It is common for parents to complain about their child’s mannerisms and characteristics. Behaviour, which doesn’t fit into our vision, social construct or culture, often worries us. Parents are quick to conclude that something must be wrong in their upbringing. And this results in them pointing fingers at partners, genes or specific events. They feel that their child has a weakness that must be attended to as soon as possible, and that if not modified, it will come in the way of their future.
Needless to say, that none of the above has anything to do with our children. These anxieties and judgements are a result of our personal baggage and ambitions. In our quest to be “good parents”, we forget to make parenting about our children. “My child is too shy, easily distracted, not confident or not independent enough,” are frequent concerns that parents report during therapy.
I would encourage you to erase the way you have been looking at these traits and start over. Unwittingly we assign labels to our children and insist that they behave otherwise without deeper understanding our inquiry. This is based on our limited purview of strengths and weaknesses. We take matters into our own hands, believing that kids need to be moulded “better” by us.
View your children for who they are and not what you would rather have them be. To do that, we need to drop fears of imperfection, impropriety or making mistakes, which stem from our subjective learnings. Reconsider some of your perceptions, and take a fresh look at this little being in front you, who has his or her own light and journey.
There is always a reason for a child’s emotional reaction or actions. Instead of understanding the reasons behind that and helping them address it, we often insist that they change the way they feel and manifest their emotions.
Here are some simple ways of reconsidering our rigid mindsets:
Sensitivity: This is often misunderstood as a weakness. We feel that a sensitive child will be hurt easily and will have to endure pain. On the contrary, sensitivity helps us be strong, nurturing and resilient. Sensitivity means that they have processes experiences and emotions. It implies having a good concentration, then how can it be a weakness? When we appreciate sensitivity and conscientiousness as strengths, our children learn to manifest it with confidence.
Impatience: A child who has trouble being patient is the one who works fast in her mind. She may act impulsively because she has something useful to say, often to help or contribute to a situation. The haste does not come from being naughty, cheeky or restless. Rather it may be coming from having a point of view, a goal and wanting to pursue it immediately. We can help by inculcating the habit of taking turns to contribute, breaking their goals down, making better estimations of time and bringing their attention to the steps one at a time.
Distracted: Children who are distracted are judged in more than one way. This is a big miss on our part as they are actually paying attention to way too many things. They are dreamers and creative people. Drifting of attention does not mean an absence of it. Paradoxically, they absorb a lot more. Research has shown that distractions can actually help memory, ease pain and shift focus from negative to positive experiences. Children who are easily distracted can be helped by using their inner dialogue to bring focus back to the task at hand.
Playfulness: Often parents report a lack of seriousness, absence of clear goals and maturity in their children. Playful children are spontaneous, resilient, and usually physically active. They learn quickly and have great contextual memories. Free thinkers and risk takers, these children demonstrate the ability to overcome obstacles without dwelling too much into them. They build autonomy, are eager to experience new things and spread a cheer wherever they go.
Defiance: This is probably one of the most challenging one for parents. Defiance often comes from having a strong mind and strong opinions. Children who defy are often the ones who like to explore, push boundaries, and in the process build grit. They will face situations head on and are risk takers. This is difficult for parents to accept as often they focus on the behaviour and not the root of it. Children who want to have things their way, need to be listened to, their ideas and goals considered while showing them acceptable ways of expressing and achieving.
The goal is not to encourage challenging behaviour, but to understand where it is coming from. For this process to truly work, we have to let go of our prejudices regarding traits and see the strengths in our child that come along with those traits. This will help us enhance their talents and understand their challenges, which we can help overcome with the help of coping skills. This is what needs our attention and support instead of correction or reconstruction.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.