To Teach a Child


In my first column I introduced a quote from Rumer Godden that described writing as starting out from a grit: a thought or experience that lodges in your head and rolls around until it grows into a finished product. You never know where these grits will come from or when you will find them. Usually it’s when you least expect them, when you aren’t thinking about writing, when you are least prepared to deal with them. Lately I’ve been getting my grits during the middle of my morning shower. Not exactly a time when I can whip out a moleskin notebook or an iPad and start developing an idea.

Recently this grit landed in my head as I was washing my hair: To stand with pride, you must first learn how to stoop down.

This particular thought stayed in my head through my shower, while I was trying to hustle my daughter out the door and throughout my commute to work. This grit has stuck with me over the last few weeks and become more of a pebble in my shoe than a grit, and I cannot quite work it out. I thought I would share with you the direction that it is taking me.

To teach a child stand up, you must first bend down.

To teach a child to have pride in where she lives, you must show her how to pick up trash.

To teach a child to walk with grace, you must show her how to stoop down to comfort the sick and disregarded.

To teach a child how to win graciously, you must show her what it means to lose good-naturedly.

To teach a child how to live joyously, you must not be afraid to let her see you weep deeply.

To teach a child what it means to be comforted, you must show her how to wipe another’s tears.

To teach a child, you must first be willing to learn.

In my limited tenure as a parent, I have learned two things. First, children are keen observers. Not much escapes them. Whether it is the wooden parrot they spot as they walk into a swimming center or the fact that your words are not matching your actions, they won’t hesitate to tell you.

Second, children, because of their keen observation skills, learn the behaviors that are modeled for them—the ones that they observe. Parents, teachers and community leaders are those models. If you toss garbage on the ground, so will your child. If you call in sick to play “hooky” from work, don’t expect your child not to cut class. If you make promises you can’t keep, expect your child to do the same. If you use obscene and profane language, don’t expect anything different from your child. If you belittle the way you look and openly berate your own image, expect the same from your child. If you say you hate math, guess what? Your child will too.

I’ve already learned a lot from my daughter, and there is much that I can and should teach her as a parent. I need to model the things I want her to learn—love, kindness, gratitude, intellectual curiosity. I hope that she can show me how.

© 2011 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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