It’s common to hear adults appreciate children who do as they are told. “She is so obedient! He listens to everything you say!” Isn’t it blissful when our children cooperate and everything goes smoothly?
And there may be innumerable times, when it is difficult for children to fulfil our requests and understand our needs. Why do they find it hard to cooperate with us?
To find the answer to this question, in our 20 hour parenting course, we start with understanding age- appropriate developmental needs of children. After that, we explore tools that help parents to communicate effectively. We parents need to be attuned to the developmental phase our children are in before we ask for their cooperation. Only then can we build inner discipline in children.
For example, most 3 year olds find it challenging to sit through a 2 hour meal at a restaurant. At this age children have a high need for movement and exploration. Yet, when we go out to a restaurant, we expect them to sit in one place. When that doesn’t happen, we may threaten them by saying,” I will leave you here if you get up from your chair!” They might sit for a while obediently fearing our action. Soon their inner urge of movement and exploration kicks in and they start to run around again. Being aware of this need for movement helps us to respond to our children instead of reacting by threatening or shouting. This knowledge can significantly ease our journey in parenting.
While the first step is recognizing the need behind the behavior, we also need to be aware that children are little people with a will of their own. It is important therefore to honour our children’s will before thinking of developing cooperation in them. For young children, their world is filled with parents and adults stopping them from doing things. This could be for keeping to the routine of the day or for their own safety -for example, we may say “No” when children reach out for a glass vase curiously.
Children in turn may counter our NO with a NO of their own! Threatening, scolding and other punitive means are often used to break the will of a child and make them obey adults. This can either make the child extremely rebellious or submissive. A child who obeys without exercising his own will ends up blindly obeying his parents today and tomorrow his peers!
Rather than dismissing a child who says ‘NO’ as being stubborn or difficult, could we view their behaviour as an attempt to meet their developmental needs? Respecting a child's will, within the boundaries of safety and good sense helps in building his decision making capability and self-esteem. In the teenage years, this inner compass is what helps them not succumb to peer pressure. As a young adult this very will of the individual protects them against outside influence and be assertive if they find something unacceptable.
It is important for children to learn how to cooperate. We want to raise children who have a good sense of self as well as a sensitive understanding of other’s needs. For that, we parents could aid them in meeting their needs. When it's not possible to meet their needs, we could empathize, explain and offer alternatives. When we listen to our children’s needs and acknowledge them, we role model to them to listen to us and be sensitive to our needs! This keeps the parent child connection intact and supports children to cooperate of their own free will.
Author: Mrinalini Ponappa Banerjea is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.