Sunday, April 1, 2012

Your Children Will Follow Your Example More Than Your Words

If you feel its OK to berate your child in public, I wonder
how much worse it must be for that child in private.

We spent the day yesterday with our kids at an all day event at one of the local Science Centers. There were bubbles, there were giant bouncy slides, there were robotic experiments...and there was a dad in line behind us who berated, bullied and shamed his son for a solid 45 minutes.

Every time the boy, who was perhaps 8, moved more than a foot away from where the father felt he should be, orders were barked. Don't touch that! Don't go there! Stand here! Stop doing that! You never listen! 

Father's face inches away from son's, father's teeth bared and clenched, angry words spit out. The boy finally couldn't hold it together anymore and weeping, went to hide behind a box nearby. 

I was holding my own son in my arms with this all unfolding right behind me. Tears began streaming down my face. Even writing about it now makes me cry. My son kissed away my tears and asked me why that man was talking that way. "Some people have a very hard time being patient" I said. What could I say?

Some people have no idea how to respect children? Some people think that an obedient child is more important than a happy one? Some people can't let go of what they think is "right" long enough to be in the moment and see what is needed? Some people expect children to be able to do things they are not developmentally capable of?

No, I couldn't tell him that. Instead, I cried and searched for the words to reach this man. It wasn't that I felt he was dangerous or that stepping in would make things worse for the boy. It was just that I didn't even know where to begin. How could I make him understand? 

I kind of wish I had this printed out
so I could have handed it to this father.
I started by offering to watch his daughter so that he could go speak to his son behind the box. "Thank you. That's very nice of you. But he needs to learn" was the response I got. He needs to learn?  Your son is hiding behind a box in the corner! What, exactly, is he learning, dad?

Is he learning that you don't understand him for one minute? Is he learning that what he wants doesn't matter if you don't agree with it? Is he learning that you won't be there when he's deeply upset? Is he learning that he'd better do as you say or you will withdraw your love from him? Is he learning that you care more about how he behaves than how he feels?

I tried again. I forced a smile and said "Sometimes I find that the more I fight with them, the less they do what I want". He laughed, "I know. Sometimes I hear myself and say Ahhh! I sound just like my father!" He paused for just a moment, as if connecting to that. But almost instantly pushed it away with "But sometimes he was right". 

Maybe, I thought. But I'll bet he was wrong a lot as well.

I haven't stopped thinking about that boy with the tears running down his freckled face. I haven't stopped thinking about his little sister who seemed to be trying to ignore the whole situation so as not to get involved. I haven't stopped thinking about that man and what it must have been like for him as a child.
"Children don't learn right from wrong by being punished, any more than they learn red from blue by being punished. Kids learn by us showing them red--and showing them kindness, responsibility, generosity, honesty, compassion, and all the other things we want them to learn, in action." ~ Dr. Laura Markham
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