My boys taught me a really interesting lesson today, and I thought I would share it with you…
First, a little bit of background info: The rule of our house is that most toys are communal but there are some “special” toys in our house that only belong to one child. Even so, the children are expected to share toys designated “mine” with siblings old enough and responsible enough to take care of those toys. This morning, the boys were arguing over a toy camera that had recently been passed on to our oldest boy from an older sister…
I first began to deal with their squabble by reminding Shmu’el of our house rules for situations like this (generally, if someone wants to play with a toy another child has, we set a timer for an hour and then they’ll switch.) But no matter how I spun it (his brother wouldn’t play with it for long, giving it to his brother was the “nice thing to do,”etc,) he just couldn’t accept that decision. At the end of all my best explanations and urgings, his eyes were still shining with tears.
Now, at this point I could have simply told him those were the rules, reprimanded him for being selfish, and forced him to give his brother the toy. This is most likely what I would have done in the past. But recently I’ve come to realize that by simply enforcing the rules, I’m not addressing the HEARTS of my children. In this particular situation, BOTH of my children are sinning, in that they’re both acting selfishly by fighting to get what they want, at the expense of what someone else wants. (An excellent book has been written on this subject, called Shepherding a Child’s Heart. I highly recommend it, and wish I’d read it years ago!)
In light of that understanding, I really wanted to involve Shmu’el’s heart in this situation. I wanted to somehow put him in a position where he could CHOOSE to love his brother and share with him – not because he was asked to but because he wanted to.
So I changed tactics.
I called Gamli’el into the room with us and sat them both down. I addressed Shmu’el first, explaining to him that his brother really wanted to have a turn with the camera and asking him:
“If you were going to be as loving as you could possibly be to your brother right now, what would you do?”
(By now, this is a pretty familiar line of questioning for the kids, I’ll often ask this with the understanding that they don’t have to DO the most loving thing, I just want them to think about what the most loving thing to do IS.)
He answered: “Let Gamli’el play with it for the rest of the day.”
I praised him for that answer, then turned the question to Gamli’el. He answered:
“Let Shmu’el play with it for the rest of the day.”
I praised his idea as well, and then asked if they could both think of something they would be willing to do, that would be loving to their brother AND help them reach a compromise over the toy. Almost immediately, the tears left Shmu’el’s eyes as he began thinking of ways he could give Gamli’el what he wanted. He first came up with: “Gamli’el can have it for the rest of the day!” I told him that was a great decision and a very loving thing to do, and that we needed to give Gamli’el a chance to be loving, too. I asked Gamli’el the same question and he came up with “Shmu’el can have it for the rest of the day!” Both boys were grinning at this point and I was easily able to direct them to a solution that would allow both of them to get what they wanted and, more importantly, for both of them to act in a loving way toward their brother (in the end, Shmu’el decided to let Gamli’el have it first for two hours, and Gamli’el decided that after his two hours, Shmu’el could have it for the rest of the day.)
Here’s what struck me about that exchange: I had been talking to Shmu’el for several minutes, trying to reason him into being okay with Gamli’el having the camera for just one hour AFTER he had had his hour with the camera. No matter how I spun it, though, he just couldn’t accept that solution. But once I asked him to think of his OWN way to show love to his brother, he decided to give MORE than I was asking of him in the first place! And the best part is that neither of them ended up with the camera for as long as they originally wanted it, and they’ve been passing it back and forth between each other all day.
How is it that by giving him the freedom to work it out on his own, he not only became willing to share, but became willing to share to such an extreme? I think there are more things to learn in that exchange than I even understand yet. At the same time, there are some things I’ve been learning along these lines that I think are important enough to share.
For the past few weeks, all of my children have been doing more schoolwork than they’ve ever done before. My third daughter did two weeks worth of reading in two days. My oldest daughter is four lessons ahead in her math, and my second daughter is sitting on the computer right now, doing next week’s schoolwork “because she wants to.” How have I managed to provoke my children into such studiousness? Well, I haven’t. I’ll explain more in my next post.