Guest post by Renee Harris:
I was so encouraged after writing “Philosophy for Five Year Olds.”
That’s because the feedback from several readers was that:
- those who recognized the need for laying a foundation of discipline and obedience before jumping into the books had no regrets of starting in this order, and
- those who launched their curriculum before having these important steps in place wished they wouldn’t have given in to the pressure of doing school at home.
As promised, I want to suggest a valuable resource that we found very encouraging when our children were young:
Raising Godly Tomatoes by Elizabeth Krueger
We love that book so much we bought ten copies and have shared them with friends over the years.
My favorite concept is what Elizabeth calls “tomato staking.” Have you ever planted a tomato plant but neglected to prop up the vines as the plant started to grow? The plant grows fast and wild, with large, juicy fruit that weighs the branches down. Without structure, the branches grow into a heap and the tomato fruit that should have been round, ripe and delicious instead begins to rot, feeding the local insects instead of your family.
The well-cared for plant is given structure, a nurturing environment, room to grow, with strong supportive stakes to hold up the weight of the heavy branches. This is how you should grow your child. Ideally, start when your child is old enough to communicate to start tomato staking.
How does Tomato Staking work?
From the time your child is an infant, he is within a few feet of you, learning from you, listening to your voice and tone, watching how you interact with those around you, and receiving plenty of love and attention. As your child grows, you still keep him near you, even if it is not within direct eyesight, and expect his behavior and actions to meet your expectations. What happens if you hand over this privilege of molding and guiding to someone else too soon? Your child’s behavior will meet the (probably low) expectations of those around him. Remember how difficult it is to hold another person’s child that you are babysitting to the same level of behavioral accountability as your own, even though your are at least physically responsible for the child’s safety? If not much is expected, not much will be produced. Then as your trust grows in the maturity of your child’s actions, you can gradually give the corresponding freedom.
It looks like this in practice: while they are still earning your trust, your young children are within feet of you. You are there to correct small infractions and prevent bickering conversations. While you may feel like this young person is violating your space, as your child is learning correct behavior, he stops becoming an invader and becomes a joy to be with. Your son will sit at the counter to watch you chop carrots, and your daughter will enjoy small tasks like shucking corn (however long it takes to complete the task!). He learns to respectfully listen while you chat on the telephone, and she’ll find joy in separating the nickels and pennies in the coin jar.
Watch what happens if you hand over parental trust to the general public before your child has earned trust from you:
- Your five year old surprises you with mildly inappropriate language because he hears it from young children in the neighborhood. (How to avoid this? Limit the amount of random time your child spends with other children. We had a set schedule that our kids could spend with other kids, while on our property and within our view.)
- Your seven year old says he is finished with a task when in truth, he only half completed it. (How to avoid this? At age five, you gave small tasks and made sure your son completed the job correctly the first time. With any issues of lying, he was disciplined, not ignored.)
- Your four year old lies about the artwork she has so meticulously created on the wall with a permanent marker. (How to avoid this? When she was two, she already learned that she was not to touch the permanent markers, and for the first few years of her life, she was always with you to learn appropriate behavior until she could be trusted not to get into mischief with the markers)
- Ignoring your child is taking the easy way out, at least at first – but you will run into problems later.
Have you ever met the family where all the children enjoyed the vegetables that were served to them at the dinner table? Did the parents wait until they were teenagers and then expect them to suddenly like vegetables? No. They were raised on good food and good habits. The same goes with the basics of trust, honesty, respect, finishing a job they started, and making good choices when no one is there to check on them.
Here’s why you need those basic character traits established now:
- You need your five year old to be able to set up, play with, and clean up his Lego’s in the span of thirty minutes, with the timer set.
- Your seven year old should have no problem finding sharpened pencils and paper to do his artwork with.
- Your ten year old should complete his online math lesson and correct his own work, and then report to you to show you his work without your prompting.
- Your 12 year old should look to you as his mentor, not his killjoy, and he will respect your ideas and suggestions.
- Your 14 year old can be trusted on the internet to research his work without wandering to inappropriate sites, even though you’re not in the room to double check.
- Your 16 year old can be counted on to take the car on errands and return with the receipts, purchasing the items on your list.
- And so on…
If you can’t say that you have the trust you need in your child, you need to go back to tomato staking and build him or her up to that level of trust again…no matter what age your child is. This means even teenagers can be asked to give up their Friday nights with friends and give up their cell phones and their car privileges, if you find you can no longer trust them to handle those resources appropriately. Instead they can spend their time in close proximity with you at home until the trust rebuilds.
When you keep them near you in their younger years, you can trust them with the freedoms you grant them in their teenage years.
For more ideas on tomato staking, including what Elizabeth calls intense tomato staking, occasional tomato staking, loose tomato staking, and lifestyle tomato staking, read Raising Godly Tomatoes.