Many articles have been written about specific aspects of parenting, including potty training tips, taking toddlers shopping, bedtime suggestions, and avoiding power struggles. These articles are certainly helpful in addressing specific concerns, but what about looking at the primary objective of parenting overall. Recently I have asked parents to consider this question: "What kind of characteristics do you want your child to exhibit as an adult?" In the next series of articles, we will be looking at how we parent our young children NOW to that end. And most importantly, make sure you have a sense of authority established in your home in anticipation of these very productive, effective articles as we pursue character development in our children.
Attributes: Accepting being told "no", Handling conflict, Forgiving (See below the article for Bible versus that support these attributes).
With people comes conflict. It's that simple. From the moment we realize that our mothers and fathers don't think and feel the same thing we do, it's on! When we are jumping on the couch having the time of our life and then in walks in mom or dad and they tell us to stop, we are confused and maybe a little angry. It's that moment when we realize that everything is not all about us. This is a critical moment when our free will meets resistance.
Now imagine, if you will, the child that never (or rarely) hears the word "no". There is nothing to let him or her know that the world ISN'T all about them. Some of those children make it through kindergarten, even through high school and college. They enter the world of adulthood not knowing how to handle appropriately when things don't go their way. They have adult temper tantrums, hold family and friends emotionally hostage, and manipulate to get their way. We all know them and if we look carefully, sometimes we are them.
Again working backward and knowing what kind of adult we want our child to be someday (one who can accept being told "no", can handle conflicts with integrity, and can extend forgiveness when offended) let's break this down.
1. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. I have worked with many stay at home moms who were struggling with the fact that their toddler was demanding and was already showing signs of entitlement. Upon further observation I noted a couple of commonalities that seem to be present in all situations. Anytime the child asked for anything the mom sprung into action, all family activities revolved around junior's play dates/activities, and there was a sense that each mom would convey in some way or another that their "job" was to accommodate the children. (In my limited experience with working with families, and in the spirit of full disclosure, most stay at home parents I worked with were moms and the dads that participated in my therapy had no problem telling their children "no". However, I do acknowledge that I am painting with a broad brush here.) Once we discussed that a parent's true vocation with their children is to raise self-sufficient adults, a shift would begin to happen. Guilt was lifted and replaced with a sense of responsibility to teach said child to accept the word "no". After all, I would argue, are they not going to hear that word for the rest of their lives? Why not teach them to accept it now when we are talking about snacks and other relatively simple things. I would have parents who struggled with telling their child "no" start off each day reciting the following: "just because I can, doesn't mean I should". The next step is to actively create situations where they have to tell their child "no" and be ready for backlash. When parents are ready for hearing the backlash and can respond with loving kindness, yet being unyielding, a child will learn to accept being told "no".
2. Show them how to resolve conflict well and/or agree to disagree. This is one of those areas where what we say doesn't mean as much as how we act. Our children watch us everyday. How we handle ourselves when we are tired or sick. What we do to get out of a ticket or avoid talking to someone on the phone. And that is especially true for how we act when things don't go our way when another person doesn't do what we want or agree with our opinion. Unfortunately, there is no getting out of acting one way when we don't get what we want and telling them to do differently. Even the youngest of children pick up on that quickly. I have often advised parents to not shelter their children from arguments. Children need to see how conflict is handled and more importantly, how it is resolved. As long as the adults "fight fair" and make up in front of their children, there is potential for learning a great social skill necessary to have successful relationships. "Fighting fair," means no loud voices (elevated ok, eliciting fear, not ok), no name calling, and absolutely no physical intimidation of any kind. And for my typically "hilarious to be around" parents because they have an awesome quick wit and sense of sarcasm, I have respectfully asked them to shelve that until their kids are older and can distinguish that kind of humor and not take to heart the words being said. So this one is simple, how you want your child to resolve conflict as an adult will be evidenced by what you role model for them as the adult. If you want them to talk it out and listen respectfully to the other person as they convey their position and then actively hear what is being said and repeat it back, then do that in front of them. If you want to get everything out in the open and state your positions and then come back around later when emotions have calmed down, then show them all of that. I'm sure we can all bring to memory a time when our own parents or caregivers didn't fight fair or resolve conflict reasonably. We all know how that stays with us into adulthood. Let that motivate all of us to do better in this area.
3. Teach them how to forgive when they are offended. Letting go (of bad feelings) when someone offends you is one of the biggest grown up characteristics there is. Forgiving others is often simple, but not easy. As parents, we have an opportunity to teach this concept to our children early on. It starts when another child (often younger then ours) takes something and runs off. If we don't have the opportunity to help that other child restore what they have done, we are left with a confused and possibly angry child. Teaching our children that sometimes things aren't "fair" will help them accept when others disappoint or hurt them. Because truth be told, life isn't fair! Sometimes people hurt us and don't even realize their insensitivity. Sometimes we are that person. Bridging that gap of when we are offended and when offend others helps our children see that we all make mistakes. We forgive others just like we would want others to forgive us. (This is another variation of The Golden Rule; treat others how you would like to be treated.) As we get older the offenses may become more hurtful and sometimes are even intentional. Knowing that it is even possible to move beyond the painful feelings of being hurt is very important as many times it is family or someone we know that does the hurting. If we cut off every person who hurt us at one point or another, we would be alone. That would save us from future hurt for sure, but that would be no way to live! Learning how to move past the hurt is critical for maintaining all kinds of relationships. Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel did a sermon series called Have the Funeral that spoke specifically about forgiveness. Three main concepts were presented to move beyond being hurt: Don't bring the offense up to other people, don't bring the offense up to the person who offended you, and don't bring up the offense to yourself. Bringing the offense up often only keeps it alive and the wound open. Helping our children understand this will give them some practical advice to moving on. Also noteworthy, is that this is yet another area where our children watch what we do when we are (inevitably) hurt by others. Do we talk about the infraction incessantly to others? Do we act one way in front of the person who hurt us and then talk about them differently in their absence? Or do we extend grace and let the little things go? Or if it was a big thing, do they see us resolving that conflict in an appropriate way? Again, there's no getting out of our children learning best what they see us practice.
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What does the Bible say about resolving conflict?
What does the Bible say about forgiveness?