“She won’t eat.”
“He doesn’t brush his teeth/hair!”
“He won’t make his bed.”
“She won’t wash properly – the back of her neck is caked with dirt, and she will neither clean it nor let me do it.”
“He hits his little sister all the time.”
As parents, we are all sailing in the same boat. Each of us has some statement to contribute to the above litany.
There is at least one thing that your child does / doesn’t do that bothers you – because he shouldn’t / should be doing it. And you request, remind, ignore it, harangue, nag, plead, shout to no avail. You just cannot reach your child. But you don’t give up, though you come close to doing so innumerable times. Your love for your child keeps you going, hoping against hope that things will change. The point of disagreement becomes an issue before you know it. Over time, you despair of ever resolving this issue.
“She won’t eat.” – You’ve told her she won’t grow tall/strong; she’ll have no energy to do the things she enjoys doing; she’ll have poor immunity, get sick frequently, suffer through the illness and miss having a regular life… but – (shrug).
She understands what you’re saying, but she doesn’t care enough about these benefits of eating. Maybe because they seem so remote (she has to eat 3 times a day for months to see herself 1 inch taller), or she can’t connect with them (she’s got by alright thus far ‘without eating’, and hasn’t fallen ill or had less energy, so she doesn’t take your doomsday forecasts seriously).
There is a way out. It’s a time-tested, world-renowned concept called WIIFM: What’s In It For Me. Marketers use it, motivation coaches use it, people in all walks of life use it professionally. It’s time to bring it into the home, into the family.
You need to think from your child’s point of view – What’s In It For Her. You need to find a benefit your child cares about – and then you need to find a hook. Maybe beauty is the benefit she can connect with. Tell her how important food is for good skin, teeth and hair, for sparkling eyes. Maybe you could find interviews of a celebrity she idealizes and show your child what a vital role food plays in the beauty queen’s regimen.
The WIIFM, the benefit, will be relatively easy to identify. The hook will be more difficult, but it’s doable.
I was conducting a workshop on English as part of an integrated summer program for children. The program included soccer, photography, yoga, and a few other activities. 90% of them loved soccer. I got creative writing essays based on soccer; innumerable photographs related to soccer were offered as project work in photography. In fact, we loved it best when soccer was scheduled before our session so the kids would be done with it, and could settle down. Else, it was always: “How much longer before we can go for soccer?” 🙂
Most children found yoga boring. The yoga and soccer instructors spent a lot of time motivating the children to do yoga: “It will give you greater flexibility – you can play better soccer.” “It will strengthen your muscles – help you to breathe deeply – give you more oxygen and stamina to run faster for longer, to kick harder”… The children got it, but not one ‘bought’ it.
One day, a boy who had weak hamstrings was doing a yoga pose. This group had soccer right after yoga. And the child found that he succeeded in his first attempt at making a particular kind of soccer move – one he had not been able to make thus far. The soccer teacher pointed out: “See? You’ve been doing that yoga pose to make your hamstrings stronger, so you could do this soccer move today.” (Hook!)
The next day onwards, the children were raving about yoga. Not for itself, but because doing specific poses allowed them to move their legs higher, or gave them greater stability while attempting a particular kind of kick etc. The hook had been found! 🙂
Understandably, a few children who were not into physical activity of any kind still avoided both yoga and soccer, while others who were very advanced in one or the other were dissatisfied because they felt the program was too basic, but these exceptions are only to be expected.
As a parent, you need to cater to just one person – your child. Even if you have more than one child, you need to figure out WIIFM for each one separately. Maybe the benefit is the same, but you may need to find different hooks for each child.
Some issues will still persist. Sometimes, children will continue to be who they are, never mind your best attempts to get them to do what you want. WIIFM won’t work every time, but it will definitely resolve some disagreements.
Why don’t you try it? I’d love to hear what problem you solved. Good luck! 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
A man got on a bus with three children. They must have been about 11, 7, and 5. All of them found seats. The children were noisy and boisterous. They insisted on shouting and jumping around the bus whenever it stopped, heedless of whom they elbowed or whose body they banged against or whose toes they stepped on. After about 5 minutes, everyone on board the bus was disgusted. Two old ladies who were sitting in the seat immediately ahead of the children were bearing the brunt of their misbehavior.
The man accompanying the children seemed lost in some faraway world – unaware of both the children’s unacceptable behavior, and the disapproving looks and muttering of the passengers.
Initially, the old ladies grumbled to each other about the father’s (they assumed he was the father of the children) lack of awareness at how badly his children were conducting themselves. When they found no response from him, they increased their volume, till, during a sudden lull, their penetrating tones were clearly heard by everyone on the bus, “Just look at that man! Can’t he do anything to control those monstrous children of his?”
When the man didn’t twitch a muscle even at this, one of the old ladies tapped him smartly on the arm. He jumped. “Excuse me, Sir. Your children are making a nuisance of themselves. Can’t you do anything to subdue them?” she demanded.
He looked at her a moment. “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. Their mother just died and we’re getting back home from the funeral. They don’t quite know what to make of it all, and I’m wondering how I’m going to raise them all by myself and hold down a job as well.”
“Oh, you poor things!” the lady exclaimed. She immediately turned to the youngest child, inviting him into her lap so he could see better out of the bus, while her friend began looking in her handbag for some candy for the children.
In those few sentences, the mood of sullen resentment and dislike that had hung heavy in the back of the bus dissipated, leaving a feeling of fellowship and caring. The other passengers wanted to pitch in too. In a few minutes, order was restored, with the younger child pointing happily at colored things he could see through the window, and the elder two children engaged in conversations with other passengers.
The father looked at the lady who had tapped him with tears in his eyes. “Thank you, Ma’am.”
The lady found her own eyes wet with tears. “No. Thank you. At my age, I should have known better than to presume I know what is going on. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t. And don’t worry about your children. They are fine kids. They will do you proud.”
Every now and then, your child will go off the rails. Out of the blue, he will behave so ‘badly’ that you wouldn’t believe it unless you’d seen it yourself.
Initially, you grit your teeth and try and ignore it, or bear with it, but after a while, you blow your top too, and then there’s a slanging match between you two or there’s nagging or sullen silences.
The next time, you might want to keep the above anecdote in mind. Something must have happened to make your child behave so uncharacteristically. Why not try and find out what it might be?
See, she’s expecting you to blow up at her, so when you don’t (not when you’re pretending that you’ve got your temper in hand, but when you genuinely can set aside your emotional reaction to her misbehavior and be concerned about what is causing it), she will be astonished.
I was driving some of my daughter’s friends to a party, and after a bit, they forgot about me and began chatting in earnest. One voice rose above the others. “Isn’t he awful? Everybody hates him. We’ve complained to the teachers and they’ve given him a talking-to, but this guy just doesn’t understand!”
Another voice pitched in, “You know, he was even sent to the Principal? He still refuses to get it – he just can’t behave this way!”
“He’s troubling people all the time, disrupts classes and gets us grounded for no fault of ours. We haven’t had PE or Games in a month! Why should we suffer because he can’t control himself?”
“I think they should just send him out of the school – expel him!” said yet somebody else.
I was startled at the universality, vehemence and virulence of feeling against this child.
When we got back home, I asked my daughter who they’d been talking about. “Oh! …, you know. I’ve told you about him – he’s simply incorrigible!”
I knew from this child’s mother that things had not been going well between his parents for the past year or so. I had been expecting some out-of-control behavior from the boy, but I didn’t know that everyone at school had turned against him. I had promised the mother I wouldn’t tell anyone about the situation at their house, yet this child was being vilified beyond belief, made more lonely, with nobody to share in his pain.
Without telling my daughter the details, I said, “He’s going through some problems at home. He’s not getting enough attention, and things are difficult for him right now. Maybe that’s why he’s acting this way. When all of you gang up against him, it probably brings out the worst in him. He might feel, ‘All my ‘friends’ don’t like me anyway, so what do I have to lose by being mean? At least they are all focused on me – I have their attention, even if it is negative.’”
My daughter was adamant, “But this has to stop. I mean, nobody is going to give him a chance unless he changes his ways.”
“Quite the reverse, my dear. He won’t change unless somebody gives him a chance. See what you can do – if you want to do something about it. And you can’t tell anyone anything about his situation at home. I wasn’t supposed to tell you even this, but I did because I know you can keep it to yourself, and so that you can understand that sometimes, when we’re going through difficult times, we all behave a little crazily. And at such times, it’s nice if our friends cut us a little slack.”
“I do want to do something about it – not for his sake, but for our own – we don’t get to do any fun stuff at school now. We’re perpetually grounded!”
The next day, my daughter co-opted a couple of others saying, “We’ve tried scolding him, explaining to him, shouting at him, not talking to him and it hasn’t worked; let’s try being friendly.”
A small group ate lunch with the boy. Not a word was said about missing the 3 ‘fun’ periods of the day because of his shenanigans. They shared their food and made conversation about the latest movies they’d watched, the funny way one teacher spoke, the awesome way another one taught…
As the group continued their friendly ways over the next few days, the group grew larger and the boy calmer. He was always a hell-raiser, but the nastiness had seeped out of him.
An unexpected bonus: I was in the middle of a blistering tirade about someone. I turned to my daughter, looking for understanding. She coolly said, “Well, maybe they were having a bad day.”
Like the old lady on the bus, I said to her: “Thanks for reminding me!” 🙂
Sure, you know your child. But you’d be surprised at how much you don’t know. The child you meet in the evening is not the same child you sent to school in the morning. There has been incredible (truly frightening) amount of growth and learning during the day. It is this evening child who’s misbehaving. And there is a reason for it.
All you need is enough love to look beyond the misbehavior. And if you have enough love, you will know more about him. You will be able to teach him (be honest, aren’t you skipping with joy? You can ‘teach’ him something! 😉 ) that we unwittingly misread people and situations, causing so much grief to others, but most of all to ourselves. You will strengthen your relationship with your child. You will be happier together.
A lesson in happiness! Encore, I say! 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
“I’m sorry.” There are so many ways you use this phrase (or something like it):
̶ You say it when you haven’t heard or understood what the other person was saying.
̶ You say it to express disbelief – “What did you just say?”
̶ You say it when you bump into someone accidentally, or interrupt someone.
̶ You say it to apologize when you’ve made a mistake.
As a parent, you use it quite often with your child, at least when he is little. You do this so you can teach him that there are words and behaviors which are inappropriate, and when he does inappropriate things, he needs to catch himself, apologize for doing them, and try to make sure he doesn’t do them again.
He’s playing ball, and since his hand-eye coordination is not yet perfect, he accidentally knocks over and breaks a small flowerpot in the yard. “Sorry, Mom,” he says.
How do you react?
You might say, “Be careful, son, you don’t want to keep knocking flowerpots and other things over. You need to aim better…” and then proceed to teach him how to improve his aim and his coordination. But he’s still little, so you can’t lay the blame fully at his doorstep.
Your daughter might accidentally knock over a vase as she’s putting on her jacket while running out the door to catch the school bus. “Sorry!” she yells as she disappears.
When you see her in the evening, you’re ready to ‘talk about’ the broken vase.
“You knocked over the vase this morning, and it shattered to bits.”
“Sorry, Dad,” she says, “I didn’t mean to, but I was pulling my jacket on as I rushed through the house, and I must’ve knocked it off by mistake. I’m sorry.”
How do you react?
Many, many parents I know would come back with something like this:
“Why were you trying to put on your jacket while racing through the house? You should get dressed quicker, or wake up quicker. You’re always rushing to make it to school on time. Today, you broke the vase. The other day, you forgot your lunch. Last week, you left the tap running. Why don’t you organize yourself better? (Or) Why don’t you sleep earlier? Why must you keep reading rubbish? Why must you watch so much TV? Why must you talk to your friends on the phone / chat or surf on the Internet till so late? Can’t you listen to music at a better time? Why don’t you play less in the evenings and finish your homework on time? Why don’t you stop mooching around and finish your work so you can sleep on time? Then you won’t be scrambling every morning… When you broke the vase, I had to pick up all the pieces. You were such a whirlwind that some shards of glass went right across the room. Your little brother/sister/ the dog/cat/… could have got hurt. I had to clean up and you know how little time there is in the morning… I got late for work… Can’t you just be more…?”
W-H-A-T in the world are you up to?
Your kid broke a vase and apologized. Say one sentence – if you must – and stop!
But it doesn’t stop here! Later that evening, you repeat your lecture. “Get to bed on time now, or you’ll wake up late tomorrow as well, and then rush and break or spill or forget something else…”
And the next morning, you say, “Get up now… Hurry up and get dressed, you’re getting late…”
I’m exhausted just writing this. Your kid is numb with frustration, annoyance, and the verbal barrage you’ve been subjecting her to.
