The simple task of child rearing

It is a natural human instinct or ‘drive’ to reproduce and have children. Child rearing is, in my opinion, the hardest and the best job in the world. It brings the greatest joy and the greatest challenges. Most parents have children with thoroughly inadequate preparation. Each individual is totally unique and your child is no different.

The truth is that there is no unflawed preparation. Parenting perfection is probably impossible, but we can try to avoid the major pitfalls. 

Most parents genuinely try their best and still make mistakes.

‘This Be the Verse’, by Philip Larkin strikes a chord with me, which resonates long, clear and repeatedly: 

“They f**k you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f**ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
and half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

(Larkin, P. 1971:30)”

Larkin is cynical, and never had children, but I hope you get the point. 

For a child to flourish and become an emotionally fully functioning or a well-rounded adult, they should be allowed to grow and develop in an environment of*:

  • Considered and considerate congruence (grounded, measured and honest).
  • Shared guidance – between the adult and child. 
  • Supported learnt self-sufficiency and individuality. 
  • No fear
  • No judgement  
  • Empathic understanding 
  • Acceptance and awareness of the parent’s wishes and the child’s wishes.
  • Authentic unconditional love… almost impossible, but worth attempting. 

Note:  If you achieve the above, you will be the very first!

In my opinion, and experience, as people move from birth to being independent adults they go through phases. Note, these phases are generalisations and do not apply to all children:

A) 0-7 years of age are the directive and guidance years. Small children actually like safe and understandable boundaries, they feel secure and can relate to and bond with the boundary providers i.e. their significant others, usually mum and dad. “Don’t put your had in the fire. You might burn your hand and that will hurt.” “Don’t poke the dog with that stick, it might hurt him and he might get angry.” “This is not the way we act in our family, we try and remain calm and we find calm better.” “We all need to go to bed because everyone needs to sleep so we are not really tired tomorrow.” “Think about poor mummy at work tomorrow being really tired at work, that would not be very good.” These boundaries are not necessarily rules, but more like guidelines within which the child can operate, however, they shouldn’t deviate wildly from these parameters.

B) 7-14 years of age are the explanation years. Why? Why? Why?  Why does this happen? Why do I have to do that? Why does she have that and I don’t? Lots of questions that mostly need to be answered even if you say, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” The previously learnt guidelines are still adhered to, but with a little more analysis and intricacy. “Well, to avoid having rotten teeth we try and eat less sugary foods.” “We need to try at school, because it’s good to learn… learning opens doors and gives people more choice.” “Mummy is having a rest because she’s been working very hard this week and it would help her if we are all a little quiet for the next hour.” 

C) 14-21 Years of age. The supportive years where you might like to consider perpetually saying to your teenager, “It’s your decision.” Even if they say, “What do you think about this dad?” the answer should be, “That’s not the point what are your thoughts?” This phase in a youngster’s life is where they are going through:

a) Cognitive change - where they actually think about things differently.

b) Hormonal change

c) Physical change

d) Neurological change - where their physical brain and how it works alters.

e) The biggest change during this period is as the young person moves from child to adult they need to find themselves. Most young people need to do this forthem selves. This is often a difficult time for everyone involved. As a parent try to be understanding and supportive. 

D) 21-28 Years of age the inbetween years are where the young person may well be supporting them self financially, but might not be sure about where they want to go in terms of marriage, career, children … the big things in life. Even if they say, “What do you think about this mum?” the answer should be, “That’s not the point what are your thoughts?”

Considered, compassionate, congruence

Being congruent or possessingcongruenceis when you feel, think, behave and express yourself in a genuine (true to yourself) manner. You are confident, measured and grounded in way of being, in how you talk to your children. When you are really easy within yourself. I know that’s sometimes difficult to achieve, but sometimes it’s the thought or feeling that counts and those thoughts or feelings can and will be absorbed by your offspring. In other words as parents it’s OK to slip up; perfection is unattainable. 

When expressing yourself to your child you should try to be measured, considerate and compassionate. If managed carefully, hopefully they will feel that you are allowing them to make their own choices, as well as showing gentle guidance and interest (positive regard) towards them. 

“Stop crying… Big boys don’t cry.” “Nice girls don’t do that.” Statements like this can create harmful conditions of worth. Conditions of worth are where a parent, from whom you crave attention, or to be valued, or even loved, will only value or love you upon you behaving in a certain way or meeting certain conditions – this is conditional love.”

“Stop crying… Big boys don’t cry.” Might be interpreted by your son as ‘my mum says, “Stop crying…Big boys don’t cry.” That means if I stop crying I will please my mum… if I stop crying my mum will love me… if I want to grow up and be a man I cannot cry… I had better not cry anymore… or show my emotions… I will repress my feelings… I will become something I am not. I will feel uncomfortable inside or emotionally. 

