We may now have scores of sophisticated books written by highly esteemed PhDs and a well-tread, lollipops over Castor oil, time-outs over spankings parenting path, but our progressive march through human history has ultimately produced adults that are… well, still childish.
Worse, we’ve managed to add an extra decade to adolescence.
How could this happen? It’s one of the most confounding aspects of raising children: the sheer unpredictability of the endeavor. Success is far from guaranteed. After all, everyone can name someone that was raised by “bad” parents and turned into “good” adults and vice versa.
Nonetheless, with parenting (as in all of life) it’s the seemingly insignificant that makes the biggest impact on a child’s life. You don’t have to be a “bad,” unloving parent to really mess up your kids — just clueless will deliver sufficient damage.
4. Try to use reason as a parenting tool.
Mom cracked the bathroom door open just enough for her to see me, but not enough for me to see she was there. She’s always been sneaky like that.
I guess she could see me in the mirror, or something. Whatever — she caught me.
Every night she says the same thing, “Go brush your teeth, it’s time for bed. I’ll be in to check on you in a minute.” But she never does. She just keeps talking to Dad, or something — except tonight. She saw my secret.
Ok, so I hate brushing my teeth. So what? No big deal. I just wait for her to say, “Go brush your teeth.” Then I climb up on the sink, get my toothbrush, turn on the water, and get it real wet. That’s it.
Then you have to sit there for a little while, or she’ll think you didn’t brush them. Did you know I can make my tongue touch the bottom of my chin and the top of my nose? I can almost touch my eyeball. Someday I’ll make it — just like Johnny down the street.
That’s when mom slammed the door open. She really scared me. I almost fell off the sink. Mom said that if I don’t brush my teeth, they would all fall out one day.
Fine. Then I’ll never, ever have to brush them again.
Sufficient reasoning ability is rarely found in the under ten crowd. And yet how often do we attempt to use logic and reasoning as our primary parenting tool? This ultimately fails because a child’s rationale has two major flawed components.
First, all information gathered has one primary purpose in the mind of a child: “what’s in it for me?” The information gathered is not used to weigh pros and cons, but rather to answer the question “how does this new information best serve my needs?”
Second, it is by nature severely impaired. There is no wealth of experience to draw upon. The younger a child is, the deeper these two perspectives skew their ability to properly reason. A parent that allows a child to flex his reasoning muscles by negotiating a request or rule may feel like he is using his superior intellect in order to get the child to comply in a kinder fashion. However, reasoning with a child while attempting to gain his compliance rapidly deteriorates, and then morphs into little more than manipulation.
In the end, all this misguided parent does is teach his child to be a master at manipulation — by modeling it.
We parent by example — intentionally or unintentionally.
The truth of some parents’ flawed methods is obvious to those who have tasted the sour fruits of others’ poor parenting:
We know it is the everyday interactions between parents and children that shape their growing perception of how the world works. Parents indelibly imprint in their children the unspoken rules of human interrelationships and the nature of truth.
When a parent manipulates the truth, the value of truth is diminished. This is a lesson that carries on into adulthood and is played out over and over in the workplace and even on into marriage. Seemingly small parenting acts repeated consistently can be the butterfly’s wing flap that brings about devastating hurricanes in adulthood.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not mean, wrong, or bullying to usurp a child’s right to individuality. You are the parent — you’re supposed to impose rules that he or she must live by. In doing so you are in fact teaching your offspring valuable life lessons. Children who learn to obey rules grow into adults that understand and obey laws. They are free to lead, and are not taken captive by their own deceptions.
If you are in fact a loving parent with your child’s best interest in mind, which I believe most parents are, then don’t be afraid to make the rules that govern your household. Set standards of what is acceptable behavior — and have the courage to enforce them.
As time goes on, children’s banks of experiences will indeed fill, and their minds will mature. At least they will have a greater chance of doing so if they have had good models to follow.
Remember, children just want to grow up and be just like you — and do anything they want, and not have any rules. But as our art and poetry teachers always said: you have to know what the rules are before you can decide if you want to break them.
