Friday, June 24, 2011

Thumbsucking and Silly Songs

It's official.  The mother of my children is not perfect.  (Wait... is that me?)

I just turned on the TV and my kids are watching mindless "educational" cartoons because I couldn't take another moment of whining, grumbling and mess making.  I think the last straw was when I turned around to see my 3 year old with the upside down jug of milk glugging and pouring into a bowl of cereal and flowing all over the table and onto the recently mopped floor.  

Now there is annoying music, and brightly dressed characters entertaining my children so I can have a time-out.  And I wonder, how is it possible that they can become so attentive and quiet for a tiny, fuzzy 19" screen, watching peasant-vision?  Why doesn't my presence, and why don't my words command the same devotion?

Perhaps if I put on a fuzzy, multi-colored wig and speak in rhymes and sing-songy riddles, then my children will hang onto my every word and do whatever I ask of them.  Maybe it is as simple as shouting cleverly worded progressive questions, then giving short, 3 word instructions for them to chant back in response. 

Me:  What are we doing today?  (spoken enthusiastically and loudly)

Kids:  Eat... Clean... Grocery Store!!!

Me:  Say it again! (more forcefully, and joyfully)

Kids: (jumping up and down)  Eat... (then louder) Clean....
         (and even louder, and more shrilly)
         GROCERY STORE!!!

It would seem that children's television, along with children's advertising both have the corner on the market when it comes to creating and indoctrinating a captive audience.  I despise this, yet, there comes a time when I lug out the "electronic babysitter" (TV) and assign her to half an hour or more of child minding so that I can get some work done or even just take a break without having a child nag me, question me, fight with their siblings or hang off of my hip and rub their snotty face onto my shirt.

I do love my children though, let me make that clear.  I just wish I was better at communicating with them!  Sometimes I wonder whether they listen to me at all, especially when they make the same mistakes and messes again and again.  Yet, as long as I am a mother, I will repeat myself and find patience within to teach and train my children into successful, hopefully happy and well-adjusted adulthood;  especially when it comes to God's Word and His plans and promises for our lives.  I believe God knew precisely the downfalls of children and their particularly short attention spans when He gave instructions on how to teach our kids about His promises.

Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 outlines both the most important commandment (which was reiterated by Jesus in Mark 12:30) and instructions are given on how to make this message a priority and how to get the message clearly imprinted in our children's hearts and minds!

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!   You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Obviously, God understood that it's not enough to simply tell your kids first thing in the morning what you want for them to do.  It's not even enough to include it in your family time, just before they go to bed!  Clearly we have to be methodical, repetitive and continual if we want to see results when it comes to instructing our children! 

If you don't believe me, then just think of how hard it is to break a bad habit in a child.  For example, when one of our kids was 2, she sucked her thumb and because we were then living in a hot humid climate (Thailand), it was causing her to get a rash where her hand would rest against her chin as she sucked her thumb.  We decided to break the habit, as she was showing signs of growth and maturity in other ways (like potty training), so it seemed to be a good time to stop the "baby-ish" habits and deal with the problem of thumb-sucking.  We explained to her that she would not be allowed to suck her thumb anymore, and that she was a big girl now.  The results were immediate!  She stopped sucking her thumb that very day!  Except... she switched to sucking on her first two fingers, instead.  (Groan!)

For the next several weeks we would verbally remind our daughter to keep her hands away from her mouth and we would stop her every time we saw her begin to suck her fingers.  Morning, noon, and night we corrected her and tried to encourage her.  This habit was strong, however, and we had to try some additional methods in order to change her behavior.  We bought acetate: the liquid that you can paint onto your nails to help you stop biting them, and we would paint her fingers with it.  Trouble was, she would pop her fingers into her mouth, grimace at the bitter taste and yank them out, but two minutes later she had forgotten and tried again.  After a few times of this, the bitter taste had worn off and she could happily suck her fingers again with no foul flavor to offend her taste-buds.  Over the course of the next few months, we attempted many methods to avert this undesirable behavior.

We tried putting socks on her hands before she went to bed at night, but the yearning to suck her fingers was so strong, it wouldn't be long before she disobeyed and removed a sock from her hand.  We weren't about to wake her (and ourselves) up numerous times in the night to check on the status of the socks on her hands, so we had to figure out something that would be more sustainable.  Then I thought to pin the socks to her sleeves, so she couldn't pull them off in the night - but she worked her arm out of the sleeve and we'd find her sleeping, shirt half off, fingers in her mouth.  We began to get desperate, and sought to come up with an idea that would break this habit permanently.  I found an old windbreaker suit - light nylon with cotton inside - that was full bodied, like a sleeper.  We decided to use this as pyjamas for her, and, after pinning socks over the hand holes, zipped it up and put her to bed for the night.  Our clever girl pulled one arm out of the sleeve, in towards her body and poked it out through the neck hole so she could still suck her fingers!  I wish I could applaud her ingenuity and persistence, but frankly, I was livid!

Finally, my husband had a burst of inspiration during his prayer time one morning.  We had some wrist straps that had belonged on one of those unsightly "child-leash" thingies, that we had used for a short time when we had our second baby, and were trying to manage an energetic toddler.  That night, when it was time for our daughter to go to bed, my husband placed socks over her hands, then attached the wrist straps over top, to keep the socks from being pulled off.  Because we knew of her conniving ability and determination - here's where the prayer-time inspiration part comes in:  To keep her from pulling off the wrist bands and socks, my husband secured them tightly with plastic zap straps that would have to be cut in the morning in order for them to be removed.  Success!  We finally found something that outsmarted this cunning 2 year old, and over the course of the next couple weeks, she faithfully wore the socks with wrist bands and the habit was broken.

(As a side-note, after re-reading these last couple of paragraphs, I recognize that our actions may be construed as extreme and that other parents would have opted to let their child continue their habit.  We felt a need to be persistent with our daughter for a couple of reasons: 1) To show that we meant what we said and show consistency, and 2) to deal with the painful red rash that was caused by her thumb sucking.)

Whether we are dealing with kids who are belligerent, defiant or simply distracted in life, I think the message remains the same.  It takes continual, repetitive interaction to impress a message and directive into a child's life.  Even with adults, it is said that it takes 30 days to establish a habit.  I can certainly attest to the fact that developing routine for myself in the area of exercise was a "pain in the butt", yet once I established the habit in my life, I would feel incomplete and crave the activity on days when my schedule was "off" and I missed a workout. 

So what have we to learn from the power of communication devised by television, and the establishment of habits in one's life? 

I need to seek out creative ways to effectively communicate God's truth to my kids, and I need to be consistent and repetitive.  This also means that I can't be a fake.  The only way that I can demonstrate the message of God's grace to my kids is if it is real in my own life 24/7.  With that in mind, I may also employ some silly songs and goofy voices while I'm at it, just to make things more interesting...

And now it's time to turn off the TV, hide it away in the closet once more, and go back to being a patient, loving mother...

No comments: