Ken & Elizabeth Mellor

Do you know the old whinge, usually made in desperation by frustrated parents: "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times"? Our voices are usually rising with the frustration and we feel a sense of impotence. "Where are we going wrong?" is a natural thought to go with all of this, followed by, "Will he/she/they ever learn?"

Familiar territory? What about some others, too? Do you ever think that you sound like a broken record with your kids, that you're nagging them, or preaching, or that they won't ever do anything unless you remind them over and over again.

Well, relax. You are a probably doing exactly what they need you to do.

Repetition is a normal and necessary part of learning. We need to repeat everything that we learn,many many times, before we have really got it. Repetition gives us the chance to visit the lessons over and over again until we have a full perspective on them, until we know all the important themes and until we have really come to grips with them.

If you are repeating the lesson, you are doing the right thing. If they are repeating their behaviour, they are doing the right thing to learn what you are teaching. They need to do it, so they learn.

You can see this way back at the beginning when children are still very young babies. Just watch them for a while and you will see the whole thing open up in front of you. They repeat everything hundreds and thousands of times.

The hand goes into the mouth and out again. Then it goes back into the mouth and out again. Then it goes back into the mouth and out again ..... Over and over again. The toy is shaken, the toes are examined, the head is turned ..... Whatever it is, is done over and over again, hundreds,thousands of times.

Older children do it too. They play with their toys repetitively. They experiment with sounds,with words, with all sorts of noises. "Many happy returns" is not always our response when they do some of these things, even if they are delighted. The thirteen month old baby in the high chair,who is just discovering that a shriek echoes around the kitchen with wonderful effects on the acoustics of the place, also discovers that the other people around have very interesting reactions. Such effects obviously need intense and repeated investigation.

All this physical repetition is a necessary part of getting the nerves, muscles and other physical things to develop normally and healthily. With the repetition, the learning and development occurs; without it, then it will either not occur at all, or it will be inhibited. Initially very physical,as children get older, we find that the same learning processes operate in every area. They repeat what they are learning in their social relationships, their emotional patterning, their thinking, and in every skill area.

Our job is to repeat our parts, too. We will repeat what we think, what we feel, how we look,what we do, how we sound and what we say. A very short list of some of the things we may say repeatedly, includes: "Hands off the stereo (TV, switches etc.)", "Be gentle with your little brother/sister (the dog, the cat etc.)", "Go and do your homework", "Remember to give me your school notices", "Speak clearly", "Look for how you can make the situation better, avoid doing things that make it worse", "If you are unkind to people, they are not likely to want to spend time with you", "Do what I tell you straight away", "Wait your turn", "Drive carefully", "Come home at the time you say you will", "Think before you do things, so you can work out the likely consequences" .......

Remember, if you are repeating it, you are doing a good job. Unless you repeat it, the lesson will not be learned well; you may need to repeat lessons thousands of times; it not a sign that you are inadequate or that your kids have nothing operating between the ears.

All the same, how do we know when enough is enough? After all, the kids have to take over the lessons for themselves at some stage. They need to start to use all the energy we have put into the lessons. Without us prompting them, they need to start to behave, think and feel according to what they have been learning. They need to be polite spontaneously, to give us the school notices without being asked etc. Well, the answer comes in two parts.

The first part is that they signal that they have finished what they need to do, when they move onto the next lesson. Children rarely seem to get caught in their learning. Generally, if they haven't moved on yet, we know that they have more learning to do. And by implication, we have more teaching to do.

The second part of this answer is to do with frustration. When we have moved into the "I've just about had enough of this" position, the child's learning is about to reach its peak. Our frustration is a useful part of the process, too, particularly since it often prompts us to act differently from before.

We may have a bit of a rant or rave, make a commotion of some sort, pretty much saying all that we have been saying before, but with much greater vehemence. By contrast, we may move to humour, or detachment, or desperation. However we act, at this point, when the children are ready to see it our way, or to get the message, they seem to blink with new understanding. They may even say, "Well why didn't you say all of that in the first place?", which is a little irritating,but a good sign that they have grasped the point - finally.

Assuming we are not too impatient - and 600 or 1,000 repetitions probably counts as patient enough! - when our frustrations peak, giving vent to them in goal-directed ways is usually very helpful. Our passions actually attract the children's attention to our responses over the issues concerned, lead to a greater awareness of what we want, and help us all to move to new levels of commitment. We may make a dramatic shift in what we are doing or the way we do it at these times. Usually arrived at after long attempts at other approaches, our frustrations prompt us to change the way we are doing what we have done, to expect more of the child, or both.

So keep it up everyone. The next generation needs our persistence and dedication to the important things in life.

"And did you brush your teeth before leaving home this morning?"

Ken & Elizabeth Mellor, of Seymour, are internationally known counsellors, meditation teachers and parent educators. Both are trained social workers. Also, Elizabeth is a trained rehabilitation Counsellor and Ken is a trained psychotherapist and trainer of psychotherapists. They offer a variety of courses and workshops on parenting, child rearing and other subjects in Melbourne, country areas and interstate. Telephone +61 3 5799 1198 for information.

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Telephone: +61 3 5799 1198
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