3. Cater to your child’s appetite.
It was supper time. The boys scurried around the dining room table, setting each plate in its proper place. Everyone needed napkins, their glasses filled with ice for the sweet tea, and their hands washed. It was almost ready.
The smell of basil and garlic had filled the room in spite of the tall ceilings of Grandma’s old farmhouse. The two older boys, Chase and Cole, were anxious for dinner. They had dreamed about it since lunch — grandma’s spaghetti. Not the kind that comes out of a jar mind you — it was Grandma’s — the kind that simmers, and bubbles all afternoon.
Little Bowen sat on the chair and watched his big brothers bounce from the cabinets to the table. Chase, being the oldest of the three, took the role of the family spokesman and informed his grandmother that his little brother did not like spaghetti sauce on his noodles.
“He won’t eat that, Grandma. You’ll just have to make him a bowl of spaghetti noodles with cheese on it. That’s what mom does,” the ten year old said with the confidence of borrowed parental authority.
Bowen sat wide-eyed. His bangs covered both eyes as his little head rapidly shook “yes” the entire time his brother negotiated on his behalf.
“I don’t like that stuff,” he announced.
“How do you know? Have you ever tried it?” Grandma asked.
“No. It’s yucky. I don’t like it,” he said with a lisp.
Sensing the battle to come, Cole felt the need to intervene: “What do you want to eat, Bo?” he asked quickly.
How do you think this story will end? How would you solve the problem?
Why allow a five year old to dictate his own diet? Think about it for a moment. Just a few months ago you were digging rocks out of his mouth. He would sooner eat a piece of candy scrapped off the pavement or his own boogers than most vegetables. This is clearly not someone that should be in charge of his nutrition.
And yet, it’s not uncommon for parents to go out of their way to cook only what their children like. We all have our preferences. That’s not what I’m referring to. Rather, I’m talking about parents that have catered to what their child wants, neglecting what they need.
This is a hamster wheel that exhausts parents and gets children nowhere. Once you step on, jumping off seems like a frightening proposition — both of you are stuck.
Parents get on this cycle by way of good intentions. Then they won’t break it for fear of conflict. Good parents need to realize that stepping up to the dinner plate is a fight worth having — and winning. The damage done can be devastating, as Cassy Fiano wrote about here at PJMedia last week.
2. Defend your children’s bad behavior.
Several moms sat on the bleachers as their children played below. The kids raced through the obstacle course with the determination of Olympian athletes: monkey bars, jungle gyms, and towering spiraling slides.
Two little five-year-old girls, Cassy and Kate, both had long blonde hair. Kate’s was pulled back into pigtails tied up with blue ribbons that had long since lost their bows, and their ability to keep her hair out of her big green eyes.
Both girls saw the teeter-totter at the same time and raced to it. Cassy won the seat on the ground, while Kate stood on her tip-toes to reach the seat in the air.
They were both sure that they were now big enough to make it work, if Kate could just get on.
Eight-year-old Mark also saw the teeter-totter, but felt no need to win a race. As he walked up to the girls, he was dragging a stick behind him.
Mark walked up to the girls. It was clear to the onlooking mothers that he was just talking to them, at least at first. Then, as Kate was lying over her seat on her tummy, trying to hold the plank down far enough to get her leg over… Mark swung the stick and himself in a full circle that landed the thick branch upside Katie’s head.
The stick entangled itself in Kate’s hair, unraveling her ribbons.
Mark planted his feet and stood completely still with a blank, yet strangely determined, look on his face. Kate ran to her mother with tears streaming, drawing white lines down her dusty red cheeks.
Mark’s mother sprang to her feet and also headed for little Katie’s mom. As Kate tried to tell her mom what happened through her broken sobs and heaving breaths, Mark’s mother interjected, “I’m so sorry. He didn’t mean to hurt her. He has a problem with sticks.”
You don’t have to be a PhD in parenting to know this kid’s problem was not with the stick.
It really wasn’t even in that fact that he hit a little girl. Kids do that. The problem was that he had a mother who would rather apologize for the incident and make excuses than address and correct her son.
