What is better? For a child to learn to follow rules, policies and regulations; or to choose the way of reason and wisdom?
Young children often lack the experience to make proper choices in their lives. Wisdom is not so much about right and wrong, but about choosing what is best in each situation. Rules and guidelines are not the only way to guide a child, though they may be appropriate at times. A child must be brought through a process of reasoning to understand and to choose what is best.
We may tell a child it is time for bed. “Why do I have to!?” he protests.
“Because I’m mommy and I said so,” might be the response. But what are we teaching by this?
We are teaching our child the primary reason for going to bed is because one claiming to have authority is requiring it. In the child’s simple world he concludes the reason he has to go to bed is because authority has made the demand. He does not interpret and revise it. He does not say, “Oh, I know what mommy really meant; she meant I’m tired and need to rest.”
So as the child grows up, he gets bigger, stronger, better at arguing, and continues to seek the loophole. How can he equal or surpass the authority which is claimed by the parent, and so get the freedom to stay up longer? He continues to complain–and the parent, seeking to placate him, says, “When you are older you will get to stay up later.”
Now the child forms further concepts, namely, that being older and bigger will result in more freedom, so he yearns to ‘get bigger’ so he can have his own way. There is another name for a child who believes that larger size confers more freedom and opportunity: bully.
Instead, we should learn to reason with our children, employing logic, and cause and effect.
An alternative to, “It’s time for bed,” might be:
“Son, how are you feeling right now? Your eyes are red, and slightly closed. Do your eyes hurt a little bit? Is there any ache in your forehead? Did you play and study and work hard today? How long has it been since you woke up this morning? You look exhausted to me.”
You see, first of all, we can call attention to our child’s physical sensations. This is the first part of good training; asking the child to engage in self-awareness and to assess his condition. It might be followed with this question:
“Son, remember how I ask you this each evening? It is because I am teaching you to be aware of how tired you are. When a person becomes exhausted, he is more likely to be frustrated, discouraged, fussy and to make poor decisions. He may be less coordinated, he may trip and fall more readily, and just getting ready for bed seems like too much to do.” This might be followed by the next set of comments along these lines:
“I’m confident that you understand what I’m saying and that you desire to be clear-headed and reasonable. So I am asking you to make a wise choice right now to get ready for bed, because this is the wise thing to do.” Now, perhaps the child will refuse, but more often than not, he understands the wisdom and will be far more compliant than we may expect.
The above represents training. And it takes TIME. But the results will last him for a lifetime. He will grow up rational and reasonable…and will never go through the ‘terrible teens’.