Being a teacher, I have a natural interest in children. Being a parent I have a great interest in my own children. Neither prepared me for the day my first child said 'No' when asked to do/not to do something.
I had no thought through strategy and my reaction was a knee-jerk reaction. In other words, I did as came naturally without thought. It was probably the method I had learned from my own parents dealings with my own behaviour when I was young. To be honest, although I knew the day would come, it was still a bit of a shock, that my darling bundle of joy had dissolved into a tempestuous fury over a simple request!
I believe we live in a fallen world and that all of us are born sinners. Now I know that is not a popular line of thought. You may not agree with the Bible. Over the years I have studied many behaviour/child psychology theories in pursuit of my training and practice as a teacher. Many start from the basis that the child is born good and that it is their upbringing/external factors that cause a child to misbehave. Some theories try to down play misbehaviour as a parent's problem - that is, the parent hasn't yet learnt to relate to the child in a right manner, whatever the theorist perceives to be right. All of these theories, although having an element of truth in them, fail. You can try and put them into practice, but they don't work. My reason is that they go against what our Creator God has said in the Bible. They refuse to admit that we are born sinners. The Bible tells us that the desire to rebel is in each of us. The innocent young baby is not incapable of doing wrong and soon they will need training to do that which is right. Many say you don't need to teach a child how to do wrong, only how to do right. We know that to be true. We also know that many social problems do impact children's behaviour as well, but that should not detract us from the basic premise. Children are not born good, only harmed from outside. They are born sinful. At some point, that capability will become manifest and the parent's will have to make decisions as to how they lovingly respond to their child in order to train them in the way in which they should go.
This is the bit we struggle with. First we don't have clear goals as to what to train them towards. Secondly we don't have any pre-planned strategies. Many resort to anger and irritation with the child. Many act out of embarrassment. I see many parents who want to train their child aright, but when the child doesn't comply with their instruction, weakly back off not knowing how to respond and the child merrily continues doing what it now knows (from the parent's initial reaction) to be disproved of. Others hope that by ignoring their child's behaviour it will somehow come out alright in the end. Others seek to accommodate their child's awkwardness's (especially autistic parents) as they are genuinely unsure how much the child can help and how much is out of their control. Unfortunately, all of these approaches reinforce the behaviour we don't wish to see. Many so called popular 'consequence's' actually lead to more 'consequences' having to be set as trying to get the child to comply with the consequences soon masks the initial offence. I think of the day I sat my youngster on the 'naughty step' to think about how he could reform his behaviour. Of course, he immediately got up. So I was then coping with the initial offence added to the secondary offence. I promptly gave up that strategy! No wonder parents are so confused. As the children grow older, it is no wonder they feel insecure as they are left prey to their own sinful inclinations with no one to set limits, as sinful behaviour left unchecked ultimately destroys the person.
Add to this cocktail the breakdown in family life and the poor diet of many living on processed junk food, is it any wonder that there is an alarming rise in self-harming and mental problems. Oh how badly we are letting our youngsters down by not training them. We need to take this matter seriously.
The times in which we live make parenting very difficult. Pressure from 'outside' the family (media etc.) and 'good' advice from so called 'child experts' makes us feel inadequate. Parents are led to believe that handing their children over to others to care for them is the answer, so undermining their own sense of responsibility to train their children. So when the children do come back into the family home, parents are often at a loss to know how to handle their child's behaviour or how to train them aright. I hear many parents dreading school holidays and being so relieved when they are over and they can hand the child back to the 'carers' for the most part of the day. Consequently, wrap around child care is more and more the norm. Take them in at 8am, go to work all day and pick them up at 6pm and drop them into bed. Problem solved, minimal contact with the children. Unfortunately this is no solution, it is only causing our precious youngsters more and more problems. Behaviour problems in school soar, and the number of young folk with mental illnesses is sky high, so high that the mental health system is overloaded and can't help all those that need it. Add to this the number of children with learning problems affecting their behaviour - ADD, ADHD, Autism, dyspraxia etc.
