By Wendy Anne Clark
Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
In his book To Train Up a Child, Michael Pearl makes the point that if we can train a horse or a dog, certainly we can train a child, who is far more intelligent and capable of understanding.
What kinds of things do we teach a horse? He points out that we teach a horse to respond to our gentle prodding, to obey immediately, to be calm when it needs to be, to work hard when it needs to, to pay attention and be alert to danger. How then, do we teach a horse these things? By practicing them. We give a command over and over again. When we get the desired response, we reward with praise or sometimes treats. When we do not get the desired response, we withhold praise and sometimes bring discomfort if necessary. Then we practice some more, encouraging every step that goes in the right direction.
Debi Pearl gives the example of teaching your child to come when called. She suggests that you play a game. First, give your child specific instructions: You stay here. I am going to go somewhere in the house and call you. When you hear my call, you come right away. We’ll see how fast you can listen and come. Then you walk into a different room and call (with very young children, you can just walk across the room). If your child comes immediately, reward him or her with lots of excitement, praise, and affection. If he or she doesn’t respond or responds slowly or half-heartedly, there’s no need to make a big deal about it; just say something like this: “Let’s try that again. I know you can be much faster than that.” Then repeat the instructions and try again. When your child begins to get the idea, try moving to different rooms or even hiding. Play the game often, and each time when you are finished, remind your child of this: “Whenever you hear me call you, wherever we are, in the store or outside or at church or at the park, any time that you hear me call, you come just as fast as you can.” When you are in a public place, and your child responds to your call, don’t forget to give lots of excitement, praise, and affection.
I wish I had learned the principle of training when my two oldest girls were young, but I have used it with my four year old, and it works well. It makes teaching fun, and it’s far easier to remain calm in teaching something in advance, rather than being stressed out, wondering how my child will respond when I need her to.
Here are some other ideas of things to practice at home with your child:
Wait to eat until the host/hostess takes a bite
Don’t touch things that don’t belong to you without permission
Clean up after yourself
Introducing yourself to a new friend
I’m sure you can think of many others. Make up a fun and easy game to practice the principle when you are well rested and in a good mood. (Waiting for the hostess to take a bite brought our household a lot of laughter.) Then instruct, play, reword, and repeat.