Saturday, September 29, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part Three

How do you model forgiveness to a child? I remember when I first started teaching, I was so uptight about the D word – discipline! Could I keep my class under control? I was so consumed with making sure kids towed the line, I forgot to model forgiveness.

Kids will act out Inside The Classroom for a variety of reasons. Home life might be in the septic tank so they act out at school. They may not have had enough sleep. They may lack social skills and not know how to handle relationships with other kids. They, in their youthful inexperience, just may not know any better. That’s called foolishness. Many childhood mistakes are foolish, not sinful. And then there’s the Big One.- Rebellion.

The first step in modeling forgiveness to a child is to determine the why behind the action. If it’s fatigue or “acting out,” you may need to work and pray to find the core issue; in the meantime, forbear and patiently teach that child that there’s a better way to live and some behaviors are unacceptable, regardless of the reasons. If it’s foolishness, you have the opportunity to teach a better way. After all, that’s what you are there for – to teach! If it’s rebellion, a blatant breaking of the rules, you have an opportunity to model forgiveness.

If the child has actually disobeyed, the next step is to state to the child what the rule is, how he or she has broken it, and what the consequences will be. This needs to be done in a calm but firm voice. If you are angry and your anger is threatening to show, you need a time out! (Sometimes when I was angry at my children, I would tell them, “I’m taking a time out in my bedroom. When I calm down, I’ll deal with you then.” They told me later that put more fear into them than anything because they knew they must have really blown it to make Mom mad!) Tell the child what punishment you have chosen. Ask, “Why am I doing this?” Try to get them to tell you why they are being punished, what they have done wrong.

At this point, you may choose to ask the child if they are sorry for what they did. . I believe in asking the child in this process, “What you did was wrong. You broke the rules. Are you sorry you did that?’ If the error is an altercation between two children, try encouraging them to say they are sorry to each other. Don’t push this however. Don’t force them to say the words or stand them in corners until they are “ready to say you’re sorry.” Kids have a way of patching up misunderstandings and playing with each other sooner than teachers expect!

True repentance is a change of direction. To help your child with this step, ask, “What are you going to do next time (someone hits you or you get angry and need to express your anger)?”

After you have determined the necessary punishment (or consequences as I like to call them), now is your opportunity to model forgiveness. If it’s your own child, pull that kid into your lap for a hug and a reassurance of your unconditional love. If it’s a child in your classroom, try getting down to the child’s level, put a hand on their shoulder, and in language they can understand, tell them you forgive them and you still like them and you are interested in helping them become the best they can be. Then find an activity for them to do, perhaps help you erase the blackboard, pass out napkins for snack or get involved in a new project. Redirect their energy into something positive. When the child is doing something good or positive, look for a chance to give praise or say something kind.

By now you are saying, “I don’t have time for all these multiple steps! While all of this is ideal, take what you can do. Send up arrow prayers as situations arise, asking God to help you know the best tactic to take and specific ways you can show forgiveness to the child after the altercation. Pray for your kids. Pray that the Lord will help you say or do something kind for each child sometime within the class period. Your thoughtfulness, regardless of how they have acted or treated you is the stuff they will remember the rest of their lives.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part Two

“B- - , you don’t hit people.”

“He hit me first.”

“You don’t hit back. That doesn’t make it right for you to hit.”

“Yes it does.”

While this is a real conversation I heard yesterday between a fellow Sunday School teacher and a fourth grade boy, I’ve heard this same conversation so many times. Same song, second verse. Major case of deja’ blue. Blue, because I and all the other Sunday School teachers feel so sad and frustrated that our kids haven’t caught the idea behind forgiveness. It’s easy to go home, wondering why I bother spending hours teaching when the message doesn’t seem to connect.

As I noted in my last post, forgiveness is a tough, abstract concept that is even difficult for adults. Yet I think there are ways we can teach forgiveness that will be more effective than just saying, “You ought to forgive.” Before a child can understand forgiveness, there’s some groundwork teachers would be wise to lay. Here are some ides for you.

1. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them to be others’ focused. It takes awhile for children to lose their self absorption. Piaget, the child development guru, talked about parallel play and cooperative play, that children won’t start to be aware of other children and enter into cooperative play until about age four or five. As children start elementary school, they are ready to get involved in service projects and to enjoy deeper friendships.

We can guide their development by involving them as helpers, rewarding them when they do show kindness to others, and lead them in helping the hurting. This is teaching them to do good and to be kind, but we’re also setting the stage for building the compassion they need in order to forgive, for forgiveness requires that they are able to look beyond themselves and their own hurt.

2. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them what sin is and the consequences of sin. We often teach children as young as three years ol what it means to obey God. The rest of the lesson is that all of us have failed to obey God at some point. In our culture that is bloated on entitlements, it’s hard for people to accept personal responsibility for their own actions, much less to assume responsibility for others’ actions through forgiveness. While teaching children about their willingness to admit personal sin is a prerequisite for salvation, it again sets the stage for them to learn to forgive. And that leads me to my third point.

3. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them what it’s like to have done something wrong and to be forgiven themselves. It is easier for me to forgive when I realize that I too have done wrong and caused harm to others. We can help our kids grasp forgiveness by modeling forgiveness when they do wrong or disobey us. I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

4. Finally, we can help children learn to forgive by giving them a sense of God’s ability to work beyond evil; that God is still in control of our lives and one small slight from another human being can’t get in the way of God’s overall plan for us. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God. God is far more powerful than the evil of men. Therefore, we can endure the price we must pay to forgive because we are confident God can overcome those consequences.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part One

Teaching children Inside the Classroom has taught me to think about great theological concepts in simple terms and with concrete examples. When we teach children, we often use object lessons, illustrations, and bible stories to teach these great biblical truths. I find that when I’m outside the classroom, my mind still tends to think in those terms.

Take forgiveness for example. Forgiveness is one of those virtues, let’s face it, that even the most mature of Christians still struggles to understand and emulate. What is forgiveness? How do I know when I have been successful in forgiving someone who has wronged me?

I use Site Meter to track how many of you visit my site. Site Meter also tells me what searches people used to bring them to my site. Lately I’ve noticed a number of people looking for information on how to teach forgiveness to children. I’ve pondered this a lot in the last two weeks How do we teach this incredibly important yet difficult subject to kids? How do we teach what we ourselves have trouble grasping, much less getting a grip on? Learning to put the concept of forgiveness in the concrete terms a child could understand has helped me in my ability to forgive.

Suppose you buy two pounds of bulk candy and the store only gives you one pound, still charging you for two pounds? What are you going to do? You’ve been cheated out of that one pound of candy! You have three choices: You can insist that you get the candy or your money back, you can forgive and forget, or you can inwardly resent that you never got your candy and hold the candy store responsible in your mind for cheating you out of your candy.

Let’s say you try to get your candy or your money back, and the store refuses to make it right. Or even though the store is sorry for the mistake, they don’t have the money or candy to give to you. You are left with two choices. Resentment only hurts you so you are left with the choice to forgive and let it go. That’s fine, but there is one problem. You still don’t have your candy and you are still out the money you paid for it. Who is going to pay for that candy?

Forgiveness is being willing to pay the price. In Jesus’ story of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the servant owed far more than he could possibly pay. So his master forgave the debt. There’s one problem. Who paid the debt. The master was stilled owed all that money. We can assume that the master paid the debt. That means the master was out millions of dollars. He had to pay the debt.

In any wrong, there is a debt to be paid whether it’s for a pound of candy we didn’t get, a life that we must live without, or a fracture in a relationship that has caused us hurt and inconvenience. Who’s going to pay the debt? Are you going to insist the other person pay and make it right? If so, what action will satisfy your desire to balance the books of justice?

Forgiveness costs. It’s too easy to mouth the words, “I forgive you,” without realizing the cost we are agreeing to pay in order to forgive. True forgiveness is willingness to endure the harm caused without seeking revenge or insisting on doling out punishment to the other person.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the prerequisites of forgiveness; what we need to teach children before we can teach them to forgive.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Fugitive of Childhood

The lessons I learn from the children I teach most of6ten happen inside the classroom walls of my own home. As my last child enters her final year of high school, those classroom doors, inch by inch, are starting to swing shut. In many ways, she acts and talks and thinks like an adult. She understands the cynicism behind a Murphy’s law daily calendar entry, and scarier yet, when I comment on the cynicism, she understands the definition of the word “cynicism.”

With a surge of longing, I grasp at her childhood, trying to draw it back to me. “Don’t grow up,” I implore her for about the thousandth time of her childhood. She stops packing her purse with contact solution and make-up. “What made you say that?” she asks.

“Don’t go to school today,” I say as I hug her. “Let’s stay home and make mud pies and play with dollies.”

Still incredulous at her mother’s insane babble, the adult pragmatic side of her nature takes over. “We don’t have any mud.”

“Oh yeah,” I relinquish. “Well, there’s still doll babies. And we can make tea and crumpets and have a tea party with the dolls.”

“I have to go to school, Mommy,” she counters, holding the fleeting sunbeam of childhood in her hand in the length of the single word endearment of “Mommy.”