But you haven’t run out of steam. 🙂 Mainly because you’re laboring under the mistaken notion that she’s listening to what you’re saying; because you feel that saying the same thing over and over again in twenty different ways (you’re creative!) will make sure she gets the message, and she won’t break or spill anything in the future.
But that’s not true, is it?
You keep on at your child, but he’s not listening. After some time, it reaches a point where even when you have something important to say to him (not as a reaction to something he may have said or done), he won’t listen. Your voice has become background music.
And of course, he’s not apologizing. What’s the point? You don’t seem to hear the apology. Instead, it acts like a spur, making you launch into an endless monologue. So he looks sullen and goes away; shuts the door in your face; doesn’t respond to your questions; doesn’t talk to you.
And you add a couple more worries to your ever-increasing list of worries:
1. Your parenting is not good enough – you’ve worked hard to teach her ‘good’ manners, and she seems to have forgotten them all.
2. Your child is turning into an uncivilized creature – she doesn’t apologize when she does the ‘wrong’ thing, she’s not acting like she’s sorry, she’s doesn’t change her upsetting behavior / attitude; instead, she acts as if she were the injured party!
3. Your child doesn’t respond to you – you seem to be losing your connection with him, and you’re frantic that he’s going to find other people to take your place in his life, if not in his heart as well.
None of these fears is even remotely true. On the contrary, your child is doing all he can to keep the connection alive.
He knows that if he listens to what you’re saying all the time, he will be enraged with you – he may even begin to dislike or ‘hate’ you. So he ignores you instead, tuning you out. This is the best thing that could happen, given the circumstances.
But it’s still your call, you know. You can turn the tide any moment you want. When she next apologizes, “I’m sorry, I forgot to give you the keys so you had to wait outside the house for two hours”, you can always say, “Okay, try and remember the next time around, and I’ll try and remember to take them from you too.”
You’ll find your child is still listening to you, and still talking to you – and that includes apologizing! 🙂
In theory, you believe in the equality of all people. And you’d like your child to believe it too.
Deep down, you know people aren’t equal, and it is not possible to treat everyone the same way, but you’d still like to treat whoever you meet, wherever you meet them, with a minimum level of decency, courtesy – call it what you will. And you want your child to do this too.
I believe the best way to ‘teach’ your child anything is to let her experience the thing you want her to learn.
You’re showing her how to join Lego blocks to build a house. She interrupts you to say something, but you tell her, “I know how to do this, so you let me tell you how to build the house. Listen to me.” She hears you out, but continues to disagree. She is an architect in her own right and wants to build her kind of house, not your kind of house. She’s listened to you right to the end. Now, she wants to tell you how to build her kind of house. Time to practice equality. Stop flapping your gums and listen with all your might. At the end, you might still disagree with her house design. No matter. Let her build her kind of house, and you build your kind of house. That’s equality!
You’re teaching him to write the letter ‘K’. You demonstrate by first drawing the vertical line from top to bottom, then the top diagonal, then the bottom diagonal. Your son takes the pencil and draws first the vertical line from bottom to top, then the bottom diagonal, and finally, the top diagonal. At least look at the letter he’s written before you snatch the pencil from him and correct the way he’s writing! If he’s written a passable ‘K’, let him write it his own way. That’s equality.
This doesn’t mean you let your child run wild and do everything just the way he or she wants. (Children are great imitators, and will tend at first to do everything the way you do it. Later, they want to try doing everything the opposite way to how you do it! Both are just phases, and you can ride them out by staying cool, and being true to what you think.)
But let him first try it his way. If it doesn’t work, your child will drop the idea. If it works, how bad can it be? And you can always introduce a new way of doing something, or looking at something, or thinking about something. But he’ll be open to listening to your way only if you’ve been open to ‘listen’ to his way.
Even if he listens, it doesn’t mean he’ll do as you say. He might still choose to do it some other way. That’s fine! You continue to do it your way. That’s equality.
When my daughter was a toddler, lunch was usually rice with dal (lentil gravy), raw sliced cucumber and tomato, and a couple of cooked vegetables – say potatoes with cauliflower, and cabbage with peas. She would eat everything on her plate item by item. If she wanted the cucumber first, she’d eat all the cucumber, then pick all the peas out and eat them, then move on to the dal, spooning it into her mouth, and so on. As a result, she usually ate just plain boiled rice. Which appalled everyone but me.
