The Wisdom of a 4-year-old
The other day I was sitting with my kids when my 4 year old blurted out " no one can control me, only I can control myself". It was ones of those parenting moments when I thought "yes! she gets it". Truer words have never been spoken by a 4 year old. Sometimes our children have so much insight!
Her statement brought up two points for me. The first is that she is beginning to understand the concepts of self regulation and self discipline on some level. She has an awareness that she ultimately controls herself. The second thought I had was how true this really was and that this is the exact thing that freaks parents out.
The reality is that my 4 year old is right. We don't have control over our children anymore than we can control the stranger on the street. They have opinions and ideas of their own. They can chose to do as we say, or completely ignore us. Parents tend to use bribes, rewards,and punishments to get the desired behaviors that they want, but even with all that we cannot control our children. Nor should we want to.
Our goal should not be to control our children but to raise children that are in control of themselves and take responsibility for their actions. Children who are easily "controlled" by their parents are also easily controlled and influenced by their peers and other adults.
As you can imagine their are many scenarios when you hope your child will be defiant and not go along with what everyone else is doing or telling them to do.
In order to do this we need to allow children to make choices , with in reason and of course age appropriate,. We need to give them space to practice managing themselves. We need to give them guidance and suggestions but not use punishment, rewards or bribes to influence the direction.
We need to save our "strong arm" for when there is an issue of safety so that we can prevent our children from being harmed. We want our kids to manage themselves and behave a certain way because they are driven to not because of some payoff if they do.
Most importantly, we need to manage our own issues & our own anxiety around this.
We need to be able to tolerate those challenging parenting moments when your child struggles with self control in public. Those moments when your child doesn't make the best choice, and has to deal with the aftermath or a poor decision. These are hard for parents to tolerate.
We all want our children to be good people and to grow into competent adults. The key to this is letting them practice in their safe nest before they fly out into the world.
Guiding them and supporting them along the way. As they get older, reducing our tendency to take the lead, instead letting them walk next to us or a little bit ahead.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach. Mighty Oak Parenting was started as a way for her to share all the things she learned from being a therapist as well as a parent. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.
**Disclaimer: This blog is the opinion of an individual and is not to be construed as professional advice or a professional relationship. If you are seeking mental health advice contact a therapist in your area. If you are experiencing an emergency, head to your nearest emergency room or call 911.