Dum dee dum dee dum dee da, dum dee dum dee dum dum, went the piano in the living room while eight year old Londyn was practicing her latest song, The Spirit of God. She was playing along very nicely when all of the sudden, there was a large pause. At this point, some plunking happened, and then another pause occurred. This process was repeated a few more times before Londyn came to ask me for help with her new piano piece.
My sweet eight year old explained to me that no matter how she tried she just couldn’t understand how to make her fingers play the song. She was noticeably frustrated. Of course I came to help her. I learned a long time ago that making a child go through the frustrating learning processes alone doesn’t often build self-confidence as some people think, but instead develops a hatred of learning. Hating to learn new things is easily one of the most common paradigms in society today. It just isn’t comfortable to learn new things, and it requires so much self discipline.
While sitting on the piano bench next to Londyn, I noticed that her piano teacher had put numbers above all of the hard notes Londyn was struggling to play. These numbers were meant to reminder her the easiest way for her small fingers to play the difficult measures. Londyn and I worked together to learn the new way to place her fingers. We practiced and practiced.
Sometimes after Londyn had already learned the new way place her fingers for the difficult parts, she would inadvertently play the parts in the old way that jumbled her fingers up and made the song seem confusing to get through. It is natural for most people to go back to the old habitual way of doing something even after they have learned a new, more effective way.
Luckily, Londyn learned that when things got difficult, that was a reminder to remember her new skill. She didn’t let the frustrating moments stop her, and she didn’t try to convince herself that this new skill was too hard, as some people could have the tendency to do. Instead, she used her frustrating moments as cues to remember and repair her skills.
Mosiah 4: 30 says, “…if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in faith…even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”
We have been commanded to “watch ourselves and our thoughts, and our words and our deeds,” which means we have been commanded to recognize when we are doing things wrong and fix ourselves. To fix ourselves will require new skills. And there is no way around the fact that it will be very hard to teach ourselves new ways to live and interact.
Asking For Help
When we first start parenting we usually parent purely by instinct or by how we remember being parented, whether it was good or bad. And, as we go along we find, just like Londyn did in her piano piece, that there are parts we don’t know how to do. We feel lost and unprepared to parent during those times. What should we do? Where do we turn?
Just as Londyn turned to her parent for help, we also need to turn to our Heavenly Parent for help. Heavenly Father knows the skills we need to be good parents, and if we are open to doing things a new way and learning new skills He will teach us what is best for our families.
Some of the principles which have been taught to me when I’ve gone looking for a way that is better than I can figure out on my own are: love, acceptance, trust, focus, vision, patience, consistency, deliberate communication, the power of calmness, the power of prayer, and the purpose of the family government. While all of these principles work together for a happy home, I have found that one of the most valuable is the power of calmness.
Learning the power of calmness was one of the greatest lessons I learned. From the beginning of time, the forces of evil have tried to get the forces of good to lose control of their emotions. If we lose emotional control, then we are easily manipulated by the evil force.
The evil forces would have us selfishly destroy all our most precious relationships by losing control of our emotions.
This life is about forming relationships which are essential to our eternal progression. We need to develop strong relationships with God, children, spouse, family, and neighbors. This is one of the largest reasons we are here. Calmness is essential to keeping our many relationships in proper perspective.
Ever since our family appeared on the BBC people have asked us how we were able to stay calm when we had such unruly teenagers living under our roof. The full answer to this question is rather long, and requires many principles be taught, but the short answer is calmness is not something that happens, but something you choose.
Years ago, when I had troubled foster teens living with me I made a conscious choice. I decided that behaviors were not people, they were behaviors. I knew I had to love the person with or without the behavior, so I could not allow the behavior to manipulate my emotions or my relationship. I decided that every time I felt like parenting was getting difficult, I would stop and remind myself that I had already decided that calmness was the only way to handle a situation. Calmness was a power I could use in combination with the Spirit, and that only the Spirit could change a heart. No anger, or emotional manipulation ever changed a heart for good. Only the Spirit can do that, and only a calm person can have the Spirit with them.
I have chosen to use the first moment I notice someone else not being calm as a reminder to use the gift of the Spirit which my father has given me in this life. Using the Spirit is the skill which helps me to know just how to place my words as I play my musical parenting piece. With the Spirit I have proper harmony.
Once I decide to remain calm and have the Spirit with me I do these things:
1. Calmly describe the situation at hand. (Describing is always better than reacting.)
2. Keep voice tone level and calm
3. Don’t respond to argumentative comments or manipulations. I only say, “It seems like you want to tell me something. I really want to know what you have to say, but you need to choose to be calm before we can talk.”
4. Calmly discuss what happened and what should have happened, then we practice doing things the right way.
5. Praise all the way through the learning process and show that I don’t judge them for their mistake.
Eight year old Londyn learned a valuable lesson for being good at playing the piano. When things get hard it is a good time to watch yourself more closely and practice new skills calmly. As parents, we can learn the same lesson. When we notice the emotions building and the moments are becoming more difficult to manage, use it as a cue to practice a new way; being calm. Choose calmness because it is powerful. A calm parent can enlist the help of the only power which can really change the heart of a child; the power of the Holy Spirit.
For more about teaching children to govern themselves and building strong families go to Nicholeen’s blog