In the time that I have been a parent I have come to realize that most of the problems that we have come out of the way that perceive things and what we expect from our kids..
With babies, the largest of the expectations are around sleeping and nursing habits and the need to be held. Not only do things work against parents that try to take control of these needs, but the more they try the more they disrupt the natural patterns and needs are just not being met which will cause further problems.
I wrote this a few years ago in a post about sleep issues and CIO (cry-it-out):
If so many children have “sleep issues” and have to be trained out of “desperation” then it is clear that the “sleep issues” are a norm. If they are the norm then it is clear that the real “sleep issues” lie within the parents expectations of the child and not what is physically and physiologically normal for the child. If people would stop fighting their children over when and where their children sleep, then sleep would not be such an issue.
After three kids now, I believe this to be true even more than I did then. In our family, Xavier being the first got the raw end of the deal at times. He was a great sleeper, but I remember a rough patch we all went through when he was about 9 months and like most babies, he didn’t sleep much (and had a nursing strike) because his brain was so busy processing all his new skills. The more we expected from him, the more resistance we were met with and the more stress that we had which led to us to want to have more control. Luckily we decided to listen to him more and go with the flow and no longer have expectations of what he “should” be doing… and the “problems” quickly went away. I realized that the less expectations I had about what he “should be doing”, the less stress I have and the better things are in the end.
Looking at the problems that we have in our household now, I still can see that it is what we perceive and expect is what often gets in the way of solving the conflicts we encounter. This is something that I have believed for a long time, but as I said, learning about NVC has filled in the gaps for me and has made it more clear.
Something that happened recently was a fight between Colin and Xavier (not a rare occurrence btw)… The situation was that Khéna was already outside and Xavier was dressed and ready to go when Colin wanted something out of the fridge…Xavier told him he couldn’t have it and a fight ensued. In the moment what I perceived was Xavier being bossy and telling Colin what he can’t have and Colin fighting back. If I didn’t know what I know now, or wasn’t putting it in practice, I would most likely try to fix the problem by over-talking, because I expect him to be nice to his brother and expect him to not to be bossy and “mean” and have to empathy. Some may even think that I should have even made him say sorry to his brother for hurting his feelings.
but what would any of that have accomplished?
I looked at the situation and tried to find out what Xavier was needing…
so I asked him… “what is it that you want right now?” he responded by directing the attention back to not wanting Colin to have the chocolate milk.
so I asked him… “is it because you would like some too?” he said yes and I just saw all the tension leaving.
So, I said “no problem, you can have some too… next time though, it would be easier if you just said that… ok?”
I served two glasses and Xavier and Colin talked about what they would do outside. There were no hard feelings between anyone and everyone got what they wanted/needed, and the more I do this, the more they talk about what they need instead of jumping on each other, not, every time of course, but life lessons like that take time to learn.
We might expect kids to behave a certain way, but we must not expect them to know those behaviours automatically, nor believe that they can be learned though punishments or by our reactions to what we perceive. What we need to do is get to the reason why they do things and then teach them to react differently in the future. It is a harder and longer process but it is so much more rewarding for all.
Does this mean that we should never expect things from our kids? I am not saying that at all… I am just saying that there are realistic and unrealistic expectations. I expect that my kids will tell me what they need, when they are hungry, when they are tired etc… I don’t expect them to magically do so on a schedule that comes from my expectations. I expect them to explore and learn… but I know I can’t expect them to do so on a certain schedule in a certain manner.
One of the problems that I see is that in the last generations, parenting has been learned through books. Limited texts that tell parents what to expect and when, without leaving the place for individuality and furthermore making parenting all about the parent and not the child. The problem is that all kids are different and they have not read the books that we read. They don’t know what they are expected to do, they just do what comes naturally.
A quote I love..
“Children are the books… once you start reading them you will never want to put them down…”