Unfortunately, as a parent, it usually seems easiest to bark orders at your kids, and expect instant and unconditional compliance. I say unfortunately because it’s a hard lesson that all parents (myself included) have to iteratively come to grips with as one’s kids get older, wiser, wilier, and more willful. They come to realize that they can talk back to you, and you come to realize that you actually do value their ability to think & act independently (unless, of course, you plan to micro-manage their every move until you end up in a nursing home).
Countering their willful wit with force and punishment doesn’t get you much of anywhere. If the kids walk their muddy boots onto the carpet, you could give them a good whuppin’. But that doesn’t engender any understanding of why it is that their boots should come off, except for now they know their derriere hurts. If they’re not eating their food, you could scream at them, but that doesn’t get them better eating habits. If they’re being too loud in the back seat, you can holler at them and cuss them out, but that gets you nothing more than kids that cuss you out next time you’re being loud.
A while back, when my wife still was semi-spherical with our first baby, my wife and I did a study course entitled the Successfully Raising Children course. I was thumbing through the course materials for this yesterday, and came across this quote in an essay on a child’s goals & their dignity:
“A child has a great natural sense of dignity. Do not talk down to a child. Treat him with as much dignity as you can. You will find that the child has weird misconceptions about many everyday things around him. Trace these misconceptions back to their source, and you will usually find an adult who has not taken the trouble to give this child the right data.” – L. Ron Hubbard
Back when I first read this, I had no idea how true this would actually be. Especially that last bit – that kids have weird misconceptions about everyday things, and unless you really take the time to trace these misconceptions back to their sources, and clear each up with care, kids will continue to ‘misbehave’. And I put ‘misbehave’ in quotes, because – whilst sometimes it is honest misbehaviour (i.e. the boy pulling on the girl’s hair because the girl took a toy from the boy, etc) and other times it really, really wasn’t.
- The Permanent Marker Debacle: Today, my 3-year-old son saw my 5-year-old daughter drawing. She had somehow gotten hold of a fat, indelible marker and was coloring some paper. He knows his big sister always gets ooohs and aaahs from the parents when she draws something, so he grabbed some paper, took this fat marker, and started to draw at the kitchen table. All the while, this marker (which he’d been told not to use) was busy soaking through PERMANENTLY onto our beautiful custom hardwood table. Now, previously, the only reason he knew he wasn’t supposed to use this marker was, “he wasn’t supposed to use this marker”. Reason? “Mom will be mad.” It wasn’t until mom, restraining her temper, worked with him for 30 minutes showing him how hard (i.e. utterly impossible) it was to remove the marker from the table without taking a belt-sander to it. No amount of corporal punishment would have arrived with his understanding of why this was bad. Faith in our sons dignity and basic goodness, as well as adequate time put in to get his understanding as to WHY this was not good, results in his deciding, “I don’t want to use markers like that anymore.”
- Legos of Death: Getting kids to clean their rooms & clean up after themselves is like peeling an onion the size of Roald Dahl’s Giant Peach. You think you make headway, until the next time when it’s a disaster. Well, I think we got through several layers of that onion with this particular go. And it has to do with the fact that the kids finally have gotten into that maimer of the most manly of men: LEGOS.The kids had train tracks, stuffed animals, and Legos all over the floor, and I had come in to get them ready for bed. I tried to avoid the caltrops of doom that lay all over the floor, but I failed. I ended up taking a 4×1 yellow right to the back of the foot, and for the kids – the fact of their 6’4″ daddy screaming in obvious pain was more impinging than a hundred times of my explaining that their room needed cleaned.
After that, a sit down talk with both kids, involving the injury I sustained, as well as the fact that there was quite literally not one place my size-12 feet could entirely go on the floor without hitting something, they agreed it would be a fantastic idea to clean up their room & only have out the things they were working on.
Now, whilst I obviously lost some of my dignity in my near mortal Lego-bourne impairment, the kids were treated with their own dignity, and the assumption that they could take away something useful from this experience.
And piece by piece, I aim to get this parenting job done by doing such. I know it’s no one-trick set of magic words that’ll all of the sudden make my kids perfectly-behaved in all circumstances. But, in seeing things they don’t handle well, taking adequate time to make sure their misconceptions of “why daddy wants my room clean” and “why we use crayons and not the big/stinky markers” and other such things are adequately cleared up for them.