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Less is better

Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to over-teach. Kids are usually flexible and creative, and I often consider that we do them a disservice by structuring every minute.

This is probably the most representative example that I can cite. A young boy timidly approached to advise that his stomach hurt. Stomach distress is the most common ailment I encounter in elementary level kids.

He didn’t display any symptoms, but I asked if he wanted to go to the nurse. Shaking his head, he demonstrated the sad face. My response was, “Go and rest for a while. Let me know what I can do to help.”

That was all the educating I needed to do. He was evidently satisfied with my solution and expressed nothing else.

Sometimes I declare “free time” rather than math or science or literacy. Inevitably, one or two of the class will do something on a laptop or iPad that is prohibited. But I always convey without over-emphasis that I trust them to do the right stuff even though I won’t be checking.

It causes me to wonder if we overdo other tasks. Are we guilty of offering too much advice to our grown kids? It’s generally understood that too much fertilizer will kill our lawns. And so, it follows, when we distribute too much in the way of advice or suggestions, we take the chance of sabotaging the faith of others in themselves.

And maybe we pack too much for trips, buy too much for our refrigerators and pantries and worry too much that every ache and pain is a sign of cancer. Maybe when we can’t remember a song title, composer or performer, it’s not a sign of early onset dementia.

For my part, I’m eternally working on less versus more. Isn’t less speed on the road better than too much? Aren’t many trivial gifts less meaningful than one large and thoughtful one? Aren’t sales people who push too much less effective than those who don’t push at all?

Fewer teaching words are generally more powerful than many. To be sure, telling anyone, “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult day” always feels better than, “You’re difficult and disruptive.” Sometimes, it’s challenging to achieve but the outcomes are always preferable. Shalom.

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