Catering to a kid’s every whim does not prepare him for real life.
Aren’t you afraid of being called “tyrannical” for promoting disappointment?
Pleux: No, this has nothing to do with being tyrannical! I am not telling you to deprive the child of parental love, but of opposing his or her sense of entitlement. It’s possible that some over-indulgent parents can’t see this. But disappointment can be a learning experience on how to deal with vexations and thwarted expectations. Afterwards, your child won’t make a big fuss about going to bed, trying new foods, or sharing toys with others.
It can go a long way in dealing with the sense of entitlement some children may feel. But to avoid becoming a tyrant you must always associate it with love. Negotiating with kids, as so many child psychologists recommend, may render positive results, but they also need to be taught to have realistic expectations. Unfortunately, these days many families have stopped setting rules and rely exclusively on negotiations, encouragement and overprotecting their progeny. This is why so many kids grow up with overblown egos, unable to deal with any kind of criticism or constraint.
Why is disappointment such an important learning experience?
All humans have a natural propensity for instant gratification, which is a far cry from what we actually encounter in the real world. Disappointments are there to teach children patience and self-reliance. Otherwise, they risk usurping parental authority, overturning all semblance of hierarchy with their constant demands.
What we need is a sense of balance. Kids who feel permanently frustrated will lose capacity to dream and desire, but sparing them all disappointment will turn them into slaves of their own passions. To teach your kids discipline and responsibility, set some rules. For example, forbid them to play computer games or watch television before they’ve done homework.
Why is it so hard for parents to see their children disappointed?
They have always been told that a frustrated child is a sick child. But actually, kids who experienced some degree of disappointment are those who always land on their feet. These days, so many children can’t focus, dream and create; they’ve turned into little consumers, switching between TV channels, discouraged by the smallest problem.
Television, movies and internet try to convince us that all of our wishes must be instantly granted. The unbridled consumerism has weakened our ability to deal with disappointments. Today, life is becoming more difficult (financial crisis, pandemic and unemployment …) yet we still insist that children enjoy an ideal childhood. But it’s high time we’ve rediscovered some common sense!
Is it hard for parents to overcome this tendency in themselves?
Yes, of course! It’s hard to do, because no one likes to see their children disappointed. But there is a great difference between an unhappy child and the one who has experienced some form of frustration. Many parents compromise their own authority. Others wish to avoid a conflict with their child, because life is already difficult enough. But when you have rules regarding your children’s hygiene for example, it’s possible to set rules in other areas, too — play, meals, schedules. It’s not depriving them of anything.
Some very good parents may want to give up. What do you say to them?
Some parents give up because their children put up resistance. Obviously, no child will ever say: “Mom and dad thanks for frustrating me. It’s really great, because it makes me grow!”
But life is full of disappointments. From the day they are left with their babysitter or brought to school, kids are confronted with reality: the bigger kid bullying the smaller ones, some other kid instead of them receives praise from a teacher, etc. One of the best ways we can prepare children for real life is by boosting their confidence, making them see their own strengths and weaknesses.
What about kids who never learn how to deal with disappointments?
Their inability to handle disappointments will only grow, gradually depriving young people of all confidence. Young people who were spoiled and overprotected during childhood tend to suffer from lack of initiative. Once they get to college, they are required to do some actual work. A self-centered youth, worshiped by his parents, will have hard time figuring out why the teachers are unimpressed. So, it’s no wonder why some of them escape into the virtual world of computer games, drug and alcohol addictions, to avoid dealing with reality.
How does one avoid damaging a child?
We must treat children with respect. Our rules must be clear and imposed in a loving way, otherwise they will be rejected. They must touch on simple things in everyday life: sticking a plate into a dishwasher, picking up one’s toys, etc. The problem may reside in the lack of authority.
How do we exercise authority effectively? What do we do to avoid making empty threats, become tyrannical or overindulgent?
You must resist succumbing to emotions; in such situations, your reaction may become disproportionate, pointless or totally inappropriate. Some people are haunted by the memories of their own childhood and the fear of reproducing the behavior of their parents: “My father used to scream at us. I will never do that to my kid!” But to maintain control you must be firm from the very start.
My own theory on exercising parental authority amounts to the following: I set boundaries for my child and see he doesn’t cross them. I anticipate all outbursts by imposing simple rules: don’t forget to stick your plate into the dishwasher once you’re done eating, tie your own shoes, etc. We can ask a child to do these kind of things using simple words.
An interview by Maylis Guillier
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