Now that I’m, “Papa” to grandkids, my kids—their parents—think I’ve absolutely gone soft! There may be some truth to that. Getting kids out of diapers and out of college and into life is pretty tiring but I’m convinced that, having raised three kids, I’m better at figuring out what’s worth getting upset over and what’s not.
Good parents always want the best very for their children. All good parents have sometimes struggled to walk the very tricky, and often moving line between providing the love and TLC each child requires and providing needed discipline for bad behavior. This can be an incredibly frustrating experience, and it’s what I want to chat about, today.
Child development experts will tell you to consider the age of your child when determining appropriate discipline. For example, if your child is an infant, you don’t ever have to worry about “spoiling” her. Why? Because babies aren’t equipped to manipulate you to get what they want—when they cry, they mean it. Whether they’re crying because they hurt, scared, ill, hungry, confused or in need of a diaper, you can trust that cry to be a genuine cry for relief. What’s the appropriate response? Cuddle! Soothe!
But after infancy, it gets a little bit trickier. When your bouncing baby bundle of joy approaches two, parents see tantrums. This is when parents start to worry about rewarding bad behavior. But, what if the behavior wasn’t bad? What if that volume, those tears, and kicking on the floor was just a normal part of coming into their own?
Well, hang on… because that’s the truth. Many of those times when she is shaking her head in disagreement and tossing her plate on the floor she is simply expressing who she is and what she wants—and it may be entirely appropriate for her age. To this point, John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, in their book, “Boundaries” share the following.
“Any competent pediatrician or child therapist will attest to a shift that begins during the first year of life and continues until about three years. A shift which, though sometimes disruptive and chaotic, is completely normal. And part of God’s plan for the child.
As infants gain a sense of internal safety and attachment, a second need arises. The baby’s need for autonomy, or independence, starts to emerge. Child experts call this separation and individuation. “Separation” refers to the child’s need to perceive him or herself as distinct from Mother, a “not-me” experience. ”
Yep. Just got tricky. You’re expected to put to the side that sometimes all moms and dads want is a little quiet! It’s your job to determine when that loud, seemingly belligerent “NO”, shouted at the top of the lungs from your two year old is really rebellion or simply his attempt to make sure you know what he means; to make sure you know where he “ends” and you “begin.” Whether it turns out to be the former or the later, take heart it usually gets better.
As your child reaches three and beyond, behaviors should become less volatile and more settled. If you often find yourself going out of your way to calm her down or accommodate her “needs” (read “demands”), then you may have moved into what some people call “spoiling.” Perhaps a better concept would be that you are actually slowing her development. It may help to look at it this way. Every time you cave into temper tantrums that are inappropriate from a developmental standpoint, you reinforce your child’s understanding that temper tantrums are effective and should be used. Keep in mind that developmental “norms” are guidelines only. Even though this is considered a “science”, it’s a bit of an art, as well. Kids develop at different rates.
Here’s the thing. The bible tells us to “…speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). That makes us responsible to speak the truth, which comes from knowing the right thing. It also makes us responsible to do so, “in love”, which means it must be done in an honoring way which puts the needs of the other person ahead of our own. It may seem odd to you that I’ve chosen this bit of biblical truth and applied it to parent and child. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience over the last five or more decades, we somehow reserve the worst for the ones we love the most. In this most sacred of relationships, parent and child, we should be constantly evaluating the balance of “truth” and “love” for the benefit of the child.
The next time you find yourself at odds with your child, struggling to figure out whether you should soothe or discipline, try to slow things down. Carve out some time to think, and get advice where appropriate so you can “speak the truth, in love.” One way do this is by giving your child some “take a break” time to cool down in a quiet place with a book or toy. Use that time to answer the question, “What does he need from me?” If you consider that question in light of the “highest and best” for your child, you may find your confidence in a chosen course of action to be much greater.