19 November 2010

Growing Pains

It's no secret that children grow through stages. They physically have growth spurts (and almost always when you've just bought them an entire new wardrobe). They mature, sometimes gradually, and sometimes it sneaks up on you. Sometimes, you have to encourage maturity, something of which I am not generally a proponent. There are times, however, when it becomes apparent that your child needs a little push. It's difficult to watch them struggle through it, and it's heart wrenching to have to push them along when everything in them wants to stay little for just a little longer. There's a danger in this even. Their precious spirit is at stake. Their spirit, which is so much more important than checking off the milestones on a child development chart in a timely fashion, must not be bruised for anything.

That's where we are with one of our children right now. It has been apparent for some time that this child struggles in classroom settings to make wise choices, to be still when necessary, to follow instructions when needed and to help create a positive environment for the other children and teachers. Consequences haven't helped. Yelling does not work (and we know this because her dance teacher who has had her for almost 2.5 years still hasn't figured out that she needs to try another method). 

And so...

Eric and I had to deal with this topic. We talked. And talked. And talked. To each other. To Ava. To the dance teacher. To other parents. We talked. We prayed. Together. Alone. With Ava. We prayed. We took a new path.

After a rather grating confrontation with the dance teacher on Monday that was initiated by me as a check-up on Ava's progress, I knew something had to change. The dance teacher is not equipped to manage a child who is talented yet not as mature as her peers. She is one of those, "label the kid" just so I can handle her better kind of people because she doesn't want to be bothered to help the child excel unless she can do it in the one way with which she is familiar. Ridiculous. I could get side tracked with a "this is one of the things wrong with our educational system" rants, but I'll sideline that for now. Ava doesn't need a label. She needs some behavioral management strategies, and she needs to catch up to her same-aged peers in maturity. There is no label for that.

Please don't think that I'm one of those parents who is pushing my child to grow-up too quickly. If you are a follower of my blog, then you know this is not the case, but just in case this is the first time you have wandered to my little neck of the blogosphere, I want to clarify that this simply isn't true. I cherish who Ava is. She is, without a doubt, one of the sweetest children you'll ever meet. She is kind and generous. She loves to be with other children and makes sure everyone is included in playtime. She loves Jesus, and she truly wants everyone to know Him. She brings happiness and joy to each and every day, and no one is more able to bring a smile to your face.

But...she's closing in on 7 and, at times, she chooses not to sit still. She chooses to goof around. She chooses the wrong thing because, in the moment, it's the most fun. If she wants to, she sits still, she doesn't goof around, and she chooses the right thing. She manages just fine when she wants to do so. The problem? She might not be in the mood to sing in kids' choir. She is too tired to make wise choices in dance class. She wants to play with toys, not listen to her small group leader. You get the idea. She isn't trying to be defiant. She just thinks she should be able to do whatever she wants whenever she wants to do it, much like every preschooler you've ever met, but, as I said, she's almost 7.

I'm a trained educator. I know all the signs and symptoms of various "labels." I know that parents, even educators, can easily overlook such things in their own child. I've studied my child. I've talked to her pediatrician and other parents whom I trust. Could I be missing something? Could they all be missing something? Does it even matter? I don't know.

There is nothing wrong with my child, but I hear her dance teacher telling me frequently that there is. It's hard to hear, but I can't dismiss what she's saying completely. It makes me wonder if I've done something wrong, if I haven't pushed hard enough. It gives me this feeling in my gut that I hate. It helps me to understand why so many parents opt for a label just to get their child's teacher off their back.

So we talked to Ava. We talked extensively about some things. If she wants to dance, then she has to prove it by focusing. If she wants to sing in choir, then she has to prove it by allowing me, the director, to see her pretty face rather than the back of her head or her feet in the air. Since negative consequences alone aren't working, we've worked out a reward system to encourage her along. It took us a few days to make decisions about how to implement this, and we're still ironing out the kinks, but I am hopeful. On  Monday, I was not hopeful.

On Wednesday evening, half-way through choir rehearsal, we paused for our devotional. I pulled Ava to the side while Eric began the devotional, gave her a hug and whispered into her ear, "I am so proud of how well you are singing and focusing tonight. You're making very wise choices! If you keep it up, you'll get a challenge sticker when you get home!" That was all she needed to get her through choir rehearsal and the 90 minutes of small group that followed after which we were told by Pastor Deb, "Ava had a wonderful night. Wonderful! Wonderful!" Or something like that, so I'm told by Eric who retrieved Ava from class. While Pastor Deb had no idea that Eric and I had been discussing Ava's behavior extensively and praying and trying to work this out, she gave this mommy exactly what I needed that evening. Hope. A little peace of mind. Encouragement.

Isn't it great to hear that someone sees the efforts your child is putting forth? That they understand that some children are more challenging than others, and they don't fault you or the child for it? I so appreciate that.

So we're going through Wise Choices 101 at our house. We're taking it one day at a time. We're preserving the spirit of one of the sweetest little Jesus lovers you'll ever meet. We're encouraging. We're loving. We're probably not getting it 100% right, but we're trying to take each step with the Lord's leading. She'll get there. We'll get there. I know the Lord is walking us through it.

In the meantime, I appreciate your prayers and encouragement. Growing pains are difficult for a child. Growing pains are difficult for a parent to watch. I pray and hope for more wise choices each day.

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

She gets it...a little bit more each day. I'll take it. My little girl has Jesus in her heart, so we hold onto this promise for her.

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