Advice concerning children (Pt 2)

 

Contents of this Part

Always be respectful to your children (cont.)

          Basic truisms

          Let children be children

Explain why they should/shouldn’t do stuff

Always follow through on promises/threats

Try to expose your children to a range of influences

Let your children make mistakes

Let your children try things at home

          Alcohol ?

          Cigarettes ?

          Other drugs ?

          Other risks ?

Basic truisms

 

And there are 2 truisms for living a happy life generally that apply equally to your dealings with strangers and your children:

1)  Treat everyone with respect – you’re bound to meet the same people as you met going up when you’re on your way down (clearly that applies with bells on in relation to your children). 

2)  The easiest way to get respect is to give respect.

Countless times I have seen friends of mine who are parents treat their teenage children as children.  I have seen how those children behave when I treat them as I treat everyone (that is, believe it or don’t, with respect), and I have seen how they behave when they are treated as children.  If you want to have your children behave as children when they deal with you, treat them as children.  If you want to see if they can behave like you would like them to behave … (but don’t expect instant results, as we’re talking about a process here, and it might take some time for everyone to realise what is happening).

And there’s another thing.  By the time your children hit their teens, they are going to be out and about all over the place, and they are going to be dealing with all sorts of people.  In your absence. 

 

If they have only been treated as children by you by the time that they get to that point, they will probably only behave as children.  And it won’t be their fault !

Let children be children

 

Finally, it is important to note that I am in no way suggesting in this subsection that you shouldn’t let children be children.  You should let children be children – it is a very important part of their development.  All I am saying is that in whatever dealings you have with your children, treat them with respect.  When they are fairly young you may not see any benefit from taking that approach.  As they get older you will, and that will apply even more so once they are ready to leave home.  If you ever want to try to make sure that your children will visit you even when they don’t have to, I have just revealed the secret. 

Explain why they should/shouldn’t do stuff

 

As a corollary of the last 2 subsections, when you are trying to influence the behaviour of children, particularly if you are telling them what to do, or not do, you should always explain why they should do, or not do, the thing.  That is, in fact, the easiest way that you can demonstrate the respect I advocated in the last subsection.

This advice applies from the earliest possible age, even if you are not sure that the child will understand the explanation.

And it applies with bells on as children get older.  And as children get older, they will start to question your reasons. 

And if they do that, you should listen to their questions.  And you should respond to their questions. 

By the way, “because I say so” is not an acceptable reason for anything.

In responding to a child’s question, you should first ensure that you understand the basis of the question.  If that basis is misconceived, you should explain that.  If it is not misconceived, you should in some way indicate that you understand the question.  Only then should you try to answer the question.  You should also seek confirmation that your child is satisfied that you have tried to answer their question.  Note that I didn’t say that your child “is happy with the answer”.  Depending on the question, there may be no answer, or no answer that you’re aware of, or no answer that anyone would be satisfied with.  None of that matters – the key thing is that you have done your best to try to answer the question.

And if your child has questioned some advice, and if on reflection you can’t think of a good reason for that advice, you should be open to questioning that advice yourself.  That might involve asking your child what they think is best done in the relevant situation.

Always follow through on promises/threats

 

If, in attempting to influence the behaviour of a child, you resort to a threat or promise, you should always follow through with the threat or promise.  This again seems to be stating the obvious, but from my observations it is advice that does need to be stated.

The reason behind the advice is, of course, incredibly obvious.  If you don’t follow through on a threat or promise, that is one less weapon you have in your arsenal the next time you seek to influence the behaviour of the child.  Why would any child pay any attention to anything you threaten or promise ever again if it is clear that the threat or promise means nothing to you ?  Why should it then mean anything to the child ? 

And, in the case of promises, a failure to follow through on a promise that did result in the change of behaviour for which it was given, is a complete breach of faith that may result in feelings of unfairness, and resentment towards you, that may last a lifetime (I can assure you that that is not an exaggeration – although it is not something that will necessarily happen, it definitely can happen, particularly with older children). 

Now, “following through” on a threat or promise doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to act on the threat or promise.  It means that you either have to act on it, or else that you have to explain why are not going to act on it.  Of course, if the explanation is lame, or is something that you do every time you don’t act on a threat or promise, it is effectively the same as not following through on the threat or promise.

