Standing outside the glass wall, I watched as Ricky ran full speed in the wrong direction. His coy smile played across his face as his eyes locked onto my soccer-jersey clad son. The coach’s urgent pleas for Ricky to change direction could be heard but were not acknowledged. Ricky continued on in his endeavors. He ran, head down and arms swinging, into my sturdy son. Ricky bounced off the out-stretched, protective arms. My son’s expression contorted from confusion into anger, I couldn’t hear the words exchanged, but the instinct to self-protect was evident. The coach came over, pulled Ricky off the ground, checked on my son and asked Ricky for the zillionth time to “please follow instructions.” With his feet back on the ground, Ricky took off again- laughing and locking his eyes onto another undeserving kid. This time, the unaware child toppled to the ground. The sound of heads hitting and cries erupting, sent the parents running onto the field to clean up the after-math.
The only parent not on the field was Ricky’s mom. She sat in her side-line position, waited for her unruly son to make his own decisions and when the coaches couldn’t gain his respect, she finally went onto the field and grabbed his hands. No words were exchanged. She only pulled him to the side and sat with him.
Two minutes later, she said, “Okay, you can go back and play.”
Ricky took off without consequences for his behavior, without correction for his choices. As the soccer practice continued, he repetitively ruined games and put teammates in danger. At one point, he wrapped his hands around a child’s neck and began to shake the “friend.” His mother’s response? “Oh, he’s just learning to show affection… “
I sat in shock. Seriously?!?
Parents are already telling themselves lies about their child’s behavior. Choking is not friendly; disobedience is disrespect. If parent’s say nothing to inappropriate behavior, they will get nothing. Parenting is work, it is consistency, it is dedication. It is a constant choice to be purposeful.
I think my three year old is pretty wonderful, but I have to admit he isn’t perfect. Sometimes, he whines when he should be thankful, sometimes he plays rough when the other person isn’t his Daddy, sometimes he doesn’t obey the first time, sometimes (often) he antagonizes his sister just to get a reaction. BUT, he is three and every child is a work-in-progress. They need to be guided through appropriate behavior to learn not only appropriate social awareness; but also, to learn that kindness, patience and diligence are the best tools they have for developing healthy relationships.
Children crave structure- to know the natural consequences of their behavior. They want to know that preferring their friends will make their parents proud, the same way that they want to know that hitting a friend will make their parents sad. Children find security in knowing that you are paying attention and that their actions bring consistent reactions.
My four year old often asks, “What would happen if I…” and “What would you think if I…” She wants to know cause and effect. But, even more than that, she wants to know that my response will be consistent. She wants to find patterns to behavior and to understand what actions provoke what emotions. Sometimes, she tests the patterns. She throws her hat into a puddle as soon as I tell her to stay dry, she runs upstairs when I tell her I need to fix her hair, she eats another bite of pizza when I say to eat a carrot. It isn’t fun to make the discipline decisions, especially, when the situation seems petty. Nonetheless, disciplining direct disobedience teaches her about the consistency she naturally craves. She is making connections that wire her to be responsive and to be kind. She is learning to listen to the voice of authority, to respect others and even to process communication for her own autonomous decisions.
At the end of the soccer class, the coach approaches Ricky’s mom. With a gentle whisper he explains that Ricky is not welcome to come back to class. He explains Ricky’s unruly behavior- how it jeopardizes the safety of the other kids and disrupts the class. Ricky’s mom decides now is the time to use her words, “WHAT! I don’t understand how YOU, of all people, could kick my son out of soccer! YOU have no idea… I (pointing to herself) am the one with a MASTER’S DEGREE!”
A master’s degree will do you no good in motherhood. Science cannot tell you how to raise your child. Not any superfluous amount of evidence-based research will give you a detailed grasp on parenthood. It’s when you’re in the day-to-day, in the moment, that you have to follow your heart. That you lead with love and consistency. That you train up your child in the way he/she should go. Children do not make the wisest decisions on their own, but with encouragement and consistency, they learn positive and negative reactions. They learn appropriate behavior, to be kind and respectful to others and to follow their hearts when the time is right.
One day, your child will be the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. BUT, right now, he is in training. He is learning to navigate the waters, to read the wind. When he takes off on his own, send him off with the confidence. Know that he can read life’s compass and tackle the adventure that awaits his sails.