Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekly Column: Know Your Children Well, and Outside Perceptions Won't Matter

My youngest daughter just celebrated her third birthday, and for her, this meant balloons, cake, and presents.  It meant showered-attention and retold stories of the actual birth day. 
For me, however, it meant something different.  While I absolutely reflected upon her wonderful birth and grasped at fleeting minutes to keep her a baby for just a bit longer, I also found myself worrying about silly things.  Things like whether or not the house was clean enough for a family party, how much cake would be enough, and how my shy girl would handle a houseful of guests all there to pay tribute to her. 
Because she is almost painfully shy at this stage, I worried about her reaction to the party.  She’s clung to me violently around kind uncles and rambunctious cousins, so what did this mean for her party?  Could I expect her to suddenly catapult into social grace?  Would she interact with our guests, despite her resolve to never speak to anyone but parents and grandparents?
Perhaps my biggest worry was if she would have the capacity to thank our family for their gifts. 
If there’s one thing I’m overly conscious of, it’s how my parenting choices are perceived by others.  I sometimes struggle with letting my kids be who they are while in the presence of those who may not understand them, especially if they come across as harsh or rude. 
For example, my older daughter gets angry in response to embarrassment or confusion, and instead of reprimanding her rudeness, I know that it’s more important in that moment to address the actual problem she’s experiencing.  We’ll address the moody handling of those emotions next, when she’s better able to place them.  But in that moment, I worry that we appear to be a passive mother and a tyrannical child. 
In the case of my youngest, I knew I’d be concerned with her reaction to gifts.  If she refused to open her shy mouth in order to utter the required thanks, I knew I’d be tempted to force the issue for the sake of making sure our guests saw a polite child. 
Luckily, I came to my senses in the heat of the moment.  I know my daughter, and I know what she’s comfortable with at this stage.  To force a spoken word, when we could all see how she was enamored with her gifts, would be ridiculous.  It would embarrass and frighten her, and this was her party!  There was no need for strict enforcement of a rule I’m usually very attendant to.  Instead, my husband and I made sure to express our own thanks for each gift as it was opened, teaching by example that it’s painless and simple to offer thanks.  That she’ll be expected to do so as she matures.
I believe this is an ongoing issue for many parents, this anxiety over how our children’s behavior is perceived.  But the real truth is that if we trust ourselves to know our children, to know why they’re behaving certain ways, then we’ve already got all the tools we need to make the best parenting choices for our families. 
To do this, though, it truly requires an active desire to understand our children, rather than merely react to their behavior.  It requires a life that includes our children’s opinions and thoughts.  It requires admitting that our children are intrinsically valuable, not just when they’re on their best behavior. 
It requires wanting to know them, even if they’re confusing or shy or angry. 
Our children deserve nothing less than to be known, understood, and valued.


  1. I correct a little too often, but I think that truly stems from the vocabulary shortage we had going on in our household for a long time. I've delayed responses in the past year, so that they learn their own lessons. I do believe that we do teach through our actions. However I do correct verbally often to curb certain rudeness and it works for us. My boys are very well behaved.

    I wholly concur that we should not insult, confuse, or belittle them. Sarah- you are a wonderful & thoughtful parent.

  2. Well said. I have been struggling lately with preschool behaviors and my reactions to those...I want to acknowledge her feelings as well as let her feel them and express them...but I also want to teach respect...where is the line and how do I handle it when she speaks so rudely to me because she's upset about something....sometimes I forget I should address her feelings first! Thanks for a good reminder.

  3. Agreed, well said. I too have been dealing with reprimanding a toddler LOTS lately, and sometimes I think it would be easier to just let her make the mistakes...maybe we would progress quicker? :)

    Happy birthday to your daughter. :)

  4. "It requires admitting that our children are intrinsically valuable, not just when they’re on their best behavior."

    Yes. And, man, is that hard to remember in the throes of toddlerhood. Thanks for the reminder!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?