Monday, April 25, 2011

What am I hoping to teach (and what are they learning)?

If you're a parent, you've probably had at least one moment where you stop yourself mid-action in dealing with a child in an irrational age/stage and asked yourself, "WHAT, in the name of cinnamon apple pie am I DOING?!" If you're not that parent, I congratulate you. If you are, you're in decent company. :grin:

After much mulling to discover a common thread for moments like those (in effort to avoid them in the future!), I've discovered this truth: When my parenting becomes trying to control my child's actions/behavior rather than teach them and equip them for successful adulthood, I become a giant horse's behind. In a nutshell. :OP

Whether or not you agree with Kohlberg's Moral Stages, we can all generally agree that a higher level of thinking, emotional life and spirituality are reached when a person stops doing something out of fear of punishment (relying on authority for moral compass), and starts to value the right thing because it is right/avoid the wrong thing because of the actual damage it causes.

I've found my experience with children to be no exception. For some children, knowing that their parents/teachers will be disappointed with them is enough to discourage them from disobeying. For others, the fear of punishment is enough to discourage them from out of bounds behavior keeps them "in line". And, as always, there's always the spunky segment of the populous that weighs the cost/benefits of what they want vs. punishment received and goes for the forbidden fruit anyway, because it's totally worth it to them. Some children simply lack the impulse control to do any of the above.

As I think the above paragraph over, I ask myself: But is that the point and goal of my parenting? Compliance and rule following? There's the theory that eventually a child will begin to do the right things for the right reasons once adulthood is reached, but I've observed too many adults STILL doing the right thing for approval/safety (or doing the wrong thing because they never learned why they shouldn't) to believe that this is an practical approach.

Which brought me to this-What am I trying to TEACH my child when I allow them to experience the consequences of their actions? And what are they really learning from what's coming out of my mouth?

For instance...if they slap their sister, and I respond by smacking her on the leg, what am I actually teaching? Certainly not that the bodies of others are sacred and to be treated with respect (um...hello! :P) Certainly not honoring physical boundaries. Definitely that it's OK for the person in authority gets to smack, and that if you're small, you don't have that right (age/might makes right). Perhaps that if you you hurt others, you'll experience pain.

What if I want to actually TEACH gentleness and kindness?

So, then, my goal becomes teaching skills and values, rather than simply teaching my children to associate with "bad" behavior and avoid it at all costs. But HOW?

If my very small daughter gets very angry and tries to throw her glass of water on the floor, what's the actual issue at hand? Is it my frustration? The mess on the floor? What skill does she actually lack that makes it impossible for her to have another reaction?

My mistake when this first happened 5.5 years ago or so was to assume that the thing I had to teach her was respect for mommy's floor. :OP Making MY goal as her parent to teach her how "not to throw things on the floor". (I laugh at the hilarity of it now! :giggle Keep in mind that I was parenting a toddler, meaning she had zero coping/behavioral modification skills whatsoever.) I'd look very cross (at this point, having committed myself to not training a la fear of spanking). I'd do my best to intimidate her, shame her, illicit guilt; all of which had exactly the same result: a very frustrated Esther and mommy.

Finally, I realized I was not seeing the bigger issue. Esther was frustrated and had no appropriate way of expressing it. She was angry, anger is an acceptable emotion, and she had no idea how to express it in a way that was appropriate to the situation. She had little concept of the effect of her outburst on others.

Essie needed skills. She needed to see me model compassion to others before she could learn it herself. She needed to know that I could handle her big feelings without flying off the handle myself. She needed to be walked through ways to cope with her own frustration. She needed comfort to help her release the adrenalin that had built up in her little body.

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