Humans are social and emotional beings. After the need for food, warmth, and physical safety is met, humans most need to belong. Your child actually needs you. Probably more than you realise.
Expectations of children is one of the biggest areas of discussion, or should I say contention, in the parenting groups that I facilitate. Some parents don’t understand a child’s need for belonging and connection. And it seems to be the greatest source of conflict between parents and young children. Our society places such an emphasis on independence that young children are given a timeline for developmental tasks. We are so achievement orientated and intellectual, we lose sight of the ball because we’re focused on the goal posts.
Parents worry about the precedent it sets if they feed their three year old, or help their six year old get dressed for school on those days when she just can’t manage it herself, or the nine-year old that snuggles into bed with the parents in the middle of the night after a nightmare. I ask “do you think you’ll still be feeding him when he’s ten years old?”
Unfortunately, what I see is a whole lot of parents with high or unrealistic expectations for their children and scorn and indignation when the kids, little tiny kids, aren’t meeting the mark. Underlying all of this angst appears to be the view that children are intrinsically lazy, manipulative, and out to make your life hell. Dr Bryan Post calls it fear based parenting. If I don’t have my child toilet trained by the age of two, how will it reflect on me? What’s wrong with my child?
Sometimes I still need to feed my six year old his breakfast, or help him get dressed. Some days it is all too much for him. It’s not that he can’t do it himself, he just needs some extra love and support. If he can’t get that love and support from his parent, where else is he going to get it?
When parents come to realise this, they find that their child does not need to tantrum or misbehave to get the parents’ attention. Many parents tell me that where before they would have told their child to “do it yourself/go away/hang on/stop pestering me”, if they stop and meet the child’s need when it arises it avoids the power struggles and conflict and tantrums. Some parents say that when their walls of strict adherence to independence are broken down, it is such a relief for them to be able to tend to their young child’s need for love and care and nurture and belonging. They learn to approach parenting from a heart level rather than a head level. Parents often say “thank you for giving me permission to nurture my child”.
Having realistic expectations for our young ones is a big part of understanding and responding to them, and enjoying them. Grow them up with love, care, kindness, nurture and support.
Categories: Encouraging Desirable Behaviour