Before having children, if I saw a parent allowing their child to do something I didn’t think they should be doing (like being disruptive in a waiting room or talking back), I’d immediately judge the parent in my head. “They shouldn’t let their kid do that”, I’d think. Or, the rather self-righteous, “I’d never let my kids do that”.
Of course, once I became a parent myself, I realised that it is not actually possible to get our children to behave as we think they should all of the time. Short of manhandling them, sometimes there is nothing we can do that will stop them from doing something they shouldn’t or make them do something they should. And, unless safety is at stake, such as they’re about to run out onto the road, I won’t physically restrain children.
It has only just dawned on me fairly recently, though, that I can choose to let my kids “misbehave”. Sometimes, I can decide not to even try to change their behaviour when they’re doing something I think they shouldn’t.
WHY DID I THINK I HAD TO CORRECT MY KIDS EVERY TIME?
Letting go of the need to respond in some way to every behaviour I deem inappropriate has been a slow process for me.
Part of it is because I’m conscientious. I thought it was upto me to teach my boys everything and that I had to be consistent in doing so. I forgot that, by nature, children are essentially good and I can trust that their good will come through without my constant management.
The other reason is that I thought everyone was watching me, judging me like I used to judge other parents. And, actually, some people are. But the difference now is that it has come to my consciousness that my relationship with my boys is more important to me than what others think of me.
The big realisation is that my kids are not a reflection of me. The way I treat them is.
WHY WOULD I CHOOSE TO LET MY KIDS MISBEHAVE?
If I called them up on everything they did that I didn’t think they should, my boys would quickly feel that I was picking on them. We parents use a lot of sound reasoning to justify insisting on something – “it’s for their own good” or “they can’t get away with that” or “they need to learn that…” – but I don’t want my boys to feel that they are under the microscope all the time.
Although I use respectful strategies to manage my boys’ behaviour and to teach them, when I use the strategies, they know that they are being corrected in some way. If they are to know that I love them unconditionally, they can’t be feeling that I’m correcting them more than I am accepting them. I need to allow them space to manage situations in their own way as often as I can. And, as I’ve said, I believe that kids are essentially “good” – until we tell them otherwise. My boys are great but some days I have wondered if I’ve undermined their sense of worth a little by trying to teach them too many things in one day.
So, particularly when there are other factors involved, such as the child is tired or emotions are high, we can choose to just let it go. At these times, insisting on certain behaviour is fruitless – our children resist our boundaries and we resist their resistance! It only serves to separate us from our children rather than teach them (as good discipline is intended to do). Perhaps in each circumstance we can ask ourselves – in this moment, will correcting them actually help our child or push them away from us? If we get present, the answer will come easily.
Parents feel better, too, when we don’t try to uphold every expectation we have. It’s stressful feeling that we have to teach our children everything and we have to teach them now. But, as you will see below, we don’t have to do that. Now that I’ve decided that turning a blind eye is a perfectly acceptable parenting strategy to use sometimes, I can relax and enjoy my boys that much more.
HOW KIDS STILL LEARN WHEN THEY MISBEHAVE
The marvellous thing I’ve realised is that, even when we choose not to do anything in the moment, our children can still learn what they need to learn in the following 3 ways –
- Follow-up after the event – when they’ve settled down, we can discuss with them why what they did wasn’t respectful or a good idea etc. We don’t have to be judgemental about it, we can simply point it out to them and have a conversation about it. Or we can choose to say nothing.
- The unfolding of natural consequences. Often, life teaches our children without us having to do a thing. eg. an irritated member of the public asks our child to stop running in the shop (although I don’t condone strangers giving children a telling off, their polite request to “stop doing that please” is often much more effective than mine.) Natural consequences can unfold in a myriad of ways.
- And if numbers 1 & 2 don’t happen, we can choose to do absolutely nothing other than being a good example to our kids – they don’t see me playing tag in the supermarket queue.
This more relaxed approach to our children’s behaviour is for negotiable boundaries – those ones that aren’t important enough to be insisted upon every time and around which there is room for compromise. Non-negotiable boundaries I insist on consistently, using my 6-step method (available here).
Ignoring bad behaviour is not my main parenting method. But I’m giving myself and my kids a break. We don’t have be constantly tinkering with our children like old cars, trying to fix them and their behaviour.
On Wednesday, I went to the supermarket with both of my boys – something I usually try to avoid. Thomas was boisterous, hollering from his place in the child’s seat of the trolley and throwing his gumboots around. Jake, who insisted on pushing the trolley, had rather questionable steering skills and was egging Thomas on in his unruliness. The noise and disruption was driving me nuts so presumably it was also irritating the other customers in the shop. But I could see that Jake and Thomas were both tired and not in a frame of mind take on board my requests to settle down. I got plenty of stares from the other shoppers and wanted to be respectful of them, but Jake and Thomas weren’t being naughty, just annoying. And that’s the thing – so many of the times I would’ve corrected them in the past they were actually just enjoying themselves. So I tolerated the disapproval of the other shoppers, my boys had a ball and we got through the shopping far more easily than if I’d tried to insist they settle down.
When a parent, sits back as their kids do something socially unacceptable, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t care, it could be because they do care.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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