I last posted about a new approach we were trying to help E learn to listen, especially during prayers and stories. I thought I might’ve been jumping the gun a bit by blogging about our approach when we had just started to try it out. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results, especially in prayer, and would like to share them with you now.

Grandparents always listen to me!

Grandparents always listen to me!

What it looks like: When E interrupts while her father or I are praying we treat it as an indication that she would like to pray too. We say something like, “It sounds like you’d like to pray. Mummy and Daddy will listen. Just make sure to say ‘amen’ when you’re all done so we know you’re finished.” E then proceeds with a sing-song list of words she knows (often it’s “daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy…”) while her father and I model how we would like her to listen during prayer (eyes closed, bodies still). When she feels like she’s had her say she finishes with “amen” and whoever was praying before carries on where they left off, with E now ready to listen.

Mistaken for: Teaching her its okay to interrupt adults; letting her get her own way.

Why we do this: Children inherently want to be a part of the adult world and praying is no exception. Her version of praying may not look at all like the adult version, which is why it can be so easily missed or even mistaken for misbehaviour. Her (admittedly clumsy) attempt at joining in prayers is the best way she knows how to indicate her wish to be a part of the situation. “Me too!” she says. If we were to scold her for interrupting we would miss this wonderful opportunity to include her prayers and teach her how to join in respectfully.

How we support: A child’s desire to participate in the adult world is healthy. It’s part of what drives her to become a contributing member of society. Supporting this desire can be tricky but mastering the knack can really come in handy in a lot of situations (tidying, gardening, washing up, etc.):

See the clumsy attempts – Any time a child does something ‘rude’ stop and have a think. Is there any way that this ‘rude’ behaviour could actually be a ‘clumsy attempt’ to participate?

Acknowledge – Acknowledge what the child may be trying to do – I can see that you’re trying to pray along with us. I’m glad you’d like to join in.

Model – Give the child the respect you expect her to give to others. Explain what you’re doing and why – I’m going to listen while you pray. I will close my eyes and keep my body still so I can hear what you’re saying. I won’t speak until you’ve said ‘amen’ and I know you’re finished.

Modelling isn’t the only way to teach or encourage, you can simply tell a child what to do. But modelling meets a child where she is instead of expecting her to do the hard work of processing and applying verbal instructions. It gives her first hand experience of what it feels like to receive this respectful behaviour. And seeing trusted adults engage in such behaviours allows her to see that these behaviours really are an essential part of the adult world. As such, modelling results in much richer and deeper learning.

Please do let me know of any strategies you have for supporting children as they learn to participate in the adult world. You can never have too many up your sleeve!