This is you probably conditioning your son to suppress his true or congruent self. 

Consider the healthy option:

“You’re crying; would you like to tell me why you’re crying?”

Your son will possibly express his feelings rather than distort his feelings or deny his feelings - “I’m crying because …”

If your daughter gets angry you could say: 

“Stop being angry.”

Or the healthy option…

“You sound like you’re angry; would you like to tell me why you’re angry?” 

“I’m angry because …”

Cooperative guidance

Always speak from the ‘I’. 

When a baby is first born you must make emotional and practical safeguarding decisions for them in the same way you need to provide shelter, warmth, food and hygiene. The first four / five years of a human’s existence is usually where they develop and adapt most rapidly. 

A child who cannot express themselves with words is learning to understand what you are saying, to assimilate the information in a more visceral and abstract way. 

If your child runs into the road… try not to say, “Don’t do that you naughty boy!” He might think that running is naughty or just feel confused…

You might say, “I think that roads can be dangerous sometimes… what do you think?” here you have used an open question. Open questions usually start with WH - WHAT, WHEN, WHY, WHICH, WHO and WHERE. You can also use HOW.

You might not get an answer, but your child will soon understand that they are allowed to think and feel for themselves. They might be less confused. They are slowly becoming independent. 

As soon as your child can talk and understand you must try and respect their choices. If dad wants this son to play football, but the son wants to draw all the time don’t force him to play football, support him in his drawing. 

When a child is departing childhood, again you must try and respect their choices.

“I think that drugs can be risky… what do you think?” 

“I think that unprotected sex can be dodgy… what do you think?” 

“However, it is your life and you need to make your decisions.”

… they probably will anyway. I might suggest that if the child has been encouraged to make their own decisions early on these later decisions will probably be in tune with you and them. 

If a child goes into a tantrum and refuses to engage in any sensible dialogue, then you must put aside any embarrassment or annoyance you may be experiencing, become calm and say congruently, “This is not the way we act in our family, we try and remain calm and we find that it’s a better way to get things done.” Then ignore the tantrum and repeat the statement. This is commonly known as ‘tough love’. If you shout, they will learn that shouting is the accepted way of communicating in your family. If you hit it can be terribly damaging and stay damaging for the rest of your child’s life. If you’re calm they will adopt the calm way of being as the norm. 

“If a child will not do something then try not to punish, instead withdraw treats and privileges. When doing this try to be Fair, Firm, Focused and yet Friendly.”

Empowering Your Child Towards Self Responsibility 

Children live in the moment with a mind-set in which they don’t automatically assume things can or will change. In fact, it's more like: "I see it like this, therefore it'll always be like this... forever." That's fine when everything is happy in their world at that moment, but when it's not?  

Most parents would like their children to develop into balanced, contented bigger older people and would like that transition to be enjoyable and relaxed, rather than tense and bitter. We can teach our children to be responsible for their actions sooner than we think.    

For example, when a child realises they may have done something wrong, they might feel confusion and possibly even failure. This 'mistake', to them often feels permanent … “I will be a failure forever.” As big people we hopefully realise that doing something wrong or making a mistake is not forever... hopefully. 

Moving from a position of confusion, disappointment, failure and possible distress, to a position of rational calm in a young child can be tough. Is it possible to move a child from tantrum to tenderness, from a feeling of failure to a feeling of empowerment?

If your child snatches a toy from another child, you can:

1. At all times try to demonstrate that you are calm, grounded and in control of yourself. 

2. Correct the behaviour - Say, "No." in a firm and yet kind way and gently remove the toy from your child's hand.

3. Identify and relate to the problem –Say, "It seems to me that you would like to play with the toy Jonny has, but Jonny is playing with it now."

4. Rationalise the situation -"How would you feel if Jonny snatched a toy from you?"

5. Offer an alternative -"How about you asking Jonny if you can play with the toy when he’s finished?”

6. Then it is time to empower the child, to alter and move negative feelings and actions towards positive ones for the long term. Whilst you are holding your child's attention say: "You’ll remember next time.”

This process may not be easy and may take repeated attempts, but by showing empathic understanding whilst being congruent and loving, your child will begin to follow your advice and eventually work these things out for themselves in a calm and measured way.

Supported autonomy and independence 

In this context, autonomy or independence is acceptance that you value yourself as an individual able to live your life as you wish within the realms of reality. Also, acceptance that other people are valued individuals who are able to live their lives as they wish. We can respect our own independence within the realms of reality. We can respect our autonomy and we can respect other people’s autonomy. 

