Friday, October 1, 2010

Respect, Gratitude And The Well-Behaved Child

Betsy Brown Braun began her lecture at Center For Early Education Thursday night by talking about her fears for our children and the world they live in; she focused, in part, on how we rush our children to grow up and yet infantilize them by not letting them do things for themselves or make their own choices; she cautioned parents against "preparing the path for the child, as opposed to preparing the child for the path". Betsy also touched upon the fact that as parents we all want our children to be "happy". However, happiness and self esteem aren't gained by having parents who simply pave the way for a child to get into "the best" preschool so that they will get into "the best" elementary school and so on leading to an imagined vision of a happy life. Instead, Betsy suggests that parents strive to raise children who are satisfied and self-actualized, and that self-esteem is actually gained through struggle.

The title of Betsy Brown Braun's latest book is "You're Not The Boss Of Me: Brat-Proofing your 4- to 12-Year Old Child". I was happy to hear her start off by saying that, in general, she doesn't really like the term "brat"; but Betsy is smart about getting her message out there and knows that this is a catchy phrase and more people will buy her book with a title like that. She asked the crowd their definition of a brat and the usual words were called out: rude, disrespectful, back talker etc. Betsy then pointed out that what we generally refer to as a brat is a child who doesn't do what we what them to do, in the way we want them to do it, when we want them to do it. This definition was eyeopening for me as I realize I often spend a lot of effort trying to control my children as opposed to teaching them. So, even if the word "brat" turns you off, Betsy really does have some very smart, helpful things to share about raising resilient, satisfied, respectful children.

Listening to our daughter talk about her feelings
Let's begin with her discussion on Connectedness.
Children want to please their parents and have their parents be proud of them. In order for a child to want to work with you he needs to feel significant and as though he makes a difference. When a child feels connected and close to you, her instinct to please you is activated. Thus, I try to keep the Johnnie Cochran-like phrase "Connect Before You Re-Direct" as a mantra in my head when the kids are making me insane. So how does Betsy Brown Braun suggest you encourage connectedness?
  • Spend time together
  • Spend time with your child and do what he likes to do, get into his world
  • Meals together NOT reading the paper
  • Have conversations; not just telling your child things, really listening and having a back and forth dialogue
  • Remember that when a child talks to you it is a gift
  • Treat your children with respect
  • Talk to your children as you would want them to talk to you
  • Be a container for your child's feelings
  • Don't take it personally when your children act out
  • Subscribe to "The Drip Method" of parenting. That is, don't expect your children to feel instantly connected to you if you never make time for them but suddenly take them for a weekend to Disneyland. Instead, consistent "deposits" of time together (no matter how small) will deepen your connection.
Well-behaved children sense that they belong and are part of a team. They feel significant and loved but have to be accountable, take responsibility for their choices and don't see themselves as the only one in the universe (or, as my friend Sharon says: "you want him to be the SON, not the SUN"). All of this leads to children who tolerate disappointment, tolerate frustration and can delay gratification. Remember that when there are "lousy local conditions" (as Betsy likes to call things like a missed nap or an over-stimulating atmosphere) you can't expect a child to be at his or her best. 

Our son, being responsible for a younger friend
Responsibility is another key factor in well-behaved children. 
Responsibility cultivated at the earliest ages leads to responsible children, young adults and so forth. Allowing your children to understand the connection between their actions and the resulting consequences is key. Children need a sense of importance within the family; that is, the child needs to feel that they are genuinely needed and valued for the smooth running of the whole family. The best way to encourage responsibility is to model it yourself:
  • Keep your promises
  • Follow through on commitments (not just with your children, but let them see you following through in your life as well) and insist that your child do the same
  • Obey rules, make good choices etc.
  • Never do for your child what she can do for herself (ie: don't answer for her when an adult is speaking to your child etc.)
  • Allow your children to experience the consequences of making a poor choice
  • Look for ways for them to be responsible (ie: let them order their own food in a restaurant, picking groceries off the shelves in the market etc.)
  • Look for opportunities to feel needed outside of your home as well (helping a neighbor or a local charity)
  • Model responsibility in the world
  • Give your child personal responsibilities and chores
The next quality that Betsy discussed was Gratitude.
This can be a tricky one as, for some people, it is seen as a moral value and for others a character trait. However you view it, gratitude must be cultivated. Most importantly, we must remember that gratitude is an emotion that is dependent on empathy which requires a certain level of developmental readiness to achieve. Although toddlers are unable to put themselves in someone else's shoes, it is still good to be in the habit of modeling this behavior so they begin to grasp it as they age. You can't teach a child to feel, but you can sow the seeds of gratitude.

