‘Direct your children onto the right path,
and when they are older, they will not leave it’
(From the bible – the book of Proverbs 22 verse 6)
Growing up in Nigeria, I heard and know all about discipline, respect for elders, the importance of family and community, honouring one’s parents, giving back to the community (which for most people is giving back to members of your family who act like they have a right to your hard earned money) and how the fear of God is instilled into children.
None of these values are wrong. In fact, if and when properly cultivated, they can be a perfect combo for an amazing human being. However, too much of anything is never good.
Last weekend I was at the salon to get my hair fixed (a rambling sister still has to look good, mmhmm!) where the owner and head stylist happens to be a good friend of mine. She is Nigerian as well and a lot of her clientele are of African and Caribbean origin.
Back to my story.
So here I was at the salon, minding my own business and counting down to 1000 Mississippi to take my mind off the pain and boredom of having my hair done (why can’t we all be B & B – bald and beautiful?) when I suddenly took note of the drama unfolding in front of me.
A noticed a little girl crying and clinging on to her mother because she wanted to get some of the biscuits she’d seen her (the mother) eating. The mother responded in a harsh tone “Say please!” to which the little girl replied “no”
Here’s what transpired further:
Mother: “you are not ready to eat. Say please before I smack your head”
Little girl: “no”, reaching up to her mother with both hands while still crying
Mother: walking away, “don’t try me, you will not get anything until you say please”
All the while this banter was going on, her mother kept eating and I could feel my blood boiling. Now I knew I should continue minding my business. Also, from my years of experience of working with children and their families, I know that most parents are trying their best to raise their children right. Despite all this knowledge, I couldn’t stop myself from asking the mother, “how old is she?”
I should also state that at this point I was reciting 1 Corinthians 13 vs 4 – 7 to help calm my rising anger (Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable (Jesus, I’m really trying!), and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance)
“She will be 2 next month” she replied.
Please, people, let’s talk.
There is a very thin line between discipline and cruelty, and parents and adults need to be very mindful of that line. We’ve heard it said that hurting people hurt other people. Well, if you teach a child that discipline is synonymous to smacking of heads, slapping, hitting, harsh speaking, twisting arms, removal of tongues and any other gruesome threats you can conjure, that is what that child will grow up doing. The apple never falls far from the tree. Except in unique and special circumstances, children will grow up with trait personalities of the adults around them.
That said, in my opinion, withholding food from a toddler who says ‘no’ when asked to say ‘please’ is not discipline. THAT is cruelty.
Funny thing is she responded ‘no’ when asked further questions!
Now, I am no expert in raising children, but in my 6 years of working with children, here are a few practical tips I keep in mind EVERYDAY in my line of work.
1. Children Are Not Adults – Cut Them Some Slack
Shocking! Unbelievable! But true!
“You first need to eat lots of vegetables and grow tall like Millicent and grow and grow till you get to one hundred and then get dieded and go to heaven”
(A child’s understanding and explanation of death while talking about the Easter story)
Children see things differently and understand differently so expecting them to talk to you and relate to you like an adult is the height of unfairness.
2. Children have feelings – Be Considerate
“A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men” – Thomas Carlyle
If you ask a child to tell you how they are feeling, they will. I make it a point to ask some of my challenging children to talk about their feelings before we address their challenging behaviour. For years, I used to do it the other way round but I have found more success and less headache for me using this method. It saves time and it almost always makes the child agreeable to your reasoning.
3. Children Need Boundaries NOT Cruelty – Don’t Get it Twisted
Remember the little boy from one of my previous posts who wanted to throw my drawing into the bin because he didn’t like it? Well, we had to talk about respecting other peoples pictures and stuff just as I have had to explain a couple of boundaries to other children such as:
“You should not take other people’s toys simply because you like it because you wouldn’t like it if someone took your toys”
“You have two choices, wait for your turn to do this or you can join ABC to do XYZ”
“We will have snack after we tidy up, I will help you so we’ll be quick”
Some days will be crazy. You will be tired to your bones and you won’t always get it right. Just be mindful not to make it a habit.
4. It’s Okay to say ‘I’m Sorry’ to a Child – Lead By Example
Remember I said you won’t always get it right (Lord knows I don’t). However, I remember the first time a child told me something I did hurt their feelings. It really broke my heart. I went down on my knees so I can be eye level with her and I apologised for my actions. We then discussed ways we can both do better in her listening and in my communication.
I still miscommunicate every now and then, but I still say ‘I’m sorry’ when I do.
P.S – when dealing with a challenging behaviour, be sure to speak clearly and firmly. At this point, there is no need for apologies. Let the choices be known to the child and follow through on any consequences. Amen!
5. Children Learn From People They Like – Who Wouldn’t?
“If you want a little prince, act like a king” – SistaSeiz (I have quotes too!)
Let me break it down to you.
If a child (even if they are yours biologically) does not like you, they will not listen to you. Period.
Consider this conversation;
Little boy: “Millicent, what are you doing?”
Me: “Hey B, I am going to get my water bottle because I am sooooo thirsty ”
Little boy: “can I come help you”
Me: in my head “do what? Drink my water?” But out loud “sure you can come along to get my water bottle”
That little boy used to dislike being in the same room with me, I was no Hitler but I was being the boss and he would avoid me and refuse (most vehemently) to take part in any activities or lesson plans I was supervising or coordinating.
The results were that he wasn’t learning and I wasn’t able to teach… Until I mended my bossy ways (some), Praise Jesus!
6. Remember, a Child Today is an Adult Tomorrow – Be Advised
Children do not stay children for very long (16years – Scotland, 18 – 20years – most parts of the world). However, they have a long (very long) time to be adults. So, like my great great great great grand uncle four times removed, King James would say: “be ye mindful of thyself” because 20 years down the line, chances are you may be looking at your own reflection.
Treat a child right and chances are they will most likely grow up right.
Photo credits: All photos used with permission.