For a long time, at least a year, I have been consciously and persistently encouraging Lyd to participate in worship at church. She has been mightily resisting me. She is well-behaved as she sits in the pew, is quiet, stands up when the congregation stands up, sits down when everyone sits down, but she has not liked to participate. She prefers to color or write on a slate or read a book.
Part of the problem, as I see it, is that she couldn’t read. I’ve contented myself with the rationale that she does know how to behave in church, and that’s an important first step. She’ll never be able to pay attention in the future if she can’t behave. Secondly, just like I say to parents in my Music Together classes, children pick up on a parent’s enthusiasm for an activity. So, I’m believing that by virtue of her being there every week, hearing me sing, noticing me listen (as carefully as I can, while trying to keep Curious J quiet), by her watching my example, it is making an impression on her. Finally, in the past year, knowing that her reading skills were being developed, I started pointing out all the words to her in the hymnal and the service folder, hoping that eventually it would start making some sense.
It’s been a long road to get her to willingly pay attention to that last action. Not surprisingly, she would rather write on her slate or color rather than follow along in the hymnal. But, Lyd has always been rather resistent to conforming. It’s just part of her personality. So, I never made it a punishment for her to follow along, but I made it an expectation, just like I expect her to stand up when everyone else stands up and to sit down when everyone else sits down, I also expect her to follow along with my finger pointing out the words, even if she can’t read them.
The funny thing is, over the past summer, I realized that Lyd CAN read quite a bit, but she seems to not want to exercise that skill, nor does she want me to know about it. I’ve praised her when she HAS read something, but I’ve sensed a lot of resistance to reading, so I’ve tried not to push her, since I know from experience that the more I push, the harder she digs in her heels. Just like potty training, putting her head under the water, going to music or dance or gymnastics class, or anything else that requires her active participation — if she doesn’t want to do it, it’s simply not going to happen. I can’t make her do it. I’ve learned to avoid battles in those situations at all costs as they have without fail blown up into huge deals. Instead, I have tried to keep the bigger picture in mind, working around her fear/resistance as best as I can.
However, while letting her do things at her own pace, I am trying to demand more of her as she grows. I’ve been asking her to sing along as best as she can in church over past few weeks. She doesn’t like to do that, saying “I don’t know the words,” but I tell her to simply try and to do the best she can. Grudgingly, she has made half-hearted efforts, which I’ve accepted and praised her for. It’s not a perfect method, and I’m not sweetness and light about it all the time, but trying to find this balance between her own pace and developmentally appropriate behavior and her stubborness and my belief that repetition is the mother of learning and the knowledge that sooner or later, she WILL do these things easily — well, it’s a difficult balance to find and maintain.
So, you can imagine my delight when in church yesterday, she made a better effort than usual when I prompted her to sing along. I was pointing out the words of hymns and liturgy as best as I could with a squirmy two year old making her presence known on the pew, too. When it came to the verse of the day (the Alleluia after the second Bible reading), our congregation uses the same verse and tune every week in the Sundays following Pentecost. I whispered to Lyd that she knew this song, we sing it every week. Lyd scowled a bit at me (because I seem to continually fail to understand that she would rather color than follow along), when we were distracted by Curious J, singing “Alleluia!” in a full, off-key voice. “Look, your sister is singing louder than you!” I grinned at Lyd. She grinned back, and we both smiled at little J, singing her heart out.
I don’t know if the fact that her sister one-upped her or if it was something else, but after that Lyd made a real effort to read along and sing the words to the next hymn, “Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us.” I was pleased with her effort, and told her so. After the sermon and offering, we were going through the communion liturgy (we have every-Sunday communion in our church), in which the “Lamb of God” canticle is the same every week. Curious J was in my arms and quite squirmy, so I gave the service folder fully to Lyd and told her to point out the words herself. Now, as this song is one we sing every week, I knew that she knew it. Would she do it on her own? Success! She pointed out each word on her own AND sang along! I was SO pleased!! She got a huge hug from me, lots of praise, and I saw a smile on her face replacing the grumpy “I don’t want to do this” attitude that she often wore when asked to participate in church.
I think that the knowledge that it wasn’t too hard anymore, that she actually could read some of the words, and could truly participate – I think that’s what made the difference. I fully expect to have more of these types of battles to fight with her, but at least the first hurdle has been crossed. We’re finally on track. She’s realizing that she can read, can participate, and can sing along. That will make church a lot more interesting for her. And, somehow, I don’t think Curious J will have these same kind of problems once she gets to be that age. Already she participates in church more than Lyd ever did at two years old. Plus, J loves participating when I teach music class, while Lyd hated participating (and still hates it). They’re just different personalities, I guess. I see that as my job as a mother: to know my kids’ personalities, and to work with that personality to foster their growth as best as I can. I try my humble best.