One of the big issues in schools today is “bullying.” Parents and teachers struggle daily with how to stop this behavior. Without realizing it, adults teach bullying behavior to children by modeling it when they use the threat of their physical size or power to make children do things.
When I hear a parent counting “One… two” at a young child, I always wonder what the child has been told will happen if the parent counts to ‘three’.
Is it the threat of spanking, being yelled at, time out, abandonment (I’m going without you) or the withdrawal of love and approval? Whatever the threat may be, I rarely hear “three.” As intended, the threat of what will happen if the parent gets to three usually compels the child to do whatever it is the parent wants.
Parents use threats to get children to cooperate, because it is what adults so often modeled, when we were growing up.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “or else.”
We did what we were told out of fear even if we didn’t know what the “or else” would be.
While counting may appear to be a magic form of discipline, there is no magic in threats. Children know that adults are bigger and more powerful than they are. They comply in self-defense.
If the only way we can get children to do what we ask is by intimidating them with our greater physical size and power, how will we get them to do as we ask when we are no longer bigger and stronger? “Ask the parents of any teenager if counting still works. Not only do threats no longer work, they’ve learned to use the same means to make others do what they want.
Many parents see a child’s uncooperative behavior as a challenge to their authority.
Once we understand that uncooperative behavior is usually caused by a child’s unmet need or an adult’s unrealistic expectation, we don’t have to take the behavior so personally.
Parents and children often have different needs. Sometimes our needs or schedules conflict with our children’s needs. Children who are deeply absorbed in play will not want to interrupt their play to go with us to the bank or the store before it closes.
When a parent needs to do one thing and a child needs to do something else there is a conflict of needs. This conflict of needs turns into a power struggle when parents use the power of fear instead of the power of love.
The bond or connection parents have with their children is their most powerful parenting “tool.” A strong bond is created over time when parents lovingly and consistently meet a child’s early needs.
Threats communicate, “what you think, feel, want or need is not important.” Threats undermine the parent-child bond. When we learn to resolve our “conflicts of needs” in ways that show children that their needs and feelings matter, we strengthen the bond and avoid many power struggles.
If we want to teach children to love instead of hate, we must learn to use conflict resolution skills in our daily interactions with children.
Just as children learn bullying from what adults model, they can learn conflict resolution and problem solving skills from what we model. When children learn the skills from how we treat them at home they will bring those skills to their relationships at school.
Very young children can learn conflict resolution if we model it. An older sibling can be taught to find another toy to exchange with their younger sibling instead of just snatching their toy back. When two children want the same toy at the same time we can help the find a solution. When there is a conflict of needs because the parent wants to do an errand and the child just wants to stay home and play we can say “let’s solve the problem to see if we can find a way for us both to get what we need.”
Maybe the child could take the toy in the car or perhaps the errand could wait until tomorrow.
When the parent is ready to leave the playground and the child wants to stay longer, we can suggest a compromise of five more minutes and doing something fun when we get home. Often it’s not that the child doesn’t want to leave, as much as it is that she doesn’t want the fun to end.
When we teach children that everyone’s needs are important by honouring their needs, they learn to honor the needs of others.
Photo Credit: Noriko Cooper | Dreamstime.com