“Mix some dal with the rice,” people would say. “At least add some vegetables to the rice. Even poor people add some flavor, some pickle or vegetable or dal – nobody eats just plain boiled rice. And how can you break up the cabbage-peas into cabbage and peas?”
She’d look enquiringly at me, and I’d say, “You eat the way you want.”
Today, for many years now, she mixes everything on her plate into one big pile.
“How can you taste anything in that mess? Mix rice with dal, then try rice with potato curry, then try some chicken without anything else. Eat things separately so you can get the flavor,” people tell her.
She doesn’t look at me for direction any longer (she knows everything, you see! 🙂 ), but if she did, my response would be the same as it was earlier.
You are a concerned parent, so you feel free to voice your concern (yes, your child calls it “nagging”, but only because he doesn’t know the depth of your love for him! 🙂 ). You may be blessed with a ‘concerned’ child! He may be concerned that he’s going to be late for wherever you are going to, and he may voice his concern over and over again till you get there. This may happen every time you go out – whether to drop him to school, for an activity, a party, whatever. If you’re practicing equality, he should have the right to voice his concern the same way you have the right to voice yours. (This time, you’ll be the one calling it “nagging”! 🙂 )
Especially in Asian cultures, parents are given a semi-god-like status, at least traditionally. Good manners dictate that you do not argue with your parents, you can’t imagine yelling at them (what to speak of actually doing so!), and in all matters, you seek to please them. You could try being this kind of parent, I guess, but you’d have to find another world in which to raise your child; because nowhere around him does he see such a parent-child relationship at work.
Maybe in the Ramayana or Mahabharata (Indian mythological epics), but he sees them as stories. And such stories are counteracted by innumerable other stories. Besides, you’re nothing like the parents in the Indian mythological tales, so it’s foolish to expect your children to be like the kids in those tales!
So if you shout at your kids and tell them what they’ve done wrong, and still want to ‘teach’ them about equality, be prepared to let them shout at you, and point out in excruciating detail what you’ve done wrong.
Of course, there’s a flip side. If you’re willing to listen, so will they be. If you give them some leeway, some space and love and acceptance to vent, they will reciprocate more than you can imagine. If you do things for them because doing those things gives you joy, they will do things for you – and find pleasure doing them!
It’s equality, after all; it cuts both ways! 🙂
P.S. As I scramble to post this, my daughter’s saying, “Why don’t you organize yourself better so you’re ready with things and not rushing till the last minute?” I think she’s echoing something I told her a couple of hours ago! 🙂
There was a time, perhaps in your childhood, when only adults experienced stress. The adults might not have known the word ‘stress’, but they experienced it. There was a living to earn, a family to provide for and raise, parents to look after, social and community roles to fulfill: adults were under pressure.
Children, by contrast, were said to lead carefree lives. No responsibilities, no worries. They were loved and provided for, and all they had to do was to go to school and study and play. Life was easy for the kids.
Today, even 2-year olds are stressed. From going to classes with parents, weekday activities, weekend classes, social events, technology, trying to learn the alphabet, knowing their table manners, how to speak with adults of every age – they have already begun the juggling act. And it is vital that they keep all the balls in the air. Children of all age groups learn this from their parents: no matter how old (or young!) you are, you cannot afford to let anything drop.
As a parent, you try to make it easier on your kids. You show them how to juggle so many things. (And they don’t even have to deal with half the stuff you do!) You show them how you make lists, prioritize, keep to a schedule, and then make time for relaxation. Yes – you’ve even managed to make time to ‘de-stress’! 🙂 So maybe every first Saturday of the month you head off to a spa early in the morning for a full-body massage. Bliss! 🙂
Except that you’re scrambling to wake up and get to the spa, and the moment your massage is done, you’re back on the treadmill, achieving goals and managing stress.
I have a slightly different suggestion. Just for a change, try not to manage stress. The moment you feel you are stressed, take a break. Act like this is the last straw, and you can’t handle any more.
I can see your disbelief. What?! You’ve spent months of your life reading up on how to manage stress, how to handle increasing amounts of stress without breaking under the strain, and along comes some idiot suggesting you undo all that learning and practice; suggesting you start crying ‘Wolf!’ at the slightest sign of stress! Well, the way your life is right now, all you’ll be doing is taking breaks all day long – nothing will get done!
Excellent! 🙂 I’m more convinced than ever that you need to stop managing stress. In the process, you’ll also teach your kids to not-manage-stress. What you’ll really be doing is teaching them to stay off lifelong physical and mental health issues.
