Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Give Them Room to Practice

I must have done the drill a hundred times -- those same ten measures -- until my fingers hurt and all the keys started to look the same.   But slowly -- ever so slowly -- my muscles started to instinctively move where I wanted them to go.  Reflex kicked in, and what felt impossible the first time, felt natural the hundred and first time.

Practice had paid off.

Manuella Hoffmann (2008), Creative Commons
Practice is a normal, and expected, part of life -- something every parent encourages in their children.  Whether it's learning to crawl, do long division, pitch a baseball, or master a sonata, God has hardwired our bodies and minds to learn, develop, and master skills -- provided that we put in the appropriate practice.   

Practice pays off. 

But unfortunately, many of us tend to encourage practice in lesser things.  We rush our children to dance class but ignore their poor attitude on the way.  We spend hours practicing writing skills but neglect the countless angry outbursts it took to get there.  

The Bible validates the need for practice, but it urges us to consider those things which have lasting value:   

Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 
1 Timothy 4:7-8

There is no shortcut to godliness in our children -- it takes practice. Yet when it comes to their character, we often assume that our children will just naturally "learn" to do the right thing.  They will grow out of phases; they will pick up skills by being around us.  On the contrary -- godliness requires intentional training, and many, many, many occasions for practice.  


Perhaps you are like me.  Maybe you spend much time practicing lesser things -- ABC's, catching a ball, tying shoes -- but you tend to neglect the practice of godliness with your children.  Perhaps some of these scenes sounds familiar:

  • You call you child to come to the table for dinner.  He doesn't listen. You repeat yourself four more times before he stands up.  You sigh, hoping that one day he'll just "grow out of it."
  • You daughter demands the pink balloon that she spies in the grocery store, to which you promptly reply no.  A meltdown ensues.  You reprimand her whining and make it through the grocery store as quickly as possible.  But who's to say it won't happen again?
  • You ask your child to clean her room and they stomp up the stairs while rolling their eyes.  You have told them a million times to have a better attitude -- why won't they listen?  

Too often, training stops after we tell our children what they may NOT do.  

Don't hit your sister.  
Don't speak to me like that.  
Don't throw food at the table.  

We administer a consequence, and then we assume we've done our job.

And while these things may be necessary and appropriate, they are incomplete without the chance to practice.   The two must work in conjunction -- practice must always follow discipline.


Imagine those same scenes unfolding in your home -- each ending with an opportunity to practice: 

  • I called you for dinner and you didn't come right away.  You need to stop what you're doing immediately and come as fast as you can.  Let's go back and do again.  
  • I know you wanted that balloon, but when we don't get what we want, we need to have self control and a thankful heart.  Instead of whining, you can say, "ok, mommy." 
  • That's a rude way to respond to mom when I tell you to clean your room.  Your attitude is important to God and shows a heart of obedience.  Listen to how I say it, and then I want you to try again.

Next time your child disobeys, see the opportunity through the inconvenience.  Give him one of the best gifts he could receive from a parent -- the chance to practice.

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