The other day I was talking with a very frustrated mother
about her daughter who was driving her crazy. She was at wits end and
wanted to know what to do to change her daughter. Then she described her
daughter to me. "She is argumentative, stubborn, defiant, surly, rude, and
she throws fits!" the mother said. I listened as the frustrated mother
described in detail each of these annoying attributes of her daughter.
When she paused long enough for me to get in a word I asked, "How old is
this child, fourteen, sixteen?"
I was shocked when the mother told me, "No, she is two and a half!"
Her answer hit me so suddenly I must say that I broke out laughing. I know
the mother must have been offended by my laughter but I could not help
myself. This lady had just told me she was being totally dominated by a
two and a half year old child. Whoa! Who is the adult in this situation?
Which person in this interaction is capable of anticipating future
conflicts and developing some effective strategies to deal with the
situation in a dignified and constructive manner?
After regaining control of my laughter and apologizing profusely I
attempted to give the lady some guidance. As I meet parents all across the
country, I find this mother's dilemma to be so similar to the difficulties
that many parents express to me.
I meet so many parents who are so focused on what their children are doing
wrong that they fail to see that the child is simply responding to the
actions and expectations of the adults in their world! I know this
parental attitude is an easy trap to fall into. My gosh, I was caught in
the trap myself for my first eight years of teaching. Our attitude toward
our children and our role in their world is so critical. We must be the
ones who are controlled. We must be the ones who have the plan. We must be
the ones who devise the guidance for them so they can learn to behave
differently in a productive manner.
Let me make myself clear here. Kids are not all the same and the same
technique will not necessarily work for all kids. Some kids are born to be
more stubborn than others. I am not saying that the only determining
factor in a child's development is the action of the parents. What I am
saying is that parents have a vital role in teaching their children
appropriate behaviors for dealing with their world. A parent's attitude is
critical! The behavior of children is a direct reflection of the
expectations of adults in their world!
So what advice did I give this mother? I simply told her that she needed
to decide exactly what she wanted to teach her daughter and then to go
about teaching that! The change needed in the situation was her ATTITUDE!
If she wished for her daughter to ask politely when she wants something
instead of whining, crying and throwing a fit, she needed to teach the
youngster what that behavior is. What it sounds like; what it looks like;
what her face looks like when she is asking. The one time when it will be
impossible to teach the desired behavior is when her daughter is using the
undesired behavior. Mom needs to teach before the daughter is
misbehaving.( for the skills to use in teaching the desired behavior I
referred her to our Parenting with Dignity
video series and to our
book, Parenting with Dignity.)
The attitude of the parent must be the controlling element in the process
of effectively raising kids. This mother had come to me for advice on
changing her daughter but received advice on changing herself! If her
child knew how to behave differently and get the desired result-the toy,
the cookie-she would use that behavior. That is almost always the case.
When people come to us for advice on changing their kids they almost
always get advice on changing themselves.
I visit schools all across the country. I hear school personnel make
statements about the conduct of students and from my point of view the
statements sound almost ridiculous. I hear statements like, "The kids in
this school just won't listen." Or I hear, "There is just no respect among
the kids in our student body." I also hear equally ridiculous sounding
statements like, "Oh, we just have such great kids in our school. They
just behave so nicely!" What is ridiculous about these statements, you
ask. Think about those statements for just a minute.
What each of those statements is telling me is that the adult making the
statement believes that the behavior of kids is somehow determined by
factors other than the attitude of the adults who are teaching them! I do
not believe that one geographic area will produce a collective group of
misbehaving kids nor that it will produce a collective group of polite,
considerate kids. Kids' behavior is not geographically determined: kids'
behavior is determined by the attitude of the adults who are teaching