Recently, within the span of one week, I observed parents yelling at, dragging, ignoring, threatening and/or bribing their children to get them to behave. If those observations are any indication, there are more than a few parents today who find raising children more painful than pleasurable. As one who spent my entire career around children and families, I find the level of ‘parental intolerance’ for childhood behaviors and lack of understanding as to how best to address those behaviors most concerning. For sure, the children I saw (in stores, parking lots, eating establishments) were causing a scene. However, my history of working with children in public school classrooms taught me that there is always more to the story.
Many parents appear to be woefully unaware of what it means to be a parent; a role that requires placing your child’s needs above your own, particularly during the first 3 years of life. Making this commitment is more difficult today in our self-absorbed ‘me’ society where distractions have become so commonplace, they are no longer viewed as distractions - at least not by adults. However, adults are the ones who seem to get the most irritated when their ‘non-distractions’ are interrupted, especially by children.
Children under age 3 do not consciously decide to irritate their parents. However, beyond age 3, a child who does not act or respond to parent directives most of the time does so because he/she has not been effectively taught. An inappropriate, ineffective parent response to a child’s negative behavior invites further inappropriate behavior from the child. It goes something like this: The parent reacts inappropriately to a child’s negative behavior by responding in one of three ways: 1) giving into (indulging) the child 2) bribing the child or 3) intimidating the child into obedience by being loud, overbearing, and aggressive. These approaches may terminate the misbehavior in the short term but will not succeed in the long run because they do not help the child learn to manage his/her own behavior (self-discipline).
Self-discipline is key to proper behavior and being responsible is key to self-discipline. In generations past, by age 12-13, children were more mature than most middle-schoolers today because of the emphasis on responsibility. Children were taught responsibility largely through the assignment of chores; chores that were critical to the family’s survival. The children understood that they were an important, integral part of the family unit and, as such, had to pull their weight. This understanding bred appreciation, loyalty, confidence and, most importantly, character. Today, basic chores are not (as) critical to family survival. Assigning children chores and holding them accountable for completing those chores has diminished greatly and, along with it, the level of personal responsibility.
As many classroom teachers note, the current lack of personal responsibility and self-discipline among students is unparalleled (missing deadlines, failing to complete work, ignoring schedules, losing books, behaving inappropriately...). Teaching children to be responsible is the best way to teach self-discipline. When children are self-disciplined, they are far more likely to keep their behavior in check.
If indulging, bribing, or intimidating your children are your primary forms of discipline, the road ahead will only get more challenging. This blog is a call to act; to look in the mirror and reflect on how you want your children to view you and view themselves. It is a call to commit to ending all yelling, threatening, bribing, giving in, and giving up, and start actively modeling what you want to see in your children. It is a call for parents to not only act responsibly themselves but to consciously teach the importance of being responsible to their children. Children learn how to be adults by watching adults.
Well-behaved children are happier children. Well-behaved children are well-behaved because their parents set clear expectations and hold their children accountable. When children are no longer being intimidated, bribed, or indulged, a level of respect that did not previously exist begins to take hold; one that can lead to a more peaceful, happier parent-child relationship.
If being with your children is more painful than pleasurable, the onus is on you to change the trajectory. Start by revamping how your family functions on a daily basis. Everyone needs to contribute (chores!) and believe that their contributions are important, meaningful, and appreciated. Committing to changing the way in which you respond to your child(ren) can be life-altering for the entire family. There is no time like the present to chart a new course.
Here’s to more pleasurable days ahead!
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, August 9, 2021