How to understand your child – A key to balanced parenting
By Anne Christine Aksnes
We all want to become the best parent possible. Not in a competitive way, but for our child.
This article is about one of the biggest keys I discovered when it comes to children. It’s about how we understand them, how we see them and what we think about them. I can remember when people had a completely different attitude to children from what I and many with me have today. People would say things like: “She’s just being difficult”. “Oh no, you have to do it like this, or in that way. You have to be strict. You have to discipline them.”
I can remember the day when I read the first article about the theory that children are always trying to do the best they can. In Norway, it was called a paradigm shift in how we view the child, and they started gathering proof of the theory that children do the best they know. One of the things they would say was: “There is no such thing as a difficult child. There’s only children who face difficulties.”
This resonated with me and it impacted how I understood my children more than almost anything else I’ve learned. Children are actually always trying to do the best they can, and if they are not able to do so it’s because something is hindering them. Something is not right; they don’t understand what you want, or something has happened that makes them unable to act accordingly to how you want them to behave.
Let’s look at the statement: “There are no such thing as difficult children. There’s only children facing difficulties.”
When I grew up, if a child were refusing to do what their parents told them to, we would say that they were difficult, that they would have to be disciplined and that there would have to be consequences for the bad behaviour.
But what happens if we look at it in the light of the thought that children do the best they can? We have to take a very different approach. We will have to look beyond the behaviour and ask the question “Why?” “Why is my child behaving like this? Why do they do this?”
The theory earlier was that children in a way had to be forced to behave well (as if they didn’t want to be kind in the first place) and that they had to be shaped.
The child was kind of an object, and their thoughts, feelings and wants were not considered to be important. But then things changed. A lot of parents have thought of their child as a subject long before science showed us what was really true. Still so many parents, like my grandparents, had the perception of the child being an object. But what do I mean by saying that a child is a subject?
Look at an object. It’s almost as if it’s a thing. The object is in grammar, onto which something is being done to. And you wouldn’t ask an object what they wanted or why they behaved in a certain way. Everything is being done to them. And then look at a subject. The subject is the thing or the person doing something. An object is passive and a subject is actively doing things.
What’s interesting about that is that you would agree with my statement when I say that children are absolutely subjects. They do things all the time and it’s quite obvious that they have feelings, thoughts and wants. Yet there are parents out there who treat their child as an object by making all the decisions, demanding obedience without allowing their child to find their own voice, strengths and talents. For a short while I found myself in such position.
“Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them.” Bill Ayer
If we look at the statement “a child does the best they can”, we realise that if that is true then we need to change our approach to every situation where they are behaving in a way that is unwanted.
Because that would mean that a child is not rebellious; a child is not out to destroy your day. Your child is not all over the place craving your attention without caring about your opinion. Your child’s biggest fear is actually rejection. That is why children will do things and protect grown-ups in their lives even though the latter have hurt them and done bad things. They want to do what you ask them to do. They always want to please you.
And that is a fact with every young child. What they need the most is love. They need acceptance. Not necessarily for their behaviour, but for their existence. They need to see that they are good enough, that they are loved and that they are worthy of love because of who they are. They need to have safety. They need to feel protected. They need to be allowed to be children, to develop themselves, to play, to explore the world around them.
“Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” Alvin Price
Kids also need to have some sense of control, some sense of impact on their own world. By that I mean they should be allowed to make small decisions during the day. Not big ones that will impact their life, because they don’t have the maturity for it – that is our responsibility – but to decide what they want to eat and when they are full. They should be allowed to decide what they want to play with when it’s playtime. All of this will give them a sense of control.
It’s quite interesting to think about the fact that children have their own personality, that they have their own talents and gifts. They have their own reason for certain decisions; their own purpose. And if we don’t see that, we will try to make them into something that they are not, and by doing that we’re impacting them in a negative way.
Find the strength to help them to live free from the pressure of pleasing others by telling your child that you are pleased with them, that you love them, that you accept them the way they are and that they are good enough. By doing so, you are going to free them to become the best version of themselves.
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” Hodding Carter