“Take Time For Training”.
This little phrase was coined by Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs in his classic book Children: The Challenge. It emphasizes the idea that it is a parent’s job to socialize children towards co-operative living in a group. The first group is the family, then the classroom, and of course the community at large.
Children aren’t born knowing how to conduct themselves, and we as parents must educate them so they are prepared to participate in the adult world when they launch and leave the nuclear family. Of course, it takes time and must be developmentally appropriate. It is not a one and done type deal.
Parents will often moan that they simply don’t have time to train their children in this way. Dreikurs, however, rebutted that “you will spend more time correcting a child than training them properly in the first place”. When it comes to parenting, you need to have a long view into the future.
So, what types of things are we training for exactly?
It’s training for simple things like: not interrupting when others talk, putting toys away after you have played with them, eating with cutlery instead of your hands, asking for a turn with a toy instead of grabbing it, putting your coat on a hook when you come in the house, and washing your hands before you eat. Pretty much EVERYTHING!
What is the technique?
First, it’s important to know the difference between correction and training. Too often parents try to educate their children through correction. However, this can be very discouraging and it doesn’t teach the child what they should be doing instead.
Here’s an example of TRAINING in action:
When I worked at Kinderschool Adlerian Nursery in Richmond Hill, we would spend a great deal of time training the children for every task. If we were going to put out a painting easel we would bring the easel out at carpet time and discuss what was involved in painting on the easel. We would have a child demonstrate how to put on an apron, to protect their clothes. We would show them the paint pots and how to dip the brush in and whip the excess paint off on the side of the pot so it didn’t drip down their hand when they painted. We showed them how to put the same color brush back in the same pot to keep the colors separated instead of mixing colours and having the paint turn to brown. We showed them how to mix the paint colors on the paper instead. We demonstrated taking off the apron, where to hang it, how to turn on the taps to wash your hands, the number of pumps of soap, the number of napkins to dry your hands and where the napkins get put in the garbage.
Then, after our group discussions, we would sit with each child and supervise them as they worked through the steps. We would notice when they were on track by saying, “Hey, you remembered to start with the apron! You really know how important it is to keep paint off your clothes” or “Great job of whipping your paint brush tail, you’re keeping all the extra paint in the pot”.
Of course, some children rush to the easel and forget (or refuse) to put their apron on. In that case, we have to step in and let them know that if they would like to paint, they need an apron on. By saying, “If you don’t want to wear an apron – that is fine, but then you are deciding to not paint” we are training the child that they are free to make choices but each choice has an outcome or a consequence. These outcomes or consequences must be logical and teach the connection between personal freedoms and responsibilities or necessities of each situation.
If the child doesn’t want to do what is required for painting at the easel, they would be asked to move on to another area of the classroom to play. They can try painting again another day.
It may take weeks to teach everyone in the classroom about how to use the painting easel, and that requires a teacher sitting by the easel when it’s out each day (we would put the easel away when it couldn’t be supervised). But after a few weeks you will have 24 two-year-olds all painting independently with no teachers yelling. Yes, it’s true!
So, if you have something you need train your child for, break it down into three phases:
1. Do a lot of upfront instruction and explanation, while keeping it joyful and playful.
2. Invite the child to try and participate with your assistance. Reflect back to them how well they are doing or add simple instructions to help them succeed. Comment on their effort and improvement.
3. Allow them to do it all on their own and celebrate their new competency and movement towards independence and group living.
Once a child has been trained to have a skill or take on a responsibility, you must remember this next vital catch phrase of Dr. Dreikurs’: “never do for a child something they can do for themselves”. Otherwise, everything you just worked on will be for naught.
If they can brush their own hair, it’s their job to do it every time. EVERY TIME. Yes, it may infuriate you, yes it may be slower and sloppier and not done the way you like, but it’s their job to do. Being consistent is imperative. It is consistency that allows a child to truly understand that a certain task is their responsibility and that they are accountable. If we are inconsistent children will, instead, feel as if they are being put upon. They will interpret inconsistency as parents being arbitrarily mean, making them do something today that they didn’t have to do yesterday. They will take it personally and believe that you are lording power over them. Don’t go there!
But what if they don’t brush their hair?
That is their choice. The consequence of choosing to not brush your hair is that it looks sloppy or it gets tangled. If they do this consistently, you can explain that if they’d like the privilege of long hair then they must also take the responsibility for grooming it. If they don’t want to groom, that is a choice, but it means the long hair needs to be cut short to a hair style that requires less care.
Finally, in applying your logical consequences, be sure to present them in a positive, friendly, educative way, rather than being vindictive. If a child hears a growling threat of “if you don’t look after your hair, I will make you cut it off”, the child is more likely to rebel to this controlling dictatorial approach. Remember to be firm – but also friendly.