[by Scott Swain]
I look at the ways many parents treat their kids and I see at least one reason why children may later be diagnosed with "ADHD" and maybe even the primary reason we have an epidemic of "adults" who struggle to function.
The most prevalent parenting behavior I see, which usually comes from love, is attempting to "happy up" a kid. No one likes to see another person sad, bored, crying, angry, or lonely, especially when it is our child. And let's face it, life can be pretty stressful before even dealing with children, so we might also have justifiably selfish reasons for wanting our children to be in a "happy mood". So parents attempt to change the child's mood, usually via distraction.
What harm can that do?
(1) Offering a pleasant sensation, yummy food, reward, punishment, etc. as a distraction to replace desired or undesired behavior can create a personality that will later look for distraction whenever their environment is not offering "easy happiness".
(2) Reward can be just as damaging as punishment. Would you prefer your child's motivation for creativity or "getting things done" come from an internal place or a desire for external validation in the form of rewards? What happens to intrinsic motivation when we bombard a child with constant stimulus and evaluation?
(3) When a child experiences sadness, boredom, anger, etc., these are natural responses and ways of being. When we attempt to change these "negative" moods, we give a message to the child: Your feelings are not reasonable or valid and not to be trusted. Also, you need to be rescued from those feelings because you can not find your own way back to "happy". Never mind the unmet needs underlying those feelings; rarely does a parent address those. And no, I'm not talking about food and diaper changing. I'm talking about needs for power over one's environment, choice, consideration, and respect. Children are treated like 2nd class citizens in regard to those needs and they feel it.
"If it damages my child to try to 'happy her up' when she is scared, hurt, or angry, then what do I do, ignore her?"
No. You acknowledge how she is feeling. You can even guess at the met or unmet needs contributing to her feeling. Example:
Parent: "Oh sweetie... Your playmate is going home now and I see your tears. Are you sad because you want more play[need] and connection[need]?"
Child: [Sniffle sniffle] "Yeah."
Parent: "You really wish he could stay to play more?"
Notice there is an important distinction between verbally RECOGNIZING their unmet need and FULFILLING it. Sometimes it may work out that you can offer an activity that will fulfill the unmet need. Sometimes it won't be easy or possible. Often times these are opportunities to teach natural consequences.
A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference. When you play in the rain, you get wet. When you don't eat, you get hungry. When you eat too many sweets, you get sick. When you forget your jacket, you get cold.
Having more experience than children, we can see what pain certain actions will lead to and since we care about the lil ones, we want to share our wisdom and prevent the "accident" from ever occurring. But what if every time we do this, we are denying our children an important lesson? What if instead we asked ourselves the following question: "Is this a situation where I can hold back and allow my child to continue to do what she is doing and learn a valuable lesson?" OF COURSE we also ask ourselves what the chances are of our child getting seriously hurt if we do not intervene. There is a huge difference between "rescuing" your child from tasting food that is too spicy VS them running out into the street to get hit by a car.
So yay, maybe we succeed in pausing, taking a deep breath, and allowing our precious child to get a minor booboo. At this point, it might be tempting to lecture, "I told you so," or act in a way that adds blame, shame, guilt, or pain to whatever pain she already experienced naturally from the situation. Children usually feel bad enough when they make a mistake. Lecturing and punishing reduces the learning that can occur from experiencing a natural consequence because the child stops processing the event and focuses on absorbing or defending against the blame, shame, guilt, or pain. Instead of lecturing or punishing, show empathy and understanding for what the child is experiencing:
"I'll bet it sucked to walk home from the bus stop in the rain with no jacket!" It can be difficult for parents to be supportive without rescuing or overprotecting, but it is one of the best things you can do to help your children develop a healthy sense of independence, self esteem, and confidence.
Finally, another, similar, way parents "help" their kids that is actually screwing them up:
Doing things for our children that they may be able to do for themselves.
Are they old/smart enough to get and fill their own water cup but you do it for them because you keep the water and cups in a place that is too high for the child to reach? How about dedicating a "child cupboard" in your kitchen for certain items so you can encourage your child to be more self reliant?
How about putting on and taking off shoes or other clothing for them? How about helping them with eating? I'm sure any parent reading this can think of a hundred things they do every day for their children.
When we do these things for our children when they are developed enough to do it themselves, we deny them important lessons in self reliance and self esteem. It also teaches them to look externally for solutions. "Why figure out how to do something for myself if I can get people to do it for me?" So it is important to ask ourselves before doing something for our children, "Is this a situation where I can allow/encourage my child to help themselves?"
If you are intrigued by this topic and you want to learn more about how to put it into use in your family or classroom, I highly recommend this book:
Also, I've written more articles on this topic here: parenting.asp
#naturalconsequences #nvc #nonviolentcommunication #parenting #compassionateparenting #nonviolentparenting #empathy #tantrums #hittingkidsiswrong #hittingiswrong #nonaggressionprinciple #nap