Many experts tell parents to be assertive and establish themselves with frequent “no”s, unquestioning obedience and decisive punishment. Such advice stems from a growing exasperation with the prevailing rudeness of children and young people and the failure of too many young adults. But what such experts forget is a much more important “preventive” aspect, ancient and all as it may seem. You educate by “what you are”. Education starts from the eyes and the incisive question is: What do our children see?
“Adults are full of contradictions. They say: “Don’t stick your finger up your nose.” But then they do it themselves. They say: “Don’t smoke”. But they do. They say: “Don’t drink alcohol.” But then they drink like sponges. They say: “Always go to bed early.” But then they stay up like owls. They won’t let us watch thriller or detective movies on television. But then they stay up long into the night watching them. The older they get, the more they say things they don’t do.” (Anna, 12 years)
“I used to think grown ups could be role models for me. But when I see them drive the car like crazy, when I see them go through a red light or even speed up at a pedestrian crossing, I realise they’re not yet mature. I think if we boys did everything adults do, the world would be even more horrible.” (Andrew, 14 years)
This is education’s most difficult and demanding challenge: always being consistent as parents and educators.
Consistent training means offering children positive guidance, literally, by showing them how things are done.
One aspect of creative teaching is to give children the skills they will need, such as dressing, reading, writing, cycling and phoning for emergency services.
Another function of consistent training is to foster character building to make them understand the importance of values such as honesty, hard work and courage.
The third aspect of consistent training is offering children the tools they need to deal with emotions such as fear, anger and disappointment.
Basically there are three methods to provide your children with consistent training:
• Offer models of behaviour
This type of training occurs whether you are aware of it or not, and whether you like it or not.
For better or for worse, your children look to you for guidance on how to live. The first thing they look for is confirmation that your actions are in line with your words. If and when they see a lack of consistency between the one and the other, you can rest assured that they will let you know it.
At some point, your children will stop listening to what you say and begin to imitate what you do. If this thought makes you break into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. But where there is room for risk, there is also a chance to rejoice. In fact, it is not necessary that you be an expert in different family relationships to make your child’s life different. All you have to do is lead a life worthy of imitation.
• Show how things are done
You could try teaching your children to ride a bike by having them watch a video.
You could try teaching them to wash dishes by explaining what detergent to use and then describing the most appropriate way to get rid of sauce, spaghetti and grease stains.
And you could try teaching them to do the laundry by reading what is on the back of the washing powder box.
But it would be much better to let your child get on a bike and start pedalling, while you steady the bike with one hand, until the child can ride on its own.
With the dishes, give your child a sponge, put them on a chair next to you and let them wash one dish at a time following your example.
With the laundry, ask your child to help separate out the various types of clothes, choose which and how much detergent to use, select the most suitable washing programme and follow the washing machine’s operating cycle.
Making time to show your children how to do things in practice can help them become confident and eager to learn, and avoid their getting nervous and uncertain, at least where skills needed for life are concerned.
• Educate 24 hours a day
Experts tell us children learn by doing or by acquiring knowledge or experience personally.
This means that, if you want your children to learn about the war, you can simply spout about it using what you remember from history classes in secondary school, or you can bring them on a visit to a war monument or a history museum. The combination of sight and sound will probably give them an experience they will never forget.
Use your creativity to make time spent with your family a further opportunity for education. This will require some effort on your part, but it will soon be rewarded when you see your children grasp a concept or learn a skill which they would otherwise not have had access to.