Take a moment to think about it. Why do you want to increase your tolerance to stress? So that you can accomplish more?
That’s like saying you must keep playing – even after your muscles have cramped up, and you’ve developed a hairline fracture from stress. Why? So you can tell people I can play even when my muscles have frozen and my bones are broken? And how well do you think you’ll be playing in this condition? And what’s the point of it anyway? The only thing you’ll get is frozen muscles and broken bones!
Quit this madness.
Look at your life when you ‘manage’ stress: You’re worried about someone backstabbing you at work. You’ve got this under control – when you get home, your family doesn’t see how stressed you are. You feel good about your ability to ‘manage’ the stress.
You haven’t slept too well because of the office situation, and you have an argument with someone at home – your partner, or your child. Again, you dig into your well of patience and tolerance, and don’t blow up. You keep with the script, getting things done, making sure everyone’s ready and out the door when they should be.
The argument is piled on top of the work stress; but you’ve got it ‘under control’. You feel even better about yourself – you can manage ‘more’ stress.
You drive to work. You don’t need me to spell it out. You manage this stress as well. Pat on the back. 🙂
Get to work. Your supervisor makes an unreasonable request of you, or makes an uncalled-for comment. Especially in view of the cagey situation at work, you put your best face on it, and doggedly soldier on. Super! 🙂 You are the king / queen of stress management!
Sorry to burst your bubble, and welcome to the real world. As you go through your work day, the feelings of irritation, resentment, worry and annoyance simmering inside you bubble up, till you can’t concentrate on your work. You turn in less than your best. You can’t concentrate; you miss obvious facts, draw unwarranted conclusions; things just don’t come together.
More stress. More worry. Drive back home. Child calls: “Please pick up some special craft paper for a project.” Partner calls: “Honey, I’ve got stuck with some urgent work. It’s my turn to fix dinner, but I’ll be home really late.” You remember: partner was planning some fancy dish, for which the ingredients are in place. You can only make burgers, and all you have at home is sliced sandwich bread. The queue at the supermarket is serpentine. At the craft store, you can’t figure out the kind of paper your child wants. Ten minutes on the phone trying to figure out which kind of craft paper you need to buy.
You get home to find your children complaining about each other, or about what happened at school. Or they say, “Oh no! Not burgers again! We were looking forward to…”.
E-X-P-L-O-S-I-O-N!! Then guilt…
But there is another way: the not-managing-stress way.
You get home worried about a situation at work. You spend time with the family, and then tell them you want to take time out to think about something. You shut yourself up in a room, or go for a walk, or listen to music… Basically, you deal with your fears and all the what-ifs of the office situation. You feel better. You don’t lose so much sleep at night.
When someone pushes your buttons in the morning, you get mad, but instead of acting ‘normal’, you say, “I’m mad, so please don’t talk to me for a while. I need to calm down.” Going through the morning routine without further provocation calms you.
You drive to work and take a few minutes to work out the kinks in your neck and shoulders from the tense drive, or chat with your colleagues, or drink a quiet cup of coffee at your desk. You’re fresh, and ready to do your best at work.
Your boss makes an unreasonable request. Instead of shouldering the burden, you take a mental time-out, and consider the request. You figure out how you want to deal with it; you make a conscious choice, and feel empowered. No stress. The day goes on like this.
This is the only way you can be sure that YOU are the one making decisions, doing things. Otherwise, you will merely be reacting, much like a puppet whose strings are jerked this way and that by people and circumstances.
Do you know when I figured how wonderful not-managing-stress really is? The first time my daughter told me, “I’m much too angry to talk to you right now. I need some time by myself. I’ll talk to you when I’m feeling better.” 🙂
In my family, we use bad language sparingly. I don’t mean sparingly around children; I mean even left to ourselves and with an adult audience, we don’t use too many swear words. So my daughter has grown up in a fairly artificial atmosphere – some of it my doing.
For instance, I refused to use the words ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’ as part of general language. I wanted her to know that the words meant something real – that they were not just words to trot out when you disagreed with someone or something.
She confronted me about it when she was 7. “You told me ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’ are ‘bad’ words, but all my friends use those words. And they don’t even think those are bad words! They think I’m weird when I tell them that these are bad words to use.” (I’d told her when she was not even 3 years old!)
