There are some incredible gurus who have paved the way in child development, child psychology and parenting. One of my personal “heros” is Haim Ginott. His classic book, written in 1963, “Between Parent and Child” has been the foundation of many subsequent books. The premse of Ginott’s teacher was a basic understanding of why children do what they do. That their behavior is a way of communicating.
We all want to be loved and accepted on a very core level. We do things for a reason – a payoff. It would seem counter-intuitive to misbehave for attention. But, if it’s your only recourse, or you receive a greater “pay-off” (by way of response), it’s what you do. We get “hard-wired” for a response – the bigger the response – the bigger the “tickler” created on the file of our brains. What I love about all of these “greats” is the common theme of respect and dignity for the humanity and spirit of the child. It is a beautiful way to relate to a child and encourages the child to grow up in the same way and to approach others with this respect and dignity.
Have you ever stopped to think about how often we own our children’s problems? We own their grades, their hunger, their friendships, even if they need a sweater or not! An interesting concept is stopping and asking oneself when something comes up – who should really handle this?
For instance, if your child is 6 months old and needs a jacket to stay warm, or food when hungry, or nap when tired, it’s YOUR problem. You need to fix it. If your child is 16 years old and needs a sweater, food or sleep it’s THEIR problem. They will learn in just a few minutes of not wearing a sweater (being cold) what you may have tried to teach them for six months. Yet when does the transition from total dependency occur?
A little bit at a time.
When we own our problems and allow our child to own their problems, we are both empowered to resolve whatever problem is in front of us. The beauty of this for our child is that they have many opportunities to learn how to take responsibility for their choices. If a child is “always” doing something, remember – there’s a payoff. Find out what the payoff is.
We cannot make our kids responsible.
We can only give them opportunities to practice responsibility. Most lessons we learn are through failed attempts. If we go hungry because we forget our lunch, or are cold because we don’t bring a jacket, or get our bike stolen because we don’t lock it up, we learn something. If we have someone continually bringing our lunch to school, reminding us to bring our sweater or reminding us to lock up our bike, when exactly do we learn to do this for ourselves?
Because we will at some point and time have to do this for ourselves. It’s just a matter of time. Now, I am not suggesting not bringing a kindergartner his or her lunch if they forget. I mean, come on, they’re 5! They’re concerned about what they’re bringing for Show ‘N Tell! But, if a child in the sixth grade still needs woken up in the morning, his jacket handed to him on the way out the door and a lunch brought to him at school, he’s not getting very prepared for the real world.
There’s a hierarchy of learning and we’ve gotta get on it! We have to get the fundamentals down so that we can move on to the bigger issues – like saying “No” to drugs and other choices with bigger consquequeces coming down the road.
We can start by asking ourselves each time something arises. “Should I really intervene here, or is there something my child needs to learn from this?”
As parents sometimes, we tend to apply our boundaries and discipline backwards. There seem to be a lot of what I like to call “borderless parenting” going on. These are children who have not been guided at all and do not listen under any circumstances and seem to have their parents over a barrel. Yet, when the child becomes a teenager, the parents try to enforce rules, boundaries and make their children responsible, to no avail. It’s like having a puppy and letting them piddle in every room in your house. Then, when they become a full-grown dog, and you’ve had just about enough, you try to restrict this huge dog from all the rooms except one. It’s just not gonna happen. The big dogs win!
So, if your child has had boundaries and choices and consequences their entire existence up until now and you have fostered a friendly and respectful relationship filled with unconditional love but firm borders, they will have internalized this into real knowing. They have no need to rebel against you because you have honored their individuality and respect who they are. They will still need to explore, experience life and make life “their own”, but they will be able to come to you because you have demonstrated that you are a “safe” place to land. Again, you might not always accept their behavior, but at this point, “life” does the teaching and your child actually assimilates real-life experiences into knowledge. You are just there to pick up the pieces and love them through it all!
I remember my daughter at 18 decided to go out with a friend and wanted me to set a pretend curfew so she could break it. She had never had a curfew, as she had been regulating her behavior, living with a few “rough” life consequences along the way and was able to self-monitor. Which, of course was a good thing as she was “legal” at this time.
I laughed and asked her why and she said, “Well, teenagers are supposed to rebel.” She laughed and so did I and I set a pretend curfew (she was still in before it!) I joked with her and told her she totally “sucked at being a teenager!” Again – all in good fun! She had no real need to rebel, because she had learned throughout her life that ultimately she was the one who would suffer, not me.
It’s like when she was little and I would tell her, “I’m going to say something that is totally gonna make you want to stomp your feet and slam your door.” She would get so mad and say, “Now, I can’t do those things!” Precisely (or in kid language, “duh!”). When you give them “permission” to do what it is you don’t want them to do, takes all the fun out of it! When there’s nothing to rebel against, why rebel? Then, they can just get on to the business of figuring out who they really are and settle into that.
You’ve already demonstrated, “You can’t scare me! Blue hair, piercings and all…underneath it all you are still you and you are the most PERFECT version of you that exists and nothing will ever change my love for you!” When those are words that the child hears and feels from you, under any circumstance, they’ll come to you with the big stuff. If my child is about to get into a car with someone who has been drinking (or worse yet, they have been drinking) I want them to know at their very core, “I can call Mom (or Dad) without fear of rejection. There may be consequences, but our relationship will stil be intact” (and so will their bodies).
Those are the moments we ultimately prepare for – or better yet, provide the opportunities for our child to prepare for.
Like it or not, we’re working ourselves out of a job. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my child have a lot of “on the job training” in failing and living with natural consequences, than telling them what to do their whole lives and find out when the true test comes (yea, 18 is legal), they fail miserably.