A short note on: What we criticize as adults, versus our messages to children…

… the future adults!

As a grown-up and before having a child, I used to believe that third parties shouldn’t meddle when a kid misbehaves. I was convinced that it would be unethical. I was so wrong.

As a child, I never really stopped to think about why adults would scold me. But as time passed by, I observed that: I bonded more with nice kids; adults would be more pleasant and agreeable to me; people (young and old) trusted me more… Me and my friends didn’t receive any “prizes” for obeying. The “invisible” hand of our surroundings took care of convincing us that being “good” is better than not.

As a parent, I’ve become even more sensitive to what habits my son could potentially acquire. Suffice to say that I give him positive feedback and encourage him to replicate behaviors that I consider “good” (for instance, when he puts his toys and books in their shelves); I ignore him when he does things I don’t like but can tolerate, and that wouldn’t put him in danger (such as whining) and, I reprimand him if he does something I absolutely cannot agree on (like throwing tantrums, wasting food or hurting our cat).

I started to observe adults and children more. And this is what I’ve detected:

If we don’t like liars,

If we criticize overly-dependent people,

If we get annoyed at those who don’t acknowledge their faults,

If we stay away from people constantly grumbling, and

If ungratefulness offends us…

Then why are we showing kids that lying is OK,

Or that being independent is scary,

That asking for forgiveness is unimportant (anyway, time heals wounds),

That throwing tantrums could get them what they want, and

Why don’t we say “Thank you” enough in their presence?

The fact is, it takes a community to raise a child. For parents like me, the role we have to play in a child’s development is very clearly set. But how could other grown-ups, non-parents, non-family members contribute to a child’s “upbringing”? Here are a few ideas:

Refrain from lying

Adults would tell kids they’ll “come back later”, when they won’t; or scare misbehaving children by telling them “the police would get them”; or some grown-ups simply don’t call children’s attention when caught lying.

Children are not dumb (more on that later), they’d get the untruth of a lie. And believe me: however they might react when they realize they’ve been lied to, is less important than the message that stays with them, “adults lie, so it must be ok to lie.”

Don’t lie to children. Don’t underestimate their ability to process and assimilate information.

Encourage autonomy even in the smallest acts

There are those who treat toddlers like dumb human beings… and you know what? they are not.

Sure, they can’t discuss the socio-economical effects of a capitalist China (yet), but they are very sensitive to what goes on around them, and are perfectly capable of understanding and following instructions, according to their ages.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if and when toddlers start to show interest to do something by themselves, we, as adults, should guide them in doing so– making sure they won’t get hurt in any way. Then, congratulate them if they get it, and encourage them to try again if they don’t.

(Click here for some ideas on age-appropriate chores for children. It’s just a list of ideas, because “carrying firewood” obviously doesn’t apply to everyone.)

Ask for their forgiveness…

… and ask them what exactly displeased them. This would teach them accountability.

As I grow older, I realize I’m not meeting a lot of adults who are able to acknowledge their mistakes, and even lesser ones who could recognize having hurt somebody else’s feelings and apologize for it.

A sincere “I’m sorry” would do.

Ignore kids throwing tantrums…

… and avoid laughing or showing any sign of amusement when a kid is being scolded for throwing tantrums.

Nurture an attitude of gratefulness

I heard somewhere that gratitude is one of the most empowering human feelings, because it’s something we can control. We can choose at anytime of our lives, regardless of how we feel, to feel thankful. Thankfulness also nurtures positive thoughts, which could turn to positive words, and in turn, could translate to full-blown, positive actions. Who wouldn’t want that?

Set an example by thanking children for any small favor they do for you or for others. A simple “Thank you” will do.

– The End-

We criticize so many things in our day to day lives- an activity that leads us to wish for the opposite of what we have in front of us. Most of the time, however, it stops there. Unfortunately. I mean, life goes on: the barista hands you the tall latté, your kid starts playing with boogers, the train arrives…

But, would it be possible for us to just follow through with an action, and not stop on the “wishing” phase? We can actually pursue that train of wishful thinking with a deed, try and turn that wish into reality. Sorry if I’m being demanding. Maybe we won’t live to see it, but we would have made a difference, no matter how small (marginal, as the economists would say).

Thank you.

 

 

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