Kids do well if they can

“Kids do well if they can” - these words from the book “Raising Human Beings” by Dr. Ross Greene were very powerful for me. It made me realise that most of the time we are busy scolding, correcting and pushing our kids because we believe that they are not interested in their own development. We are convinced that children are not motivated or interested in doing things which are good for them. As a result, we have been conditioned to think is our job to push them, bribe them or threaten them to do what we see as necessary for their development. 


This is the belief that harms the core of parent-child relationships. It leads to a situation where life with children is a daily tug of war. Everything becomes a struggle. 


Dr Ross Greene, a clinical psychologist who was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for over twenty years talks at length about the approach we need to take as parents each time we find that our child is not meeting expectations. He says that when a child is not meeting our expectations, instead of assuming that he or she is being stubborn, or difficult, it would be more valuable to start with the assumption that the child is UNABLE to meet those expectations. He would if he could, but he cannot! 


What stops children from meeting expectations


This view came as quite a challenge to me. I had to rethink my outlook. Did that mean that if my child is not doing his homework, he cannot? If my child is not getting ready in time for school in the morning, he cannot? Up till now I most often believed that my child is just being lazy, or willful. I found it hard to accept this point of view. He does not say that the child can never do that task or meet that expectation. What he says is that you as a parent should find out “What is coming in the way of my child meeting this expectation? What is her struggle?”  I tried to embrace what Dr. Greene was saying and observed each problem I faced with my children more closely.  I found myself moving away from judging my child for being difficult to seeking to understand her challenges. Suddenly I felt more compassionate and better equipped to support my child in her growth. 


Dr. Greene suggests we first start with reframing the problem in our own minds. Instead of saying,“My child is lazy. He does not do his homework”, we say, “My child seems to have difficulty in doing his homework.” This way our focus in not on a behaviour but on UNSOLVED PROBLEMS.  And then we take up each unsolved problem and work collaboratively with the child in solving it. His book gives a step by step approach to solving problems in which we start with empathy for the child's struggle, define our concerns (what is worrying us parents) and then invite the child to work with you to find solutions. 


Discovering more about unsolved problems 


When I started these conversations with my child and went in with the idea of truly trying to find out what comes in the way of her being able to do her best, I discovered so many things. 


I notice you are taking a long time to get ready for school”, I said. “Wondering what's going on”. I came to know that she is having a hard time with her peer group. She was not fitting in and hence very reluctant to go to school.  

At another time I asked her, “I can see that you are finding it hard to complete your homework these days. What's up?”  Only after digging deeper and listening did I come to know they had a new teacher and she was not able to grasp what was going on n class. In all this tone, listening and empathy were most important. 


This approach made me aware of the fact that we are only looking at the symptoms and not the cause. We want to change a behaviour without knowing what's really going on for the child or very often we have our own “diagnosis” about the problem. With these conversations, I could uncover so much more and really work with my child on finding solutions collaboratively.   


Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.