Parents and educators often ask me for advice about children’s behavior and development. This often includes things like tempering eruptive emotional responses, establishing better eating habits, cleaning up after themselves, reducing time using technology, or addressing swearing/name calling. Most of the time people want things they can do with or to the child to correct frustrating or unacceptable behaviors. However, more often than not, my advice has more to do with what adults need to do differently, not things we need to change about the child. When adults modify their own behaviors, they create a more optimal environment for children and are better models for children of the behaviors they want them to exhibit.
We correct children with the best of intentions – we want them to grow up socially well-adjusted, independent, respectful, and so on. We typically have a comfortable sense of responsibility about that, even when it can be challenging. But when corrective strategies require that we focus on our own behaviors and habits, it can be more than a little uncomfortable. We may even avoid it all together. It seems so much easier to “fix” someone else than turn inward and consider our contribution. I can relate. It’s hard to own that my child first said a swear word likely after hearing me say it or that my child consistently leaves his shoes out despite many reminders yet I myself have four or five pairs out.
As an early childhood educator and a parent, I didn’t initially realize how much of taking care of others actually meant taking care of me. Of course I knew I needed to get enough sleep in order to have the patience and energy to keep up with young children. I didn’t know how much I’d have to reflect on and correct my own habits, how much I’d have to keep learning to be an educator, and I didn’t know how much healing my own mental and emotional patterns I would need to do. Being a better teacher and parent meant I had to really work on myself to be the best leader, teacher, and guide for children.I had to be able to look at my own children and the children I care for and say “I love you enough to love me”.
If you are challenged by your child’s behavior, here are some reflection question you can lean into to start by loving yourself more first:
- What do I value for my child? Do I value the same for myself?
- What habits do I want my child to have? Do I model those?
- How do I support my child in establishing new habits? Do I offer the same time and space to myself to learn something new?
- How much time and effort do I put into guiding my children? Do I spend the same amount of energy focusing on and reframing my actions?
- What is my expectation for children to ask for help? How often am I willing to help?
- What are my expectations for my child to consider their impact on others? Am I willing to vulnerably invite feedback about my impact?
- Growth is gradual – what is one thing I can do differently today to model what I want for my children?
- Do I allow grace for both me and my child to make mistakes and try again?
Your child will most definitely need ongoing guidance as they develop but when we start by taking better care of ourselves, living what we want for children, and making space for mistakes, we are teaching our children far more than we often realize.