So much of any child’s behavior can make parents angry, such as when belongings are broken when errant balls fly through the house, or cell phones or keys are deposited in the toilet. While it is totally understandable that adults are perturbed by these things, we have to TRY to take a step back and remember when we were the same age as the little perpetrator. How frightening was it to when you made your Mommy or Daddy really mad?
If we, as parents, could all take a giant step back before we punish our children, and assess the situation, things might go a bit more smoothly. I call it “compassion-based parenting.” It simply means that when we decide how to dole out the discipline, we think first of the child’s emotional welfare. We take into account the situation, the child’s age and maturity level, and the actual damages from the act that was committed. Was it a mistake, or an act of defiance? The former calls for explanations and mercy, while the latter necessitates a slightly different response. Knee-jerk reactions to any behaviors are seldom helpful.
To a young child, not only are parents like giants towering above them, they are also the main providers of love, food, toys, and the readers of stories. Children are dependent on us for everything, and the younger they are, the more complete their dependence. They fear what they will lose when they make Mom or Dad (or eek!—both parents) angry at once! Imagine a giant standing over you, about to come down on you with a vengeance for some misdeed! Wouldn’t that make you tremble?
Raising children has a bottom line (pun intended) and this is it: Do you want your kids to fear you, in order to instill good behavior in them? Or, do you want them to love and respect you, and to guide their behavior through teaching right and wrong? Only you can decide this. Fear-based authoritarian parenting breeds deception (children will lie in the attempt to feel safer) and secretive behavior will abound. Compassion-based parenting enables children to feel safe enough to make a mistake, and to come to you to help them fix the problem. The latter option may seem to permissive, but it doesn’t mean withholding consequences and discipline—it just adds in a dose of mercy with it, and keeps the child’s emotional welfare in clear focus.
How many of our children’s behaviors are simply mistakes, and not defiant behavior? Would it change your response to your kid’s undesirable behavior, if you knew whatever he/she did was an error in judgment, based on inexperience, or the result of pretending that got carried away? For me, it would change the entire situation. I can’t look at any child and decide it is better for him to be hit because I’m angry, than to teach him what he did wrong, and coach him on better courses of action should the situation arise again.
Even if your child committed an act of defiance (if you are a parent who spanks), can you step back for a moment first, and think about what your child may be trying to tell you with that defiance? I learned in a parenting class that when a child is punished physically, or in an otherwise harsh manner, the child feeling the unfairness, is likely to think of revenge. This can accelerate a vicious cycle of punishments and acts of revenge. It does not engender any kind of mutual trust, nor is it conducive to a cooperative relationship.
I know how easy it is to act before thinking it all through, because I was angered by the behavior. I’m not saying this is easy, but it is definitely worth the time to take a step back, to create an atmosphere of trust and honesty with your children. Taking the time now while they are young to adjust your course, will make an enormous difference when they are adolescents.