The more often you ask your child, “What do you think?” the more your child will ask you, “What do you think mum/dad?” If you have a genuine view on the subject you can reply in a balanced manner. “I think xyz… but why don’t you make up your own mind.” They will listen to your viewpoint and they are more likely to consider your way of being. 

If your child hears her/his parents say, “My child can make their own mind up.” They will feel that you believe in them and they will be more able to become independent adults. If you say things like, “I trust your judgement,” they will probably believe in their judgement. If you allow them to decide it’s probably more likely that they will become decisive and confident young adults.  

No fear 

As a child, fear is anything that makes that child afraid. A child’s fear is not always obvious:

Fear regarding abuse is obvious.  

Fear regarding hunger is obvious.

Fear regarding the cold is obvious.

Fear regarding arguing parents is obvious.

“Fear regarding lack of love is less obvious.
Fear regarding lack of understanding is less obvious.
Fear regarding lack of freedom of expression or autonomy is less obvious.
Fear that no one is listening is less obvious.”

If a child experiences fear this may lead the child to become an adult who is less than they could be… an adult who is not their true self. 

Fear is multi-layered. 

I am afraid to tell my dad that I am being bullied at boy scouts and want to leave, because he sent me and he liked boy scouts when he was a boy. He will get angry and shout at me and then hit my mum. 

I am afraid to tell my mum that the other girls don’t talk to me and this makes me unhappy, because she had lots of friends as a girl and she will think I’m weird as well… anyway she doesn’t listen and is always too busy.  

No judgement  

What is being judgmental? 

Your child will absorb the information from within their environment. 

“Look at that idiot,” says dad about someone he’s never met.

“She’s got no taste,” says mum about the next door neighbour.

“She’s ugly,” says mum’s sister about someone on TV.

“You are stupid,” says the teacher to a pupil in your child’s class.

He/she might respond:

“He’s a stupid,

Or

“I’m a stupid, ugly idiot with no taste,”  

“Research has shown that people who categorise and judge others make the people around them, feel likely to be judged. They may also grow up with a fixed and limiting way of looking at life, where right and wrong, good and bad, are definite rules to live by… always.”

If, however your child hears expressions like: 

Each to their own…

Live and let live…

It’s their choice to choose…

It takes all sorts…

I try not to judge…

I don’t know the answer to that question…

What do you think?

They may grow up less judgemental and less rigid in their outlook. They will develop in a more fluid and flexible way where they are able to live their lives where right and wrong, good and bad, are not cast-iron certainties; where a willingness to change eases rigidity and aids a more easy-going and level or congruent lifestyle.

Empathic understanding 

Empathy is where one person compassionately walks in another person’s shoes and looks at the world through the other person’s eyes whilst putting aside their emotions and frame of reference. Truly feeling what your child feels in a felt sense way. With deep, considerate, emotional understanding, absolutely feeling the other person’s emotions, beliefs, values, hopes, realisms and dreams. You feel what they feel and furthermore they feel that you feel what they feel.

Acceptance and awareness of yourself and others

Acceptance that right and wrong, good and bad, are sometimes just opinions and not permanent rules for life. Your rules and guidelines may not suit others, including your own children. Acceptance that others are capable of being caring, sad, gentle, angry, civilised, lonely and friendly. Acceptance that you are capable of being caring, sad, gentle, angry, civilised, lonely and friendly. Awareness and understanding of your individual balance or reality is finding out how you truly function in a way that makes you feel good, at ease, relaxed, grounded and even creative, but most importantly really feel yourself. You can enjoy your genuine individual balance with total self-honesty and without any falsehood or lying to yourself. Awareness that other people also have their own unique balance. 

Authentic unconditional love

Authentic unconditional love is a sort of escape route or get out clause for all parents that make mistake (so that’s all parents in my estimation) and are not quite able to follow the suggested and almost impossible guidelines above. 

Authentic unconditional loveis being with and listening to and empathising with your child without judging the child in any way. In fact, being with your child and accepting, valuing and respecting their way of being, fully and positively.

If a parent loves their child deeply a child will feel that love, there is no real need for thought from the child, but there will be a felt recognition inside the child’s body, that despite the parent’s clumsiness he/she is doing their best and that makes up for a lot.  Being truly loved and valued by another human being is, in my opinion, wonderful. Offering this unconditional love to your child will deliver a life long empowering sensitive strength in that person. 

Conclusion 

If parents attempt to follow these suggested guidelines, I believe that they will help their children to find their own true, unique, contended, balance which will help them move through life with less psychological tension and in a more calm and comfortable manner.  

*(Rogers, C.R. by Sanders, P. 2006 (adapted by S Lutkin 2010)).

By Shane Lutkin, lead Therapist at Emotionalskills

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