e) The State of their Self-Esteem
On previous pages we talked at length about the importance of self-esteem, that ‘feel-good' factor we want your child to know in life, about who they are.
Their self-esteem will be attacked when they:
· feel upset for reasons beyond their understanding – perhaps in times of uncertainty
· feel rejected and ignored – and perhaps feel unworthy
· feel unloved and uncared for – a primary need is being unmet.
· are discouraged – and perhaps want to give up
· lack confidence and feel inadequate.
Example 1: Dad is under the threat of redundancy at work and he and Mum have been rather preoccupied talking about their finances and the future. Four year old David, who doesn't understand what is going on, starts becoming very clinging and demanding attention. Wise Mum and Dad realise what is going on and ensure they only talk about it after David has gone to bed.
Example 2: Mum is worried about her health and starts getting snappy with six year old Darren. On one occasion Mum harshly tells off Darren for a minor thing he forgot to do. A little while later Darren was found drawing on the wall, something he knows he's not supposed to do! Revenge is sweet!
Example 3: Seven year old Sheena is constantly put down by her two older sisters. Mum has started to notice that Sheena is appearing listless and seems to quickly give up on any task requiring effort. Talking with Sheena, Mum realises that she has taken on a “I can't do it” and “I'm no good” attitude. A parents' conference followed by a quiet but firm word to the two older girls brought a change of attitude towards Sheena in them and a change of outlook in Sheena. She is no longer showing signs of inadequacy.
f) The Rules they have learnt
At first, as a baby, there are no rules, it's too early.
As they develop you begin to wonder how to guide their behaviour – most of us as parents want our children to be ‘good' and compliant and so on.
How we respond to them teaches them certain things. On a previous page we cited the words of Dorothy Law Neite which start:
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child learns to feel shame, he learns to feel guilty.
To illustrate this further some parents who feel inadequate use anger as a tool of control. Raising their voices and shouting becomes and instrument of domination. The child thus learns if they want to get their way they should throw a tantrum etc.
A classic example of management by the child, is Dudley the son of Harry Potter's foster parents, in J.R.Rowlings' famous books. The result? An absolutely spoilt and obnoxious child, disliked by everyone.
As part of this package about ‘learning the rules', your child will be seeking to determine where the boundaries are for certain behaviours, and also whether you are willing to enforce the boundaries. (We'll deal with this more fully on the next page.)
Example 1: Mother threatens some ‘punishment' if a particular course of anti-social action is pursued by the six year old Kerry. Kerry does it and mother doesn't follow through with the threat. The child quickly learns that threats by mother are meaningless.
Example 2: Even simple examples of family behaviour teach the children about family life. Mother, preparing dinner, calls to the household, “Come and sit up. I'm serving up now.” The children all rush to the dining room or kitchen table, only to find she's only got the first thing on the plates and they have to sit around waiting. They soon learn that they have five more minutes to play when she calls. Children learn quickly!
Fears get picked up through a variety of ways:
· horror stories told at school
· things going badly wrong at home
· reading books of horror stories
· seeing horror images on TV or video games
The fear may only be observed by behaviour rather than it be spoken out, e.g. a child resisting going to bed may have picked up a fear of snakes from television and now fears snakes under their bed.
Example 1: Gina's grandfather, then grandmother, than two aunts and an uncle died in quick succession. The seven year old watched her parents weep for the various losses and wept herself at the loss of her grandparents who were close. Now Gina is plagued by a fear that her mother and father might be next. Her mother picks up on one of two things that Gina says and realises what is going on. The two talk and mother points out that each of those who had died recently were considerably older than she or daddy. Gina is reassured and the dread that had weighed down on her seems to have gone.
Example 2: Greg's best friend is adopted. Greg wonders about himself. Are Mum and Dad really his true parents? Do they really love him? For months there is this nagging worry in the back of Greg's mind. He really does want to belong. One day he and dad are out fishing together and Greg broaches the subject. Dad laughs and reassures him and tells him how he was with Mum when Greg was born in the local hospital. Greg laughs at some of the story and suddenly the whole fear seems so silly, but for a number of months it had seemed very real.
Example 3: The Brown family were involved in a severe car crash. For several months they were all in hospital in differing states of brokenness. A year later Dad was still walking with a stick but everyone else looked fine. Eight year old Mandy had come out of it moody, having nightmares, and flashes of anger. As Dad gazed on her now laughing and playing with several of her friends in the park he marvelled at the wonder of the resilience of children who can weep and rage and laugh their way back to normality. He also marvelled that Mandy's mum had been so good throughout this year, coping with her own recovery but always there was a listening ear for Mandy. Laughter and listening are healing factors.
h) Wilful Selfishness
Psychologists are good at working out behavioural patterns but frequently not good at diagnosing the most fundamental of human characteristics – we are often plain selfish!
When little Adam looks round to see if anyone is watching, and when he thinks no one is, takes his sister's sweets, they may rationalise it as him testing the boundaries to see what he can get away with, but most of us would just say that is him being deceitful, especially when he later denies taking them.
However you may rationalise it, you never need to teach a child to be naughty and the unchecked naughty child simply grows up into an evil adult.
On previous pages we have spoken about the need to teach responsibility. Without it, your child will blame anyone and everyone for all the things that go wrong in its life.
Example 1: Nine year old Hillary in an angry temper smashes a vase full of flowers on the shelf above the TV and as the water runs into the back of the TV there is a loud flash and the TV goes off. She blames her brother for provoking her.
Example 2: Fourteen year old Alice gets pregnant and blames her boyfriend for not using protection.
Example 3: Eighteen year old Colin smashes the car up after having had several drinks, and blames an old woman who he swerved to avoid at the kerbside.
This, therefore, was a starter page to help you start looking at your child with new eyes – to see everything they do, but more particularly those things that you would probably not be happy about.
It is those things that we will consider more fully on the next page, with a view to working out their motivation and how we can help them, bring change to that behaviour that concerns us.
Understanding each of these things, helps us understand what may be going on in our child at this particular point in their life.
To start to think about what constitutes ‘misbehaviour’ move on to the next page.
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