I know how you feel. I know that creeping doubt in your mind that eats at you, asking whether the things you do to your child will harm him in some way.
There is so much information out there about child-rearing but honestly, it misses the mark. Somewhere there MUST be some true information that will explain what is happening in the parent/child relationship that will help it all make sense.
There are some basic misunderstandings that parents have and once you clear them up, you will have a better understanding of your child. And it is understanding that makes relationships work.
1. Realize who your child is.
Have you heard this quote? “You are a ghost driving a meat covered skeleton made from stardust. What do you have to be scared of?”
I don’t know who said it. It is a big mystery but it has been circulating wildly around the internet and it resonates with people because there is truth to the statement.
Somewhere along the way, the idea surfaced that we are all animals, born from meat and bones and basically just meat-bags rolling around doing what animalistic meat-bags do. This is a relatively new and highly degrading viewpoint that leads to confusion in human relations.
This explanation simply doesn’t fly. If it did, the methods that we have been sold to help us understand and handle our children correctly would work and they don’t. Methods only work when your basic information is correct.
In the beginning, your child is someone who has recently woken up in a brand new, tiny body not knowing anything about this body and how it works. His first days and weeks are spent trying to figure out, where he is, what is happening, what his body is, and what does he have to do to make it work?
The following weeks are spent figuring out which muscles allow him to raise his head, move his fingers and what groups of muscles he must use to turn over and do a million other combinations of movements that will move his body the way he wants it to move.
He has no way of communicating other than crying, so he cannot communicate effectively with you or anyone else. This is a huge source of frustration for him.
As he grows, he must learn the laws of the physical universe such as gravity. He has no idea that when he lets go of his balloon string, it will fly away. He struggles to make sense of this because he let go of his apple last week and it fell down. All he had to do was pick it up again.
Why does the balloon fly away when the apple doesn’t?
Everything he does in the physical universe is subject to these laws and they seem to contradict each other at times. Additionally, once he gets used to his body being a certain size, it changes and he has to figure it out all over again. This continues until he is grown.
On top of that, at a certain age, his body starts going overboard manufacturing hormones which greatly affect his emotions. Suddenly he seems to have no control over them and thinks he is going crazy. It is a very confusing time.
Children are not small animals. They are more aware than any science has ever taught us. The calculations they must make to get used to the body, hold a knife and fork and use their mouths to form words are staggering. Yet somehow they figure it out and get themselves up and moving.
2. Understand that your child is bombarded with way too much information every day.
From learning how things work, to acquiring a language, to understanding how people interact, your child has so much random information thrown at him every day that sometimes it is too much.
When I was in my teens I lived in Belgium and I was enrolled in a French school where no English was spoken. Every day, I did my best to keep up and every night I went to bed with my head swimming with French phrases and school subjects that I now had to learn in another language.
Additionally, the culture was different. I was mortified every time I did something socially incorrect. It was one of the most difficult times in my life. I had melt downs, but I had them in private.
Children don’t do that. Sometimes they have their melt downs in the middle of the grocery store. Understand where that frustration comes from and be patient and loving when your child has had enough.
3. Create areas of agreement with your child.
The creation of areas of agreement by communicating with your child is a very profitable tool in the creation of a good relationship that lasts a lifetime.
This entails listening to your child when he talks to you about things that are important to him. It doesn’t matter whether you feel his ideas are important to you or not. If you make him feel that his interests are stupid, petty or not worth noticing, you are creating areas of disagreement and creating an upset child.
Let him talk to you about his video games and his friends. Let your daughter talk to you about her favorite stories. If you do this and take a real interest in what they are talking to you about, you create bonds.
4. Do not talk to your child in a way you would not talk to an adult.
Children are adults in training. They are little interns in the subject of life, learning what they need to know to get by. Despite what some “experts” may tell you, they are not born stupid or bad. They are really trying their best every day to make you proud.
If you comment in a positive way about the things they do, you will see that they start to do them more and more. Kids and even adults will do more of what they are complimented on. If you ignore most bad behavior and compliment good behavior, you will get more good behavior.
If an adult were communicated to in the way many children are communicated to, he or she would be furious and rightfully so! Children do not like being treated poorly any more than adults, and if you want a good bond with your child you will not insult or belittle him.
Listen to yourself and see if your words would be offensive if someone else were saying them to you. If so, choose different words.
