Eight-year-old Jeremiah was being impatient with his four-year-old sister, Penelope, and talking to her like she was stupid. I said, “Jeremiah, you are being impatient and rude to your sister. When people do or say dumb things, and we feel we are smarter than they are, sometimes we get impatient. I have been impatient with you when you did dumb things, but doing dumb things is just part of learning and growing up. If we are impatient with people who are still learning we may discourage them from learning, and then they will always do dumb things.” His attention melted into understanding and I saw the light come on as he readily said, “OK.” It was a get-on-board “OK” filled with appreciation, acquiescence, and maturity. It made me want to be more patient with him.
If my moments of impatience with him had been predominant in our relationship, he would have dismissed my concerns and continued to respond to his sister as I had responded to him. More is caught than taught, but when the foundation has been laid, there are moments when teaching is a gift from heaven. We cannot teach beyond the foundation of our relationships. The proper foundation of consistent example reduces the number of words necessary for instruction and guarantees their effectiveness.