairs and came back up excited that Daddy had bought us this cool new thing, but I was too weak and sickly to move.  My dad scooped me up and carried me down very gently and showed it to me, even though I couldn't even lift my head from his shoulder.  He then carried me back upstairs and laid me down in my bed.  I was amazed at how strong and happy he was even though he had had the same vaccinations as we did.  He could actually carry me when I couldn't even stand.

Many times I have thought of God's strength being sufficient for us, that He can easily carry us through tough times when we are out of strength.  I always remember that night with my fevered head on my dad's shoulder as he carried my up the stairs and my gratefulness that he was able to do what was impossible for me.  My relationship with my dad wasn't always so picture-perfect, but I know God imprinted that on my memory so clearly for a reason, and over the years that image of my dad's kindness being like God's, pulled me through some pretty unhappy moments.

Now I have many more examples in recent memory of God coming through for me and doing the impossible, that I don't refer to that one of my dad much any more.  I have real proof that He is alive and actively answering my prayers.  But God knew that I'd need that boost, that image in my head to push me forward until the day that I really knew how great God was on a personal level.

Maybe the kindnesses and acts of faith we show today, are being imprinted on someone else's mind by God Himself, with the hope that they too will push forward to finally know Him.  I think we should count on it.

Above is a picture of me and my dad on his many trips through the Korean countryside overseeing the construction of new church facilities.  This one here is a new orphanage site outside of Seoul, around 1965.