Sunday, May 16, 2010

"good kids"

Why is it that adults feel it's o.k. to use words like "good" and "bad" to describe children and their behavior, but not o.k. to use those words to describe parenting? Actually I think we're happy to be told we are a good parent or doing a good job as a parent, but we tend to get mighty sensitive as soon as anyone implies that we are a bad parent.

These thoughts broght me back to Alfie Kohn's writings, "The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A "Good job!" to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why."

I think about these things because I was such a "good kid" and I'm not sure the pattern of pleasing other people regardless of how I felt inside served me well as I transitioned into the adult world of work and relationships.

It seems that often a "good child" is one who is not a bother to adults, the one who doesn't cry on the airplane or shares their new toy without fussing. A parent will say they have a "good kid" and mean that their child isn't demanding or too much work. Other people have a "problem child" which is just another way to say "bad kid" or one who causes them extra work and worry. A "good parent" is one who has a "good child."

I am reminded of when my sister-in-law lived in Bolivia and noticed that the native children were always good. It turns out that there would be physical discipline at home if they were not good in public.

It's not that I think children should throw tantrums or not share or talk back. However, I do think that some children who are good are not getting their needs met. They have learned it's in their best interest to shut up and put up. They have learned that trying to get their needs met can have negative consequences or it's useless to even try.

I think a "good parent" is one who is in tune w/ their child's needs, listens to their child, doesn't put them in situations that aren't child friendly or matched to the child's abilities/development, and considers their child's comfort/needs more important than "what others think."

I think all children are good and their behaviors are also always good. A child's behavior is how they go about getting their needs met. The child is doing the best they can in that moment. If an adult doesn't like a behavior then they have the ability to look at the situation, communicate/connect with their child, and figure out how to better meet their child's needs in the future so that the behavior is no longer necessary.

Punishment, physical or emotional, may create a "good child" to the outward observer because it stops a behavior, but the child's need has not been resolved. The child has learned to "be good" by accepting that their needs aren't going to be met, that what others think is more important than they are, that doing what adults want gets you praise but trying to get your needs met gets you punishment. It's troubling to me that some children's parents will never realize that their "good child" is a child who has given up trying to get their needs met, or perhas the child has learned that being "good" is the best way to get loved and affection from the adults in their life.

And in the end I don't want to raise "good girls." I want to know that my children's needs have been met and that they know how to communicate what their needs are, that they will be heard and their needs will be respected. I want to raise authentic people who take responsibilty for their own needs and are sensitive to the needs of others.

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