Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Have you ever watched children struggle, with fierce tenacity, to learn to tie their shoes or ride a bike-showing “I can do this myself.” It’s amazing and frustrating to watch. Most of us would rather just do it for them. It’s easier, faster and we adults will do it right.
Then there’s the opposite; children who cry, whine, withdraw from things and, in general, display the attitude “I know I’ll fail, so I won’t try” and those who have adapted an “I don’t care” attitude are all headed for failure. The contrast between the two kinds of behaviors is mind boggling. Most parents would prefer the child in the first example.
Some children become so discouraged they simply give up. Rather than compete with other kids, they “check Out” at school and at home. Rather than disappoint themselves and the adults in their lives, they build a wall of silence.
This is the forth mistaken goal of misbehavior children acquire in their struggle to belong. All children want love and acceptance. They want to fit in and to stand out. If they believe they are unable to accomplish this, they may give up and isolate themselves from others. By withdrawing, they are seeking emotional protection while avoiding failure and rejection.
Two themes in parenting must be considered in working with these children; Parents who expect too little and parents who expect too much.
Parents who expect too little or overprotect don’t push their children to do their best, don’t encourage them to take reasonable chances, or do what is required of them especially if it’s difficult. Parents who overprotect, expect too little of children, and do for them what they can logically do for themselves are giving the underlying message that the child is incapable, dumb, helpless and innately fragile.
The other side of the coin is when parents expect more than their children are developmentally capable. A body of research found this occurs frequently in America. Parents overestimate children’s abilities for self control, to stay on task, to persevere, to be consistent, to get along socially. Too, research shows that when parents have expectations beyond children’s abilities, they judge and punish their children according to their expectations.
When parents expectations go beyond their child’s abilities, it’s discouraging and produces an unnecessary sense of failure. It natural for a 2 year olds to get upset when they don’t get what they want and it’s too much to expect them to clean their rooms. But she or he can help. Three year get upset with change in the routine. Four year olds demand to be the center of attention. Six year olds are self conscious and rarely show consistent focus. These are developmentally appropriate behaviors. Teaching about appropriate reaction rather than punishment is more productive.
If parents look closely at the crying, whining, giving up and emotionally isolating child, there is likely to be a thread of hostility. Dependency produces hostility. Deep down, children desperately want to achieve success. They are competitive, ambitious, and yes, afraid.
They desperately want to achieve and succeed. They have, however, created (or accepted unrealistic standards imposed by others) unreasonable goals for themselves that they can't possibly accomplish. And they're afraid to take risks and try, because others might discover just how inadequate they are. It's easier just to check out. Does this sound familiar?
What’s a parent to do?
1. Encouragement is the key to effective parenting. Encouragement is quite different from praise however and parents would be wise to learn the distinction. Praise focuses on the child (You are a good kid) while encouragement focuses on the behavior (You sure worked hard on that science project). Encouragement focuses on the effort rather than the results. Encouragement addresses the child’s experience but praise addresses the adult’s feelings.
2. Have clear family rules that all must follow. Make sure the rules are clear and the child understands them. Be consistent. It makes children feel safe. Mixed messages cause further anxiety and internal stress. Use clear, concise language. You can’t Do a Don’t so it’s important to state what you want them to do rather than what you don’t want them to do. Say, “Carry this with both hands”, rather than, “Don’t drop this”. In other words, instructions work better that criticism.
3. Give responsibility without babying the child. I need your help with this. Then pay attention to the effort, not just the result. “You sure worked hard on that. Thanks.
4. Express trust in the child’s abilities. "I know you can do this. You do a great job." The child needs to understand that everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect. Say. "Lots of kids make that mistake, that's normal. You are so good at trying your best, I know you can get it. Here, I'll show you a little trick."
5. Avoid discouraging remarks such as, “Oh, just give it to me, I’ll do it for you” or “Hurry up!” Try to create a life that is less hectic so there it time for training.
With a consistent, clear message, children will rise to the expectation and be happier in the process.
When children and encouraged to try new things and persist with things they have not quite mastered. gain confidence in themselves and will learn to work until they succeed. Sometimes, it takes showing the child step by step what needs to be done, other times, it takes words of encouragement. No matter what the situation is, to encourage a child, you have to focus on the positive things.
When we encourage our children, we are showing them if they stay with it, their goals are within reach. In essence, we are helping to set a positive pattern for the rest of their lives.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. March 26, 2013