Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Parenting Lesson From the 5th Grade

Back in the 5th grade, I was very quiet, shy, and a bit awkward.  I have always been somewhat of a people pleaser and this was certainly the case in 5th grade as well.

I attended a very good public school.  My teacher's name was Mr. Card*.  He was a great teacher and I thought a lot of him.  He was a snappy dresser and my first male teacher.  He taught us the Bunny Hop, the Stroll and the Twist, among other dances on Friday afternoons.  With music.  We all thought this was so cool because of course, it was.

He didn't take nonsense in his classroom.  Even with a class as large as thirty-something, he was always in control.  Sometimes, to gain that control, he would raise his voice.  He had other tactics to keep students in line as well.  For example, if someone fell asleep during class or had their head down on their desk, Mr. Card would slide an eraser along the chalk tray to get it full of dust and then thrown it on the desk right in front of the drowsing student, covering them with chalk dust (he had impeccable aim).  Today, I'm not so sure how I feel about this tactic.  As a (homeschool) teacher now myself, part of me thinks this was ingenious.  At the same time, it had to be incredibly humiliating for the poor student who, for whatever reason, was too tried to pay attention.  At the time, it was what it was and I don't remember feeling strongly about it one way or another- other than glad it wasn't me getting covered in chalk dust.

I sat in the very front row.  The front of my desk was only a foot and a half or so away from the chalkboard because the class was so full of students and desks.  One day, as we were asked to pass our papers front, a fellow student started acting up.  It wasn't the first time that day that this particular student was having trouble and Mr. Card, who was standing directly in front of my desk,  had had it.  He was yelling (not screaming, but definitely raising his voice) as I tried to get his attention and hand him the stack of papers that had been passed up to me.

I was doing as I was told.  I was being a good little student and wanted to please an upset teacher.  I was not expecting what happened next, but shouldn't have been surprised.  My timing was poor and my overwhelmed teacher yelled at me.

I can't remember what he said exactly.  The gist was that I needed to wait.  I started to cry.  I had never been yelled at by a teacher before.  It broke my heart.  I was embarrassed and wished I could disappear under my desk and go home to my mom.  My relationship with Mr. Card and how I perceived him had been changed forever.

Is this how my relationship with my children is affected when I raise my voice at them?  Granted, we have more of a history than Mr. Card and I had.  I knew that my parents loved me when they raised their voices at me, but my memories of those raised-voice exchanges between my parents and I happened mostly when I was a teenager, when I knew I deserved the raised voices.

What I'm thinking about are my young children.  They look up to me.  They think a lot of me.  When I yell at them, do they understand that they "deserve" the raised voice?  Or are they just embarrassed, broken-hearted, wishing they could shrink away.  Do they sense a change in how they perceive our relationship?

There are (many) occasions when children need re-direction and teaching and reminding.  How we do it is up to us as parents.  For some reason, several months ago, I began thinking about my altercation with my 5th grade teacher and I began to see some parallels in my parenting.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Why in the world hadn't I thought of things in this light before?  Was it because I was too wrapped up in how frustrated and upset *I* was in the heat of the moment instead of how the little person (half my size or less) on the receiving end experienced the whole exchange?

Man, I can be self-centered.

Repentance was in order.  I needed to ask both God and my children for forgiveness.  And, like I tell them...when you say you're sorry, you don't just mean you're sorry for what you've done, you're promising to not do it again.  You won't always succeed, but that needs to be the goal.  And that goal is mine.

I must say, it has changed the way I talk to my kids when I'm angry.  I still get angry.  My voice still changes, but my goal has as well.  I'm trying to drive a point, a lesson home, but I'm also trying to preserve our relationship... and their trust. 

I'm reminded of something I read recently on one of my favorite blogs..."Rules without relationship equals rebellion."

It's not just rebellion I'm worried about, though.  I'm worried about the relationship.  And relationships need at their center love and forgiveness.  Can you imagine God coming down here and yelling at us every time we disobey or make a mistake?

I'm not counting on my kids coming to me to ask for forgiveness every time they do something wrong, but what an example we have to follow.  Not all of us had good parenting to model after but we all have access to the Best Parent out there.  Let's keep His example foremost in our minds and hearts, get over ourselves and our own selfishness and give our kids the kind of instruction they deserve- instruction without fear and humiliation.

This makes me think of that child Mr. Card was yelling at that day.  If the little reprimanding that I received impacted me this much, I wonder how/if the other child dealt with getting yelled at repeatedly....

*name has been changed Pin It


  1. Oh, I needed this. Everything you said is so true! I had a hard day a couple days ago, and just lost it, and yelled loud at my 6 year old. It wasn't even him I was annoyed at...just everything that happened to be going on in that minute! Just like you and your teacher, it wasn't even about him...he was only asking me a question at a really bad time. I yelled, and saw him jump, his eyes scared, and back away. Broke my heart and made me feel like a jerk. I scared him!
    And you know what else? WE set the tone in the house as mothers. If we constantly raise our voices, how can we expect our children not to yell at each other or solve problems without anger and in a normal way?
    I am glad you reminded me of this this morning...because forgiveness isn't enough just like you said...not doing it again is what really counts.

  2. Wow, that is such a good story and you are so right. We as children never felt good about being yelled at. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  3. Thanks for this post. I needed it! We certainly do have the best parenting model, and so often, we don't follow His example.
    I enjoy reading your blog :) Thanks!

  4. During a Bible study some time ago, we were learning about the "Love Chapter" and how it isn't meant to be about romantic love but about God's love for us and, hopefully, our love for others. We were told to read it with 'God' in place of the word 'love'. That was powerful and humbling and brought me to my knees when I realized that God was writing this to let me know how He feels about me. Then I re-read it with the word 'Danielle' in place of the word 'love'. I also read it as if it were a series of questions, not statements. Again, humbling but for a different reason. Now, I find bits and pieces of that chapter knocking on my heart- slow to anger, patient, kind- when dealing with my kids. Because I am too quick to get angry, impatient and, as a result of the two, not always kind. Then I think about how God is patient with me and deals kindly with me and is, thankfully, slow to get angry with me. He has provided us with all the example we need as parents but we too often ignore it. You are right- for our children's sake, for our sake, we have to try harder and set a better example. It's the least we can do.

  5. You got my attention at the begininng when you described yourself as a 5th grader. That pretty well summed up me at that point in life too. (I also had my 1st male teacher in 5th grade...and he was very much like the teacher you described.

    You really, really got my attention when you started talking about how we affect our children by yelling. Oh, I am a yeller. Not all the time, but more than I should. I don't like it about myself. In some ways, I know I'm modeling the way I was parented (although ours was a loving, Christian home, my mother also yelled when angry or frustrated).

    I'm also fully aware I need to take responsibility for the way I choose to react to my children. But, I do want to break the cycle. And, I have seen my children react to each other in ways that have made me cringe...because it was like looking in a mirror.

    I am so grateful for God's grace. And, I ask Him to help me show grace to my children

  6. oh yes, I'm a yeller, and this post is very convicting to me. Thank you for your kind words and gentle advice. I want to do better!


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