I don’t know if you have ever heard of a little personality typing called “Top Card”, but when a Positive Discipline consultant visited our school earlier this school year, he played the “game” with us so we could determine one of our personality characteristics. I discovered, to no one’s surprise, that my “Top Card” is control. That means I don’t care if I’m considered unimportant or insignificant, I don’t mind stress or some discomfort, but I want to have control!
I’m writing to you about this because as I meet with parents over and over again, I find that so many parents, too, have this “Top Card.” We want to be in control, we’re sure things will be better if we are. When it comes to our children, we’re overprotective in our methods of using this control, and we interfere (convincing ourselves that we’re “helping” our children) with our children’s emotional, social, and academic growth to our children’s detriment. The tough thing about all this is that we’re usually blind to the effects of our interference. Strangely enough though, others can usually see clearly how what we’re doing is hurting our children.
I’d like to give you some scenarios to ponder. Any resemblance to you is merely coincidental!
First scenario: Your older child is learning to read at just the right time – when she is showing an interest and a willingness to do the work necessary to accomplish the task. So when you meet with your other child’s (who is younger) teacher, you tell her that this child is really interested in learning how to read, that he sees his older sister learning and wants to learn, too.
Suggestion: When control is your top card, it’s good for you to delegate control and power to others. Release your child’s timetable for learning to read to the teacher who is trained to recognize readiness for reading and is eager to have your child learn to read, too. Instead of telling the teacher what you think your child needs in school, ask the teacher if she has noticed any readiness to read in your child. Also ask her what kinds of academic lessons are appropriate for him.
Suggestion: After listening to the older child read, ask the younger child to sit with you for special time, too. Instead of reading, do a puzzle with him or something else that he likes. Don’t make the younger child feel that he needs to do what the older one does in order to get approval from you.
Second scenario: Your older child is not a particularly hard worker at school. Over time you have struggled with issues of motivation. You are harboring fears that somehow you missed doing something for that child which explains how he became this way. You are also worried that your younger child, whom you perceive to be very bright, is showing signs of lack of inner motivation, too. You decide that what this child may need is your special attention to keep her on track. So without consulting the teacher to see if your help is needed, you attend school, sit with your child, and watch/help her work. You don’t notice that your child is embarrassed to have you there.
Suggestion: Play games with your children at home. Make your focus something other than school work. School work belongs to school and one’s home life belongs to the home. You may best help your child be motivated by doing something with him in another arena, not an academic area. Try playing card games or other games that are challenging and exciting and that require some strategizing and thinking.
Control Issues – part 2
Suggestion: Since the “baby” in the family is the one that is closest to the mom, avoid putting pressure on him to please you by exerting this control over him in school. In addition, become aware that your presence in class may cause him to feel embarrassed and to feel “too different” from the other children.
Suggestion: Visit school just for the fun of seeing him or having lunch with him. Find out from the teacher what kind of parental interaction in the classroom is appropriate.
Third scenario: Your playful toddler exhibits an inability or an unwillingness to control some of his impulses when playing with other toddlers. When he gets aggressive with a fellow playmate and pinches him on the cheek in a way that you perceive is rather forceful and without remorse, you swiftly whisk your child away and pinch both of his cheeks so he may know doubly well how what he did felt to the other child.
Suggestion: When your toddler hurts someone on purpose, simply remove him from the activity and say very calmly something like, “It hurts Sam when you pinch him. We can’t play with our friends when we hurt them. We’ll try to play again later.” Take your child somewhere else and let him play alone. Don’t act angry! Children are children after all, and hitting, biting, and pinching are some unsavory things children do. Usually children learn to control themselves and this behavior subsides.
Suggestion: Patience is not a virtue when dealing with children; it is a necessity. If you don’t have patience at the moment your child does something wrong, don’t interact with your child. Wait until you are calm and then interact with your child calmly and quietly. If waiting would make things worse, ask your mate, who isn’t so emotionally involved in what you witnessed, take over. Remember, children are best at learning the lessons we’re not trying to teach them. We don’t want to teach them that when someone hurts you, you doubly hurt them back. We want to teach our children to use words, kind words, to solve problems. Therefore, we must use words, too!
When we use our power to control our children, what they learn from us is that power works. We in effect invite them to use power to manipulate others. They then become expert at using their power with us and their friends. Some children eventually become bullies because of the mistaken way they think about power. The interactions created by using power to control children results in what we call “power struggles.” And the really tough thing about that is that the children ultimately win, just like the horses do that we can’t make drink.
Being a parent makes grown ups of all of us. It’s tough to grow up but I know you can do it!
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher