One of the best places to observe family dynamics is on an airplane about to take off. You will probably see an assortment of kids of all ages, their behaviors in response to the tight spaces, fear of flying, surrounded by strangers, and the general foreignness of the setting. You’ll also see parents doing their best to handle it all; sometimes skillfully, but often just allowing or enabling the child to misbehave, making the rest of the passengers cringe. Lots of us are to blame for contributing to this kind of misbehavior in our kids. Here are some things to think about for parents who create opportunities for their kids to behave like terrors.
You can’t make them happy everywhere.
Life isn’t the Magic Kingdom. In fact, it can be really tough at times. What better way to confuse your kids than to try and make everything perfect all the time? Rather, give some thought to occasionally letting them experience life as it is. Yes, we all want Christmas and birthdays to be fairy tale experiences, but if you aren’t careful in how you handle regular days, they will feel that there are no days but good ones. When they then experience a bad one, they act out.
Try and let them deal with the ups and downs of days as they come. From this, they learn that feelings get hurt and that things can get better, they can heal, and that a fall doesn’t necessarily have to be the death of you or your plans. Strength of character is important! It doesn’t come from endless strings of Magic Kingdom days. They will thank you when they become adults.
Through your actions,
your child will learn that authority is to be respected,
and while it may be okay to question authority,
it isn’t necessarily okay to challenge it.
Letting them complain constantly about authority.
With two kids of my own, I really do understand. You are a parent, an uncle, a grandparent, or the “someone else” in charge of a child’s safety. When your little charge comes to you bitching about their teacher or some other figure of authority, and you morph into your “knight in shining armor” persona, you are not doing them a favor. Instead, try and listen objectively to the whole story. That way, the child has the opportunity to know you care by being heard, and yet will learn that his problems are there for him or her to deal with, at least in the beginning. During the process, listen objectively, and give you and your child time to learn how they feel about what has happened. Then, fully armed with the details, you can do your guardian thing. Through your actions, your child will learn that authority is to be respected, and while it may be okay to question authority, it isn’t necessarily okay to challenge it.
Manage your temper when they have tantrums.
A child’s tantrum can be bad enough, but if while admonishing your child, if your temper gets away from you, you really are on the path to pandemonium. Oh, and by the way, your bad behavior reinforces theirs! Keep your cool; you are the adult. Explain why they are being chastised and let them know what your expectations are moving forward. Failing to do that almost ensures that they will keep acting out if only for the small perverse pleasure of seeing you get upset. Remember, for some seeing you in that same situation over and over again can be a goal, an accomplishment.
Rewards in life are given for accomplishments,
not for daily performance.
Stop rewarding EVERYTHING.
Kids like routines as much as you do and they get used to them. Getting up at a certain time, having breakfast, playing with their game-boy and watching TV. If they refuse to, say, eat breakfast and you reward them, then I promise you soon they will be refusing to eat breakfast without that reward. Refuse to satisfy their desire for the reward, and they will act out. Rewards in life are given for accomplishments, not for daily performance. If you do give them a reward, be sure to explain that you are doing it this time and this time alone, expecting them to do the same task next time without the reward.
Don’t offer TOO much help.
In everyday life, there are situations where there is no one else to depend on but ourselves. The earlier we teach that lesson to our children, the better. They really can fill up their own glass, cut their own food, and play for a while alone because that translates into the real world they will face later in life.
Offering too much help, when taken to an extreme (as is so common today), may breed lazy kids that turn into lazy adults lacking drive, determination, and grit. Turning on the TV, putting paste on the toothbrush, are things that they can do. You want them to do them, otherwise you are creating a reason to act out.
No one wins all the time.
You won’t be with them all the time. You can’t be. If you always make it your job to ensure that they take the winning spot, they soon begin to think that the world works that way. They get out with their friends and experience losing. If they have never experienced it before under your supervision, then they have no way to know how to behave, and you know the rest—they act out.
In the real world, there is always first place, second, third, and so on. Being second best isn’t always a bad thing. A person can learn a great deal from not winning. Teach them that it can breed resilience and hard work, if only to achieve that first place spot.
Conflicts can’t all be avoided.
If you want to really mess up your kids, then shield them from confrontations and conflict too often. Providing guidance, but ultimately letting them deal with their own small conflicts and confrontations teaches them to become self-aware and aware of the feelings of their peers. Fair play, treating other humans as equals, and offering care and compassion to their friends, is something that your kids need to learn. It will stay with them into adulthood.
Children can be tough, and a lot of work is necessary to guide them as they learn their way in the world. As their parent, you can make it easier. Try and remain mindful of the simple things our actions teach them. If you do that and keep in mind some of the things I mentioned, you can help stave off future misconduct, helping them turn out to be good kids, and later, good adults ready for the real world.
SEE A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.