When parents talk about kids having it easy, they’re talking about the fact that they’re not dealing with either money or relationship issues. But to the child their challenges are very real and the emotions they face as a result are the exact same ones we face. This means terrible disappointment feels like terrible disappointment whether you’re broken up about a divorce, or broken up about the fact that you can’t play at your favourite friend’s house. Relatively speaking the disappointment is just as big and it’s felt just as strongly and we would do well to remember that.
Another thing worth remembering is the fact that kids are human. I see this all the time. A child is considered to have misbehaved every time they do something other than exactly what the parent wanted. They essentially get scolded for being their age. Kids learn through interaction. They learn through trial and error. To be scolded for that is to be scolded for being human.
So you didn’t love it when your kid dropped stuff off their high chair in their attempt to understand concepts like gravity or here and gone—but you put up with it because they were babies or toddlers. But as soon as they can talk they’re more like employees or soldiers. They’re simply supposed to do what they’re told and anything else is classified as misbehaving. And that is ridiculous and entirely unreasonable for the kid.
There are days where you get a bad sleep. Maybe it was the way your body was positioned. Maybe it was the dreams you had. Or maybe you’re ill and don’t know it. But everyone’s woken up feeling less than ideal and it makes the day a lot harder. Diets can impact our moods as can the various bacteria and virii that compromise much of who we say is “us.” But adults can have bad days. Kids don’t get bad days. Kids are being bad when they’re disagreeable. They don’t have the luxury of a grumpy day. No one will give them that latitude.
Kids can’t want something different, they can’t need some time alone. Every disagreement is seen as bad behaviour rather than recognising that it’s very often just being created by the simple and very real differences between the parent’s personality and the kid’s. In short, your kid isn’t obstinate and difficult—they know who they are and they know what directions feel like theirs.
The fact that society makes demands on them that are unnatural doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the kid—the concept of society itself is just a subconscious agreement we all make to follow largely silly unnatural patterns. Just because some guy invents the concepts of a clock and a job doesn’t mean that an actual individual human being is wise to live their life according to those two things. (See: Intentional Being Video)
If we want to be truly healthy we have to respect what we are in nature and stop forcing ourselves into the shapes that society demands for conformity. Kids are still wise enough to resist that pressure as unnatural. Adults get subdued into a state of mind where they just follow the patterns and lose all consciousness. And then they wonder why they barely laugh while kids laugh all day.
Stop expecting perfection from kids. Start to understand their behaviour not as something that’s not only relative to you and your rules, but as something unto itself. Because that’s what egos do—they assume everything has to do with them. So when their kid has a tantrum in a public place the kid is making the parent look bad, rather than the kid is having their own very distressing experience.
Do you think back in our tribal history that when we saw a kid freaking out that our reaction was to try to get them to conform so we would look good to our fellow tribesmen? Or do you think we would have watched them in an attempt to understand their actions. Might we then see that the kid is discovering how the world works, or maybe they’re actually noticing something valuable that you’re missing?
You will have conflict with your kid when you try to talk them out of a noisy instrument like drums in favour of some musical instrument they have zero interest in. If your kid loves drums and you buy them a guitar because it’s quieter, then your kid isn’t being difficult by not wanting to go to guitar lessons—he or she is just being a drummer.
Stop spending all of your time reciting complaints to your kids. Stop and actually ask if what they’re moving toward is really a problem, or are you creating one by wanting them to do what you expected rather than what was natural for them? For instance, some people are naturally nighthawks and some people are natural early-risers. An early-rising parent who forces a nighthawk awake is placing a greater value on society’s external rules than on nature. Even their love for and appreciation of the individual that is their child doesn’t overcome that. We may not find that fact convenient but it’s true.
Cities and nations etc. make us conform. We have to surrender who we are to some degree to function smoothly with others (i.e. traffic laws). But beyond that a lot of people will still demand changes just to suit them personally. You can’t blame kids for pushing back against any unnecessary restriction–because they’re right. It’s not them that’s wrong; we’re the ones who’ve been brainwashed and convinced to subjugate our natural impulses.
Be with your kids less as a corrections officer at a prison camp filled with rules, and more as a fellow human being who is co-discovering the world alongside them. Because in the jungle there are no bedtimes, no wake times, no school and no rules. There is the world and how it works and after that everyone’s allowed to be who they are. And it works, because that kid in the jungle will know and understand his world far better than any city kid who only sees the world as a set of pre-organized concepts that can only be manipulated in pre-decided ways, like life is a Transformer that can be this or that, rather than it being like Lego where it has the freedom to be anything.
Your kids are people first and your kids second. Respect them as individuals. Instead of telling them what to do try listening for who they are. What do they place a value on that you don’t? Maybe no one in your family plays an instrument but your kid sits at every piano he sees. Now that’s a kid you put in music lessons. Maybe you want them to sit still and they can’t. Well maybe they’re a kinetic kid who’s a dancer or an athlete. Maybe your kid likes to be off alone drawing or reading. That’s not antisocial, that’s a dedication to practising something.
Respect children. They do need your help establishing healthy limits. But don’t always assume you know best. Yes, for practical daily reasons sometimes they just have to water-ski along behind your day. Whenever possible, really try to see their behaviour as having less to do with you and life’s rules and more to do with their own individuality and how that meets this great big world. Because ultimately your job isn’t to teach them who to become—it’s to help them realise who they already are.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.