So often when I hear parents these days talk about how they get their children to behave, it just sounds passive-aggressive to me.
I live in California, so it may be that I am seeing/hearing more of this crap than people in other parts of the country.
This is the kind of thing I’m talking about:
– People who don’t say “No!” to their children. When my boy was a toddler at a store with me, a woman near me told her little girl repeatedly to “please stop” pulling things off the shelf, and then she actually said to me “We’re trying to avoid using the n word, it’s so negative”. Seriously, she said that. Well, gee, lady, I don’t think “nigger” is appropriate language to use with a toddler, either – but what does that have to do with this situation?!? But anyway, if you use “please stop” to mean “no”… it just ends up meaning the same as “no”. Honestly, if you have a problem with the word “no” being negative, you’re missing the entire point. You use negative feedback to stop undesired behavior. Positive feedback to reward good behavior. The negative feedback MUST, by definition, be negative. Otherwise, you’re just a bribing, begging, toothless pushover.
– Someone once told me that I had “humiliated and embarrassed” a little boy when I was helping coach a soccer team. I had picked him up under my arm, carried him to the sidelines, and sat him down. He had been hitting other kids (kids smaller than himself) in the head with the ball while waiting in line for a drill, and had not stopped when I told him to. “Humiliated and embarrassed”? He SHOULD feel humiliated and embarrassed. He was being a jerk. Jerks should be humiliated and embarrassed – done at a young and impressionable enough age, maybe it will help them STOP BEING JERKS. But these days a lot of people think you should just ignore bad behavior and eventually it will go away. They think that left on their own, kids will naturally stop bad behavior – that it’s always just some “phase” the kid is trying out. Yes, kids have phases – but you know what? You can make some of those phases very short with a little humiliation and embarrassment.
– Every child should have the opportunity to experience and practice self-direction. Time to play as they want to, time to figure things out on their own, time to experiment with their surroundings and their abilities… but it’s gotten ridiculous lately! So many people seem to think that giving your children commands and expecting them to be obeyed is barbaric. Instead you are supposed to ASK them in an overly gentle, wheedling tone to do something. So you hear parents in the park saying “Don’t you think it’s time to go home now? Aren’t you getting hungry? How about we go home now – we can have ice cream at home, won’t that be nice? Do you want to do that?” Makes me grind my teeth. Pay close attention at a park, school, or birthday party and you’ll notice that even those sentences that are otherwise phrased as commands almost always end up with a question (and thus the option of refusal) at the end: “We have to go home now, okay?” “Let your brother have the ball now, alright?” “Come over here, will you?” Sometimes I want to just stand up in a room full of moms and dads and yell “Christ almighty, people, grow a pair and tell your kids what to do!”
– I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard a mother say something along the lines of “you have to make him think it’s his idea”. You want to play that game? Really? What happens when it’s something urgent and important, and you don’t have time to play manipulative mind games? Isn’t it just plain exhausting to be so manipulative, instead of just saying you want something done and having it done? It’s quicker and easier to say “Get in the car. Now”, and have the kid get in the car, rather than cajoling and negotiating. Think how much time you’d have for other things if you didn’t have to do all that mind-game shit.
– Strangely enough, while all these people walk around unwilling to give their children simple basic commands, they are often also controlling every moment of the kids’ lives. The manipulation is constant for some parents. A never-ending chain of simpering suggestive questions, guiding every social interaction and play experience. I prefer to let my kids be pretty free-range, playing as they like with whom they like, roaming pretty far from me as long as I know where they are, getting themselves bruised, making mistakes – a “don’t sweat the small stuff” approach. They know the rules and boundaries, and if they break them they get a quick and clear reaction – if they stay within the rules and boundaries, they have great freedom.
All this modern parenting reminds me of how women in my mom’s generation (and some young women now) talk about controlling a man by “making him think it’s his idea”. Which at least makes logical sense if there is an imbalance of power in the relationship – as the less powerful person physically, financially, socially, etc. sometimes passive-aggressive manipulation is the only way to get what you want or need.
But parents are supposed to have the power in the parent/child relationship, so there’s no excuse for this manipulative BS.
And if you take a larger perspective than your child’s immediate happiness, you may realize this:
Treating a child so passive-aggressively his whole young life may turn out someone who can not handle honest communication in any relationship. Is he going to have to find a partner who never says what she wants, just plays mind games to manipulate him? If you never tell your child what to do, how are you preparing him for the work force? Do you think his boss is going to take the time to make him think it’s his idea to mop the floor, or stock the shelves, or serve the customers? After about preschool, are his teachers going to? Are the police going to?