Friday, June 20, 2014

Punishment is not a true consequence...

Once-Upon-a-Time...or...Monday...Either one suits. I was out at a public play area with my 4 youngest children ages 12, 10, 8 and 6...and my husband. 

The three younger are girls and found some playmates. The oldest is a little too old for playing on public pirate ships with little kids and so he n' his dad walked over to the craft store to grab something.

Meanwhile I was sitting alone and had noticed a lady near me speaking in Spanish on her cell phone. I also noticed that she looked friendly, so, I walked over to her and said, "De dónde eres?" or, "Where are you from?"

She looked up at me and her eyes brightened and smiling broadly she said, "Ai! Que linda!" Basically, "How cool!" She was delighted that I was speaking to her in Spanish and the smile never left her face for the rest of the conversation.

As we sat then (for 2 hours!) and spoke in Spanish she wanted to know all about how I'd learned Spanish and she told me all about her life from the Dominican Republic, to NYC, to here in Florida. And, many many times she told me, smiling ear-to-ear, how amazingly I spoke her language. 

And, as I talked to her, I felt like I was speaking her language perfectly like I'd never spoken it before. It was crazy. 

In Spanish, I have always struggled to conjugate verbs more complex than the simple, "I am, I was, I will be" tenses. In Spanish, to say "I would have been" is another way of saying the verb "to be" rather than adding the words "would have" and I've never felt I've mastered those...till I was sitting there talking to her.

I'd start to say something and the words fell out of my mouth and her eyes were so...pleased with everything I said. And, I was excited that I was having such a great learning opportunity to be able to sit there and talk to her. I was excited that I was able to understand everything she said and respond! It's times like this that make language learning happen! husband returned from the craft store and sat with us. And, it it always does. Suddenly, my Spanish went back in time about a year and I found myself struggling with sentence formations and my pronunciation got a thicker American accent to it. And, I started missing half of what she was saying.

My husband was the son of missionaries from Pennsylvania and spent age 4 to 40 living in a Spanish country. He speaks Spanish like a native. He joined the conversation for a while and she was then doubly delighted to have now two people to chat with.

So, why did my Spanish begin to fail me when he showed up? 

I thought about this afterwards because this is what always happens to me always in the presence of an English speaking person who also speaks Spanish. Why?

Finally, after ten years of wondering hit me.

Fear and shame.

The Spanish people all have the same sort of attitude towards non-Spanish people speaking their language as this lady. Unlike Americans they almost see it as an honor and are much like this lady in their reactions: thrilled by every word you say. And, so to speak to a Spanish person is completely freeing. There is no fear or shame in making any mistakes.

Americans, on the other hand, will criticize your pronunciation, grammar, and notice every mistake you make. 

I was in a church service one time and an American was at the podium speaking in Spanish. A lady behind me who spoke Spanish and English was critiquing everything she said...pointing out her errors in pronunciation and so forth but then tacked on, "She's doing really well..." at the end of the long list of, "oh she screwed up theres."

Over the years, I'd heard many such critiques of Americans speaking Spanish by people like that. There are certain "common mistakes" that Americans make when attempting to speak Spanish and people who are truly bilingual seem to love to make fun of those things...and I am not immune from making those mistakes and I know it. So, I know what those bilingual Americans are thinking about what I'm trying to say, "Ha! Listen to that pronunciation!"

What is it about Americans that we feel the need to judge, critique, and "grade" everything? Is it school? Is it being raised in a world where from age 5 (or younger) -18 everything we do is "graded" and compared to everyone else? Is it because we spend our whole lives under the threat of failure or punishment?

Is it that 80+% of us were raised in homes where if we messed up we got punished (usually with a spanking) and so now after years of that being literally pounded into us, "mess up = spanking" that it's just "part of us" to feel the need to punish people for their mistakes? And, when it is a person we can't "actually" punish we do it by talking badly about them? 

There is all this debate about "giving children consequences" and when a parent stands up against "punishment" the masses all frown and declare doom and gloom ahead for that child who will not learn anything that way!

But, what happens to me when I fear being critiqued and "punished" by my errors all being pointed out? I shut down. I fail to perform. I, as an adult, close the door to learning.

If no one is there to point out my errors to me when I'm attempting to speak Spanish, will I have no consequences for my mistakes? The true mistake is believing that pointing out and punishing mistakes is a "consequence."

The true consequence of me making mistakes in Spanish are...that the person will get "that look" that means, "Huh?" Maybe they'll look at me funny for a sec and ask me to try again. Sometimes, the person might giggle at me for saying, "I laid an egg" instead of saying, "I put the egg in a pan." The true consequences of mistakes in Spanish aren't the pointing out of those mistakes, but, in the experiencing the reactions of the miscommunications which...aren't painful. The true consequences are just bumps in the road of communication that can sometimes stall a conversation or cause laughter.

When someone is present who basically "takes on the role" of "disciplinarian" doling out the "punishments" for my errors (as in pointing out all my mistakes) that inhibits me from learning because it prevents me from truly experiencing the true consequences of my mistakes and puts my focus on the person pointing them out. 

Kids are just people learning to "speak a the language" of being human. They're learning to interact with others and how to just "be" who they are. 

If your focus with your child is on pointing out and punishing them for their mistakes...if you believe children "need consequences" you need to realize that you...need to get out of the way so they can finally have them. Your punishments are getting in the way of them truly experiencing the cause and effect relationship they have with the world they're attempting to interact with...which is what "consequences" are.

Lead. Guide. Set the example. That's what the Biblical rod was for. Not hitting. Not punishing. And, why. Because the Lord desires all to come to Him and fear of punishment does not have that result...

And, help your children keep moving forward by allowing them to experience and understand the true consequences of their choices, and, when necessary, help them repair things they've done really wrong...

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