Exclusive Book Extract from The Indigo Children: Ten Years Later by Lee Carroll and Jan Tober.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Our Children*
by Jan Hunt, M.Sc
1. We expect children to be able to do things before they’re ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a two-year-old to sit still. We ask a four-year-old to clean his room. In all of these situations, we’re being unrealistic. We’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and setting up the child for repeated failures to please us. Yet many parents ask their young children to do things that even an older child would find difficult. In short, we ask children to stop acting their age.
2. We become angry when a child fails to meet our needs. A child can only do what he can do. If a child can’t do something we ask, it’s unfair to expect or demand more, and anger only makes things worse. A two-year-old can only act like a two-year-old, a five-year-old can’t act like a ten-year-old, and a ten-year-old can’t behave like an adult! To expect more is unrealistic and unhelpful. There are limits to what a child can manage, and if we don’t accept those limits, it can only result in frustration on both sides.
3. We mistrust the child’s motives. If a child can’t meet our needs, we assume that he’s being defiant. To determine the truth of the matter, we need to look closely at the situation form the child’s point of view. In reality, a “defiant” child may be ill, tired, hungry, in pain, responding to an emotional or physical hurt, or struggling with a hidden problem such as a food allergy. Yet we seem to overlook these possibilities while thinking the worst about the child’s “personality.”
4. We don’t allow children to be children. We somehow forget what it was like to be a child ourselves and expect the child to act like an adult instead of acting his age. A healthy child will be rambunctious, noisy, and emotionally expressive and will have a short attention span. All of these so-called problems aren’t really problems at all, but are in fact normal qualities of a normal child. Rather, it’s our society and its expectations of perfect behavior that are abnormal.
5. We get it backward. We expect and demand that the child meet our needs—for quiet, for uninterrupted sleep, for obedience to our wishes, and on and on. Instead of accepting our parental role to meet the child’s needs, we expect the child to care for ours. We can become so focused on our own unmet needs and frustrations that we forget this is a child who has needs of her own that she can’t meet herself.
6. We blame and criticize when a child makes a mistake. Children have had very little experience in life, and they’ll inevitably make mistakes. This is a natural part of learning at any age. Instead of understanding and helping the child, we blame him, as though he should be able to learn everything perfectly the first time. To err is human; to err in childhood is human and unavoidable. Yet we react to each mistake, infraction of a rule, or so-called misbehavior with surprise and disappointment. It makes no sense to understand that a child will make mistakes and then to react as though we think the child should behave perfectly at all times.
7. We forget how deeply blame and criticism can hurt a child. Many parents are coming to understand that physically hurting a child is wrong and harmful, yet many of us forget how painful angry words, insults, and blame can be to a child who can only believe that he’s inadequate, incompetent, and unloved.
8. We forget how healing loving actions can be. We fall into vicious cycles of blame and misbehavior instead of stopping to give the child love, reassurance, self-esteem, and security with hugs and kind words. As Mother Teresa wrote, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
9. We forget that our behavior provides the most potent lessons to the child. It’s truly “not what we say but what we do” that the child takes to heart. A parent who hits a child for hitting, telling him that hitting is wrong, is in fact teaching that hitting is right—at least for those in power. It’s the parent who responds to problems with peaceful solutions who’s teaching the child how to be a peaceful adult. Problems and challenges present our best opportunities for teaching values, because children learn most effectively when they’re learning about real-life situations.
10. We see only the outward behavior, not the love and good intentions inside the child. When a child’s behavior disappoints us, we should—more than anything else we do—“assume the best.” We should assume that the child means well and is behaving as well as possible, considering all the circumstances (both obvious and hidden from us), together with his level of experience in life. If we always assume the best about our child, the child will be free to do his best. If we give only love, love is all we will receive.
Taken from The Indigo Children: Ten Years Later by Lee Carroll and Jan Tober (used with permission). Published by Hay House, RRP $26.95 and is available at all leading retailers.