Always telling your child what to do might seem easy, but it probably won't help her develop the skills necessary to navigate the challenges of life. Will letting her figure it all out for herself do the trick? Laura Day explains how your intuition is the key to successfully raising your child.
I just had an interesting, seesaw conversation with my young niece where I threw out possibilities for summer activities and she told me they weren't her style. Running the gamut from gymnastics to rock 'n' roll and art, she met every suggestion with rejection. "I am not a normal kid," she reasoned. "I like lying around." She listed people in our family and how stressed they were in an attempt to convince me she had a future in debate. At one point, I said, "You don't know anything yet and you are going to wreck your life if your adults continue to let you act on your ignorance." Inappropriate and mean? Yes. A therapy issue for my next session? Yes. True? Absolutely!
The overwhelming demands of your own life and the guilt you may feel about not being able to give more, be there more and know more creates a dynamic that your child is particularly adept at taking advantage of. As much as parents want to respect a child's individuality, it's not uncommon for to assume your child has more knowledge of herself than she actually does, which ultimately ends up acting against her long-term best interests.
What's Behind the Attitude? Fear of the Unknown
People guard against encounters they're unprepared for. Children are no different. The difference and the danger is that a child lacks the life experience to know which situations to avoid because she dislikes it and which situations she's avoiding simply because it's unknown. Human beings are instinctively programmed against going into the unknown, even when it holds valuable opportunities. As parents, it's important to make the unknown safe—when it's desirable—and make sure your child trust you to lead them in the right direction. And, in those moments when there is an absence of trust, "Because I say so" is still effective.
Why It's Important Not to Quit
There is an appropriate time for negotiating and a time when negotiating just increases your child's anxiety and undermines her ability to meet the demands of growing up. Even the concept of "Just try it," sometimes backfires. But, the ability to create something pleasurable from a "mixed bag" is a skill that improves the quality of life at any age, and learning to quit just undercuts a child's incentive to master new skills in a challenging situation. Listening is often enough to remedy a hard moment. I have noticed children after having worked themselves into lather, often find their own wisdom about the situation, if simply heard and witnessed, but not allowed the option to quit. Of course, there will always be those situations when you, as a parent, feel a challenge is not right for your child or you change your mind mid-stream. That is a wonderful time to give your reasons, validate your child's opinion and decide together that enough is enough. The mean kid's camp may not be right for the summer or drums were a mistake, even though they now occupy your living room.
The value of a "melt down" is underrated. Often, a child simply being really mad at you and throwing a fit or two is enough to take the intensity out of the challenge. What's the greatest feeling of safety you can give your child? The knowledge that you will do what is in her absolute best interest despite her best efforts to dissuade you. In the moment, it may feel like the heartbreak of parenting, but in retrospect it is one of the most powerful acts to build the "intelligent" trust between you and your child, which she will carry into adolescence and integrate into her feelings about her own decisions in adulthood. You are the template that becomes her success.
The benefits of intuitive childrearing