OK, I'll admit it- before I was a parent myself I was a really good parent.
Now? With two kids? Whoa- I'm lucky if I'm in the mediocre range, especially when I compare myself to the magical mother I was going to be before I had kids. From raising my daughter and reflecting on my own judgements I've realized that as a teacher I was operating under some misconceptions about childhood, despite all of my training, education, and constant reading on child development.
Myth One: It's easy to tell a spoiled child. Kids who cry when you tell them no are spoiled. They are obviously accustomed to getting their way.
Ha! Little did I know, kids are not necessarily spoiled just because they cry or argue when they are told no. My husband and I frequently exclaim in frustration, "Little Lipstick, have we EVER let you have what you want after you talk to us like that?" And every time she yells, "NO! BUT I WANT ITTTTTTT"
It's become a ritual in our house. You want cupcakes for breakfast? OK, let's start our daily 'you cry, we ignore you' routine. (Even as I type this I'm preparing for judgement- those of you reading are thinking, clearly there is something wrong. They must give in once. They are giving her negative attention which keeps the argument going, etc, etc. I am working really hard on trusting you to not be doing that. Otherwise I would write pages defending our parenting. Stay with me here and don't judge.)
As adults when we stub our toe and it hurts like hell we often call out, swear, or hold our breath. We react. Even though swearing didn't change the pain the first time we ever stubbed our toe we still react that way now. It still hurts, and we swear even though we know that will not make it feel any better. We know swearing doesn't change anything. We aren't trying to manipulate the situation by yelling. We are expressing ourselves.
That's true for kids. My daughter is sad she cannot have a cupcake for breakfast. She knows she cannot have a cupcake and she knows we are not going to change our minds, but she is sad so she is expressing it. (She has just now started using the words sad, scared, and nervous and we are getting wonderful I statements like, "I am nervous about going to daycare" and "I am sad about my cupcake", which has put a significant decrease in tantrums.)
I watch a lot of the kindergarten students get upset when told "no". We often think, "Oh, only child syndrome" or "must get their way all the time at home." But I'd like to take back that judgement now. As a parent of a child who has BIG emotions, I know now that it isn't because she always gets her way, it is just because she is stubbing her toe. She is expressing her feelings and getting it out. I'd rather she didn't, but I can't control everything.
Which leads us to...
Myth 2: Parents can control their kids as though they are puppets.
2) Unless there is a special, secret formula out there that if we follow will give us the perfect child, we are not in 100% control of our children. They each have their own temperaments and personalities. We control how we react to situations and we can set consequences and structure, but we are not the architects of our children's worlds. We can't be. The neighbor's dog, the mean friend on the playground, the bank teller who gives our kid a lollipop even though we ask them not to- these are all elements of our children's worlds. This world we can't control shapes our children. They develop their own opinions- quite separately of ours- about what they like and don't like, what they are scared of, what makes them happy and what makes them sad. We can help them through all of those emotions, we can control how we react to their emotions, but we cannot give our children emotions.
Myth 3: Kids need structure at home like they have in school
Structure at home? Ha! Structure at school is easy. We have bell schedules, lunch schedules, art and PE schedules. We have routines. Even when there are breaks in the routines we prepare for it ahead of time (field trips get planned months in advance, we talk about it for weeks ahead of time. And fire drills get practiced so many times that they become routine even when they are a surprise.)
Structure at home is totally different. You can have set bedtime and wake up times, and bedtime routines and morning routines and meal routines, but it's not school. There aren't bells and chimes throughout the day. It has to be more flexible. In fact, it should be more flexible. Children need to know how to roll with change. They need down time to explore. They need to figure out what to do when they are bored.
There are many great ways to put routines and structures into a family's day, but it will never be as structured as school. And that is OK. Kids need to breath.
Do you have other misconceptions you've found about how we make quick judgments about kids?
Goes along with Myth #1: some children DON'T express their feelings even when the feelings are very strong. They tough it out, they repress, they become withdrawn, they avoid. Just because they aren't being loud about their bad feelings doesn't mean they don't have any.
So true. Just because a child is quiet does not mean they are rolling with it. We overlook those children all the time because they don't get our attention, but we need to be sensitive to their feelings too.
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