“…you do have a father who loves you more than anything else and is constantly thinking of you and caring about you.” ~Albert Einstein
I finally got started in a new book group. So excited, I haven’t been in one for years and this one is called Book ‘n Brew, and we’re not talking coffee. It’s fun to discuss books while enjoying dinner and a glass of wine. The group is sponsored by the local library and is led by a wonderful woman who works in the Children’s Library and loves books.
Last night was the first group I attended. We deconstructed a book of well over 6oo pages. There were about a dozen people there and about a half of them either didn’t like the book as a whole, while the other half really enjoyed it.
Because the book was so long and the plot so disjointed (not my words!), our leader thought it might be a good idea to discuss the book’s characters as a way of figuring out the author’s theme and intent.
We finally got to the meanest, nastiest, most unlovable character in the book and started to tear him apart. Who could possibly like this man who beat his wife and son for years, deserted his son when he needed him most, spent his life trying to track his son down (now a fugitive) to make sure he was punished for a terrible mistake that he made as a young man? Wow, what a sweetie. Glad he wasn’t my father.
This character was a General in the U.S. Army. Some one in the group said,”How could anyone treat their family that way?” If you look at it, though, the majority of this man’s life was predicated on the paradigm that violence is a way to deal with conflict. Of course, someone else said that may be well enough, but why bring it home, why not compartmentalize his life and leave the violence where it belongs.
And here’s the big question. Does violence belong anywhere? In a world filled with violence, how can we change anything? We can’t change anyone else? We can try, occasionally someone will see the light, but we can really only try to make ourselves better people. We can only be peace to promote peace. We can only be the change. Sounds so trite and simple. But, isn’t the simplest way always the best? We can begin at home. Whenever a child is punished with violence, whether physical or verbal, we are showing them that violence is a solution to a problem. Imagine at work if you got hit or beaten for making a mistake or doing something wrong. Imagine if your boss yelled at you and sent you to the corner to take a time out. I know I’m going to get a few raised eyebrows on that, after all time out is one of our biggest forms of punishment for children right now, but I don’t think it’s right. Give me a minute and I’ll explain.
Do we need to punish children at all? Has anyone ever asked that question? When they do something which we consider bad is it because they are bad or because they haven’t yet developed the emotional or intellectual tools to deal with a situation in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone or cause a problem? Children learn from modeling after their role models and from what they are told. Unfortunately, for us imperfect souls, they model what they see us do for the most part. If only they would do what we say and not what we do! So, how can you blame a child for having a tantrum when their father loses control and screams at them or hits them or throws furniture around. They are only following his lead. How can you expect a child not to hit another child when Mom walloped them just last night for breaking another dish? How can it be wrong and right at the same time?
There are, also, things children do that don’t seem to be behaviors they’ve learned. A child might steal something. Why would a child do this if they didn’t learn it from modeling? If it’s not out of hunger or another strong physical need, then why? Stealing would symbolize the fear of lack. It may be that the child perceives a lack of love or a lack of acceptance for who they are and they are trying to fill that need with things. It may be that their parents talk about money, or the lack thereof, in the child’s presence and so the child always feels insecure about money and possessions. Generally though, I think that stealing is symbolic of trying to fill an emotional need.
We can often ask a child until we are blue in the face why they did something, such as steal or lie, and they won’t answer us or they just say they don’t know. That is often exactly the case. They don’t know. As adults we do things so often without knowledge of our motives, we do things by rote, completely unconscious of the belief, thought, or emotion that lead us to the action, and yet, we expect an eight year old to understand the psychology of their behaviors.
As parents we need to be more aware of our behaviors than at any time ever before in our lives. It’s not just about us anymore. Whenever we do something in front of our children that is not acceptable to our concept of good behavior we must bring it up and explain to them why what we did was not acceptable. If we yell at our child we must apologize and tell them that it was wrong because we didn’t show them respect, because we frightened them, and because there is a better way to deal with our anger than yelling. We can then go on to discuss a better way to deal with our anger. When our child misbehaves we should take the same steps with them. We can talk about the behavior and why it was unacceptable. We can ask them about their opinion on the behavior you saw as unacceptable and see if they can switch places and imagine themselves as the person subjected to their behavior.
When our child makes a mistake, and they’ll make plenty, we can accept the mistake graciously and give them the same kindness we would give a guest who made a mistake. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that children don’t have the motor skills and mental skills that we have developed. We can be a little more patient and understanding when we feel they are too slow, there’s a lot of new, exciting stuff out there for them to see. Instead of rushing them, let’s give them a little more time to sightsee on this amazing planet that is their new home.
What if your child continues a behavior that you feel you have taken a lot of timing explaining to them the reasons why it is unacceptable? You just have to take more time. Try a different way of explaining. We all process information differently. Ask them why they keep doing something that is a problem for others and often, themselves. And ask yourself if it really is a problem. Maybe they’re not intellectually ready to understand the construct of what you are saying to them yet and it will just take a little more maturity until they can grasp it. They are doing their best. Just like all of us.
What about time outs? If we have a child sit by themselves as a punishment we are telling them that quiet time alone is bad,that it is not desirable. Quiet time is not a punishment in the real world. Ask any adult, it’s a vacation for most! So let’s not use time outs, but instead, sit with our child and use reason and love to overcome unacceptable behavior. Talk about safety, kindness, or whatever issue is associated with the behavior, but don’t make a child sit alone, often not even understanding why.
If a child becomes overly emotional (screaming, tantrum, sobbing), we can sit quietly with them and show them how to control their emotions. Most children are frightened by their heightened emotions and don’t think they can control them, especially if they see their parents lose control at times. We can show them how to calm themselves, simply by being very calm ourselves, and by giving them techniques like deep breathing or walking away from an emotional situation to get their bearings. Show them that they have the power they need to control themselves. Empower your children whenever you can. Let them know they have control over their behavior and emotions without holding them responsible for the things they still can’t control.
I once read an article by a child psychologist, so long ago that I have no idea who it was, but she said that when a child is yelled at for spilling something when they are very young they don’t understand it because they think they didn’t spill it, their hand did. Apparently they don’t have the control over their physical bodies that we think they should or do at very young ages.
Children are often emotionally fragile, especially with their parents, because all they want is your love, really. If they know they are loved and not judged, even when they’ve done something that isn’t acceptable, then they will grow up to be happy and loving. Our words and actions as parents are the biggest contributors to our child’s well-being or lack thereof. Let’s make it the best we possibly can. Let’s raise our own consciousness and that of our children and the world at the same time. When we are love, we raise love. When we are loving parents, we raise loving people.
Some loving affirmations:
- I treat children with the same love and respect as adults.
- I do not judge children for their actions, knowing that they are learning who they are.
- I treat all people with love and respect.
- I respond to misbehavior with calm love and reason.
- All action comes from fear or love. If someone acts from fear, I respond to it with love.
Imagine yourself as a child. Do you remember a time when you were misunderstood or punished? How could it have been handled differently so that everyone felt loved and accepted?