The Thing Most Parents Forget About Their Kids
“How many times do I have to remind you to take out the trash?” My frustration mounts as I turn and notice his bare feet. “And why do you not have something on your feet? You know you're not supposed to go barefoot in the winter.” As I spin around and walk out of the kitchen, I catch a glimpse of his room. Oh my! I start to hit him with another reminder of what he hasn't done properly, but decide against it. I can't take credit for this; I can only thank the Lord for showing me this through something I read somewhere, but — it's hard to be a kid! So as I caught myself beginning to let my son have a piece of my mind for everything he'd messed up on that day, I stopped and let him focus on emptying the trash instead. And then I thanked him for his hard work.
Imagine trying to learn English as a second language. There are so many spelling and grammar rules! And once you learn them all you find out about all the millions of exceptions to those rules and all the nuances that make a rule not apply in that instance. (How about spelling tough, through, though, and thought?)
What if you were working as hard as you could to memorize all those rules, but your teacher yelled at you every time you forgot one? Or worse yet, when you tried hard to apply a rule, but got in trouble because it wasn't supposed apply in that instance? How frustrating would that be? Wouldn't it be a lot more reasonable for the teacher to remind you of the rule or to explain why there was an exception? Marking your grade down a little will probably help you recognize your weaknesses and work on cementing those particular areas in your mind a little better. But it would be ridiculous if your teacher gave you an F on a quiz for missing one answer.
Now, what must it be like to be a child? So many rules to learn! For the record, we don't really teach kids that there is a great big list of do's and don'ts and that they have to learn them or else! But nevertheless, there are general principles of living that everyone must follow if they're going to grow up to be a decent adult.
To name a few basics:
If it's not yours, don't touch it.
If you get it out, put it away.
If you've been given a job to do, do it to the best of your ability.
Unless it's hurting them or someone else, don't tattle on other people.
Now, think about all of the nuances to those rules!
“Well, yes, honey. You're not supposed to touch things that aren't yours, but when you saw your sister had carried mommy's phone into the bathroom and set it on the back of the toilet, you could have brought it to me before it got knocked in.”
“Well, no. You're not supposed to tattle, but when your brother is drawing on the chair with a sharpie, you should definitely tell me about it.”
“i know you need to put your toys away, but we're going to be late! You should already be in the car!”
TOUGH STUFF FOR LITTLE PEOPLE
I wonder how often I've perceived my children to be disobedient, when all they're trying to do is remember all these confounded things they're supposed to be doing!
How much more gentle would I be if I placed myself in my children's shoes more often?
I surely don't want to exasperate their little hearts. But when my vision is too narrow to see things from their perspective that's exactly what I will do.
If something is not defiant rebellion (i.e. you know for certain they heard you tell them something and they just flat out ignored you) then gentle reminders are going to go a lot further than stern discipline. Overreacting to the fact that your child forgot to take out the trash is only going to make him feel angry or discouraged.
Maybe you're thinking, “But how is he going to learn to cement these principles into his head?! It's important that my child learn to ____ (fulfill responsibility, treat others properly, etc.)”
You're right! I'm not saying that treating our children gently when they forget something means that we overlook the problem. Sometimes there are natural consequences that will teach a better lesson than harsh discipline ever would.
When my son neglects to take out the trash, the job gets nastier and nastier. It piles up higher and higher and begins to spill out into the trash pullout. By the time he finally gets around to doing his job, the bag is so full that it's difficult to pull out of the can, spilling even more trash onto the floor. Now he has to pick up the dirty diapers, food remnants, and who-knows-what-else that has fallen all over the place. He has also added to the work because he has to sweep the floor around the trash can, clean out the trash pull-out, and even scrub off all the dried on food that fell down there. It's not a pleasant task. And hopefully he's saying, “Note to self: Take out the trash before it gets to this point next time!”
When there is willful defiance involved, you may need to look for other means of correction (as well as determining if there is an underlying emotional need that is not being met so that it can be remedied.)
But otherwise, just remember that it's hard to be a kid!
THEY'RE DOING A GREAT JOB
Often on particularly difficult days when there have been a lot of reminders needed and I can sense my kids beginning to feel discouraged, I tell them, “You're doing a great job being ___ (9 or whatever age they are)! There's a lot of stuff to learn and remember, isn't there?”
I know how easy it is for me to feel like I am failing at life and to berate myself for not being more organized or getting dinner on the table on time or keeping the house cleaner or whatever. And that's without anyone jumping all over me about it.
Our kids probably feel the same way sometimes. On top of learning times tables and spelling words and being tested over it all, they also have to learn how to think of others before themselves, how to keep their things neat, and which items in the house they may not touch; they must remember to wash their hands after they use the bathroom, say please when they ask for something, and put their dirty clothes in the hamper when they change.
They're basically learning or reviewing new things from the time they get up until they go to bed at night!
Maybe if we can keep that in mind we'll be a little less hard on them when they slip up, eh?
And you're doing a great job too! Learn more about parenting with gentleness in my email series. You can sign up below and receive the first email right away.