19 June 2015

Three ways we set our kids up to fail

I was recently hanging out with a group of friends and our assortment of little people and I was struck by the fact that collectively - parents set their kids up to fail a lot more often than we care to admit.

I thought maybe it was just the assortment of people. But then I started listening to other circles of parents - at the shops, parks and on buses, and we all do it. And not only to our own children.

Basically, adults are contrary arseholes.

We are committed to this ideal of bringing up children who are kind and confident (and some parents want their kids smart as well - I clearly lack ambition) and we set up a framework that we think will make that happen. We fret about it. We read about it and Colin only knows, that if you have a blog - you write about it.

But yet, despite all best intentions at regular intervals every single day we ask them questions we know the answer to, but we ask them in such a way THAT SCREWS THEM OVER NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY.

And by that I mean that while our words seem innocuous our body language and tone of voice clearly says to the child "DANGER DANGER - THE QUESTION COMING IS NOT ACTUALLY THE QUESTION BUT A TEST TO SEE HOW WELL YOU CAN GUESS WHAT THE PROBLEM ACTUALLY IS BASED ON YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF ADULT IRRATIONALITY".

The top three seemingly innocent questions are:

"Did you do this?"

You know they did it. They know they did it. They know that you know they did it.  If they answer no, we're pissed off they didn't tell us the truth BUT if they answer YES they are in trouble anyway.

We don't even think about it - it's so ingrained into "what parenting looks like", it's a seamless segue into a humph or a chastisement that changes absolutely nothing except that the kid feels like absolute rubbish and chances are you do as well.

We could say "Hey, this mess you made - please clean it up and let me know if you need help."? But we don't. We set the whole thing up as if we're trying to catch a criminal and far too frequently, we react as if we did.

"Did I/mum/dad/whoever say you can touch that?"

Well no. But they didn't say they couldn't touch it either. And the kid is getting a clear message that you don't think they should but they're really not sure why not? How the hell is a small person supposed to differentiate between things you consider an 'ask first' experience vs what they see as 'an opportunity for sensory play' when it's at their eye height, within reach and clearly coloured in a way to draw a child's attention?

If they aren't allowed to touch it, it's up to their responsible adult to do something about it before it becomes a problem. Boundaries are supposed to be defined, not something the kid has to guess at every time they encounter something new or want to try something different.

This is unless of course whatever the kids is going to touch or try is going to cause PAIN, DISMEMBERMENT OR DEATH in which case, stop asking stupid questions and get the kid out of harm's way.

"Did you say please/thank you?"

Manners are important. I'm big on manners. BIG. But I notice that when a group of adults gets together with our children we all of a sudden start insisting on kids using please and thank you as if it's the only way we can prove we're good parents.

As adults we don't say PLEASE every single time we ask for something.  We just don't. We say "would you mind?", we say "Dankeschon", we say "Grab that for me darling", we say "Aren't you a dote for doing that?".

When we are just parenting on our own children and teaching them something we take into account their moods, the environment, their intent and our understanding that "YUM YUM MUM. I LOVE WEETBIX" is the equivalent of a big fat "THANKS FOR THAT".

But get us in group situations and then all of us act as if the only two words that matter in the whole wide world are PLEASE and THANK YOU.  If we're hanging with people that are that judgemental we should be reconsidering our friendships not yelling "WHAT DO YOU SAY?" every 2.76 seconds.

Children spend most of their time just getting on with life, doing stuff that interests them and hanging out with people they like. Very, very, very few children are going about life intent on doing the wrong thing and yet, once you start noticing how contrary adults are to children, you will realise we spend a ridiculous amount of energy being cross at children for situations that adults manifest. And it by no means stops with the three scenarios above.

The time we could be spending delighting in our offspring and all their glorious eccentricities and innocence is spent moulding them into what we imagine 'well behaved' looks like and imposing ways of doing things without even truly understanding why we ask it of them.

And it has to be said, we don't play fair.

It is not what we do consciously which disables our children, but that which we do without thought.

I challenge you to second or even third guess your own responses and motivations for a week or two and see how easily we slide into parenting habits which are at best, negative and at worst, destructive.

We don't have to be perfect parents, but we do need to be conscious, aware and evolving parents. 

At least some of the time.

 Do as I do and all that jazz. Y'know?

 What do you think? 

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