If you’ve looked at your misbehaving child and thought to yourself, “Hindi naman ako ganyan nung bata ako,” then you might actually be right. Parenting and childhood seems to be vastly different when we were younger. Today’s kids are struggling with their emotions and finding it difficult to manage their attitude.
“We face a crisis of self-regulation,” says Katherine Reynold Lewis, a journalist, certified parent educator, and mother of three, in her book The Good News About Bad Behavior.
In an interview with NPR, Lewis says that three factors influenced this crisis. “First, where, how, and how much kids are allowed to play has changed; second, their access to technology and social media has exploded; three, children today are too ‘unemployed.’”
By “unemployed,” Lewis means that parents avoid giving their children responsibility, including chores. “They’re not asked to do anything to contribute to a neighborhood or family or community,” she says. “And that really erodes their sense of self-worth — just as it would with an adult being unemployed.”
Chores build your children up for success. The skills and values they learn, including a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility, and self-reliance are essential when they become adults. Chores also cultivate a sense of contribution and belonging in a family but kids today are robbed of that, according to Lewis.
The obvious solution is to start giving your children chores. Chores at a young age — yes, starting at the toddler years — can help kids build their confidence and sense of community.
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“When it’s more of a social compact than an adult in charge of doling out a reward, that’s much more powerful. Kids are so driven by what’s fair and what’s unfair. And that’s why the more power you give kids, the more control you give them, the more they will step up,” shares Lewis.
Yes, it will test your patience. Toddlers will naturally take their time sorting out a mess, but avoid jumping in and finishing the job for him. Letting him carry out the task on his own shows him that you trust his capabilities.
A parent instinctively wants to protect her child, but Lewis points out that it’s taking a toll on the little ones. “Two or three decades ago, children were roaming neighborhoods in mixed-age groups, playing pretty unsupervised or lightly supervised,” she says.
Back then, children were able to resolve disputes with other children on their own because they were largely motivated to keep playing. They were free to plan their time and choose what games they wanted to play. Lewis said this freedom boosted their self-esteem and mental health.
Compare it to kids today who are in child care from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. It’s either that or their parents are hovering over their every move. Or maybe they’re hooked on screens.
Previous studies have shown that helicopter parenting doesn’t just deprive your child of learning essential life skills, but it can also affect your child’s overall emotional well-being. She struggles to manage her emotions and behavior, a crucial trait she needs in adulthood.
Lewis says she is guilty of keeping her children under close watch. But she’s seen the importance of letting kids take small risks and let them make decisions on their own.
In her book, Lewis mentions research from New Zealand that studied the connection between phobias and childhood experiences. “Psychologists believed that if you had a phobia as an adult, you must have had some traumatic experience as a child. So, they started looking at people who had phobias and [asked] what their childhood experiences were like. They found the opposite relationship,” she says.
Lewis shares that people who had a fall from heights were less likely to have an adult phobia of heights. Those who had a near-drowning experience didn’t grow up fearful of water, and children who were separated from their parents briefly at a young age felt less separation anxiety as adults.
“We need to help kids develop tolerance against anxiety, and the best way to do that, this research suggests, is to take small risks — to have falls and scrapes and tumbles with sticks or fall off a tree,” Lewis says.
She adds, “Yeah, maybe they break their arm, but that’s how they learn how high they can climb.”
Lewis points out other tips that may help regulate your child’s behavior
1. Be careful of rewards.
Lewis acknowledges that at some point, rewarding good behavior can be counterproductive. They stop working because your kid will realize that he doesn’t care about the rewards — he would rather do the things he wants. As a parent, you’re then left without a discipline method.
In her book, Lewis encourages parenting strategies that are built on mutual respect and a mutual desire to get through the day smoothly. “Stop thinking: ‘What reward or punishment will make them behave?’ Instead, think: ‘What skill do they need?”
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2. The consequence of a child’s actions shouldn’t result in punishment.
Children don’t throw tantrums to provoke parents and to purposely become disobedien. So it’s important for parents to exercise patience and instead convince their child to calm down and cooperate. If parents will follow through with a consequence for a child’s disobedience, Lewis suggests doing the four R’s. “Any consequence should be revealed in advance, respectful, related to the decision the child made, and reasonable in scope.”
3. Self-discipline won’t happen if parents keep controlling their kids.
Just because children from the previous generation behave differently from today’s children doesn’t mean that the discipline strategies of parents from past decades are perfect. Remember, spanking was recently banned by the American Academy of Pediatrics as an ineffective method to teach children about responsibility and self-control.
“The tools and strategies that you used and our grandparents used weren’t wrong, they just don’t work with modern kids,” Lewis says. “If we respond to our kids' misbehavior instead of reacting, we'll get the results we want. We can let our kids struggle a little bit. We can let them fail. In fact, that is the process of childhood when children misbehave. It's not a sign of our failure as parents. It's normal.”