So, if you are going to apply the advice in this subsection, the first thing is to make sure that you don’t ever make a threat or promise that you don’t intend to follow through on.  Some people tend to throw threats and promises around without much thought at all.  If you are one of those, that needs to stop.  From here on in, you need to think very carefully about any promise or threat that you make.  Ask yourself: can I really follow through on this ?  What will be the cost of doing so (financial cost, emotional cost, any other cost, both the cost to you, and in the case of threats, the cost to the child) ?  In the case of a promise, does that mean I have to make the same sort of offer for every behaviour change that I seek ?  Will I have to make the same promise to all of the child’s brothers/sisters ?

Those questions will hopefully make you realise that you need to be extremely careful when making a threat or promise.  It needs to be as specific as possible to the circumstances of the child (to reduce the chances that it will become a general family practice), it needs to be doable, and it can’t strain your financial or emotional resources. 

If you can avoid making a threat or promise at all, so much the better.  If you feel that you have to provide some incentive, ideally a threat or promise should be a description of what will happen anyway if particular action is taken, or not taken: “There’s a good chance you’ll hurt your finger”; “You might find that people will stop staring at you”.

Try to expose your children to a range of influences

 

Pretty much all children receive a formal education these days, or certainly those in the more developed countries do.  But all children receive an informal education.  It is everything that they see and experience that is not part of their formal education.  It is massively important to them because it is probably by far the most important factor in the shaping of their lives. 

And you as a parent, have the ability to have a pretty big say in how much of an informal education your children get.  The more sights and experiences you can expose your children to, the greater their informal education, and the greater their awareness of what options are available to them as they grow older. 

Travel is one great way of giving your children access to sights and experiences, but not everyone can afford to take their children travelling.  Really ?  Sure you might not be able to afford a family trip to the other side of the world, but surely, one way or another, you can manage from time to time to visit all the nearby cities or towns or beaches or forests near where you live.  And most places provide free cultural experiences for their inhabitants – it is simply a matter of going to them, with your children.  And if they’re not free, surely you can afford the occasional family ticket for something of interest.  And surely almost everyone has relatives and friends to visit.  These days it is possible to arrange farm visits for city children, and city visits for farm children. 

One of the greatest travel experiences you can give your children is to expose them to an environment where a language is spoken that is unknown to your children.  It is also great to expose them to cultures that are completely different to the one they are familiar with.  If only limited travel is available to you, with a bit of thought it may be possible to still give your children a similar experience.  Most communities have little pockets where languages other than the predominant language are spoken, or where a culture different to the predominant culture is practised.  If that’s not possible, take your children regularly to an art-house cinema that screens foreign films, or watch foreign films at home.

I know that these days schools provide children with access to lots of these sorts of activities, but there is still lots that they don’t or can’t do.  

It is probably worth mentioning that in deciding what sights and experiences to expose your children to, try to avoid only choosing stuff that you like, or that you think will be best for them.  Everything will be good for them, even if you may not see any evidence of that.  Basically what will be good for your children is the greatest range of sights and experiences that you can find.  And remember that meeting people counts as an experience, in many ways the best possible experience.  So try to make sure that wherever you go you try to engage with as many people as possible.  And try to make sure your children have the opportunity to engage with as many of your friends as possible.

And finally, every child should have the chance to experience nature in as pure a form as is possible, depending where you live.  Walk in it, camp in it, swim in it, canoe in it, sit in it or just be in it in whatever other way is possible with your children for some significant period of time to give them a chance to know what it is.

Let your children make mistakes

 

The fastest way to learn what one should not do is to do it, and to then experience the consequences.  That applies to everyone, but is a particularly relevant observation with respect to children.

That is not to suggest that you should let your children do something that is going to cause them serious injury, but there is a pretty wide range of things that your children can do that it is best to let them do. 

Remember, the older your children get, the less time they will spend in your presence.  That means that they are going to be exposed to a whole range of risks and dangers that you won’t be around to warn them about.  If they have grown up relying on you to “protect” them, how prepared are they going to be to deal with those risks and dangers, especially compared to someone who has been having to assess risks and dangers for themselves for quite some time ?

Let your children try things at home

 

Following on from the last subsection, with certain risks and dangers that children might face, there is a good case to be made for exposing your children to those risks and dangers in a controlled environment. 

Alcohol ?

 

One obvious, but perhaps controversial, example is alcohol.  When your children turn 18, they can legally consume as much alcohol as they can obtain.  Most children will have experimented with alcohol well before then, however.  But in the vast majority of cases, that experimentation will have occurred subversively with friends at times and places unknown to their parents.  A large part of the attraction of alcohol at that early stage is that it is something that is prohibited.  If adults have prohibited it, it must be good !

