Truth or Consequences? Teaching Children to Follow Instructions the First Time

“I prefer to base my decisions on logic.”

I HATE when someone makes a statement like this, and its not just because I prefer Star Wars to Star Trek.  Most of the people who have made such statements to me are doing so in argument of why emotions should be considered secondary if at all in decision-making.  I find it incredibly illogical to discount a system that is intrinsic to the human experience.

So I should be all in on this parental advice system called “Love and Logic”- deemed as teaching responsibility with empathy.  It’s logic with a side of emotion, and it is a system used by my son’s teacher.  Sounds pretty good.

I attended Liam’s first grade curriculum night last week.  This is an hour where the teacher goes over the schedule for the day, outlining the curriculum and how it is taught, and advising parents on how they can help their children be successful.

I loved hearing about all the different games and manipulatives to teach math (huge fan of manipulatives).  I was overjoyed to hear that cooperative learning between classes is used to teach science and social studies.  Then we got to the topic that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

“It would really helpful if you could encourage your children to follow instructions the first time.  If you say ‘get your pajamas on and we’ll read a story’ and he does not get his pajamas on, tell him you are sorry that his decision resulted in no story time that evening.”  (Being sorry is the empathy part, I think.)

It’s not that I don’t want my kids to follow instructions the first time.  Isn’t that what all parents want?  Do we really WANT to say “I’ve asked you three times.  Put your shoes on!” Of course not.  The problem is that I’m not so good at the consequence thing.

It’s not that I’m a complete softie in the discipline department (I believe my parenting style is akin to a nice flan.)  I take the stance that my children are people, and should not just respond to orders because I give them.

I can already hear the cries of blasphemy.  But I have seen many parents bark an order at a child “I said to put that toy away NOW!”  They completely dismiss the fact that the activity the child is engaging in is important to him.  Playing is his work.  Is it better for the child to mindlessly stop because he does not want to face the consequence of not doing so?  Or is it better for the parent to actively consider what the child is doing, and to ASK him to stop at a reasonable point? The same way you would ASK, not order, a friend or a coworker to help you.

This is not to say the teacher is asking me to get my child to blindly follow directions.  Rather, I am explaining my background as a parent.  I am admittedly pretty lenient.  I do not enforce a lot of consequences, because I don’t have that many occasions that I believe necessitate them.  I am lucky in that most of the time when I ask my children to do things, they do them.  That is not to say they are perfect, or that we don’t have timeouts occasionally.  But I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of gal.  It takes more than a delay in changing to pajamas for me to issue a consequence.

However, I understand where the teacher is coming from.  She is teaching a class of twenty five students.  She is cramming an exhaustive list of tasks into an overly full day.  She does not have time to cajole my child into completing his math assignment.  She needs him to get to work, so if he is having a problem, she has time to help him.  This isn’t Kindergarten anymore.  No free choice play and circle time.  It’s getting real.

Liam is a very well behaved boy and he likes to learn.  I shouldn’t be worrying.  But I respect teachers and value what they have to say.  If she says this will help her, I want to do my part.  And in truth, what she is trying to instill will help Liam and me in the long run.  She is trying to teach him to be responsible for his choices.

One thing she advised was the importance of completing homework on time.

“If your child forgets his homework, I don’t want you to show up at school with it ten minutes late.  It is his responsibility to remember- not yours.”

She is on my side.  She wants these children to feel strong, smart, and capable of handling their own problems.  So do I.

I came home and told Liam that I had visited his school.  I described sitting in his desk, and learning about his day.  Then I laid the groundwork.

“Your teacher said I could help you at home by teaching you to follow instructions the first time.”

This seemed to go right over Liam’s head.

The next day however, I asked him to get his shoes on and he dilly-dallied.  I gently reminded him that his teacher said he needed to follow instructions the first time I asked.

Liam replied “That’s just at school.”

No, it’s not just at school. Looks like we both have some lessons to learn.  Another mom loaned me some Love and Logic CDs.  Time for this mom to go back to school herself and figure out what this system is all about.

I still refuse to take away storytime though.  That’s just not how I roll.

To be continued….

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