When I’m in a restaurant and I see children sitting quietly, colouring and sipping on a glass of milk, while their parents chat and eat, I feel quietly impressed. I might even turn to whoever I’m with and say, “Wow, what well behaved children, they’re clearly being brought up well.” It’s fair to say we offer a lot of praise towards parents who raise well behaved children.
In contrast, my daughter is usually the child in the restaurant SHOUTING EVERYTHING (why don’t three-year-olds have a volume dial?), standing on her chair, putting crayons in a glass and shaking them to listen to the rattle it makes, crying and moaning when she drops her colouring sheet (“MUMMY! Pick it uuuuuuup…….. please.”) and refusing to eat the majority of her lunch.
But, actually, I don’t mind.
If given the choice between raising a well behaved obedient child and a challenging child with spirit, I’d go for the latter, every time. Yes, it’s stressful and tiring and it can reduce even the calmest of parents to tears, but many of the traits we think are bad in a child, are seen as brilliant traits in an adult.
Questioning things – it drives me up the wall when my three-year-old asks “Why?” around 89 times a day. Sometimes it’s cute (“Why are you wearing that jacket?”) and sometimes it’s frustrating (“Why do I have to go to bed? I’m NOT TIRED”… usually followed by a yawn and a rub of the eyes) but in the grown up world, I want her to question things and ask why. I want her to look at how things work and wonder whether they can work better a different way. Some of the people we admire the most are the ones who question things.
Saying no – the current battle we have most days with our daughter is us asking her to hold our hand and her refusing to. She’s enjoying not using a buggy and that feeling of independence is extending to wanting to walk on her own without holding Mummy or Daddy’s hand. All well and good but when we’re on a busy street or a main road, there’s no way I’m letting her toddle along on her own. It usually goes something like this:
Me: Hold my hand, please.
Me: Come on, we’re on a busy road. I don’t want a car to squish you.
Her: They won’t.
Me: They might if you don’t hold my hand. Come on…
Me: I’m going to count to 3…
And so it goes on, until she holds my hand. Not a fun way to spend five minutes most days and if you walked past this exchange, you’d be forgiven for thinking the child was on a slippery slope to becoming a juvenile delinquent, but saying no is a skill that’s important to learn. How often do you hear your friends say: “I just need to learn to say ‘no’ more”? Saying no shows strength, it helps us focus only on the things that we value and gives you control of a situation.
Being naughty – whether it’s drawing on the table, scratching another child, pouring water on the floor at lunchtime, my three-year-old does plenty of naughty things. We’re forever taking her to one side and explaining why she can’t do that. We’re forever trying new tactics to encourage good behaviour – sticker charts, rewards like using the iPad or having some chocolate raisins, and removing bedtime stories if she misbehaves. Natural instinct (saying things like ‘because I said so’ and punishing bad behaviour – mirroring how we were brought up) wrestles with newer parenting ideas (explaining logical arguments and analysing why the bad behaviour is occurring) and all the while, ideas are being swapped with fellow parents who are experiencing the same thing. In the grown up world, of course, bad behaviour isn’t a good thing. But the reason that a lot of kids misbehave is to get attention – and that’s not a bad thing. Adults who strive to be noticed will progress in work and get to where they want to be.
A Guardian article from 2012 was shared amongst lots of my parent friends this week and in it, the writer Annalisa Barbieri is questioning why we are so keen to ‘tame’ our children. She quotes Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting – Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason, who says, “You can threaten or bribe a child into obedience for a little while, but you are missing the big picture and failing to address the underlying cause [of why they may not want to do something] which may be environmental – such as rushing a tired child through an unfamiliar place – or they may be psychological, such as fear about something else. A very obedient or compliant child – it depends, some are more docile by temperament – but others have created a false self because they sense their parent will only love them if they are obedient. The need for autonomy doesn’t vanish because kids have been cowed into doing what they’re told.”
I sent the article to my mum – someone who I know shares my belief that ‘spirited’ kids grow up to be adults who make something of themselves – and she replied saying that she was made to feel like a bad parent when my brother and I were young. Both my brother and I were.. how can I put this… a bloody nightmare as kids. I challenged teachers at school, I was regularly moved to sit on my own in class (sometimes my desk was placed in the corridor) and I was placed ‘on report’ as young as six for doing delightful things like hitting my classmates and drawing on their school shirts. SORRY MUM.
But my mum’s point in her email to me was that despite my bad behaviour and despite her being made to feel like a bad parent, I’ve grown up to be OK. I know right from wrong, I’ve got myself a good career and I’m (fairly) sensible. So I’d rather have a child who wreaks havoc and questions things and digs her heels in. If she grows up to use those traits in a positive way, and becomes a strong female adult, I’ll be so proud of her.