“We must break the cultural habit of sacrificing our inner lives for our outer lives, of giving up depth in deference to speed.” Abby Seixas
Well-behaved kids- who doesn't enjoy them? Whether they are our kids or our friends' kids, they are pleasant kids. They listen. They follow directions. And most importantly, they don't mess with our plans.
Because of how lovely well-behaved kids can be, raising children has become a mission based on how to best apply strategies to make them well-behaved. most parenting books focus on discovering applicable ways to get children to 'settle down'. The concept of control is embedded so deeply in parenting practices that as parents we often think we are just doing what's best for them.
Yet we spend hours of our days saying things like: "Go take a shower", "You're not wearing that, go change", "Go do your homework", "Stop nagging", "Why are you being so difficult?", "I said no", "Ask your father", "Go help your sister, now!", "Stop with the crying, be a big boy", "Turn off that television, or else".....
If our friend called us and said, "Stop venting about your boss, suck it up", or "Go do the dishes now or I won't come visit you again"- how would we feel?
The truth is- no one likes to be told what to do. Just like us, Kids and adolescents have an innate need to feel autonomous and valued. Certainly, children need guidance, protection, and love. But if we want to raise human beings who love themselves first, so that they are genuinely able to be kind to others and set healthy boundaries, we must shift the focus from raising compliant children to raising self-aware children.
We must admit that raising well-behaved children makes OUR ride as parents and educators smoother. Surely, many of us grew up hearing the phrase, "children are to be seen and not heard", and we are smart enough not to repeat it to our children. But the truth is, our actions as a collective still reflect beliefs that children need serious discipline. Many of us still buy into the belief that control is the only way to get children to become healthy, responsible, successful, and happy adults.
Let's take a look at why the self-awareness approach is crucial for healthy development by first examining the issues with raising well-behaved kids.
RAISING "WELL-BEHAVED" CHILDREN
I was once forwarded a three-paragraph article by someone who believed this article to be good. The article stated that 'nagging mothers' raise more successful children. It also cited research! Sounds appealing doesn't it? Except the article was really discussing that nagging mothers raise children who do better professionally as adults. The article then ended with: So if you're feeling guilty as a mother, stay calm, research is backing you up!
First things first: How do YOU define success? Secondly, are you able to accept the negative consequences associated with stern parenting which may really only lead to career success?
Here's what research really shows about nagging mothers:
Parents who use "psychological control" by aiming to control and change what the child thinks, feels, or does using guilt, love withdrawal, and invalidation of feelings actually diminish their children's intrinsic motivation and teach children unhealthy internalization of their emotions.
Strict and authoritarian discipline leads kids to be unhappy and defiant, and in turn they behave worse and get punished more than others.
Strict parenting leads kids to become better liars and engage in deceptive behaviors since they are afraid of punishment.
Strict and authoritarian discipline leads kids to suppress their emotions to the point of numbness. Emotional suppression has SEVERE consequences for both development throughout childhood and adjustment in adulthood. Children who learn to suppress their emotions fail to learn how to process them- a crucial tool for healthy mental and physical lives. By adulthood, individuals who depend on suppression as a way to cope with their emotions have increased parasympathetic nervous system activation (feeling high levels of stress), behavioral avoidance, and higher risk for various cardiovascular diseases.
RAISING SELF-AWARE CHILDREN
Creating a complete list of how to raise self-aware children is impossible. If you follow my blog, you know that each post has at least one tool that can help us become more self-aware to deeply engage with our children's authenticity.
But we must understand that child development is messy. Kids need to try out new things in order to grow. Just as it is natural for them to stumble and fall as they shift from crawling to walking, they may also be rude when learning to defend their space when they feel violated. It is up to us as parents to decide how we want to view these occurrences. Are they problems to be solved, provocations, or are they learning opportunities for us and for our children?
Research shows that building awareness and acceptance helps to reduce emotional reactivity to negative stimuli and increases willingness to remain in contact with them. It is up to us to sit with our emotions and teach our children to sit with theirs. Through our own self-awareness and acceptance of our emotions, no matter how difficult they may be, our children will naturally learn to be kind, respectful, and authentic.
They will learn to speak gently when defending their space.
They will see that mom and dad rarely yell, because they take responsibility for their feelings.
They will see that mom and dad may make mistakes and even yell from time to time, but they always come clean with things and apologize.
They will see that it is okay to feel their emotions, because when we feel them they move through us and not against us.
They will see that it is not what we say or believe that matters, but how we treat ourselves and others. They will see that it is not our ideologies that stick, but our embodiment of them that make us flourish in authenticity.