This type of parenting plays out in numerous scenarios with children of all ages. Toddlers have strong emotions that they are still learning how to bridle. They constantly ride the roller coaster of selfishness, sadness, and anger. Hunger, the need for sleep, too much sugar, too much activity (the list is endless actually) can all trigger bad behavior.
Key word to underscore here is “trigger.” This is not an escape hatch for parenting or training. It’s our job to understand what our children’s triggers are and help them to avoid or manage them, i.e., get a nap, no red Kool-Aid, or turn off the Disney Channel. Each child is different.
Toddlers that aren’t trained to regulate their impulses turn into children that have a difficult time in school — and life. Parents that make excuses for their toddler’s behavior turn into “that guy” in the stands yelling at the ref for throwing his kid out of the game, or “that mom” arguing with the teacher over her son’s failing grades. All of which are more likely to end up in the lawyer’s office explaining why their darling really is the victim not the criminal.
Bad behavior is not always a reflection of bad parenting. Excusing bad behavior rather than correcting it certainly is.
1. Try and be fair.
It was Jeff’s 15th birthday, the first-born grandson in a long tradition of Taylor daughters and granddaughters. Jeff, being the oldest in his family, naturally blazed the trail for his younger brother Cody, who was always seen in tow.
Being the oldest grandson and namesake, his grandpa built him his first motorcycle — dirt bike to be precise. She was candy-apple red, and Jeff first laid eyes on her as she stood in the middle of the living room with a matching helmet dangling off her handle. The enormous red bow was the clear sign to all that it was in fact Jeff’s.
The note read:
“Happy Birthday Jeffery! Although this is my birthday gift to you, I want you to know that you earned it as far as I’m concerned. I’m very proud of the young man you are becoming. Love, Grandpa”
The birthday boy couldn’t believe his eyes. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine something like this. As Jeff climbed on and swung his leg over, he almost immediately began making engine noises — a lot like ones he made when he was five, climbing on his grandpa’s motorcycle pretending it was his.
While Jeff’s mom watched as the boy grew three inches before her very eyes, his dad was watching Jeff’s little brother. Cody’s eyes were wide with awe as well.
“Can I ride? Please? Can I ride…” the nine-year-old asked in rapid fire succession without pausing long enough for an answer.
“I don’t think so, Cody,” replied Jeff. “I’m not sure I can handle it yet.”
Two days later, Dad called ahead and wanted everyone out in the driveway — he was coming down the road. As he pulled around the corner, the boys could see the tip of what looked like handle bars.
The minute the truck came to a stop, the boys ran over and climbed into the back. Mom, however, went to the driver’s window.
“What are you doing? Why did you buy that?” she asked in disbelief, almost as surprised as the boys.
“I bought it for Cody,” he said. “It’s not fair that Jeff should have such a cool toy, and Cody doesn’t.”
“IT’S NOT FAIR!” Behold the time-tested battle cry of the child, the immature, and the political left. (But I repeat myself…) It’s also the cosmic quest of choice for the unwise parent.
What exactly is fair about life? The reality of life is that it isn’t fair. The good guy doesn’t always win. The best man isn’t always chosen for the promotion. The nicest girls can end up with the biggest jerks. And ice cream is fattening. The list of injustices in the world is endless. So why would we want to make our children think that they deserve fairness?
Good and loving parents often mistake fairness for kindness. It’s not our job to make the world an even playing field for our children. It’s our job to see that our children can survive and thrive in the world as it is — and maybe if they can take care of themselves, try and change it for the better.
But that won’t happen if we go out of our way to make childhood fair. Parents that buy the two year old a toy because his big brother needed new shoes are setting their children up for tragedy when they have to face real disappointment and even failure as adults.
Sooner or later, real life is going to intrude on our carefully constructed façade. Life will never be fair. Life will be unpredictable and hard, but that’s the wonderful thing about it. That’s where most of the best of life comes from. Out of ashes, beauty can arise — but you have to know to look for it.
Good parents try to be fair; the best parents try to prepare their children for whatever life throws at them.