“Tuesday (the dog) can help you eat the crumpets,” my husband offers.

“But she can’t drink tea,” I pout. “Stay home and we’ll play with dolls and build towers with blocks and knock them down.”

“We don’t have any blocks either,” she says. Cruel child. Must she remind me that the toys of yesterday have left with her childhood? Fortunately, she has forgotten that the dolls are gone too, all except the sit-pretties that stay behind glass so they won’t get dirty and they can last forever.

My children have taught me how to play. And now that I have finally learned the lesson of play, they have entered the same busy, frenetic world that I am trying to escape. Perhaps that is why mothers long to have grandchildren so we can catch the sunbeams of childhood again and play with the sit-pretty dollies we kept under glass too long and let the dog join us for tea and crumpets.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sunday School and Mission Fields

Sunday, I will have a new student in my high school Sunday School class. One of our church members is taking in a foreign exchange student from China. Under the foreign exchange program, they must participate in all family activities, including church. I’m excited! I’m also a little nervous.

When my younger daughter who is in the class, heard the news, she said, “Ho boy. That’s going to change the dynamics of the class!” She is so right. My group of kids isn’t normally very talkative anyway. I’ve just reached the point of getting them to crack a smile once in awhile. With a new student, especially one from a different culture, they’re sure to clam up again.

We’re also in the middle of a study of Galatians – which is a tough book in my estimation. I may need to tailor what I say, not being so hard hitting in the deeper Christian living area and yet, I think what a wonderful opportunity to talk about authentic Christianity. This guy does speak English, but I wonder about the balancing act between simplifying my words for his sake without leaving him in the dust of the other students’ boredom.

At one time in my life, I wanted to be a missionary. I even headed off for seminary with that goal in mind. Meeting Mr. Wonderful and doing a reality check on my motives caused me to change my studies to Christian education, but I’ve still always had a heart for the mission field. Now, the mission field has come to me. Funny how life can come full circle.

How will I handle the changes that will come to our class? The first thing I’m going to do – which I’ve learned so many times before in my teaching – is to pray for God’s guidance. Pray and pray and pray some more. I’m going to pray for wisdom, to know what I should say and how I should say it. I’m going to pray for my other students, that they will be accepting and that actually they will open up even more – contrary to what I expect will happen. And I’ll pray for this young man, that he may see the authentic Christ living in us.

If you have ever had a student from another culture in your class, I’d like to hear the challenges you faced and how you fine tuned your teaching to meet the needs of that students. You can share your thoughts by clicking on the link below that says “Comments.”

Yep. I think I’m excited.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Praying for Our Kids

As I mention on my profile, I am a writer as well as a Christian educator. I’m excited about two articles that are coming out this month.

“In The Meantime: Making The Most of Your Time in God’s Waiting Room” appears in the September/October issue of Pray! Magazine. How do you cope during the space between your prayer and God’s answer? I hope some of my insights from Scripture might help readers endure and even delight in the time they spend waiting with the Lord. Pray! Magazine is a fantastic periodical that calls Christians to a deeper prayer life, a deeper walk with God.

Christian Leader, a magazine published by the US Conference of Mennonite Brethren, will carry my article on how to pray for a college student. Keep checking back on this link for the September 2007 online issue.

As you can tell, I’m not only passionate about teaching children, I’m also passionate about prayer. Prayer defines our relationship with God. Our ability to pray deeply and specifically measures the depth of our faith in God’s ability to work and intervene in our lives and our world today. God’s answer may not always come as soon as we like or we may never see His full answer. Yet we can trust that He is indeed working and He cares about His presence in the world, in our lives and in the lives of those we love far more than we do.

This includes our children. As a mother of one college student and another about to fly the nest of high school, I know it takes tremendous trust to let them go, hoping, oh so hard, that I’ve done enough to prepare them for the complicated world they must now face on their own. If your child attends a public or secular university, they will face as hodge-podge of worldviews and lifestyles. They will meet the challenge of “living in this world but not being of it” – a tough balancing act, as parents and mature adults know all too well. I hope my article will be a starting point for you to pray for the college student in your life. If this leads you to think of other issues students face that are important to pray for, share your thoughts with the rest of us in a Comment.

All our children need prayer. They need prayer that God will guide them and protect them, that He will bring them up to a strong faith that is their own. Choose a child you know today and bring their name before the throne of God. Intercede for that child. God will be faithful!

If you don’t have access to these magazines, will you join me in praying during this month that these two articles will have an impact on those who do read them, that Christians will be spurred to pray for Christian college students and that they will learn patience and they will grow in their relationship with their Heavenly Father as they wait for the revealing of His answers? Thanks.