An important factor in developing gratitude is longing. Most of our children have not had enough experience in "not getting" so they are not able to see the big picture when it comes to being grateful. And usually, when we are "not giving" to our children there is an anger component involved ("Well, now you are NOT getting that new pair of shoes because you hit your sister!") but this isn't teaching a child about longing. Gratitude grows in proportion to the time and effort spent getting something your child wants. As Thomas Paine once said: "That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly". I still remember the very first thing I ever bought with my own money as a child. Something my mother thought was frivolous and expensive ($20!), but when I finally was able to save my allowance and buy this thing (one of the first hand-held video games....yes, I'm that old) I really treasured it. And yes, I was grateful to have it. And how, according to Betsy Brown Braun, do we nurture a child's gratitude?
  • Allow your children to long for something; this leads to appreciation and respect
  • Consider giving less (especially as the holiday season draws near)
  • Don't be so quick to replace something broken
  • Remember that it is OK to say "when you're older"
  • Remember that when feelings of gratitude and expressions of gratitude intersect that is real gratitude
  • model real gratitude and appreciation of others
  • Enthusiastically accept gratitude expressed by your child
  • Don't demand thanks, but model and appreciate it when it comes
  • Teach your child about writing thank you notes; even if they are too young to write, have them scribble, paint, draw something and talk about who it is for and why
And lastly, Respect.
Ah, respect. Who, as a parent, hasn't felt disrespected by their children? But respect, like gratitude, must also be cultivated, not taught. Keep in mind that it is not reasonable to expect very young children to respect Mommy and Daddy; they don't understand the idea. It's also hard for children to be respectful of those they feel most comfortable with; but if they don't treat others rudely, your children are "getting it". Additionally, fear doesn't create connectedness; scared children will follow the rules but they will not respect you. If you have preschoolers (or will soon) it is important to remember that children at that age are intoxicated by their own power and what their effect on the world is. Thus, practicing autonomy, expressing their will and, essentially, practicing disrespect is how children learn. Here are Betsy's tips on developing your children's ability to be respectful:
  • Use the words "respect" or "respectful" a lot, this gives them the framework to understand it
  • Teach your children about respecting themselves and their bodies
  • If children feel they can fully express themselves at home there is no need to be disrespectful
  • Treat your child with respect as, like with sleep, respect begets respect
  • Catch your children being respectful and acknowledge it
  • Use examples of disrespect (comment on what you see, read etc.)
  • Modulate your own reactions and keep in mind that big feelings, lack of impulse control and lousy local conditions can all lead to lack of respect
  • Use a phrase like "I know you're X (really angry, really frustrated, really anxious etc.), but I know you can find a better way to tell me that"
  • Offer a do-over or a re-wind to say things in a nicer way (use this for yourself too if you lose your temper)
  • Sharing feelings is never disrespectful. "I hate you" is not disrespectful. "You are a poopy head" is.
  • Speak to the behavior, not the child: "When you call me names I don't want to be with you"
  • Cultivate "the look" (a silent, pointed "look" that lets the child know you are very disappointed with their behavior) then walk away. Just remember to re-visit when everyone is cooled off. Communication is vital [note: although I probably have my own version of "the look", it's not something I'm proud of. With all due respect to Betsy, I would suggest telling your children that you are getting too frustrated/angry/worked up and that you need to cool down. Then return when you are able and continue to communicate].
  • When kids are treating you with disrespect they are actually feeling badly about themselves; it is your job to dig around and discover the root cause
It's only been one day since this lecture and I already noticed the shift in my parenting today; I paid closer attention when they wanted to talk, I was more aware of behaving respectfully to them and, frankly, I enjoyed them a lot more today. I bought a copy of Betsy's book; when I finish it I will let you know my thoughts. She's speaking again at The Willows Community School on October 14th; I think it would be very much worth your while to check her out. 

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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2 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Steven Brogden said...

Gina, another great post. I started a file with all of the "keepers" you've written so I can refer back to them when my kids are older--but I think it'd just be easier to archive your blog somehow... Keep up the awesome work!

Anonymous said...

Very well said, it's much easier to understand their behavior now.

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