Monday, January 25, 2010

The Reverence Problem

One kind reader asked if I had ideas about reverence. I do, I assure you! This is a long post and probably more than you want to hear! These thoughts are my own observations and my own opinion based on my own experience. If it is not helpful, feel free to disregard it. Please don't think I'm singling anyone out! The short version comes in the next paragraph and then you can stop if you don't want to hear what I really think. :) I'll just let you know that my best idea is in the very last paragraph as a reward for those who endure to the end. If anyone else has a great idea, please leave a comment, everyone will appreciate you!

My mother and dad taught me that when change needs to happen you cannot change the other person. You can only change yourself and allow the other person to respond to your changes. This is really true. To do anything else is surely an imposition of our own will. So, my first idea is to always evaluate what you are doing first. I regularly ask myself these questions: Are the children engaged in what I am doing? Why or why not? Which children aren't? Why? Should I do something different? Can I do more to focus their attention? Are all of the kids involved or just a few? Am I using the methods for teaching that the Church recommends? Does anything I am doing contribute to the behavior I wish to avoid? If I am doing the best I can and can't think of how I should adjust, can I just learn to tolerate this? Can I pray, fervently maybe, to be long-suffering? I can tesify that Heavenly Father will change our heart and help us to be tolerant. This is a process in itself, but sometimes all we can do is pray for the situation and try to be patient as God works in the lives of others. This self-evaluation always helps me. I think the Spirit likes an opportunity to teach me when I sincerely open my heart to being taught.

The reverence problems in my Primary are likely the same as yours, at least in some ways. I think children are what we would call irreverent for a couple of reasons. One is the nature of children and the other is the nature of adults. These sometimes conflict in Primary. My humble opinion is that the basic reason children are not reverent in Primary is that they are not engaged in what we are doing. We adults react to this because what we are doing is important (okay, not all of it is -I think we could do something about those R.S. announcements!) and we need for the children to pay attention to it. When adults talk about reverence, what we really mean is that we want the children to sit still and be quiet. Listening would be nice too. And to actually hearken would be cake! But, children find it hard to sit still and listen. This is the basic conflict.

Believe me, I understand that reverence makes all things possible in Primary. But the fact remains, that reverence comes only from within a person. We cannot make someone reverent. We can only make them sit still and be quiet. It has been my observation that we spend way more time trying to make Primary children sit still and be quiet than we do trying to engage them in what we are doing.

Sometimes we choristers are the very cause of the behavior we would call irreverent. If we set up a rowdy game and sing several rousing songs in a row, we can hardly expect the children to fold their arms and now sit quietly "to get ready for Sharing Time." When we have things dangling from a fancy hat or glove we're wearing we shouldn't be surprised when the children vie for a turn to be chosen to use it. Are some of our ingenious ideas simply beyond the mark? Kids will respond enthusiastically and we shouldn't blame them if we are setting them up for it, or even modeling behavior that isn't reverent. Nor should we expect them to just switch off their enthusiasm for the next person whose personality may be more on the quiet side. On the other hand, if we fall back on the same six tired flowers to choose the same six songs they've sung for the last six months, should we be surprised if the children find coversation with their friends more interesting?

If the children are really having trouble with reverence, I think we should make appropriate changes in what we are doing. In my experience, once the kids are engaged, they seem to have less of a problem. There are some things that we can do to redirect wandering attention. However, I do realize there isn't much to be done for children who are just plain tired!

Children cannot help but be wiggly, because that is the nature of young children. Even the oldest of our Primary children are still young. I know this post is a bit of a rant, but I really sympathize with these kids. My heart has finally expanded enough for me to see the situation from their perspective. Maybe it is because I am staring that mellow grandma stage in the face. After three hours my nerves just can't take much more of sitting and listening either! If someone needs to be taken out, just ask the woman with the gray hair or that brother who earnestly studies his ankles every week. They may also be ready for a little walk up and down the hallway!

Okay, watch me step off my soapbox now. I'm picking it up and putting it away. Thanks for listening. My husband appreciates it!

The best practical idea I can offer is found in the Sunbeam manual, or maybe Primary 2. Quietly say "If you can hear my voice, put your hand on your nose. If you can hear my voice, put your hand on your elbow. If you can hear my voice, put your hands on your head. If you can hear my voice, put your hands in your lap. If you can hear my voice, fold your arms." With each statement, bring the volume of your voice down until you are whispering. I've watched our Primary counselor use this technique and it works every time.

I actually have several more ideas. I'll post them tomorrow.


Jenni Taysom said...

thank you for sharing this. It is so true, sometimes we as the adults are more responsible for reverence or lack thereof than we know.
I read somewhere about a primary president who would gather her teachers for a moment before primary to read them an uplifting thought and help them prepare themselves before going into primary and the difference that made in the reverence in their primary.
I think sometimes that is why I feel the weight of my calling, knowing that my preparation or lack of is in direct relation to the experience the primary kids will have.
I really appreciate your blog, your love of primary and your calling and sharing this with others.
I have been a chorister multiple times, yet this time I am having such a hard time getting into it. I feel like I'm just getting through each week and dreading the next planning session, I really need to get my heart back into it. I think I'll take up on your suggestion to really get into the Friend magazine and let it inspire me.

Shalece said...

Thank you so much, that was the perfect perspective and what I needed to hear, and you're right, it all begins with us!

The Children Sing said...

I'm glad to get you thinking. Reverence is always a hot button in Primary. Sometimes I wish there was a magic reverence pill or a room aerosol freshener or something. Teaching principles to the adults as well as the children is certainly the hard way to do it. :o)

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