Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Teaching my kids to be good

My concept of parenting, before I had kids, was a lot of screaming at them not to do stuff. Don't fight. Don't hit your brother! Stop taking his toys! Don't bite him! Will you stop touching him! To be sure there IS a lot of that. But I approached this with the idea that there could be much more to it than simply eliminating bad behavior. And in fact, the best way to eliminate bad behavior would be to replace it with good behavior.

Coupled with that idea was the concept that children tend to live up (or down) to your expectations. I had this vague observation that the types of people who assumed that children, their children, were innately entitled, selfish, mean-spirited little trolls in need of constant discipline tended to have children that turned out that way. Mean-spirited, selfish trolls that were constantly being screamed at and corrected. Sometimes it seems like that's the only attention some kids get. "Stop that!"

If children live up to our expectations, let's expect something else.

So instead I operate with the assumption that my boys are lovable, loving, good-natured, sweet, generous, compassionate, friendly, smart little men who are just searching for a way to communicate those things to the outside world. My job is to help them make friends and be friends, to make others laugh and smile, to learn how to love and express love, how to interact with the world in ways that communicate those intentions to others. This is a different approach than drilling them to pedantically recite please and thank you and I'm sorry where socially required. And in our case, it shines through.

They love the little dialogue of "Tenk ooo" "You're welcome" that they get to have with adults and relatives, and even each other. They get such positive reactions from saying these polite things that they do it as often as possible. When I tell them "Say thank you" its not a lecture, its a reminder that this is an opportunity to play that little game they love. And they almost always do.

But its deeper than please and thank you.

As I was sitting here writing this, they were playing with each other and the younger one got upset about something, probably a stolen toy. His brother saw his tears and that he was upset and shifted gears. He actually hugged and kissed his brother and said "It's OK, Wiley." Wiley stopped crying. I taught him that. Not by lecturing him not to be bad and mean, but by showing him how to express love and concern for his brother.

They are certainly not perfect - that is not what this blog is about. Of course they fight, they steal toys, they hit and all those normal toddler things. But they also know how to make up, and even how to negotiate. I've taught them that instead of simply taking a toy from someone, they should offer a trade. They like this tactic and use it often. Not always successfully and then we're back to just taking it, but it warms my little capitalist heart to see Parker go find a train to offer Wiley for a truck he has. And if the train doesn't work, he knows to up the ante. I've even seen Parker offer a toy for nothing in return when a shy kid arrives at the Barnes & Noble train table. Just as a way to make a friend. That concept is incredibly valuable and will serve him well in life. The power of simple kindness.

But on our good days when people see my boys interacting this way with others and with each other, sometimes they wonder how I do it. I think it has a lot to do with this underlying philosophy.

Just expect that your kids are warm, loving little fuzzballs that want to love and be loved by the world and you will see your job as a parent in a very different light.

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