When I was potty-training our son last fall, I sought input from a friend who has five children. She said one of the big training tools she used was practice. If her child didn’t make it to the potty in time and wet herself, they would practice up to ten times after the accident… Return to where the child was when the accident occurred, and ‘dry run’ the event a number of times in detail (the way it ideally would have occurred) to help her remember what she needs to do the next time. She said she used this type of “practicing” strategy with excellent results for numerous issues in her household – forgetting to take off shoes at the door, not putting laundry in the hamper, whatever. No anger, no rebuke – just practice, pure and simple, to reinforce memory and capacity in the desired skill and goal. I filed the notion away in the back of my brain.
I was reminded of her advice when I read about using rehearsal of correct behavior in training children in righteousness. In Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Ginger Plowman writes,
“It’s important to rebuke our children when they do wrong, but it is equally important, if not more important, to walk them through what is right – to put off as well as to put on (referencing Eph 4:22 – 24)… First, work through what a biblical response would have been. Second, have the child follow through with it… When we correct our children for wrong behavior but fail to train them in righteous behavior, we will exasperate them because we are not providing them with a way of escape. This sort of neglect will provoke them to anger… Anytime you correct your child for wrong behavior, have him walk through the right behavior.”
Plowman provides the reader with several real-life scenarios that practically display these ideas in parenting. It’s a simple and eminently logical approach, but not one I often see being utilized by parents… And certainly not one I’d internalized or been using in my mothering prior to reading this material. I agree with Plowman (and with my friend who gave me me the “walk-it-through-10x” advice) when she says that “role-playing is an extremely effective tool in training children how to put what they’ve learned into practice… The training sticks better because they learn how to use it in a hands-on situation.” More important still, Plowman explicitly connects role-playing with unpacking and addressing heart issues that drive the wrong behavior. She says: “Pull out what is in the heart of your child, work through how your child can replace what is wrong with what is right, and then have your child put what he has learned into practice.”
Another friend pointed out to me that Raising Godly Tomatoes incorporates practicing principles in its recommendations too. When illustrating obedience-training for little ones, Krueger says, “If your toddler refuses to come when you call , stop what you’re doing and train him to do as you asked. Don’t allow him to do anything else until he…come to you willingly and quickly about three times in an row. Then once he is again obeying you nicely, let him go back to playing.”
I’ve found these practicing and role-playing principles to be helpful and fruitful with my son since I started implementing them, though I do encounter a certain amount of annoyance in him at times… If he’s going to be corrected, he’d rather just get it over with and move on. (I guess this just illustrates that we’re all impatient and want to cut corners where we can, especially where our own imperfections are being highlighted!). So while practice will never, of course, make “perfect” – till we get to heaven – I think it sure can help get us and our kids farther down the road to godliness and wisdom.