One of the biggest challenges we have when raising our children is to face a rebel child. Daily fights over power, the aggressions due to sibling rivalry, or crisis, have become a reason for suffering parents to cry for help. I receive emails, phone calls and petitions daily, from parents who are desperately seeking help to raise their children.
I think all parents, at some point, need to face a disobedient child. The same way we, as parents, are not perfect and have made mistakes over time, our children make mistakes too. The difference is that when we made a mistake, in our perception, it was not a big deal. But when our child behaved in a non-expected way, it was an alarm that led us to be worried and feel desperate.
It seems like we have forgotten that we also went through the same age our children are going through and that many times we behaved the same way they are behaving today. Why are not we more transparent towards ourselves and accept the fact that our children are as human as we are? There are still parents who when raising their children, demand from them to behave in a way that they, as parents, have not achieved yet. I understand it is not easy to be a parent nowadays.
On my following blogs, I will be sharing the strategy I have used all these years to raise my children. I do not expect you to agree with me. This is the method that has worked for us, maybe you have a different one that has worked for you. In the end, nobody has a perfect method, because when we receive the children God gave us, they did not come with a manual that explained what to do when they have certain negative behaviors.
How nice our job would be when raising our children if this was the reality! Do you remember the last time you bought a car? That car came with a manual no matter what was the model or the brand. In that user manual, it was prescribed what must be done if the oil must be changed, if it had engine problems or any other situation. It is all written there.
When my daughter Jasmin was born, I did not have such manual. I had to figure out what to do. A year after Jasmin was born Samuel came to our lives. And, I said: well, now I have a year of experience as a father. With Samuel it is going to be a little easier because I already “have experience”. How wrong I was! Samuel had a completely different personality from that of his sister Jasmin. The manual I used for Jasmin did not work with Samuel.
My strategy regarding raising the kids has been one of creating a relationship with them based on collaboration instead of power. And I know that for many parents it is not the conventional way, but remember that unconsciously we have had a relationship of collaboration with our children throughout the years. For example, when Jasmin or Samuel cried, we tried to figure out what was happening to them so that we could help them stop crying. If the method we used was not working, we used another method until we found the most effective one to help them stop crying.
Ideally, we continue to do this almost every day. It is simply to try to understand and focus on some of the most important aspects of being parents: to understand our children’s worries, perspective and opinions; considering what troubles them and their point of view, and working together to find realistic solutions that are mutually satisfactory.
A question many parents have asked us is: Will I still be an authority figure in the raising of my children while being in a collaborative association with them? Yes. Maybe not an “old school” authoritarian figure, but an authority figure indeed. It turns out that what parents are most commonly seeking is to be influential, not to control. And just by being parents, they are already influential.
At the beginning, when my wife Zoraida and I started with this plan, it was something we did unconsciously, in the sense that we have not read what neuroscience showed about our children’s development. We just had the Bible and it showed us our children as heritage of Jehovah, and that He was calling us to be a positive influence on our children’s lives. They had that influence when they benefited from our wisdom, experiences and values while they were walking through complex and tough world’s stormy waters.
I have discovered that if we use an authoritarian method of power and strength when raising our children, it would not be helpful in the long term. On the contrary, helping our children to solve their problems in a collaborative way was much more effective for us.
Today, science has provided many studies about this line of thought, to which we have held onto in the last few years as parents and in my case, as a therapist, in order to help those parents who need orientation in this area. One of the authors of those studies that has made his contribution in this area is the Clinical Psychologist Ross Greene. He has written several books and I will mention certain concepts he uses in his book Raising Human Beings.
Greene presents a revolutionary concept: children do fine if they can. What does it mean? If Jasmin or Samuel could do it right, they would. Period. If they did not do fine, or they were not meeting a specific expectation in their house or school, as a parent, my responsibility was not to criticize them, or to censor them for not behaving properly or meeting my expectations as a father, but to find out why they were not meeting those expectations. If I could not solve the problem my children had on my own, then I had to go to the books, search on the internet or ask for professional help in this area in order to find the reason for my kids not to fulfill the responsibility they had in their hands.
We cannot assume, as many times we use to do so, that the problem our child has is a motivational problem. Very rarely is correct to assume that a child is not meeting an expectation because he/she lacks motivation. Very often, skills are the motor that impulses the train and motivation is the caboose.
Children want to succeed. There is not a child who does not want to succeed. Society is configured to be a gratifying place for those who do things right. Any incentive perceived to do things wrong is going to be greatly overtaken by incentives to do things right.
Kids need freedom to grow as they go through different stages of their psychosocial development. That freedom must go accordingly to their age.
Children need room to make mistakes and learn from them. If you try too hard to control the result or if you become too critical when they stumble with their own feet, they will grow too concerned about not making any mistakes in the future.
They need opportunities to straighten their sheep on their own when they see themselves in stormy waters. And they need you to observe them closely to see how they are doing. If you do not look closely, it is very likely that they get tired of stumbling and give up. But, if you throw a lifejacket at them on the first sign of stumbling, they might never learn how to swim on their own. A parent’s success lies in preparing the children so that when they are no longer home, they can know how to navigate in a complex and rough world.
What has been your experience when raising your kids like? What method have you used and how effective has it been? Share your story with me. Then, we will continue with this topic in our following blog.