Our children don’t sit quietly, hands folded silently in their lap, seen but not heard.
By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
In recent months, the news carried the story of a restaurant that no longer allows children. There was resounding support by adults who have become tired of sharing a meal with noisy children scampering through the restaurant.
A prominent parenting style assumes children learn the rules of life by observing adults and other children. Unfortunately, from a developmental standpoint, this doesn’t work. Young children cannot infer proper behavior and etiquette from watching others. They need to be explicitly taught. Their ability to infer comes at a later age, and only if the foundation has been set in the earlier years.
I’ve also heard parents express the concern that they will squelch their child’s spirit and self-esteem by overly disciplining them. Interestingly, when parents don’t provide instruction and boundaries for their children, kids don’t feel secure. Young children want and NEED to feel safe in their environment. When parents avoid boundary setting, in an effort to not hurt their child’s self-esteem, insecurity increases. Children may then act submissive – living life on the sidelines, or they may act out – with aggression or bullying.
Children intuitively know they are not supposed to be in charge and often try to get our attention so that we will step in and make their world feel safe. How? They make noises, talk loudly, shout, touch or push others and run around. These behaviors are not the sign of a stable child with strong self-esteem. These are the signs given by a child who lacks balance.
Rules and boundaries give children a foundation of safety and security, providing the opportunity to move into subsequent developmental stages to demonstrate self-discipline, delayed gratification and compassion for others.
Let’s appreciate our ability as adults to evaluate our family and to have the courage to make the needed changes. Look at the developmental stages of each of your children. Evaluate whether you have given each child the expectations that correspond with that stage. Decide what rules will provide your child with the security needed to delay gratification and to demonstrate empathy and compassion for others.
Now that you have assessed your child’s developmental stage, let’s apply these concepts to social events. Everyone wants a family gathering where the immediate and extended families and friends have a joyous and peaceful time.
Be mindful of your child’s energy level. Don’t expect a young or hyperactive child to sit with the adults for lengthy periods of time. Recognize this child’s wiggly behavior as age appropriate, as long as it doesn’t interfere with items on the table or others seated nearby. If it does, then provide opportunities for this child to move about with permission – ask him/her to walk to another room, or to bring items (that won’t break or spill) to and from the kitchen; go for a walk with the child; provide a place for a break without it being punishment.
Recognize your child’s sleep and rest needs. A tired child is a cranky child who makes noise and moves around to keep awake. If it is impossible to provide nap/sleep, offer a quiet activity and location.
Most children cannot sit silently (or for long periods) while the adolescents and adults have conversations. The child will feel excluded and bored. Find ways to include them in conversation or give them an alternate location/activity.
Computer/video games and phones. Make a family decision about this in advance. These items provide an effective distraction, but they also remove the child from the family/event. Consider a balance – not during the meal, but acceptable during the conversations that tend to occur before and after (especially when another location for the child is not available).
Gifts. Thank you notes provide an opportunity to demonstrate appreciation, to learn follow-through and to practice writing. Drawings, phone calls, or dictated notes can be considered.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become Who You Really Are. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
Published in Metro You Magazine, November 2011