Before becoming a parent, and then a single parent, I was a pediatric nurse and then a pediatric nurse practitioner. I spent years in child psychology classes, learning parenting skills and failing miserably at understanding the Freud, Jung, Adler and Erikson theories of child development.
I just couldn’t remember who believed what about how the brain developed. BUT I did remember Freud’s bizarre ideas about boys and their mothers. That’s a whole other conversation!
Only after I had my own precious four did I come to a great realization of child development, parenting skills and the resulting child behaviors. Two of the greatest things I learned after years of marriage counseling and counseling for the children after the divorce, was:
All Kids Are Different and They Have to Understand the Rules
My first two children are boy-girl twins. And they couldn’t be any more different if I had planned it that way!
When they were born I was still grappling with the ideas of nature or nurture. Did a child’s personality and outcome depend upon what they were born with or how they were nurtured?
So I set about my own experiment at home. The twins were nurtured the same. They had the same toys, played, slept and ate at the same time. They got the same punishments and enjoyed the same benefits.
All Kids are Different
It wasn’t long before you could see a heart of gold in my young boy and a backbone of steel in the little girl. She knew her mind and there was no giving in. He would give anyone the toys in his hand and the ones in his box.
Her toys were hers and no one else’s!
When they were growing up, if he got money for his birthday, he asked to be taken out to buy his sister a toy. If the kids on the playground wanted to pick on her brother, she would have beaten them up if the teacher let her.
He had a hard time making up his mind and she knew what she wanted within seconds. He’s a talented mechanic (self-taught) and she’s a musician with the voice of an angel (mom talking). She has a quick temper and he is laid back. She takes special care with clothes and her hair, he loves sweats and a t-shirt. She was a focused student and he was happy just skating by.
The point being – they are different people. No matter how much I treated them the same, they turned out differently. The argument of nature vs. nurture can continue, but I’m convinced it’s a combination of both and not exclusively one or the other.
Which brings me to the second point . . .
Kids Have to Understand the Rules
Starting from a base that all children are different, will also mean they have a different understanding of the rules as well.
It might make sense to you that someone has to understand the rules before they can obey them, but if their understanding is slightly different from yours, it can distort the whole situation.
For instance, when I asked my daughter to clean her room she would pick up the clothes on the floor and fix the bed. Everything else remained the same. No matter how hard I tried to explain to her that this also meant she should pick up the clothing tags that had migrated under the bed, the gum wrappers near the garbage can or the bits of paper from her notebook that littered the floor, she just didn’t understand.
It was almost as if she didn’t see them.
But, when I picked them up, she noticed they were gone. They were, instead, a comfort to her. Those were her bits of garbage that made the room feel like home.
At that point I had a decision to make. How important was it that I disturb what she found comforting in order to have a room I found clean?
It wasn’t important, so I closed the door and called it even.
If kids are different but have to understand the rules in order to follow them, then wouldn’t it make sense to know what they are thinking?
This is the part where you balance your knowledge, expertise and desire against theirs.
The objective is that neither of your wins and neither loses – but you come to an agreement about what’s important and you both respect each other.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!
Respect has to be the basis for developing rules they can live with and you can enforce. Without respect for both the rules and for you, chaos rules.
Here are a few tips from psychologists and moms who have walked this road and found relief in the rules.
- Spend time thinking about what’s important in your family before determining what the rules will be. Too often we look at the minutia of life and forget the big picture. If your daughter keeps her room spotless, will it teach her to be a better person? Forgiving? Charitable? Persistent? Forceful? What do you want your children to learn before leaving home? Figure that out, and then work backwards.
- Think about the rules in light of what you are willing to enforce. If you can’t enforce the rules, then maybe you’re becoming a helicopter mom, hovering over all they do. As they grow you should be allowing them to make some of their own decisions so they can make the mistakes at home while you’re there to catch them as they fall.
- Use words and terms they understand. Think about how they are different from you and from each other before you try to explain what you expect. For instance, explaining how they can honor you will be different for a child of 5 and one of 15.
- Make gradual changes. Almost no one likes going cold turkey. It might be the best way to quit smoking or eating sugar, but it’s not easy. And, what isn’t easy for them will be more difficult for you. Remember, these are rules for the family and not just the children. If you expect them not to use curse words, then you’d better stop too. Children do what they see more often than what they’re told.
Many years ago my twins enjoyed Pop Tarts in the morning before school and gallons of ice cream throughout the week. That’s right – gallons with an “s.”
As I discovered better ways to take care of my own health, they were introduced to new ideas as well. First to go were the Pop Tarts! After weeks of crying, begging, moaning and negotiating they gave in and didn’t ask again. Many, many weeks later it was another treat or sweet they thought they couldn’t live without.
Gradually, over months, our diet changed and we began eating more real food and less processed foods. Today, they enjoy real food and steer clear of the ‘other stuff’ all on their own.
Life is a journey. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. Prepare for the marathon and set your goals accordingly.
All I ask for is a little respect!
~ Aretha Franklin