When my first son was 4 weeks old, we attended a talk on how to raise a Jewish child in an assimilated community. The most memorable comment had nothing to do with the actual topic – it was parenting advice so logical and practical, I’ve shared it with everyone I know:
“I’m not a childcare professional or psychologist, but as the father of 9 children from 5-17, I think I am a bit of lay expert in the matter of children – so let me tell you what I’ve learned. They are born wired. Your efforts to re-wire them will lead to misery. You need to understand their wiring and help them make their wiring work for them.”
Kids are born pre-wired for traits, strengths and weaknesses. Lots of things happen in life to change how people interact and understand the world – and change their personalities as a consequence. But often the efforts of parents to mold our child’s personality just results in mutual frustration and disappointment. While molding personalities is a route to failure, wiring their brains to make good choices is something every parent needs to do.
A friend of mine has a troubled teenager and as they work as a family to help him straighten out, they attend group therapy with similar families. My friend mentioned that the one thing all the families had in common was that they didn’t set limits and enforce consequences on their troubled teens when they were young children. While there’s no saying if their child would still be troubled if they had, it was very meaningful to him that all the families had the same regret.
It’s so much easy to set limits and consequences on a 5 year old than on a 15 year old. For example, the kids had a sleepover this Saturday night and elected to watch shows on the TV that we don’t allow (and were very defiant of their babysitter). The consequence is that they have lost TV for the following weekend and they now have a daily reward chart where a sticker is only given by our au pair if they have been respectful of her. We’re trying to wire their brains to follow the rules and treat people with respect. The choices they can make now while they’re young are safe and easy...hopefully they’ll be well practiced in making good ones when the consequences get more dire.
What choices and consequences have worked for you to teach your kids?