October 30, 2006

Build a Community of Family Values

America Needs the Sound of Family Values at Work
One of the real dangers of traveling around the country conducting conferences on parenting issues and writing books and articles like this one about parenting is that a person can begin thinking that he really is an expert. I fight against letting myself feel like some expert and, almost daily, something happens to bring me back to earth and demonstrates to me very graphically that I have barely scratched the surface of knowledge about parenting! Just such an event happened when we were invited to visit the Yakima Indian Nation to conduct a series of parenting classes using our "Parenting with Dignity" Curriculum. (Facilitator's information.)

I was going to conduct the first class session on my own, without Barbara, and I showed up about an hour ahead of time at the Yakima's beautiful Tribal Headquarters outside of Toppenish, Washington. I was shown into their impressive big auditorium where the classes were to take place. Taking advantage of their great facility, I brought all of my materials into the room, set them up and started looking over my notes in preparation for my presentation.
Soon, the tribal members began to show up and fill the auditorium. I was a little bit startled when I saw that they were bringing all of their kids! The mothers with babies sat in the front row and spread their blankets out for their babies to play exactly where I was planning to stand. The older kids started doing homework in their seats, playing in the aisles, and riding skateboards in the foyer outside the room. Man, was I annoyed by what seemed to be an intrusion into my self-important world.

After fifteen minutes surrounded by all of that action by all of those kids, I suddenly came back to earth and realized I was hearing a very familiar sound. The sound I was hearing had been a normal and regular part of my early life when I was growing up! The Yakima’s actions were teaching a very powerful lesson to me!
The Sound of Kids Among Us
You see, while growing up, I had heard this very same sound on a frequent basis. A little way up the road from our ranch, where I grew up, was Fairview Hall, the local Grange Hall. It was a big, old, two-room, barn-like building that was used for just about every gathering in our community. The familiar sound I was hearing at the tribal center was the sound of kids, adults, and extended families gathered together! At least once every month, and often more frequently, our family would go to Fairview Hall for some neighborhood event. Sometimes it was a wedding, sometimes a funeral. At other times it was the Christmas party, the Easter party, the Halloween party, or the Thanksgiving party. And then there were the Farm Bureau Meetings and the annual "Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed", the occasional Saturday Night Dances, or some other equally important events.

When we were at Fairview Hall, entire families always attended. Man was it ever exciting for all of us kids! At a wedding everyone dressed up and used happy but formal behavior… well, until the reception, when things became pretty festive. At a funeral everyone wore nearly the same clothes that they wore to the weddings, but their behavior was much more reverent and serious. At the Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter parties, families were in a festive mood as the gatherings began, but there was also a very solemn religious part to each of those celebrations when all in attendance acted much more like they did in church. Then there were dances, receptions, and special meals.

Kids were ever present and kids were always an important part of every event! Even at formal Farm Bureau meetings, we kids played quietly in the back room and learned to be respectful of those proceedings. When we became old enough for 4-H we were then included in the formal meetings. We got to see democracy work… personally! We learned Parliamentary Procedure by watching adults use it to conduct business. We learned that in a meeting like this, people only spoke one at a time when recognized. Many kids today have been denied this privilege!

Building a Community to Raise Our Children

In the process of attending all of these varied events, all of the kids in our community, myself included, were privileged to watch the behavior of adults in a wide array of situations. I did not realize it at the time, but now I do; I realize that I was learning appropriate behavior for all kinds of events and occasions by watching an imitating adults! Not only was I learning these behaviors, but, so were all of the other children I was growing up with!

I was learning to adjust my behavior for differing situations by watching my parents and other adults do so. This community was teaching their children in the most powerful manner they ever could. They were letting us learn by personal experience! Not many of those parents were probably even thinking about teaching things to us kids. But, like I so often say, teaching does not necessarily require intent. They were teaching us, very effectively, no matter what they intended! Unfortunately, in many American Communities, we have lost that.

