Posts tagged New Strong-Willed Child

The 5-letter S-word (sorry)

“Kids are dumb as mud,” says Dr. Kevin Leman in his book Have a New Kid by Friday. Any parent with a child over the age of 3 will probably agree. Kids will do things which leave us shaking our heads. (“Really, you thought it was a good idea to throw rocks through the plastic window well cover?” or “What do you mean you’re making a salad with my hosta leaves?”) In his book, The New Strong-Willed Child Dr. James Dobson says,

 As we all know, children will regularly spill things, lose things, break things, forget things, and mess up things. That’s the way kids are made…If the foolishness [is] particularly pronounced for the age and maturity of the individual, Mom or Dad might want to have the youngster help with the cleanup or even work to pay for the loss… It goes with the territory, as they say.[1]

 Today was one of those days at our house. Our oldest had spent the morning at VBS (vacation bible school) which is always a highlight of the summer. 140 kids packed into one place for 2 ½ hours every morning for 5 days, playing games and having snacks…now that’s what our extroverted son lives for. What he doesn’t appreciate as much are the wrap-up times at the end where he has to sit relatively still and listen. He happens to be a six-year-old with ants in his pants (no matter how much we insist on proper hygiene) and to sit on a pew in the presence of other boys his age and actually pay attention is often too much to ask (though I do).

So today, after a particularly exhilarating morning, we arrived home to find out from his friend’s mother that there was a hole in her son’s sleeve, courtesy of my son’s teeth. The aforementioned quote from Kevin Leman went through my mind, as it often does in these situations. (Although most parents can nod their heads in understanding, those with children who lack a certain amount of impulse control will nod vigourously.)

Whatever motivated our son to bite the shirt sleeve of the boy who sat next to him is not the issue. I like Dr. Dobson’s term for it: childish irresponsibility. At our house though, when childish irresponsibility leads to personal property being damaged or someone being hurt (either physically or emotionally) the child is expected to make things right by apologizing to the person they’ve wronged and, if appropriate, pay restitution (at least partial) out of their piggybank. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a very painful process for both Mommy and child.

So why go through it if it hurts us both? The simple answer is that children need to learn to take responsibility for their actions, and that doesn’t magically happen at age 16. It starts at age 4 or 5 when Junior needs to apologize for thoughtlessly breaking something that belonged to someone else.

I’ll never forget when our son repeatedly smashed a plastic window well cover at my friend’s house. (I believe that day her central vacuum and the handle on her storm door were also broken by rowdy kids, though she assures me that our boy wasn’t involved. Phew! I don’t think his allowance would have covered that one.)

Although he was only 4 years old, we took a few coins out of his piggy bank, topped up the rest with our own money, and drove back to the friend’s house to say we were sorry and pay restitution. Although our friend could hardly bring herself to “accept money from a child” (something about feeling like a criminal) it was a lesson that he internalized from that day on. Although our son is impulsive, he is not destructive. For the most part our children’s toys (and our house!) are in one piece because the oldest understands that things cost money to replace. He keeps the younger ones in line and models good behaviour in that department.

The concept of restitution and taking responsibility has become relatively foreign in the context of young children. Collectively we as parents often fail to let the child experience the consequences of their behaviour, frequently shielding them from the repercussions instead. We make excuses for our kids or just take the hit ourselves, thinking that we’re doing it because we love our kids. This is in part why these young children grow up to be young people lacking any sense of responsibility, thinking nothing of throwing their pop can on the sidewalk, knocking over a trashcan, or destroying someone’s personal property with graffiti. Someone else will clean it up, right? They always have before.

A few times recently I have witnessed our son quietly pick up a pop can or paper bag from the sidewalk and hang on to it until he reaches a garbage can where he throws it out. Even though it was painful today, he worked up the courage and apologized to his friend at great personal cost. He’s learning that making the right choices isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary.

If only we adults could take a page from his book, this world would be a better place. Maybe kids aren’t so dumb after all.

[1] James Dobson, The New Strong-Willed Child (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.,Wheaton,Illinois, 2004, 57)

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