I told her, “This is how I feel. Others can feel differently. It doesn’t make them better or worse than us – just different. You feel free to use them if you want to. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just that I choose not to use them frivolously.”
Now for the real story:
I had picked up my 11-year old from school. We both enjoy the rare occasions when I do so. Nothing much happens, but she’s full of what happened at school and I’m happy to get her news “hot off the press”.
Today, she was silent. Something was wrong. When I asked her what had happened, she said, “It was a terrible day! I don’t know how to tell you what happened.”
My heart promptly sank. What could be that bad? Obviously, I started prodding her to tell me what had happened – I needed to be put out of my misery. I had to know! No response from her.
Finally she said, “I’m wondering how to tell you.”
I was concocting all kinds of dire scenarios. We were both in our own private hells.
Eventually, she started to speak. “Someone said something terrible to me!”
My heart began to resume something approaching its normal rhythm. Someone said something – things definitely could have been worse.
“What did they say?”
“This girl – she said – she said” and here, she threatened to dissolve into tears. “I don’t know if I can even say it!”
I’d had enough. “Just spit it out, will you?”
“She said ‘F- you!’”
You’ll probably be appalled at what I did next. I burst out laughing. I was laughing so hard I had to pull over. 🙂
A few minutes later, when I had wiped the tears of laughter streaming from my eyes, I managed to look at my daughter. She was aghast at my reaction.
“How do you know this word? Who told you it is a ‘bad’ word? Do you know what it means?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve heard some seniors use it in the bus and at school, and I don’t know what it means, but I know it is supposed to mean something bad,” she said. “How can you laugh? I’m so upset! Someone said something so bad to me, and you can’t stop laughing!”
I was still smiling as she said this! 🙂
But it was definitely time to make her feel better! “Yes, it is considered a ‘bad’ word, and it means something specific. I’ll explain later exactly what it means. Right now, what you need to understand is that this is a word that everyone uses all the time.”
She was disbelieving. “What! No way – I’ve never heard anyone use it.”
“Well, people try to avoid using it around children, but every single grown up uses this word. Think of any single human being you know – even people you admire – they use it too. But the most important thing you should know about using this word, or others like it, is that people don’t mean anything by it. It’s just a way of expressing their frustration or annoyance. Some people use such words four or five times in one sentence. It doesn’t mean anything. Like when people say, ‘Shit!’ they don’t really mean the exact meaning of that word.” 🙂 My laughter threatened to explode once more.
She wasn’t amused. “But why say something if you don’t mean it? That makes no sense!” She was upset, and simply didn’t get it.
I assured her that it was about as serious as the girl having said, “Shut up!”
“Then why is it supposed to be a bad word?” she persisted.
“Well, it’s not considered polite to use it – that’s all, really. But everyone uses it – in some situation or other, if not all the time. And some people use it all the time.”
She was still put out. “It makes NO sense.”
That got me thinking. It really doesn’t make sense.
If you choose to use f-words and other swear words, you should have absolutely no problem with your children using the words too!
Why this ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude? Maybe you want people to think your kids are well brought up. I’m sure your parents want people to think the very same thing – even though you’re an adult now!
Excuse me, if you’re trying to be an effective parent, you’ll have to admit the truth – to yourself, if not to anyone else. Children use the language they hear at home. That’s all there is to it. If you are so bothered by your child abusing, listen to yourself. Catch yourself when you are abusing, and bite your tongue.
For some of you, if you want to do something about it, you might feel like you need to pull your tongue out by its very roots! 🙂
You might want to tell your kids openly: “It’s okay for me to use these words because I’m an adult, but they don’t sound good coming from you because you are a child. When you’re grown up (mention a specific age), you can use these words too, but till then, don’t!” They might take it from you.
There’s nothing wrong with any word. I mean that – yes, me, with my antiquated definition of what constitutes a swear word.
But if you’re particular that your children learn how to use language appropriate to the situation and company they find themselves in, you might consider modeling the behavior you’d like from them.
You are a busy person. You have multiple responsibilities and obligations. There are many days when you feel you haven’t had a moment to yourself. But finally, you have some leisure. Ah!
What do you do with your leisure time? Do you slow down and savor the change of pace? Spend time on a hobby? Do things you’d like to do but normally don’t get around to doing? Take a nap? Watch a film? Meet friends? Explore a subject of interest?