This does not mean that everything those people taught us by their actions was perfect; but I can tell you this for sure; as I look back, I learned most of my behaviors for most situations by watching adult’s behaviors. Being with adults in a big variety of situations and at a variety of events shaped my behavior.

Now, standing in front of an audience on the Yakima Indian Reservation, I was seeing and hearing this very same kind of teaching taking place! These elders of the tribe were wisely teaching their children how to act in an appropriate manner by modeling that behavior and then by letting the kids practice it! It was really important for me to see that we could very easily conduct our classes with lots of kids among us.

Just this weekend I watched this very same process at work at the first birthday of our youngest Grandson. Our son, Adam and his wonderful wife, Courtney, hosted a birthday party for their son, Mac. They invited about twenty-five families from their neighborhood to drop by for hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, and birthday cake. These families brought all of their children to the party. There must have been at least forty kids ranging in age from one to thirteen. I watched as the parents taught their children how to greet other guests and how to behave. The adults modeled appropriate behavior for an occasion such as this for their children with very little effort.

The older children were playing with the younger children and even they were doing lots of teaching too. The older children were learning and teaching at the same time. Kids were learning to share and negotiate. They were learning how to respectfully greet adults and to watch out for those who are smaller. The whole event was just wonderful to watch.

Gathering with a Purpose

Just think how powerful this type of gathering could be if it took place every month. Those gatherings could be held simply for social reasons or they could include meetings for a variety of purposes, but the meetings would be a socializing tool for those families. Pair those meetings with some conscious thought about teaching certain appropriate behaviors to children, and then they would have a much more powerful educational tool.

It is a pretty simple concept to understand really; it is easier to teach something to your own children if similar behaviors are being taught to their playmates! So easy to expect your children to use manners at a gathering like this if every other child is doing so too! I know; I saw it happen! (Learn more about the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum.)

In the mean time the adults would have a reason to hold a fun get-together with friends on a regular basis.

Expectations for the Behavior of Children

How can we adults expect kids to know how to act at a funeral or a wedding if they have never been to one? All too often in modern America, we view a baby crying at a wedding as an annoyance or an unpleasant glitch on the videotape of the event. We must stop behaving like that and allow our kids to be with us. We must accept the fact that their behavior may not be perfect. While they are with us, we will be effectively teaching them by modeling for them the appropriate behavior.

Annoyed By Our Children?

About a week after the gathering with the Yakima Indians, I was sitting on an airplane in Seattle, as the plane was loading for a flight to Boston. A young woman came up the aisle carrying a very young baby and baby bag. She also had a three-year-old daughter in front of her and a five-year-old son following her. Just as she passed our seats the little three-year-old became frightened and began to cry while attempting to turn back up the aisle. This woke the baby, and it began to cry. Next, the five-year-old began shouting at his sister and there was quite a commotion right there in the aisle next to us. That fellow sitting next to me looked over at me and rolled his eyes (assuming that I shared his feelings) and said, "Well, it looks like it's going to be another one of those trips!"

My response, shaped by my recent experience with the Yakima Nation, was, "Now there's an idea that will rule your world if you choose to let it, sir. But, I have another idea that could live in your head if you would choose to let it. Those kids with that woman... they belong on this airplane! Their mother is here! Sir, it is my observation that our nation cannot afford another generation of young people growing up being viewed by us, the adults, as if they are an annoyance to us! We brought them into the world, we must teach them how to act and behave by allowing them to be in our world with us."

We, as a nation of parents, must recapture the sound of our children among us; we must have them with us at church, weddings, funerals, celebrations, in public places, and at meetings. We must give them guidance on how to act in these situations. Then we must let them join us as we model those appropriate behaviors for them. (Click here to learn how to use the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum to help build a community like this to raise your children.)


What I am proposing becomes pretty heavy stuff for us adults, because it requires all of adults to be very mindful of our actions and to behave appropriately around our children.

America must recapture the sound of our children among us. We must let them learn by watching us!

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