By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Lots of conversations are going on about kids and their behavior, for good reason.
We see some mighty atrocious behavior every day. Sometimes the poor behavior is by teens, other times it is by their parents. It would be easy to blame the kids acting up on their parents, but that isn’t always the case. Good parents sometimes have poorly behaved children, and when that happens the parents start asking about how do I get my kids to behave. Just for the record, there is also a connection between children’s behavior and resiliency later in life.
Studies of resiliency – that ability to bounce back from trials or not be harmed by them report that relationships, especially with parents, have a big influence on future resiliency. One sometimes overlooked part of this parental influence is the way parents use discipline. Now don’t get excited just yet. The researchers use the word discipline in a different way that a lot of other people do. By discipline, they don’t just mean punishment. They also mean rewards and praise and all the things you do to tell the child when they are doing the right thing.
One analogy is that you don’t shape a garden plant only by pruning. You need to do some staking and directing in the way you want the plant to grow. Some adults think the way to make a child fit the mold they envision for them is to break them into pieces and then pour the parts into the mold. This does not work. It inspires resistance and rebellion and in the more severe cases becomes downright abusive. We might think of discipline more like sanding down the rough edges of a child’s personality so they are more socially acceptable. There are certain natural tendencies; some kids are more active than others, some like licorice etc. You can’t train all the personality out of a child. But then who would want to?
Now some parents think the way to have a good relationship with their child is to let the child do pretty much what the child wants. This does not generally make for a good relationship. Kids who have no or minimal rules don’t learn to follow what they are told. In short, the parents have no control over the child. You might think this would lead to the child having more control over them but in most cases, it results in just the opposite. As adults, these people often say they are afraid they will not be able to control themselves. If your parent could not control you maybe you are uncontrollable. Kids need limits and structure so they will learn to stay inside the limits. They need parents to teach them how to control themselves and make good decisions. Kids need parents to teach them self-control.
Now one mistake new parents make is to try to teach lessons the child is not ready to learn. Coaches do not begin by teaching advanced skills, they start with the basics. In learning to play chess you are not taught multi-move openings – you start with how the pieces move. But parents often try to teach the proper use of silverware before they have taught the child not to climb on the table. This makes for upsetting dining out for the family and the people at the next booth.
Now the earlier you start training a child in good behavior the easier it is. I am not one who thinks that a person is ever too old to learn socially acceptable behavior but if you don’t teach it to your child someone else – like his parole agent, may need to step in and teach them.
One trap parents fall into is to yell, the worse the child gets the louder and longer the parent yells. This results in a condition called “parental deafness” this is similar to another medical syndrome called “married-man deafness syndrome” which I have written about elsewhere, only parental deafness develops at a much younger age. For a good description of “parental deafness,” you might want to check out “The Discipline Book” by Sears and Sears. They talk a lot about the way to teach a young child to behave. Most of the time I see older people, teens and even adults which were cheated out of their lessons on behavior at a young age and now need some remedial work on behaving.
So the conclusion is: Children who are taught socially acceptable behavior at a young age are more able to control their own behavior at a later point in their life. And good self-control is one factor in being able to recover from the bumps in life’s road.
In future blogs, I plan to write more about behavior, resiliency and what to do if you were absent the day these lessons were taught. We should also look at some of the things you can do if you are responsible for some remedial education on behavioral control. So what do you think about discipline, behavior and its relationship to resilience?
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.