Understanding children

Don’t tell me

 Shel Silverstein

Please don’t tell me I should hug,

Don’t tell me I should care.

Don’t tell me just how grand I’d feel

If I just learned to share.

Don’t say, “It’s all right to cry,”

“Be kind,” “Be fair,” “Be true.”

Just let me see YOU do it,

Then I just might do it too.

Perfect parents do not exist. We can only try to be good parents. For this, we need to genuinely tune in to our children’s thoughts and feelings to see their point of view. Children have reasons for things they say and do, and we need to give them a chance to express them. We can, for example, assume that a child knows when he feels full and, therefore, not shovel food into his mouth when he refuses to eat more.

Understanding our children should not be very difficult because we were children once and can remember how it feels to be a child. We have enough imagination and experience to put ourselves in their shoes in any situation. We need to respect them for who they are rather than try to mould them into miniatures of ourselves.

Being human, we can’t be patient and understanding all the time. We may sometimes respond to tantrums with irritation, especially when we are depleted of energy at the end of the day. Showing annoyance at a child’s action now and then is not necessarily bad; it helps him correct himself, and prepares him for a world where everybody is not going to indulge him. However, tantrums shouldn’t really faze us. They are an expression of anxiety, the paediatric counterpart of temper loss in an adult. If we get angry or anxious in threatening situations, so can a child. We don’t whack or scream at an upset adult, we try to calm him down. So why shouldn’t we deal with our little ones the same way?

Sometimes we find ourselves picking on a child for a minor misdemeanor. If we are honest about it, one reason may be dismay at our negative traits being mirrored by our children. We tend to upbraid them most vehemently for these, procrastination for instance. Instead, we ought to remember our struggles and remind ourselves to go easy on them.

Most parents are appalled when they catch their little children lying. Is it possible we unwittingly teach them to lie? We exhort them to be polite; sometimes that means saying “Yes” when they mean “No”. At times they just say what they think we want to hear, either to please us or out of fear. We adults are not absolutely truthful all the time and children notice this, for instance answering an unwelcome telephone call with “I’ll call you back, I’m in a meeting”, when it is untrue. Therefore, while confronting a small child caught telling a white lie or a tall story, it is better to cut him some slack so he does not feel guilty or humiliated.

Children often say, “but you also do it!” as an argument. As the saying goes, children don’t do what you say, they do what you do. We can’t watch a lot of TV or chat for hours on the phone if we don’t want our kids to follow our lead. Teaching by example works better than rules – there can’t be double standards in a family.

Our children understand us better than we think they do. They can detect false notes in things we say, though they may not be able to say so. They can tell the difference between what is seriously important to us and things we say simply because they are expected. So what we say should come from within and shine with conviction.

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5 thoughts on “Understanding children

  1. Brilliant! Loved the poem at the beginning. I think the part on lying is especially thought – provoking. Thank you for your insights.

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  2. that poem is so apt. parenting is definitely a responsibility we have to do take care of more importantly than our other responsibilities. it is n our hands how morally, ethically, physically we nurture this gift. Isn’t it so relevant in today’s times when we look at the world around us and complain of the vices

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  3. Your article was very thought provoking. As parents one always wants to do it right, but the question is what is right? The bit about telling lies was very insightful and something one encounters frequently. In today’s day parenting has acquired so many layers. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you. We treat right and wrong as contextual now, unlike when we were growing up. Maybe that’s a good thing. But it’s also why it’s difficult to lay down rigid rules, or be absolutely certain that we, as parents, are right all the time.

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