We hear it often, “How can I get my child to listen?” So, confession: I do not think children should have to “listen.” I never have, so, fair warning, my opinion is weighted. I actually think we should be a bit more clear on what we are saying when we say children should “listen”: we expect children to obey. If the language were more accurate about what’s going on, it would be seen in a different light.
At any rate, I was thinking the other day that adults by and large approach children the way they approach other adults. Most adults live in a world of rationality. They approach kids with what they expect of them. They give deadlines, time estimates, fact, figures, and their rather no-nonsense opinions of how things work or how one should behave. And, so, if adults are approaching kids in the natural way they do with other adults, shouldn’t it kind of go well? I mean you call your friend and say, “Be there at 2,” and your friend is there at 2. The whole thing kind of works. When we go to do it with children, even with fairly good intention, why does it break down so much?
I fall into a trap sometimes of expecting that I can just say things to my children and they’ll just get what I am saying. And there are times when my children don’t. For instance, my daughter, 7, as of late, gets asked to get ready to start our day, so we can go somewhere. She rather routinely falls back asleep, or she outright forgets to get dressed in the span of 5 minutes. I have started to get more forceful with her, “You HAVE to get up. You CAN’T forget,” and she gets a bit snappish with me when I do this. Well, I was rather stunned to work on the milestone she is in, which is in the late sevens, by looking up her older brother’s behavior at this age, and found he showed the exact same exact behavior. I wrote that I told him I’d give him his iPad for x amount of time if he got ready promptly for something afterwards, and he forgot, in fact he lollygagged. Same. Exact. Behavior. And I also got annoyed with him over it. I talked to him about honoring his commitments. Looking back…a talk about “honoring commitments” was futile. At approximately age 7.10 (year.months), kids are quite simply biologically designed to be space cadets–as they are, on and off, throughout all of childhood.
I am starting to see this work I do as energy work. I document the age-related stages children go through. It is times when they “act up” but on the other side is growth. This behavior where they act up…it has an energy to it. A very. clear. energy. You might hear parents talk about it when they describe their kids getting an “attitude.” And I think if you approach it at a surface level, which is as natural at first, this “energy” from kids can be frustrating. It can consume you, and you get mad as you are trying to get out the door or make sure they aren’t being too rude to other children. But there really is something about learning that this behavior is very natural and to be expected that seems to literally shift the whole energy of the house. When I saw that the behavior was the same between my daughter and her older brother, it grounded me greatly. I had a far better attitude about it. I noticed that her brother had a few needs that she might have, as well. He had an enormous increase in appetite, and they both had a desire to draw things precisely and a desire to clean the neighborhood of trash. They both showed these things, giving the first hint that this is universal behavior. Instead of getting in their face about being on time, I approach them with an entirely different attitude and energy. Have you had enough to eat today? Do you want to pick up all the trash around the pond later? Can we be sure to read that book you want to read at 3:00 pm today? It really is an energy shift.
This thing where we now live in civilization really is a jolt to all of humanity, kids especially. Why do you have to be somewhere at 2? What the heck is a watch? The amount that children are expected to do that is really contrary to their nature is immense. I do really think, however, that understanding this behavior can bring a tremendous amount of calm to how we deal with children. Like, I see it. I thought that maybe my work was powerful in helping calm down tense situations in families, but I wasn’t sure the extent of how powerful it was. It seems like a losing battle, sometimes, given the intense schedules and behavioral expectations given to children. But, when I see it so live like this, really, I have hope that this, understanding childhood behavior more precisely, has enormous potential to heal.
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