Okay, nationally syndicated family psychologist John Rosemond and I do not agree most of the time when I read his column and approach. (Sorry, Mr. Rosemond, I am not sure if this is because of a gender gap or a generational gap or what). But, as I read his column in my local newspaper this past Saturday, I had to agree with him.
Here is something he wrote that I think is excellent food for thought for today’s parents:
“A child, lacking farsightnedness, does not know what is in his best interest. He is apt to prefer that which is bad for him and reject that which is good for him. His parents and teacher must provide the restraint and direction he cannot provide himself.
Proper restraint and direction are essential to turning the anti-social toddler into a disciple who will trust and look up to his parents, follow their lead and subscribe to their values. And “proper” means with lots of love. (My bolded added), (and yes, I wince I bit with the whole “proper restraint “ phrasing but do read on and here is the punchline……).
…..In this regard, all too many of today’s parents are trying to pull the horse with the cart. They think discipline is all about shaping proper behavior by manipulating reward and punishment. That’s not discipline; that’s behavior modification. Discipline is the process by which a child is taught to think properly. A child who thinks properly will behave properly, but the converse is not true. A child who only learns what behaviors are appropriate to what situation may become nothing more than a clever manipulator.”
He goes on to say, that in effect, until the child’s values are formed, the child has to be guided and directed.
Okay, so I don’t always agree with Mr. Rosemond’s wording, but I agree in some sense with the spirit of what he wrote.
There are several challenges that I see with parents and their attempts at guiding their children today. One is that parents frequently over-explain themselves and in essence try to guide their three, four, and five year old by speaking to them in they way they should be speaking to a ten year old. It is a real problem that I see. The explanation is essentially, many times, not just a reason for doing or not doing something, in a short sentence, but in essence a long debate trying to garner the child’s agreement with what the parent needs instead of just being kind, being gentle, but sticking to what the parent said in the first sentence. The children really don’t need the essay! It does not mean you are not loving, kind and gentle – but you can do this without so many words! Be warm, use humor, SMILE! I know you can!
The other challenge that I see is that parents have no grasp on developmental stages. “Why won’t they listen?” “When do they understand no?” comes up all the time on the gentle discipline boards I am on for children under the age of 7! Waldorf understands this so well, and has so many gentle techniques to assist in non-wordy guidance for your small child.
You must have the gentle, physical presence and follow through with a small child, and even for the very ephemeral, short-memory, easily distracted seven year old. Steiner’s stages of development were right on, and if we think of seven and eight year olds at at the beginning of a new stage and not so much as the “old school aged” children we will do much better.
The last challenge I see is the reluctance of parents to set any boundaries at all. There has to be boundaries, as this is the only way we can all function in a household together, and boundaries help a child learn how to function in the society we live in where it will not be all about them. And guess what, because you are the parent, because you have the most experience in life, because you bear more responsibility for the things that happen in your household, you get to set the boundaries. Step up to the plate and set the boundaries in a loving way!
None of this means we don’t listen to our child, that our child doesn’t have input, that our child is not loved and cherished. But it does mean that we understand the process by which a child develops, that we understand the process by which a child develops values and develops morality is not all at once, and we cannot speed up this developmental process by talking a child’s ear off anymore or providing punishments and rewards any more than we can speed up when they are mature and capable enough to drive a car.
A few thoughts,