Yesterday, I shared ended my post with a “How To do a Training Session.” You can find that here.
Today lets move to types of training.
Training With Sweets
I put a handful of M&Ms on the dining room table in front of each child. I then gave them instructions about which color M&M to pick up. If they listened, they got to eat that piece of candy. Failure to listen meant they missed out on the sweet — but there usually wasn’t much of that, and there was always a chance to try again.
This training had several positive outcomes — the kids learned their colors in English without shame, and they got a sweet reward. There were many chances for redos, and the kids even coached each other by saying things like “That’s not brown!” and pointing to proper color. That last one is so important. The kids learned that families help each other.
I had training sessions with money, as well. I kept a gallon-sized bag full of coins: quarters, nickels, dimes, fifty-cent pieces, and pennies. I dumped the money on the floor and helped the kids work through identifying the coins. After a session, if a child could name a coin without my help, I gave him that coin or a handful of coins. The kids would spend their money on gum or a candy bar during our next grocery trip. This reward was delayed, but it reinforced the lesson.
Training relieves the child of unreasonable expectations and puts the responsibility on the parent, where it belongs. Training can be lighthearted and fun rather than dictatorial. Most of the infractions we punish for can be eliminated by practicing outside the moment.
After obedience training came events training. In this category is the library training I mentioned yesterday. Before I took the kids to the library for the first time, we played library at home, using our bookshelves to practice.
Obedience training must come first. Once children have caught on to listening and following simple commands, then you can add event training.
When I first attended church with all my newbies, they sat in the regular service with Jerry and me instead of attending children’s church or the nursery. They were not ready to assimilate into the church culture. Since they had never attended a church service, they did not know how to conduct themselves. I could not expect them to know what to do in a church service — to stand during worship, to be silent during prayer, to sit while the message was being delivered, and so on.
To practice, I set up a church in my living room, complete with two rows of chairs. I had the kids sit on the chairs while we practiced a short service. I sang a few lines of a song, “preached” a short sermon, and then let them take turns being “pastor.” Through this simple training game, they learned when to sit, when to stand, and what cues to listen for. The training also generally relieved their anxiety regarding what church services entail.
Knowing what to expect is extremely important for the child with a stress-shaped brain. When going into an unfamiliar situation, the child’s fear is heightened, and he may have an extreme reaction that seems out of proportion with the actual event. Even if you’re just preparing for a family picnic, a child will often attempt to control the situation when he feels out of control.
We also practiced going out to eat. I set the table with my colorful fiestaware, silverware, glasses — the works. Then we filed into the “restaurant” and took our seats. We practiced placing the napkins on our laps, pretending to eat while having quiet, polite conversation, asking for a menu, ordering, and thanking the waiter or waitress.
It amazes me to see parents assume that a four-year-old (or any child, for that matter) will pick up restaurant manners just because the family goes out to eat. I often hear comments like “You should know better!” or “I can’t believe you just did that!”
It reminds me of the Guire family’s first fast-food dining experience in Poland. Thanks to Pani Eugenia, we had taken a field trip and found a McDonald’s to eat lunch at. The new Guires had never been to a McDonald’s, and I wondered if they had ever been out to eat at all.
Jerry and I were watching carefully. We didn’t expect restaurant manners; we expected that the kids would run around or, worse, run out into the parking lot. We divided the group and each watched a contingent. Getting through the line and sitting down with the food was organized chaos, but once all the little ones had a happy meal bag in hand, they settled down to sitting or kneeling on their chairs. Everything was going better than we had hoped. They may have been too enthralled with the strange cuisine to act up.
Ania had gotten a milkshake, as many of the group had. She removed the lid and jammed a hot fry into the cold contents. She pulled the gooey, drippy fry out and took a bite. Milkshake covered her hands, chin and shirt. She laboriously continued the ritual, messily coating each fry with shake.
“Look what she is doing,” Audrey pointed out.
Several other youngsters had already followed suit and were also a gloppy, sticky mess. But nobody reprimanded Ania for her behavior. It wasn’t ideal, but she didn’t know any better. It was difficult to clean and all of her followers up, but I couldn’t fault them for shoving their whole fists into their milkshakes. Like her, they didn’t know any better.
This is exactly the kind of behavior I often see parents reprimanding small children for, even though the children have probably never attended a seminar on proper restaurant etiquette.
For several years, my family ran a catering business with another family. Before an event, we would have a meeting with our “staff” (their kids and ours with a few other teens sprinkled in). During the meeting, we handed out job assignments and went over protocol for those jobs.
For example, when refilling a coffee cup, you should take the cup off the table with your right hand. Turn from the table and refill it, then carefully place it back on the table. If you’re serving punch, hold the cup over the top of the punch bowl while filling it to avoid dripping on the white table cloth.
I could go on, but the point is this: Don’t expect good behavior if training is neglected. In the catering scenario, if I had sent a sixteen-year-old to serve a fresh pot of coffee without any training, disastrous things could have happened. He could have asked the guest to hold the cup while he poured and risked burning the guest with the scalding liquid.
I know I am going on and on about the same point, but for good reason. Training is such an overlooked tool, and exploring it in several contexts will make it easier to understand, remember, and implement.
Adoptive and foster parents face many behavioral challenges, and you may struggle with what to do in the moment. Where and when is a child supposed to learn these unwritten age-appropriate rules?
It is necessary to have a correcting and connecting response immediately following a behavior. However, you shouldn’t stop there. If a particular behavior continues to happen, the proactive approach is to practice the proper behavior outside the moment. The ETC Parent Training manual encourages parents to “turn to other tools that can help them (kiddos) learn and grow outside of the moment — when you and they are calm and they are better able to learn.”