Sunday, February 19, 2012

"That was bad!"

I just observed something that happened between 2 of my kids that made me think…I looked on the surveillance camera for the pool and could see the 6 year old holding her finger up at the 3 year old and the 3 year old standing there with her head down. The other kids came in and told me that she was telling her that "she was bad". 

Where did she learn to do that? Where did she learn to get in someone's face who was bugging her (being naughty) and tell them they were being bad? 

Obviously, she learned it from me. :(
And, obvious to me seeing her do it is how wrong it is for me to have ever done it.

Everyone knows one thing...that you're supposed to tell your kids that what they did was bad and not that they were bad. Sure. But, I think that even even telling our kids that what they did was bad is…bad. 

Why is that…bad…and what should be done instead?

Here's an experience I had when I was about 5…

I had a kiddie pool in the yard. I had a very "cautious" mom who didn't want me to drown so she only put like 2 inches of water in the bottom. I wanted it to be fuller. I noticed that when I got in the water the water rose. "Hey! I know! I'll put ROCKS and PEBBLES and stuff in the water and that will make the water get deeper! Yes!!!"

So, that's what I did. But, rather than raising the level of that nice clean water it just made the water get all muddy and dirty! So, I realized that this was not working out and went and got my mom. And, when my mom saw it, I was in a heap of trouble. I was bad. I was told that what I did was bad. The pool was emptied and taken from me as punishment.

Was I bad? Was what I did "bad"? 

What I did was out of both ignorance and intelligence. I understood something about water displacement but was too immature to think past that. I wasn't bad. I was immature. What I did wasn't bad. It was immature. And, actually, it was good. It showed my brain was working. I'd detected a scientific principle, and attempted to use that knowledge to solve a "problem" I had. 

But, from my mom's perspective…she'd gotten me this nice clean new pool and put nice clean water in it and she came out and saw that it was all muddy and dirty and one big mess and added that all up and it =ed I was "being bad" and needed to "learn a lesson" (be punished). (And, ya can't hardly blame her! Did she have AP support back then? Did she have Facebook and tons of gentle parenting blogs to follow?)

What if my mom had come out and asked, "Um, what are you doing?" And, I'd have told her. She could have then explained that that's really neat that I noticed that. That it's called water displacement and I'd have nodded, "Uh huh water daplascezes, right" and she could have then asked me to observe how my experiment had turned out. She could have commended me for coming and getting her when I realized I'd made a mistake. She could have asked me why the water got all dirty and muddy. She could have asked me what we could do to fix this new problem? And, let me help clean out the pool and then maybe she could have given me a few more inches of water and walked off and thought, "My what a smart little girl I have." 

But, no. I was told that I was bad and that what I did was "bad". 

What's that mean to a little kid who is learning how to live? That means that the whole process I'd just gone thru in my mind was "bad". I was bad. And, the only thing she really taught me was to NOT take risks and experiment to try to solve my problems. And, she taught me that when I make a mistake I'm gonna get it…gonna get punished AND Mommy won't like me. Mommy will make that angry rejecting face at me if I mess up.

My mom basically observed my behavior and judged me, criticized me for it, inflicted pain on me (punishment), and separated herself from me. And, how many other times did that happened to me over the years...with more grown-ups than just my mom? How many times has it happened to all of us that someone in authority over us observed our behavior…judged it as "bad", criticized us for it, caused us pain or discomfort (punished us), and then they stomped off, unfriended us, or just wouldn't talk to us anymore? You know?   

And, what is the comment "you are bad" really, but, an insult. An attack. But, it's generally only how we speak to children. So, what does the comment "you are bad" or "what you did was bad" turn into when you're a grown-up and dealing with your husband? You dislike what he's just done or not done and if he was 5 you'd say, "You are bad! You've done something very bad!" but what you say to him is, "You're a jerk! I can't believe you did that! So stupid!"

Funny, right? We all know that it's not good, respectful or productive to treat another grown-up that way, but yet, that is how we treat our children who are still learning how to relate to others.

If it would be better for me to say to my husband, "That really hurts me when you do that. I wish you would not do that anymore." then...when my 6 year old draws on the wall or the carpet, rather than tell her how bad it is that she did that…it would be better for me to say to my child, "That really upsets me when you do that. I wish you would not do that anymore." If that is how we want them to grow up and treat others, we have to train them by example to do that from day one...(And, so that when they grow up and their kids think it's nifty to draw on the carpet that they will know how to handle that situation without shame.)

Realize that we are among the "others" that our kids will be someday relating to. If we want our kids to love us and not "rebel" against us and our household rules they have to be trained to look at our "behavior" and ask, "why", and to simply tell us, "I don't like that. It makes me feel ___". If we train them with the "you're bad" methods then then they don't like our rules, they're going to treat us the same way, except teenagers don't speak to grown-ups by telling them they're bad, that's the words we use for kids. For parents, teenagers will use different words inspired by the same philosophy of judging, insulting, hurting/causing discomfort, and separation...

Is it any wonder that teenagers always cry out, "You just don't know me!" Because we misjudge their behaviors and tell them they're bad every time they do something we don't like from day one.

Is it any wonder teenagers then reject us and "rebel"? They're simply doing what we've taught them. They react to our rules and expectations the same way we've looked at and reacted to their behavior their whole life.

And, how confusing of a lesson is it for little kids in a situation like this, "Now, you didn't even tell Miss Casey 'Thank-You' for that lollipop. That was bad!" We force them to do and say these certain things to "teach the respect" all the while we are disrespecting them and then we are so taken aback when they're older and they're disrespectful because yes, they did learn from us exactly what we taught them...

As the mirror is the best revealer of your physical flaws so is the mirror of our children's behavior the best revealer of what our parenting really looks like…

So, today I told my 6 year old that I learned something from her and that I'm not going to tell her "she's bad" or that what she did was bad ever again...

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