Sunday, March 8, 2015

Handing Out Snakes

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  (Matthew 7:9-11)

I once read a supposedly amusing account of a mother whose young son left the house one morning to catch the school bus.  But he returned after a couple minutes and in a discouraged voice told her that school was boring and he hated it and wanted to stay home.  Her reply was something along the lines of, "Life’s tough.  Get on the bus."

I didn't find that story funny.

Not that I think children should be allowed to dictate what they want to do for the day.  But there are often occasions when children ask for "bread" or "fish" and we are guilty of handing out a "stone" or a "snake" instead.  Are we being thoughtless — or maybe just too busy to find out what the real problem is?

Children love to manipulate their parents (of course, we adults never manipulate people, do we?!) so it is often easy to dismiss their complaints as just that: complaints.  But sometimes a child is honestly trying to tell you that there is a problem.  He simply can’t articulate it better than to say something is "boring" or "stupid" or he "hates it."  In that case, it might be wise to inquire further, rather than simply say, "Life’s tough.  Do it anyway." 

“Why is math boring, Johnny?”
“’Cuz I already know this stuff!  I’m tired of fractions!”
“Alright, Johnny, let’s skip to the test at the end of the chapter on fractions.  If you can do all the problems, we’ll skip the rest of fractions and go on to decimals.”

“Sally, we don’t say ‘hate’ in this house.  Why don’t you rephrase that?”
“I don’t like piano lessons.”
“Why not?’
“I’ve been playing the same dumb song for weeks!  The teacher makes me do it over again every week and it’s so silly!”
“Well, Sally, let’s have a talk with your teacher and ask her to give you some different songs to work on.  But I’ll expect you to go back to practicing harder if we do that.”

It is easy to have a paradigm of how things should be — and make our children follow the paradigm whether it makes sense or not.  We need to ask ourselves questions like, “Why are we doing this?”  “Is there a better way to accomplish our goals?”

Are we finishing every problem in the math chapter just because we feel we must, regardless of whether Johnny needs all those extra problems?  Remember, the math book authors don’t know Johnny’s individual needs — you do. You can customize his education accordingly.  Are we having 9-year-old Susie do written book reports because that’s the way book reports should be?  Maybe oral reports would be less daunting and more fun until her writing skills improve — after all, at this point the important thing is that she read the book and can tell you about it.

Sometimes the “snakes” we hand out have a more simple explanation — our culture is so busy that we rarely slow down to find out what Johnny or Susie actually need.  Who has time in between piano, dance, soccer, co-op and church activities to find out if Jimmy’s problems with reading are due to bad eyesight or bad attitude?  ‘Oh well, never mind, we’ll just keep giving him reading assignments and hope he gets it.”

We need to make sure we are making time to give "good gifts" to our children — gifts of focused time and attention and response to their needs.  Let’s make sure we are handing out bread and fish, not stones and snakes!

Written by Heather Sheen

1 comment:

  1. Although I enjoy reading many of the articles on this blog, I have to say that I respectfully disagree with parts of this article. As a professional musician, music teacher, and homeschool mom of two, my experiences in each of these areas contribute to my opinions regarding this article.

    As a child, I was NEVER permitted to use the words, "I'm bored." When my parents, or music teachers assigned materials, this was looked upon as a way for me to learn responsibility. It didn't matter how much I may have whined, fussed, or complained. I was encouraged to do my best and get it done. It was a way for me to learn responsibility.

    I believe that a truly good teacher finds out WHY the child doesn't like to do the work or WHY it is difficult for him and ASSISTS him in getting the job done. As a music teacher, I can't tell you how many times a student will compain to me that a piece is boring and that he doesn't want to play it. Occasionally, a parent will come to me and say, "Johnny doesn't want to play this piece anymore. He complains at home that it is boring." Most often these students are my laziest students. They are unwilling to put forth work to get the piece perfected. A better solution would be for the teacher and parent to work together to help Johnny get the piece finished. Find out what it is that he doesn't like about the piece and help him work on it and get it done. Teach him responsibility and hard work, even when the work involves something you do not enjoy. If Johnny has been assigned "the same dumb song for weeks" their is probably a reason! Maybe the parent needs to attend the lesson and see what it is the teacher is trying to have Johnny accomplish. Maybe Johnny is not working on the things the teacher says need corrected.
    If parents are manipulating the work, or asking the piano teacher to manipulate the work, what will happen to Johnny as an adult when his parents and piano teacher are no longer involved?