Psy­chol­ogy

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • DR. BATYA L. LUDMAN

Leah en­tered Grandpa’s liv­ing room to dis­cover her seven-year-old son and his cousin stomp­ing in dirt from a plant they had ac­ci­den­tally knocked over while chas­ing each other. Fu­ri­ous at the mess, Leah yelled at the boys, spanked her son and was up­set that the chil­dren had con­tin­ued to play, seem­ingly un­aware that what they were do­ing was wrong.

Sarah was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned and an­gry. Her eight-year-old daugh­ter should have been home al­ready from school. They were def­i­nitely go­ing to be late for her chug. She fi­nally walked in, not apolo­getic about be­ing late, cradling her lunch box in which she had lov­ingly placed a snail that she found on the road.

These sto­ries re­flect typ­i­cal parental com­plaints. When a child does some­thing “ter­ri­ble” in his or her par­ents’ eyes, the par­ents are an­gry, ex­as­per­ated and may yell or hit their child. Of­ten up­set, af­ter­ward they won­der what their chil­dren were think­ing, how they could have been so thought­less and dis­re­spect­ful, and what they as par­ents could do about it.

Smil­ing at these sto­ries, I’m un­per­turbed by these typ­i­cal chil­dren and won­der how I can have the par­ents see their lit­tle crim­i­nals and their crimes dif­fer­ently.

When our old­est child was three years old, he and his friend were hav­ing a play date while his mom and I were nurs­ing our new­born ba­bies in a nearby room. Hear­ing gig­gles, we were de­lighted that the boys were play­ing so well to­gether. Af­ter 30 min­utes, the other mom went in to of­fer the boys a snack, only to dis­cover the chil­dren joy­fully smear­ing petroleum jelly all over a piece of an­tique fur­ni­ture.

What young child doesn’t en­joy step­ping on leaves, or into pud­dles? Through a child’s eyes, a snail, a new game or a jar of goop are all amaz­ing. We bor­ing, stressed, in­flex­i­ble adults no longer see the world through those eyes, as we’re in a hurry, rush­ing to get some­where and don’t share their sense of won­der­ment. A leisurely walk with a child can be a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence. Chil­dren un­en­cum­bered by adult norms ask great ques­tions. In the ex­am­ples above, the chil­dren’s be­hav­ior was com­pletely age ap­pro­pri­ate. Adults of­ten fail to see or en­joy their cre­ativ­ity, imag­i­na­tion and joy. Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult for adults when chil­dren be­have like chil­dren (and all the more so when adults be­have like chil­dren). Even with close su­per­vi­sion, cu­ri­ous, sweet chil­dren none­the­less get into trou­ble. If it’s okay to mark on a small piece of pa­per, why wouldn’t it be okay to color on a wall, which has in­fin­itely more space?

HERE ARE a few thoughts to help you get through those tough days.

1. Ap­pre­ci­ate your child’s cre­ativ­ity by try­ing to see the world through their eyes. Chil­dren aren’t al­ways at­ten­tive to adult con­cerns, such as the in­tegrity of prop­erty, time, safety, san­i­ta­tion or health. It’s your job to teach what’s ac­cept­able and why. Some­times this will only hap­pen af­ter the ini­tial dam­age was done.

2. If you dis­cover that your child has done some­thing wrong and you’re up­set, stop, take a deep breath and al­low your­self time to calm down while redi­rect­ing his/her be­hav­ior. Your goal is to re­spond with in­ten­tion­al­ity, not sim­ply to re­act.

3. Rec­og­nize that when­ever you scream or hit your child, it’s likely you’re not re­spond­ing in­ten­tion­ally, but are out of con­trol. Stop, take a step back, walk away, breathe and count to 10 un­til you’re able to calmly cope.

4. The mes­sage you want to give your child is that a spe­cific ac­tion or be­hav­ior is un­ac­cept­able and why, and that there are al­ter­na­tive, ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iors. For ex­am­ple, “We don’t hit, hit­ting hurts. We talk about what makes us sad or an­gry. If you hit, David could get hurt, hit you back, and may not want to play with you again.” You want your child to un­der­stand that all ac­tions have con­se­quences, (both good and bad) and to think be­fore he acts. Im­pul­sive chil­dren of­ten act be­fore they think. You also want to de­velop your child’s abil­ity to be em­pathic. “How do you think they may feel in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion?” or “How would you feel?” of­ten pro­vide prompts for re­view­ing their ac­tions.

5. While I de­fine dis­ci­pline as teach­ing a child ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior, there are times when nat­u­ral con­se­quences of their be­hav­ior aren’t enough and a child needs to be pun­ished – of­ten through los­ing a priv­i­lege. It’s never ac­cept­able to hit a child, which teaches, among other things, that hit­ting is an ac­cept­able way to prob­lem-solve.

6. Pun­ish­ment should fit the crime and ideally be meted out close in time to the crime. None­the­less, some­times you’ll need to wait for ev­ery­one to calm down, dis­cuss what hap­pened, and only then de­ter­mine what the con­se­quence should be. If you pun­ish hastily be­cause you’re an­gry or up­set, your pun­ish­ment will likely be ex­ces­sive. Worse, you may ul­ti­mately re­tract it. I of­ten like to in­volve the child, hear­ing their sug­ges­tions for how they should be pun­ished. The child that made a mess of grandpa’s room may choose to write a note or draw a pic­ture for grandpa, or per­haps do a chore to earn money, or take from his sav­ings, to show he’s be­ing ac­count­able for help­ing clean it up.

7. Any dan­ger­ous be­hav­ior should be stopped im­me­di­ately. If your child runs off, you must go af­ter him (chil­dren un­der three of­ten won’t come to you just be­cause you called their name). Yelling or hit­ting is not the way to teach your child to hold your hand, but rather teaches him to copy your be­hav­ior.

8. A child him­self is never “a bad child.” His be­hav­ior may be un­ac­cept­able. Your re­la­tion­ship with him has the power to help him feel good. Neg­a­tive words such as “abrupt, im­petu­ous, stub­born and nosey” should be re­framed as “quick, de­ter­mined, per­sis­tent and cu­ri­ous.” If you can­not catch your child do­ing at least five “good” things in any given day, then you are not look­ing hard enough for good be­hav­ior.

9. Par­ent­ing a young child re­quires be­ing able to make up games on the spot. “Let’s see how quickly you can…” “Do you want to wear this or that?” Choice is im­por­tant to chil­dren. Make sure that ei­ther choice is ac­cept­able to you.

10. When chil­dren are tired, hun­gry or un­well, their be­hav­ior may de­te­ri­o­rate.

11. Never be afraid to apol­o­gize. Chil­dren need to know that you, too, are hu­man and make mis­takes.

12. Once you hit or yell at your child, it be­comes eas­ier to do it again the next time. No­tice your trig­gers and take con­trol now.

Play is a child’s op­por­tu­nity for ex­plo­ration and cre­ativ­ity. Share in his ex­cite­ment and you’ll be gen­er­ously re­warded.

The writer is a li­censed clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in pri­vate prac­tice in Ra’anana, and au­thor of Life’s Jour­ney: Ex­plor­ing Re­la­tion­ships – Re­solv­ing Con­flicts. She has writ­ten about psy­chol­ogy in The Jerusalem Post since 2000. ludman@netvi­sion.net.il; www.dr­batyalud­man.com

We bor­ing, stressed, in­flex­i­ble adults no longer see the world through [a child’s] eyes

(Oak­leyO­rig­i­nals/Flickr)

WHAT YOUNG child doesn’t en­joy step­ping on leaves, or into pud­dles?

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