Friday, 21 April 2017
Can you imagine threatening your partner or good friend by counting "One… Two" if he or she did not do what you wanted?
One of the big issues in schools today is "bullying." Parents and teachers struggle daily with how to stop this behavior. Without realizing it, adults teach bullying behavior to children by modeling it when they use the threat of their physical size or power to make children do things. When I hear a parent counting "One… two" at a young child, I always wonder what the child has been told will happen if the parent gets to three. Is it the threat of a spanking, being yelled at, time out, abandonment (I'm going without you) or the withdrawal of love and approval? Whatever the threat may be, I rarely hear "three." As intended, the threat of what will happen if the parent gets to three usually compels the child to do whatever it is the parent is telling the child to do. Parents use threats to get children to cooperate because that was what adults so often modeled when we were growing up. Most of us are familiar with the phrase "or else." We did what we were told out of fear even if we didn't know what the "or else" would be.
While counting may appear to be a magic form of discipline, there is no magic in threats. Children know that adults are bigger and more powerful than they are. They comply in self-defense. If the only way we can get children to do what we ask is by intimidating them with our greater physical size and power, how will we get them to do as we ask when we are no longer bigger and stronger? "Ask the parents of any teenager if counting still works. Not only do threats no longer work, they've learned to use the same means to make others do what they want.
Many parents see a child's uncooperative behavior as a challenge to their authority. Once we understand that uncooperative behavior is usually caused by a child's unmet need or an adult's unrealistic expectation, we don't have to take the behavior so personally. Parents and children often have different needs. Sometimes our needs or schedules conflict with our children's needs. Children who are deeply absorbed in play will not want to interrupt their play to go with us to the bank or the store before it closes. When a parent needs to do one thing and a child needs to do something else there is a conflict of needs. This conflict of needs turns into a power struggle when parents use the power of fear instead of the power of love.
The bond or connection parents have with their children is their most powerful parenting "tool." A strong bond is created over time when parents lovingly and consistently meet a child's early needs. Threats communicate, "what you think, feel, want or need is not important." Threats undermine the parent-child bond. When we learn to resolve our "conflicts of needs" in ways that show children that their needs and feelings matter, we strengthen the bond and avoid many power struggles. If we want to teach children to love instead of hate, we must learn to use conflict resolution skills in our daily interactions with children. Just as children learn bullying from what adults model, they can learn conflict resolution and problem solving skills from what we model. When children learn the skills from how we treat them at home they will bring those skills to their relationships at school.
Very young children can learn conflict resolution if we model it. An older sibling can be taught to find another toy to exchange with their younger sibling instead of just snatching their toy back. When two children want the same toy at the same time we can help them "problem solve" a solution. When there is a conflict of needs because the parent wants to do an errand and the child just wants to stay home and play we can say "let's problem solve to see if we can find a way for us both to get what we need." Maybe the child could take the toy in the car or perhaps the errand could wait until tomorrow. When the parent is ready to leave the playground and the child wants to stay longer we can suggest a compromise of five more minutes and doing something fun when we get home. Often it's not that the child doesn't want to leave as much as it is that she doesn't want the fun to end. When we teach children that everyone's needs are important by honoring their needs they learn to honor the needs of others.
There will be times that we won't have the time or the resources to meet a child's need. There will be times that even after honoring the child's need; the child is still unable to cooperate. At those times it is important to communicate that parents have needs too and even though it makes the child unhappy we do have to go now and then allow the child to have his feeling about having to leave. It is never OK to tell a young child that you will leave without them. Threatening a child with abandonment terrifies a child. When a child has a tantrum about leaving it may not be about leaving the playground at all. Leaving may just be the last straw that unleashes the day's accumulation of little frustrations. The child may just need to cry to empty out the stresses of the day. A child will be able to move forward much more readily when we can say "I know you're sad and it's OK to cry" than if we say "Stop that crying or I'll give you something to cry about!" When the crying is done the child will usually feel better and be more able to cooperate.
When children's needs are met and nothing is hurting them they are usually delightful to be with. Whenever a child responds negatively to a reasonable request we need to look for the conflicting need.
Once we know how our needs are in conflict we can try to solve problem. I have learned to say, "When you behave that way I know something is wrong, because we love each other and people who love each other don't treat each other this way.
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
A parent has an interesting and often conflicting duty: keep the child safe, but paradoxically let the child explore the very challenging, often dangerous world around them. If I distract the child by making myself part of the danger I am not going to be a very effective teacher, guide and protector of my child. If I teach my child that the world, and parents or adult caregivers are dangerous people then I teach my child that being dangerous yourself is a way to survive. Or, and most sadly, I will teach the child that passivity and compliance are all one has to survive with. The child either grows up being me or in reaction to me. In either case I have crippled and limited my child no matter how wonderfully obedient he or she may seem.
We will get the world we believe in, and if we believe that children must submit to harsh authority and that they are basically evil and must be controlled then we will get a world of people who behave as though this is true. Where families raise their children with love and gentleness and do not call them names and yell at them, where they are not slapped, pinched, punched and whipped, we have children who are confident in their ability to manage in a world they see as full of exciting choices and fulfilling experiences.
Any thoughtful person looking at the belief systems of those in prisons or in our mental or social services programs gets the point. Our prisons are full of those who believe that to be dangerous is how to survive in the world. And our mental health and human service systems are full of those who have only passivity and compliance as their coping method. Researchers have given up on trying finding violent offenders in prisons who were not spanked or beaten or punished as children. If you are a parent who spanks think about how you were raised and what you may be visiting on this child you beat that they will do to theirs and theirs to theirs. It is a harsh legacy that, I have come to believe, will destroy our planet in time.
It is the child who is raised with love and attention who I expect will view the world assertively, with courage and thoughtful examination of the universe on their own who I want to govern in my place when their turn comes around.