From childhood we have all been taught how to behave. I always thought everyone was taught the same as me, but I have recently learnt that there are 2 totally different ways (more than 2 I know, but at their extreme ends there are 2 key schools of thought) of managing children’s behaviour which lead to personalities either flourishing or being suppressed.
We all want to think of ourselves as rational and reasonable, but we all know that when it comes to family relationships we can all be irrational and unreasonable at times.
Being rational is about being fair – making choices that are good for us and don’t harm others. Being rational or not is controlled by our heart – the right side of our brain, it is about what feels right or wrong. My Pareto Criterion rule comes into play to help us make rational choices. We all know that feeling from childhood – “It’s not fair!” Do we believe that because we are being selfish? Or are our true selves being disregarded or not considered? There is a difference between having hurt feelings because we are proud, and hurt feelings because we are being emotionally abused – having our personalities suppressed.
Being reasonable is about having a reason to back up our choices. It is controlled by our left side of the brain, our logic, our mind, our knowledge of what is acceptable. It is about understanding why a choice makes sense. We know what it is like when it appears nobody understands us, or we are being told what to do by somebody without choice and we disagree with what we are being told. When someone is telling us how we should be or what we should do based on their knowledge without taking into account or even dismissing our knowledge of ourselves. My prisoners dilemma rule comes into play here – it is all about trust and responsibility. We need to be given trust and responsibility that we know what is good for us while taking advice on board.
I was brought up to trust my feelings and to know my own mind. There are loads of crossings over between feelings and thoughts and different connections in the brain, but I think it helps to think of our heart controlling our feelings and our mind controlling our thoughts.
I have worked out that the way I was brought up was the right way.
Yes, I am actually going to make that claim! I know we all want to say “Everybody’s different and what works for you…” but the truth is, there are wrong and right ways of going about things and I know we don’t want to burden parents with more guilt, but guilt is there for a reason. In fact, we will feel more or less guilty depending on how we were brought up. The trick is to bring up children who are true to themselves and understand what is them and what is just bad behaviour. We actually have to draw a line under ourselves and learn the right way, even if it is at odds with how we were brought up. Learning the right way can help us to make sense of how we were brought up and help us let go of negative feelings and negative rules that our family lives by, but don’t really make sense.
Actually guilt and shame play a massive part in the way children are brought up and in the way we see ourselves. Shame is negative as it is about feeling bad about something that can’t be changed, guilt is good as it allows us to make choices or changes that won’t harm others or ourselves. Let go of shame, allow guilt to ensure your choices don’t cause harm. If someone can make you feel ashamed of something you cannot change they can control how you see yourself and manipulate your decisions.
When it comes to behaviour, most parents know that children will only do what they want to do, rather than what the parent wants them to do. So how do you get children to want to do the right thing? In other words, make rational choices.
If you use treats or threats, you will get compliant children, but how will they ever learn what they really want in life – other than external reward and avoiding punishment?
The only way to help children learn how to make good choices is to point out the true consequences of their actions e.g.Would you like to fall off the sofa? Then you need to stop jumping on it. Do you want to be tired and grumpy all day tomorrow? Then you need to settle down to sleep now.
So, bringing up rational individuals is about helping them use their own conscience to guide their choices. Encouraging them to consider the consequences of their actions and use their empathy and imagination to want to do the right thing for themselves and the common good. If you allow children to choose for themselves, inevitably they will sometimes choose to do the wrong thing, that is OK, how will they ever learn if they are afraid of failure or we don’t allow them to take responsibility of their actions? Making children feel ashamed when they make a mistake or do the wrong thing is bad. Pointing out the negative consequence so they can learn not to do it again is good. Telling them they are being naughty, when they are just learning how to behave doesn’t do any good. Asking why a child did the wrong thing and pointing out how to put it right is helpful. Life is all about learning, we cannot expect children to know how to behave if we don’t teach them.
At the extreme end of teaching rational behaviour we get parents so afraid their child will always do wrong that they control their child’s behaviour at all times with treats, threats and removal of or large displays of love. It means the child doesn’t develop their own conscience to guide their choices, they always aim to please authority and never learn how to please themselves. Their true personality becomes suppressed.
How do we teach children to be reasonable? It helps if we are reasonable. Being reasonable is about putting feelings to one side and working out the right choice based on knowledge and information.
If as parents we are more interested in bringing up well mannered children who do the right thing according to what society says is right given their gender, culture, fashion etc we are putting our feelings in the way of being reasonable. We might allow negative behaviours to go unchecked if society doesn’t understand the way children should behave and allows children to behave badly depending upon their status/gender/culture etc.
How should children behave? Like themselves, but with negative behaviours and feelings contained.
This is when people get really irate – we want our children to be themselves, we mustn’t dictate what is right or wrong behaviour. Yes we must. Humans are animals. Good, cooperative animals who developed in family groups and who haven’t changed biologically for millenia. Good behaviours are kindness, charity, modesty, humility, patience etc. Bad behaviours are arrogance, pride, anger, impatience, jealousy etc.
So when children behave in negative ways we should help them see that their behaviour is negative by pointing out the consequences and teaching by example how to behave the right way. Stories have always been good for teaching positive behaviours and showing the consequences of negative behaviours and showing that redemption is possible.
We all have a “dark side”, there are things that make us angry and pride filled and irritated and stop us seeing others point of view. But these are negative behaviours that we can learn to let go of so that we can be more reasonable. These behaviours are just that, behaviours, they are not our personality, they can stop us from being our true selves. If as adults we are more worried about being cool, saying the “right” thing at the expense of what we truly think, then we are behaving like teenagers at school, not wanting to stand out from the crowd. We are in danger of being manipulated in our views by authorities/peer pressure.
Unfortunately, “good” behaviours are often seen as female and “bad” behaviours typically male. That is a nonsense. We are all equal and all equally able to be good humans, but if we allow negative behaviours to dominate our being we suppress our true animal selves and become socially acceptable, but have trouble in family relationships.
In our current society women don’t choose to be “good” as they believe that is sexist and men are brought up by women who believe it is normal for boys to be “bad”. So we end up in a situation where it is the trend to behave in a “bad” way.
Deep down we are all there waiting to burst out and gain freedom to our true selves, but society is suppressing our desire to be “good” as we rate “bad” behaviours as the way to achieve success, money and status.
If only we knew the truth.
It’s there inside us all.
Or maybe we don’t want to accept the truth as we will have to admit we sold part of our souls to fit in, get rich, look better, achieve more?