Don’t teach chil­dren to ‘fight’ for their mis­ery

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

First, let’s be clear about one thing: No one does this in­ten­tion­ally. It all hap­pens with­out re­al­iz­ing what just oc­curred. How­ever, the con­se­quences for many chil­dren and teens are se­vere.

Mis­ery over home­work

So let me ex­plain what I mean, by teach­ing chil­dren to ‘fight’ for their mis­ery. Imag­ine your son says, ‘I can’t do math. It’s too hard for me.’ And then you state, ‘Of course you can do math. It’s not too hard for you. I know you can do it.’

This sounds about right? Yes? But what hap­pens next is crit­i­cal, be­cause I will bet the house on the fol­low­ing: Your son does NOT sud­denly light up with the in­sight, ‘Oh Mom, I get it. I can do math. You are so right!’ You have never heard such a thing when try­ing to con­vince your child or teen that they can do math, or play the vi­o­lin. In­stead, you hear the fol­low­ing, of­fered in a whin­ing voice, ‘Oh no I can’t. It’s too har­rrrrd­ddddd (ex­ag­ger­ated whine)!

And then you lean in a bit more, stat­ing more defini­tively, ‘Look. You CAN do this. I know you can. I saw your test scores. Just try. Let me help.’

At which point, you get an­other whin­ing, per­haps tear filled re­sponse, ‘I just can’t Mom.’

And these ex­changes could con­tinue, and of­ten do, for many it­er­a­tions back and forth. Noth­ing re­ally hap­pens ex­cept both Mom and child are get­ting more emo­tional. As a par­ent, you can see their mis­ery in the mo­ment. You can feel how hard you are work­ing to ‘fix’ their think­ing for them, and yet it is fail­ing. Fail­ing mis­er­ably!

Mis­ery over ca­pa­bil­ity

Let’s imag­ine a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion as above, ex­cept when pre­sented with home­work, your daugh­ter is in­clined to go for a bolder claim. As soon as she looks at her home­work, she pro­claims loudly, ‘I’m stupid. I can’t do any­thing right.’

This com­pels you to re­spond, ‘Of course you are not stupid. You are smart. You can do this.’

She re­sponds dra­mat­i­cally, ‘ No. I’m not. I am just dumb.’

You stop your work, come with by her side and em­pha­size how smart she is, how ca­pa­ble her brain is and that you will help her. Again, she re­sists your wise words. And again, the di­a­logue goes back and forth sev­eral times as you try, again and again, to con­vince her of the truth to no avail.

Emo­tional mis­ery

In this ex­am­ple, imag­ine a daugh­ter who is sad over an event at school. Mom tries to soothe and calm the child. But her daugh­ter fights back, ar­gu­ing that it isn’t fair. Mom soothes again, of­fer­ing per­fectly rea­son­able guid­ance. Next, her daugh­ter ar­gues that it’s not her fault, but the teacher’s fault. Mom again tries to align and help her child see a way to let this go and move on. Yet her daugh­ter now says she can’t stop think­ing about it, and that it up­sets her more. Mom feels frus­trated, and keeps re­peat­ing her­self and tries to soothe her daugh­ter. Noth­ing seems to work.

How we teach kids to fight for their mis­ery

Let’s pull in­sight from the three con­ver­sa­tions above, as these could be ex­panded to an in­fi­nite num­ber of sim­i­lar con- ver­sa­tions. In each sit­u­a­tion, let’s as­sume that this is not a one-time event. In­stead, these rep­re­sent pat­terns of be­hav­ior and in­ter­ac­tions that oc­cur with grow­ing fre­quency.

Now, I in­vite you to no­tice who is work­ing harder for san­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity in each sit­u­a­tion? It’s ob­vi­ous, right? Mom or Dad is the one with re­peated ef­forts to get the child or teen to ‘see the light.’

Isn’t this nor­mal?

Yes, it is. It hap­pens over and over.

But here’s the prob­lem: It does not work to teach the truth IF the child is work­ing hard to fight for the lies (i.e., I can’t. It’s too hard. Life’s not fair.) And usu­ally, they are fight­ing for these lies.

When this hap­pens, it’s as if the child is re­peat­ing a per­sonal mantra to them­selves, in­stalling a deep be­lief by stat­ing, “I can’t. Life’s not fair. It’s too hard.”

Just imag­ine how such be­liefs dis­able a child from re­al­iz­ing their strengths and ca­pac­i­ties. If there is any­thing that has be­come clear to me, it’s this: Strength and hap­pi­ness emerge from re­al­iz­ing that it’s my job (not yours) to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for what I seek in life.

In next week’s ar­ti­cle, I will of­fer some in­sight on how to ap­proach such sit­u­a­tions dif­fer­ently. For now, if this pat­tern hap­pens in your home, just no­tice how in­ef­fec­tive the strat­egy has been and the fu­til­ity of work­ing harder at their hap­pi­ness or suc­cess than they do. Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park-based par­ent­ing ex­pert, au­thor, speaker and li­censed psy­chol­o­gist, of­fers prac­ti­cal guid­ance for a host of par­ent­ing con­cerns. His web­site, www.Ter­ri­ficPar­ent­ing. com, of­fers free par­ent­ing guid­ance and an email news­let­ter. Read­ers can learn more by re­view­ing past ar­ti­cles found on the web­sites of The Sarato­gian, The Record and The Com­mu­nity News. Sub­mit ques­tions to [email protected]

Dr. Randy Cale

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.