Reality, in its stark beauty, makes its presence known to us every day so we can, eventually, learn the difference between it and myth – in this case, myths about how to raise children.
I believed in these myths, too, once upon a time. I wanted them to be true, and like many parents, it took time to understand that the evidence before me did not support my belief. Raising children is challenging enough, but it becomes even more difficult when parents rely on these myths.
Myth #1: Love is enough
Without love, children and families cannot thrive. It is the most essential ingredient. But love alone is not enough. To love your child means not always pleasing your child. Love is the willing partner of discipline.
One reason parents sometimes find it hard to maintain the up-welling warmth of love on a daily basis is because they have let discipline slide. When your day is full of hassles and whining and backtalk and stress, it is difficult to respond with love. It isn’t an either/or proposition.
Myth #2: Discipline is something that you apply to children
Discipline has very little to do with our children and everything to do with us parents. Our children learn from our own self-discipline. They learn from the way in which we lead our lives, from the questions we ask, the challenges we struggle with, and the decisions we make.
Discipline is not control; it is guidance. It is not about power; it is about accepting our role as adults.
Myth #3: Discipline squelches creativity
Promoting creativity is no excuse for allowing children to be rude and irresponsible. That is selfish, not creative.
True discipline is not limiting (see Myth #2). Rather, it is the foundation from which a child can, and will, fly.
Myth #4: You can talk your way out of it
Children learn by imitation. They will do what we do. If we want them to clean their rooms, try cleaning it with them, or cleaning your own.
If we try to motivate them to do something by explaining the reasons why, they will imitate us by explaining the reasons why not. When we have finally worn ourselves out with talking, we can go ahead and act. It’s just a matter of whether we do it sooner or later.
We cannot raise our children by remote control (a.k.a. verbally). We have to get up and do something.
Myth #5: Children need choices
Young children (under seven years old) don’t need choices. They need their parents to be clear and certain about what is right and wrong and about how the day will unfold. They need the security that comes from knowing that their wise and loving parents understand the way the world works and are going to take care of their needs.
Later, when they are older, they will have to wrestle with the grey areas, with the challenge of finding a balance between conflicting needs. Don’t ask children to navigate through these muddy waters before they have the requisite life experience.
Parents mistakenly believe that they empower their children by giving them the freedom to choose. Empower children to be who they are—children—by giving them freedom FROM choice.
Myth #6: Patience is a virtue
Patience can be a virtue, but for parents, it is often a trap. More appropriately, we need to have realistic expectations.
We mustn’t expect more from our children than they are able to manage. Having a true understanding of the process of learning and development allows parents to observe their children’s fitful progress along their unique paths without the distortions of hasty judgment.
We should not expect less from our children than they can manage, either. Patience is often a euphemism for denying or diminishing our own needs. When we do this, we are not being patient. We are denying truth. Eventually, our “patience” will backfire on us, often with a spectacular display of shouting, tears, or both. Then we feel guilty and redouble our efforts to deny reality – oops, I mean “be patient.”
Myth #7: Don’t sweat the small stuff
This is another excuse. “Oh, my son didn’t get his chores done and was rude to me when I reminded him, but I would hate for him to be late for soccer practice because that is his passion, and it is the one thing that goes well for him, and he needs to know that I would never take that away, and besides, there is a game on Saturday and we don’t want to let the team down.”
Go ahead: let the team down. Expect him to do his chores before he goes to soccer. If he learns that his friends, his after-school activities, his popularity, and his standing are the “big things” and are more important than “little things” like manners and responsibility, he is building his character on a hollow foundation.
Do sweat the small stuff, and the rest will fall into place.