Parenting 101

I’ve decided that my New Years resolution this year is to figure out my kid. I’m a little slow on the draw, I know, seeing as he’s seven years old, but this boy really should have come with an instruction manual.

When Teddy was first born I was a freshly minted PSYC 1F90 graduate. That’s right, I had a full 8 months of introductory psychology under my belt folks, and I knew how to raise a child. I come from a long line of people who see the world in black and white, and so I foresaw no problems in the child-rearing department. According to my upbringing, you brought a child in line early and he stayed there until he moved out. According to my psychology textbook, you rewarded a child for good behaviour and discouraged bad behaviour by frowning, and you could save yourself the hassle of punishment altogether. I was confident that by combining these two silver bullets I would be large and in charge of the most well-behaved, well-adjusted children on the block.

Since then we’ve moved to a new block, so maybe that’s the problem. Whatever it is, I am as large and in charge of my well-adjusted children as Italy’s Prime Ministers have been of their feisty fellow parliamentarians. What I didn’t take into account when we welcomed the child that would make us the perfect parents, was that God has a never-ending arsenal of tricks up his sleeve in order to keep us dependent on Him for things, including parenting wisdom.

I should make it clear that there are many things parents can do to influence their children’s behaviour. I am a firm believer that consistent expectations and follow-through are extremely effective when raising a well-behaved child. My struggles are not with any of those things. It’s those behaviours that I cannot control with discipline that have had me on my knees on a daily basis. Here are a few examples:

  • A 3-year-old who will not say “I’m sorry” or “Thank You” even though you have pulled out every available weapon in your parenting arsenal, including taking away the Christmas present he won’t say thank you for. This particular battle lasted over 24 hours.
  • That same 3-year-old who consistently refuses to pose for family pictures for no apparent reason, even under threat. This battle has lasted for years.
  • A 4-year-old who will not allow the dentist to look into his mouth, no matter what fun tactics the dental assistant employs.
  • That same 4-year-old who shuns the singing of “Happy Birthday” as though it violates some non-negotiables of his personal credo.
  • A 5-year-old with persistent, relentless fears of objects that should not induce fears: exercise equipment in the corner, a shower head, a lamp. Trust me, we tried all the advice, including prayer!
  • A 6-year-old who cannot focus on a simple task like brushing his teeth without being reminded at least 4 times and possibly even punished for good measure.
  • A 7-year-old who spends his days whipping his brothers into an active frenzy by consistently leading them in activities like tag, playing ball, jumping, tackling, drumming, tickling, dancing, and anything else that makes noise or creates havoc.

 There was a time when I would have had solutions to these problems, but that was before I met our precious first-born. I also would not have believed that a child as young as age 2 could be a leader of men, or that a 4-year-old could spend a full 20-minute car ride counting to 1,000. I would have freaked out had you told me that my 5-year-old would remove the bread that he thought was done baking out of the oven, loaf by loaf, so that “Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t have to do it.” I would have been delighted to hear that my 6-year-old would take the initiative to clear out the dishwasher and start breakfast, and that he would answer the phone more competently than most 14-year-olds. I would have looked forward to a tidy basement, bedrooms (all of them), bathroom, and living room, courtesy of a sudden bright idea that told my 7-year-old to motivate his brothers to “surprise Mommy” with this special treat. I would have been extremely proud to hear of his helpfulness in the classroom, or that he sticks up for other kids when they are being bullied on the playground. And when someone tells me that my son is “gifted” and may deal with certain “overexcitables” and “sensory processing” issues (is hyper-sensitive to different stimuli, leading to heightened emotional responses and distractibility), I would be initially surprised, but not really.

If nothing else, our daily parenting struggles with a child who just does not fit the mould have made me far more gracious about other people’s struggles with their kids. I realize that not every problem goes away as a result of positive reinforcement or even consistent discipline. I see parents with kids who have chosen the wrong path, and instead of attempting to lay blame for the things they neglected or were guilty of, I allow for the fact that I do not know their child and am in no position to judge. God has made our little people extremely complex, and who am I to try to simplify things?

On second thought, maybe I should tweak my resolution. Maybe figuring out my kid is an exercise in futility. Maybe a dose of patience and a lot more prayer will be the silver bullets that make 2012 a better parenting year than the previous seven!

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