So what is the solution? First we need to recognise that it is the parent's (God given) responsibility to train their children. No one else's. Parents alone can give training in the context of a loving home environment, where the child is free to find out what is right and wrong and still belong and be loved. The 'carer's' are impersonal and actually don't have much impact long term on the children's behaviour. The child is passed on to another teacher, another school, each with their own set of ideologies and the child has no consistent framework in which to grow into a beautiful, well rounded character - despite all the ads for the private schools promising such things.
Secondly, each family needs to work out their goals for their children. I don't mean that 'x' is to become a nurse and 'y' a doctor. No, we need to be sure of what could be termed 'morals', the code of behaviour, manners etc... How do we want our children to behave in public? How should they respond to visitors to our homes? How should they eat? How do we want them to talk to each other/us as parents? How should they respond if they don't agree with what we have asked? Is pouting and back talk permitted? How should they get along with others? Questions such as these and many others. For us personally, that means teaching and modelling to our children God's standards for their behaviour; old fashioned principles like, no lying, respecting parents and others in authority, treating others as they would like to be treated themselves etc... we cannot make our children believe the message of the Bible, but none-the-less they are in our eyes the best rules for living given to us by the One who made us and therefore knows us best. It also means that when they are old enough to ask 'Why?' it's not us against them. We have a higher authority. Something we badly lack these days.
Having worked these things out, we need a plan of action as in most of these areas, for most children, it will take years of daily little by little training, with many set-backs along the way, needing much love and patience. Parents will have to constantly look to their goals to avoid becoming despondent. They will frequently feel they are failing! This is part of the job! Parents will frequently get 'it' wrong and have to review their strategies. No one ever said parenting was easy.
Having clear expectations and clear strategies means you don't train in a knee jerk way. You step in to train before you become angry/irritated. You are always watchful of the behaviour you are modelling and your responsibility to help mould this young life into a mentally/socially healthy adult.
When I first started out, I was helped tremendously by one little rule I learnt: Always expect the child to obey first time, quickly and joyfully to any given task. Any less was seen as an actionable situation.
To that point I had only trained for obedience, but the addition of attitude changed things. They were to be happy to do as I'd asked and therefore they were to have a good attitude - no sulking, pouting, whining, back-chat (as they got older), tutting or any other body language that suggested they didn't want to comply; no delaying tactics.
By doing these things you are not left feeling helpless when you see behaviour you don't desire in your child, or if you are, then you review your strategies. You are pro-active in the training, not being led along by the child.
Some children are more compliant than others. Some parents may gloat as they have had an easy child and they think their parenting skills are wonderful, but be careful of judging as all children are different and some parents may well be struggling with difficulties that would challenge you too if you had them.
One other tip I learnt was to talk to my children about their behaviour in differing situations. For example, if we were going to somebody else's house, I would talk to them about how I expected them to behave, to be polite, shake hands, give eye-contact. Say 'Thank you' as they left, to share toys without arguing. I could talk them through any potential problems. Or, if children were coming to our house, I would make sure they knew which areas of the house were permissible to play in and which not, which toys, etc... and go over the family ground rules. If we went round a supermarket, then I set the standards: no asking for foods, they were to help put food in bags at the checkout. It certainly helped as I was then no longer watching embarrassed and irritated while they ran round the aisles uncontrollably. I was watching to see if they did as I had instructed and once home we debriefed as to how well they had done and what needed improving.
It made them feel grow-up as they were learning to be adults. It gave them a sense of responsibility, which has not left them. Sometimes we would role-play visitors arriving, or meeting people and how to greet them, or how to cope when visiting children did something not allowed.
We dare not neglect to think these things. We are all training our children in one way or another all the time, but lets not leave it to chance that they will naturally 'get it right' or somehow magically pick up the cues from us. Some might, but most will need dedicated training - time and patience, but above all LOVE.
It's never too late to start, though you will have a harder job the older the child. Let them know the change in approach and then clearly enforce it. Younger ones respond quicker and often they help the older ones to see that there is a new regime. Ultimately, they will be happier and the home more peaceful. As Dr. Natasha McBride says, children with autism are not exempt from needing training, but rather need more training to help them catch up.
'Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.'
Dr. Campbell Mc-Bride, Natasha, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Medinform Publishing, Cambridge, UK