Before going further, I should make it clear that I am well aware that alcohol and children’s brains are 2 things that should never be mixed.  The long-term health consequences for children in consuming alcohol can be dire.

My view is, given that children are going to experiment with alcohol while they are underage, that you should give strong consideration to being the one who introduces alcohol to them.  Of course that introduction should come with information about the different sorts of alcohol, the differences in taste and effect, the different effects of alcohol on people, and the health dangers of alcohol.  Something in the nature of a guided, but joint, exploration of the subject is what I would have in mind, not a parent-knows-best lecture. 

The trick is to work out when the best time to do that is.  That is made difficult by the fact that the answer will depend very much on each individual child.  The real problem arises if the appropriate time is while the child is still pretty young, like in their mid-teens.  For many children that will be the appropriate time, but it isn’t the appropriate time for their brains.  But if they are going to try alcohol illicitly anyway …  There are times when I am happy that I am not a parent.  (Below I suggest that you talk about drugs without giving them to your children to sample, so the same approach might also work with alcohol.)

By the way, in case you are not aware, there has been a very considerable drop in average alcohol consumption by young people over the last few years.  A recent Australian survey found that two-thirds of 14 – 17 year olds had never consumed a full standard drink of alcohol – a similar survey in 2001 found that only a third of that age group could say the same.  This result is not peculiar to Australia – apparently it reflects a worldwide trend.  The reasons for it are not known.

Cigarettes ?

 

So what about cigarettes ?  They are something that I think that it is appropriate for parents to introduce to children if at least one of the parents is a smoker.  The idea is hopefully that if a child gets to try a cigarette under parental supervision, they will immediately realise what a horrible experience it is.  The only problem is that children often experiment with cigarettes at an age that is well below the age that a parent would consider it appropriate to offer their child a chance to smoke.

 

I was about 6 when I tried my first puff – somehow or another one of my friends had managed to get hold of a cigarette, and the means of lighting it.  That was also my last puff (apart from all of the secondhand smoke I have had to inhale since).  When my parents offered to let me try when I was quite a bit older, I refused the offer – been there, done that (or whatever the expression was in those days). 

One radical alternative, and this is probably more appropriate for non-smoker parents, than for smoker parents, is to get the idea across to your children from a reasonably early age that smoking a cigarette is an adult substitute for sucking a thumb. 

 

So those tough guys sitting on their horses out in the great outdoors are really only doing what they used to do in their cribs.  Sucking a thumb is okay for babies, but it’s not really a cool thing for anyone else to do.  And it’s a very expensive thumb substitute !  Hopefully your children will agree.  (I should clarify at this point that in fact I have no idea as to whether sucking a thumb is considered to be a good thing these days for babies.  If it is an issue of concern to you, I’m afraid you’ll have to do your own research.)

And if you are in a country like Australia, where cigarettes are heavily taxed, it is not a bad idea to make sure that your children are told, one way or another, what the retail cost of cigarettes is.  These days the amount should be a significant deterrent to any young person.

Other drugs ?

 

What about other drugs ?  As foreshadowed above, I am obviously not going to suggest that you introduce your children to any illicit, or licit, drugs in any sort of physical way.  Therefore they are not relevant to this subsection.  Instead, I have given them their own little subsection.

Other risks ?

 

Returning to other risks and dangers, it is a good thing to encourage your children to learn to drive while they are still at home.  That is by far the best time for them to learn to drive for all sorts of practical reasons from their point of view, and it enables you to try to make sure that they know all the things that you think that it is important for you to know.  It also gives you pretty good bonding opportunities as you help them wrack up the hours they need to wrack up to be able to go for their licence.

By the way, if you are not familiar with the basics of defensive driving, or are not in a position to teach your children those basics, you should give very serious consideration to making sure that your children do a professional defensive driving course.  They usually only take a day, and it will be money well spent.

If you have a fire or BBQ at home, your children shouldn’t leave home unless you are confident that they know how to competently light and safeguard a fire, or to safely use the BBQ.  They should also know how to change a tyre, change a tap washer, cook a healthy meal, use basic tools, sew on a button, and hang, wash and iron clothes.  In all of these cases, “knowing” is shorthand for “knowing by having done on numerous occasions”.  And don’t be sexist – all of your children, regardless of their gender, should be able to do all of the things that I have just mentioned.