This whole website is devoted to training our kids in wisdom and righteousness, but just how do we instill wisdom in our children? The more I use the classical model, the more I see how useful it is for everything. Parenting books may suggest that if we just speak this way, discipline that way, love our kids this way, and teach them certain things that they will miraculously turn out great. Over and over again I see what is true — more is caught than taught, meaning we have to exemplify who we want our kids to become. I completely agree with that statement, but how does the classical model fit in with that? To answer this, I started looking deeper at why it is that kids “catch” things from us – even the things we do not want them to catch. I came up with the following incomplete, feeble attempt at determining what causes this and how we can use it to our advantage.
Our children generally attach themselves to behavior that we have when it evokes emotion. I remember my family and I went on vacation with my parents and we drove to the beach in San Diego, CA. One-way streets and fearless drivers drove my dad crazy. At one point when he was cut off for the third time in ten minutes, he shouted a quick expletive, and for the next week our two year old repeated it over and over and over. Needles to say, I did not have to give my dad a lecture on watching his language – he regretted it every time she said it! Luckily, she moved on to something else and has expanded her vocabulary, knowing that is not something she is allowed to say. My point is, that our children are drawn to say things said with heartfelt emotion. That is probably why today I heard my 5 year old son refer to his one year old brother as “adorable”….
So knowing that they store things they may have an emotional connection with, how do we teach them wisdom and not just knowledge? Wisdom comes from God’s word and through the Holy Spirit. It speaks to the heart of matters rather than the surface issue. Jesus spoke to the heart of matters, many times replying to people according to what they meant with their heart rather than what they said with their lips.
I have been trying to develop my children’s character and I know it must flow into their heart, not just from my lips. I have tried a number of different methods and resources, but they just don’t seem to really get engaged. I am finding though, that when I have my child’s heart engaged, they earnestly seek to exhibit and develop that character trait on their own. The best method I have found for effective character training is to tell them stories about someone who has that character trait or who failed at it and then learned to overcome that issue. They remember how they felt in the story, and they yearn to be like the character they read about. They remember the story, and when they are faced with situations, they remind me of a part of the story and why their current situation or choices are like what that character went through or exhibited. When their heart drives the change, it makes all the difference. I have recently found Lamplighter Publishing – such great books and audio books!
So where is the “classical” training in all of this?
First, to really make this effective, you must have repetition – just like we repeat our memory work over, and over, and over again, you must repeat the name of the trait and what it looks like over and over again. The easiest way to do this is by bringing to mind the story or person who exhibits that trait. As you read the story, comment briefly to add emphasis to the trait. Point out when you or your children exhibit that trait. They will begin to recognize it without your prompting. Rather than reminding them by saying such things as – “Suzy remember we were talking about being thankful?” – instead after discussing the story or character, ask them how they feel about that person. Ask them if they too want to, and think they can, be thankful. When they are excited about it, have them come up with a special clue that you will give them to remind them to be thankful. Perhaps you will wink, or tug your ear, and they will remember that they were wanting to be thankful.
Second, focus on one trait at a time. Just like classical educators choose “pegs” to hang other facts on, choose the main traits you feel need to be in place this year. Have them master their knowledge of one trait, then move on to a new trait, while “keeping watch” over the trait that has already been “mastered”.
Third, use the character training as an opportunity to encourage your children. My children love their memory work because we have fun, and I encourage them when they remember things. Do the same thing with character traits. Seek for positive traits – instead of training the children not to lie, teach them to tell the truth no matter what. Point out when they tell the truth even when it is hard or may have negative effects on them. Praise them.
And lastly, be patient. Even if you focus on just one trait a month, you will have a good grasp on 12 of them by the end of the year – 24 of them in two years…..etc.