ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER
I had a friend in college who used to say that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher because she loved kids. Then she would clarify that she actually only loved kids who sat and listened. She loved nice kids, the kinds of kids who practiced the art of the inside voice, kids who only used their hands for hugging and giving. Kids who would never hit or pinch or pull hair and didn’t tap your shoulder every five minutes asking for lunch. Kids that never said mean things like “Shut up you stupid head.” Kids who would never talk about butts or junks at the dinner table, not even on a triple dog dare.
In other words, she wanted the yoga body without doing the downward dog. She wanted a garden of roses without getting down in the dirt. All the benefits of well-behaved children without the work of training them.
My friend knew this was unlikely, albeit impossible. But I suppose one can dream.
The reality is, children rarely act how my friend dreamed. Children have to be taught (and they will be taught something no matter what!) Children have to be trained to be functioning adults.
Train: To guide the growth of. To guide the mental, moral, etc. development of; bring up; rear. To instruct so as to make proficient or qualified. To prepare or make fit.
Perhaps my friend was somewhat justified. It is not necessarily the teacher’s job to guide a child’s life. At least not solely. Teachers are mostly supposed to teach. Though I believe with all my heart that teachers can be highly influential people, really, kids need parents.
Wait just a minute…
I’m a parent.
So you’re telling me that I have to train my kids? That they’re not going to sit quietly and only use their hands for nice things unless I train them to do so? You’re telling me that I have to train my kids? What does that mean? I didn’t sign up for this. I just wanted to go to story time, to snuggle and play dolls.
Yeah. I know. And I don’t have the answers for how to do this. I am figuring all that out for myself. But I do know it’s important. I know that a parent who does not discipline is a parent who does a disservice to their children and to society. I know that, even if I told you how to discipline your kids, it probably wouldn’t make a difference unless you spent time with your kids, observing who they are and what their specific issues are, figuring out exactly what kind of training works for them.
One thing that we are dealing with at my household is the “I WANT” monster. He comes out almost every time we do anything. For example, yesterday when my kids got up from their naps, I offered a slice of apple dipped in caramel sauce and crushed up nilla wafers. I said, “Come over here! I want to show you what I made while you were napping.” And I took a slice of apple and dipped it in sugary goodness and handed one to my 3 year-old, who ate it with gladness. Then I did the same for my 5 year-old, who immediately screamed and cried “I wanted to do it myself!” Which spurred lots of nasty reactions and eventually brought me to explain to him that when someone gives you a gift, you say thank you and you take it. You don’t cry because of how the gift was given. You simply, and graciously, say thank you.
Hold on. My kids are each a gift, so does this little lesson apply to me to?
Maybe. Just maybe it does.
Though my children (and yours) were given wrapped in nausea and discomfort, then with sharp pains, with goo and crying and squirming about, they were a gift. Though they were, and are, much more needy than generous, they are a gift. So I shouldn’t whine about the requirement of training them. Maybe the training is even a gift.
Do you think so?
Can we choose to call our children blessings, even when they are screaming at the good things given them? Even though every single day they hurt us and their siblings and they break everything their hands touch?
The same friend I mentioned in the beginning of this post would initiate a game called “I want.” It went like this: while driving, or while lounging around in our dorm rooms, she would say, “You know what I want? A doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts,” and we’d sit around just like that for a few minutes coming up with increasingly improbable wishes.
I should probably tell you that, at that time, the closest Dunkin’ Donuts was 30 minutes from campus. It was not an impossible desire, but it was not easy to meet.
Truly, the “I WANT!” monster is a monster of destruction. A monster who is never satisfied, never thankful. This monster breeds the opposite of joy. That’s mysery, discouragement.
Lately, when the “I WANT!” monster grabs my 5 year-old by the teeth, I try to stop and look at his face. I try to remember to think about what is happening in his heart (though, truthfully, at least once a day I just erupt and send him to his room because I get tired of training kids). I try to ask, “Do we always do what you want, or do we operate by what is good for the family?” This usually gives him a chance to think about what he’s asking. Sometimes, even if his request is reasonable, it’s just not doable because there are five people in our family and we have to think about the good of the whole, not just what the individuals want.
I guess the conclusion of all this is that we are to train our children, not to throw them off the train, no matter how slow the one-locomotive, two-locomotive, three-locomotives are moving.
And I know from personal experience that these trains can be painfully slow. But they’re never stopped. Not completely. And I’m one of them, too.
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