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As a new school year begins, kids are excited to return to their classrooms, meet their new teachers and begin another season of learning.
Yes, “new” is always fun and exciting! Well…. for most children at the start of the school year at least.
But what do we do as parents when the excitement or “newness” wears off, like it so often does with most things?
When homework becomes drudgery and begins to interfere with the things our children would rather be doing instead?
When excellence in effort begins to diminish and work returns home disorganized and messy?
When an hour’s worth of homework becomes a never ending evening of pain that feels more like a root canal than spelling practice?
Where tears are spilt and impatience flares?
What do you do?
Might I suggest….
Balance it all with love.
As a third grade teacher for a little over ten years, I remember one year feeling quite frustrated with a particular class I had… And although I had been enthusatic and passionate about my career in education, this particular year I was beginning to lose my joy in teaching.
I had a few chatty kids and- at the time- I just didn’t feel as if they were giving the attention, focus, and behavior I felt was needed to have a “good year”. It was- I guess- a bit overwhelming to me as well, because my focus on these students gave me a sense that the “whole” class was just a mess.
As a teacher you can begin to feel somewhat justified in feeling frustrated during times like these because of the way your students are acting, despite your efforts. Oh… And you can certainly feel justified in handing out consequences pretty quickly in times like these as well.
But you know what… That’s not how God wanted me to respond…
And I remember one day, He totally shifted my perspective…
Yes, He certainly did!
And it was a much needed shift that totally remade my year.
So, what happened so drastically to reshift my perspective and give me a great year?
Well…. The Lord began to open my eyes to the students who actually “were” paying attention, and He inspired me to begin majorly highlighting them verbally in front of the class when I needed the class to “come back” to me.
When things began to get chatty, I would all of a sudden start naming the students I saw behaving appropriately, and it was totally amazing!!! You could see how everyone else started to follow suit so that they could get recognized as well. Yes, friends, love and a positive outlook took over as opposed to stress, pressure and a focus on negativity.
It was a miracle!!!!
Furthermore, something God also opened my eyes to was the fact that I also needed to change my preferred style of teaching a bit to accomodate the students who enjoyed talking more… So, it actually helped me grow as a teacher too! (Yes, many times it’s not simply about changing others’ attitudes or actions, but it’s about God changing us in the process as well…. Something we don’t often like to hear, but it’s so true.)
No, our children are not going to always give us the responses we want from them…and so often it’s so easy to fall into the trap of highlighting the negative…
“Stop acting that way… Sit down… You’re not doing your work. Pay attention! Why don’t you ever clean your room or your desk?”
We often highlight the negative things our kids do with our words… Don’t we.
And while it may at times produce the result we want… I’d like to suggest a more effective way of achieving the responses we would like to see while still holding high expectations for our children.
It’s something God has helped me learn over the years and something I can always continue working on, as I raise my own little one.
Balance your high expectations with love, highlighting your child’s positive behaviors and alllowing the Lord to use your words and actions to inspire them to continue following the path you want them to be on.
Instead of saying, “Johnny, you’ve been sitting at the table all night doing your homework. You have to get your work done, or your teacher won’t be happy!” (Or whatever other phrase you normally use….)
Why not instead say something like… “Johnny, I know this is hard work, and sometimes it’s not all that fun. But I want you to know I am SO proud of you for working so hard. Remember when you did that paper last year and we thought you’d never get through it… You did it, right? I’m SO proud of you! And I know you can do this too! How about we step away from it for fifteen minutes? Then, we’ll come back to it and get it done together.”
Try it out and see!
Afterall, there’s no reason why you need to add to the chaos of the moment by pulling your hair out when there’s something positive you can do to redirect your child in following through with the task.
Our children are still little people with hearts that can be wounded by our harsh words spoken “in the moment”, hardened by stubborness because they’re tired and just not motivated to follow through, and yet softened and encouraged to press on when they see your patience, love and admiration.
Children truly want the caring adults in their lives to be proud of them and will do what they can to reach the expectations we set for them. And yet it is our repsonsibilty to continually give them positive reasons for striving to meet our expectations… Expectations that will ultimately have long term benefits in their lives.
(Hey, and as adults, we don’t simply go to work everyday just because we’re always just so excited to get up and go, right? We have reasons for going beyond just a passion for our career. Don’t we? And the same is true for our kids…)
So, yes! Go ahead and throw in some tangible rewards for your kids during the year for them to work towards and to celebrate their success!
Put their good work on display for all to see. Take them out for a celebratory meal or fun day after a hard test or project that they worked hard on. Give them opportunities to share their successes and their excellent work with you and others. Tuck little notes into their lunchboxes to let them know you are proud of them.
…Because we understand our children are not learning robots, simply storing and computing information just for the sake of it. They are little human beings with beating hearts longing for our approval and a reason to give their personal best.
And whether it’s sitting behind a desk answering phones in the workplace as adults or studying for a spelling test as a second grader, we all need daily reasons to strive for our personal best.
Let’s all give our children good reasons to pursue excellence and give their personal best throughout the year… setting high expectations that are motivated and inspired by the love they see in our eyes and the words and tones they hear in our voices.
“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Proverbs 15:1 NET