When you know about realistic expectations, what do you do with it all?
Every child is different, every family culture is unique and onto itself in many ways.
There is this guidepost -realistic expectations – they are much like finding a trail marker in the forest. However, then there is the trail in between the trail posts and only you and your child can blaze that together. This path is called loving guidance.
Guidance and connection are both very important, and the ability to guide our children wonderfully requires a balanced approach that includes aspects of thinking, feeling, and willing.
Thinking on the part of the child: Children, especially those under the age of nine, do not really “plan ahead” in terms of behavior. Things typically happen much more in the moment than that. Even for those over the age of nine, cause and effect most readily enters a child’s thinking sphere around the age of twelve. Discipline approaches that use an incredible amount of words to stimulate thinking and “planning ahead”, and those approaches that revolve around bribery /punishment are not most effective in shaping long-term behavior because of these developmental milestones.
Thinking on the part of an adult: Thinking is required of an adult in situations where we guide our children, and yet often in the moment, we often don’t think or we take an approach that is too heavy-handed and over-analytical for the age of the child and the situation ( or sometimes too light at all! Are we there as the adult or are we fluttering about?). Thinking comes into play when we look at how we handle guidance situations: in general, do we connect with our children in the realm of feeling or not? Are we so concerned about “what were you thinking, child?” that we never follow through in having the child make restitution? Are we so wrapped up in making things right and fixing things that we never allow time for connecting, feeling, loving?
Are our expectations realistic or are we sending a message to our child that we don’t think they are capable of much? How could we use our words and actions in discipline situations to make sure our child knows they are loved, that we are meeting them where they are, but also that we think they are capable, that can rise up to things, that we know they have a place in the world that is good and beautiful? Only our thinking selves can figure this path out.
Feeling on the part of the child: Children typically have a more undifferentiated view of how they are feeling (“I feel good”, “I feel bad”), unless they have been verbally taught how to name feelings at an early age, and to respond to guidance situations with feelings, in which case they may need help with the willing aspect. Feeling should be only part of the picture for the child. All feelings are all acceptable, but not every action is. There must be a bridge of willing to complete this picture for the child.
Feeling on the part of the adult: We must strive to connect with our children in guidance situations, we must strive to slow down and love that child in that moment. We must also look to a piece of willing: it is not enough to just be with our child and love them, we must help them use their bodies, their words, themselves for right action in the family and in the world.
Willing on the part of the child: The child is about the will, the doing, the action. How do we teach our children to use their will forces for rhythm and repetition to form good habits that will help them as adults? How do we help them use their willing forces so they can get along with all different kinds of people, starting with trusted adults outside of our own immediate family and branching into reaching out to other adults and friends?
Willing on the part of the adult: A child will call you on your stuff every time. They are better observers and see you more clearly than you see yourself! Where is your will, your self-control? What good habits do you have that are worthy of imitation for those under the age of 7 and worthy of being an authoritative leader for those over seven? If you have forgotten how to be an authentic leader, please go back to this post: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/16/gentle-discipline-as-authentic-leadership/
Thinking, feeling and willing make a discipline approach that works when we use realistic expectations, taking into account our own individual child. Love that child, observe that child. There is no other beautiful child in the world like the one you have!