Friday, January 16, 2009

Rip and burn

The three youngest girls are going to be in the church musical this spring. Libby-11 is trying out for a speaking part, maybe a solo. The two younger ones seem to be content with just being on stage with their friends and singing their hearts out in the chorus.

The director ripped and burned a CD for each child that has the entire play on it. We've already listened to it several times. They'll practice each week to learn the songs and their lines, then (as always happens) it will probably be every night for a couple of weeks before the play (somehow I sense that I will get roped into helping at this point!). The girls will have to know how to listen for their cues, where to stand on the stage, and how to act "natural."

The success of the play depends on each person learning to be comfortable in a role that is completely different from who they are in real life. And that takes time and practice.

I got to thinking about how much of our job as parents is to "rehearse" with our kids what will happen outside the four walls of our home (and even inside!). Our kids don't know all their lines yet. They haven't learned all their cues. They can't be expected to improvise yet.

But we've been there. We can prepare them for what to expect when they are in a situation that's unfamiliar.

I like to think of it ripping and burning their own personalized CD. By practicing ahead of time, we give them something they can "play back" so they can feel confident and natural when they are on the stage of life. They will know how to recognize, and will be looking for, the cue. They will not be caught off-guard. They will have already decided what to do or say in advance.

Here are some things that we have "role played" at home, well ahead of the situation, starting at very young ages:
  • Looking adults in the eye, how to shake hands, and generally how to make chit-chat
  • How to start a conversation with a new friend (kids LOVE this one!)
  • Saying "thank you" to a compliment / giving a compliment
  • Saying, "I was wrong, I'm sorry, will you please forgive me?"
  • Using the proper utensils /placing napkin in lap / general good manners at a restaurant
  • Waiting for adults or holding a door for a lady
  • What to say and do when someone takes your toy/ takes the last cookie/ wears your favorite scarf without asking, etc. (my standard line is, "There are ALWAYS going to be annoying people in your life, even when you are an adult. So how are you going to handle the situation?")
  • What to say and do when offered drugs/a ride by someone who's been drinking/ when someone wants to ask you out/ otherwise putting you in a compromising situation
  • How to share your faith in a few sentences (we are working on this one with older kids)
These are just a few everyday situations that we KNOW our kids will be faced with. We want them to practice a pre-thought-out response (RIP) until they won't have to think about it as a "line," but as a natural part of who they are (BURN).

Little kids LOVE to play pretend, and will totally get into "rehearsing." Especially when they get to be "Mom" or "Dad." Go ahead - let them dress up, get out the spotlight, and be generous with the props. But be warned: they will be utterly brutal in how they characterize you. Don't take it personally.

The key for our big kids to get into role playing is keeping the tone light, and doing it when things are going well (ie, not 15 minutes after you just had an argument). They also seem to do better when they are part of a group (even if it's just another sibling), or if they are "teaching" the little ones (this is how I console myself - they can so easily tell someone else "how" to do the right thing...I know some day they will be able to put it into practice, too!).

Seems like our favorite time to do this is either (a) in the car on the way somewhere; (b) at the dinner table; or (c) at bedtime, when we are talking about our day. There are teachable moments - be looking for them - usually when they ask a question. These are unique opportunities for them to work through how they will handle a situation, and you can be there to guide them.

Of course, all this is based on the principle of ripping and burning God's word into our hearts.
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.

I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.

Psalm 119:9-12

What are some other things we can "practice" with our kids to prepare them for life?


Etta said...

This is a great one! I really like this post. Jamie is at the age where we need to start doing this with him. Especially right now with how to handle conflict, specifically with his little brother. :) They have started that constant arguing and it's driving me crazy!!

Jill said...

Great list. I love moments like you've described.
Lately one of the things we've been talking about is how to help a grieving friend. We know a few families who have lost loved ones and it's good to know what to say, how to say and what to expect.
This parenting job can be really rewarding when those lessons are learned well.
You are such a great source of encouragement on this journey too.

E. Tyler Rowan said...

Linking up to this one for tomorrow! It's great! :)

Les & Sweetie Berry said...

One of the things we realized in our children is they need to know how to handle boundary issues with others trying to put guilt or blame on something that is not theirs. "Joey is angry at me because I wouldn't do his work" Honey, that's Joey's choice, but its your choice to feel bad or not because Joey won't do his own work. Its Joey's job to do his work, you may show him but to do it for him is like saying he can't do it....and he can.

mholgate said...

Thanks for this Katherine! The role play really helped. Teaching my kids to be prepared for different situations and to respect adults is so important. From my two year old, who's learning about please and thank you, to my seven year old,who's scared to answer when called on in class, I am trying to prepare them for the "stage of life." Your post has some great ideas for me to work with. : )

count it all joy said...

Terrific post! So important to equip our kids for difficult or awkward situations. We've spent alot of time teaching our children to look people in the eye and shake their hand when they first meet them. This is really hard to do at first! Thanks for your great ideas.