If you are a parent, chances are that you have learned to pick your battles with your child. But knowing exactly when to let something slide and when to address an issue immediately is not always easy.
Samantha James, a kindergarten teacher at Palm Beach Christian Academy in West Palm Beach and mother of two, explained that it’s important to lay the groundwork at the beginning of the school year with young children.
“Kindergarten provides a ton of opportunities every day to not only shape young minds but also to help children build their character,” said James. “On the first day of school, we create a class contract. We talk about how everything in the Bible is true and that the Bible teaches us to treat others as we would like to be treated (The Golden Rule).” James, who is beginning her eighth year of teaching, also emphasizes with her students the importance of forgiveness. “We talk about when someone apologizes; we should forgive them — just as Christ forgives us over and over.”
Homeschool mom of two Angie Thiel agrees that children should be taught about forgiveness at a young age and that we should model how to practice forgiveness as parents.
When Thiel’s son was sent to his room recently to reflect after a moment of being disrespectful,” he ended up writing me a note saying that he was sorry and that he prayed and asked God for forgiveness. He asked if I would forgive him too,” said Thiel.
In the moment when I thought I had failed as a parent, I realized that I had instilled those values, said Thiel. “It was so refreshing to see that it had been modeled enough in his life to know what to do.”
A timed response
Deciding if a situation should be addressed immediately or if it can be discussed at a later time might depend on the child’s age.
“In older children, you may be able to talk with them later in the day and have an effective conversation,” said James. “Situations with young children should be addressed as soon as possible. If not, they may not be able to relate to the problem when you question them later.”
Thiel agreed, “You have to address it right then. It only takes 5 minutes to explain something. If you let it go, then it builds, and then they get frustrated. I try to remember what it was like to be a kid and give (my son) lots of grace but also correct him.”
It’s also important to take opportunities to praise a child’s behavior whenever possible, said James. For example, “if someone isn’t sharing and they solve the problem on their own, I would rather praise the students solving the problem than focus on not sharing.”
If it is a situation that needs immediate attention (i.e. hurting others or safety issues), however, “try to address it one-on-one, in a way that is not embarrassing to the child,” James said.
James encourages parents not to yell when addressing an issue with a child. “Yelling is a quick fix and does nothing long-term. I prefer to have conversations with my students in an attempt to shape them into children that strive to bring glory to God through their actions.”
Discussing tragic events
While addressing certain behaviors immediately is important when trying to instill certain values in a child, parents may want to tread more lightly when it comes to speaking with a child about tragic events in the news.
“It’s important to wait for windows in terms of responding to a child,” said Dr. Russell Jones, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Virginia Tech University.
Jones, who advised parents on The Dr. Oz Show shortly after the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings in 2012, said, “Many times I wait until a child brings it up.”
While a child may give verbal cues and begin to ask questions after watching the television or hearing about a situation from a friend, Jones suggests turning off newscasts at home.
“You don’t want to overly expose children to negative events, especially young children,” said Jones. “It can create fear and anxiety.”
Non-verbal cues, like irritability, bed wetting, acting out, crying or sleeplessness could be signs that a child is confused and scared.
When given verbal or non-verbal cues, first find out how much a child knows about an event. And take into account developmental differences when responding, said Jones. Most importantly, “provide a warm, nurturing, protective environment,” when discussing serious issues.
Chrissie Ferguson is a freelance writer and the mother of three young boys. She is also a language arts teacher at Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach. Read her mom blog at soundoflittlefeet.blogspot.com