5. Do not take your child on errands when he is tired or hungry.
If you do this you are begging for a melt down.
Do you remember the last time you were in a grocery store, tired and hungry? Were you frustrated? If you had the chance to grab something off the shelf and eat it right then, would you have? Honestly, I have almost done so in the cookie aisle a few times.
That brings me to my next point, feed yourself before you go! Don’t go around tired and hungry. You need to keep your spirits up when raising a child. Take good care of yourself so that you have energy and patience to give to your child.
6. Teach your child compassion by being compassionate.
Compassion is simply being willing to take another’s viewpoint when he or she is suffering. If your child is upset, there is a reason. He is tired, hungry, suffered a loss or had an upset somewhere along the line. To him, these are terrible things.
He needs someone to hold him and agree that whatever occurred to him was ‘sucky.’ This agreement alone will make him feel better. Don’t point out what he did wrong or tell him what he should have done differently, just agree that it sucked. That is all it takes.
Children who are treated with love and patience tend to be more compassionate than those who have been pulled and hauled around, yelled at, and belittled.
7. Teach your child to be compassionate to pets and all life forms.
Let him know that animals have feelings and emotions and need love and care. He needs to understand that as a person, he has a duty to ensure that all living beings are cared for.
Let him see you help other people and say nice things about the people around you when your child is present. Indicate that people are mostly good and say nice things about them making them more real to your child. He will grow up with the idea that he is one of them.
If you say bad things about your neighbors, you give him the idea that he is different and they are inferior. This idea will hold him back in life and cause confusion in his mind about how to deal with others.
8. Don’t pass your issues to your child.
I once knew a woman who had an eating disorder and badgered her daughter so much that her daughter almost became anorexic. Understand that your demons are your demons and do not pass them along to your child.
Manage your stress so that you don’t explode in anger around him. Take care of yourself so that you can care for him happily and without strain.
9. Never say or do anything that would make your child think that he is stupid.
When a child hears that he is stupid over and over again from a parent, sooner or later he will agree. When that happens, you have ruined him. Nothing is more crippling to a child than his own belief that he is stupid or cannot learn.
10. Understand when your child owns something, it is his to direct or control as he sees fit.
If you give your child something or if he earns it, understand that it is now his to do with as he pleases. I know there is a big deal about “sharing” in this society, but consider this concept. How would you feel if you recently purchased a nice new car and your boss forced you to “share it” with your co-workers. Or what if you bought a new pair of shoes that you love and you find your sister wearing them. When you protested, everyone told you that you were bad because you didn’t know how to share? Would you be upset?
Where did this idea come from? If you have something, it is yours. You can let someone use it if you want to but it is up to you. Why do we force our children to share their things? How could we think that this concept would be ok with them when we would be upset if it were forced on us?
11. Defend your child.
Never take others’ words when they criticize your child. People say things to cover themselves; and it is easier to blame a child than to take the heat when they mess up.
As an example, when my son was four years old, he was waiting outside of the classroom for his daycare provider who was late. The school secretary told all kids to get on the bus without checking to see if my son should have even been on that bus. My son did as he was told. At the end of the line, the bus driver told him to get out. No one was there to pick him up and he was left at a bus stop miles away from school in a sketchy part of town until another mother saw him and brought him back to school.
For over half an hour I had no idea where he was. I was sure he was gone. When I confronted school officials and the daycare provider about this huge blunder that almost cost me my child, they had the gall to blame my four-year-old son. They told me he should have known that he wasn’t supposed to be on that bus.
I learned the school had lost another kid the week before, nobody was upset, and in the end he was found. In the end, I was told that my son needed to work on his “refusal skills.”
Of all of the school officials and people who should have taken responsibility, the kindergarten teacher called me to apologize. The rest blamed my four-year-old son. Obviously this is an abomination but the attitude of complete abdication of responsibility is epidemic in every public school I have come into contact with.
Your child is the most precious thing you will ever have. He is an adult in a small and unfamiliar body forced into a universe that is completely new to him. He is not stupid. He has feelings and ideas from day one. He remembers things and he can be affected by negative behavior from the moment he is born.
And he places his absolute trust and love in YOU. Keep these things in mind as you interact with him. Knowing and recognizing your child for who he is, is the missing step in fully understanding him and raising him in a way that will be healthy and happy for you both.