Or do you pull out a few more things from your list of Things to Do, and try and accomplish them?
Or do you sit in front of the TV?
There’s nothing wrong with television. It is a convenience which offers us wonderful opportunities to rediscover the wonder of our lives – if we choose to do so. There are hundreds of hours of programming that will open your eyes and mind and heart, that will enrich your life. But do they?
It’s not the TV: it is us. We decide how to engage with the TV. We decide to sit in front of it for hours every day, not knowing what else to do with ourselves. We don’t acknowledge this as leisure time – maybe because we multi-task as we watch TV. But mostly, we don’t consider it leisure because our brains are still in ‘work’ mode. We are thinking or worrying about various things that need to be ‘done’. Do you ever really switch off?
You’re meeting someone at a café or bar, and the person is late. This is an unexpected gift of time. What do you do with it? You’re outside, so you can’t work (though many of you will whip out your iPhones, Blackberrys and Tablets). You can’t catch up with people on the phone, because it’s noisy. What do you do?
And therein lies the rub. This is the real reason our children are able to manipulate us with “I’m bored”. You try, desperately, to fill this free time.
Stop for a moment to think why. What is wrong with just sitting there doing nothing? Why don’t you deserve to ‘do nothing’? Especially considering your kids often ‘do nothing’ and get away with it? 😉
You do have the answer to this question. If you’re doing ‘nothing’, you will be spending time with yourself. And that means looking at your life: what works in it and what doesn’t, why things don’t work in your life (we are more oriented towards the negative, so you will typically look at the ‘not working’ part of your life, not the ‘this works great! :-)’ part of it), who is responsible for things not working, and so on.
These are tremendously uncomfortable thoughts to have. It is far better to be busy ‘doing something’. It is also much more comfortable.
What thoughts are you trying to push to the back of your awareness? Why can’t you spend time with yourself without any external aids like your i-whatever, cellphone, tablet, laptop, book, magazine?
At the café where you’re waiting for your friend, try to just sit there. Keep sitting there, doing ‘nothing’. No, you won’t cut a ridiculous figure. Nobody is going to spare you a thought – while you are worried about what others think of you as you just sit there, they, in turn, are worried about what you think of them.
If you can be at peace with yourself, if your child can see you sometimes just be-ing, he will learn – almost by himself – how to spend time with himself.
Your son has just finished something, and comes to you saying, “I don’t know what to do now.” (A polite way of saying “I’m bored”. 🙂 Lucky you!)
Don’t give him options, ideas of what he can do. Just let his statement dangle in mid-air. He might want to join you in what you are doing (if he can). He might hang around while you do whatever you’re busy with. He might wander away and find something to do. Or he might choose to just sit.
And he will choose this if he has seen you choosing it. Children are eternally curious. “What are you doing, Dad?” “Mom, what are you doing just sitting there?”
If you can answer “Nothing” and not explain further, he will accept that ‘doing nothing’ is yet another way of spending time. And if he can’t think of anything to do, then he will simply choose to do ‘nothing’! And once he learns this, he will never be bored. There’s a blissful thought for you! 🙂
But there is so much more to doing nothing. Look at the possibilities: you are doing nothing and your daughter joins you. As you sit together silently, each perhaps absorbed in your own thoughts, you create a special space to communicate with each other beyond the mundane. She might share an idea she has, or ask you about something that’s been troubling her. You might get a peek into something that happened at school.
You might be equally surprised to find yourself sharing parts of yourself or your life that she doesn’t know.
This is conversation, a place where you both connect with each other. This is time spent together where neither of you has an agenda. You are not trying to teach or advise or moralize or explain or inspire or make an example of anything. She is not trying to cajole or coax or defy or shock or rebel against or prepare you for anything.
You are both there – doing nothing. It is time that doesn’t count, in one sense. And because there is nothing at stake, nothing either of you is trying to achieve, it can create many meaningful moments. And you get closer to your child. Both of you can just BE with each other.
I urge you to give it a shot. It is tough to disconnect from the endless “To Do’s” we’ve created for ourselves. But if you have ever done it (and I’m sure you have, even if just for a moment!), you know the value of doing nothing.
In fact, there is a word for it. A ‘good’ word – one which makes ‘doing nothing’ a desirable thing, a goal to work towards, an achievement to aspire for. Yes, ‘doing nothing’ is also called r-e-l-a-x-a-t-i-o-n. 🙂