Paul called to say that his eight-year-old daughter, Lucy, had “behaved badly all day,” and he was exhausted.
I’d known Paul for some time, so he was capable of hearing me speak to him directly. “Lucy couldn’t behave badly ALL DAY unless you allowed it.”
“But I tried to stop her.”
“That short sentence reveals a number of problems. On the whole we don’t STOP children from behaving badly. As parents it’s our job to simply love and teach them. But for a moment let’s assume you were loving and teaching. You said you TRIED. There is no trying in parenting. You simply do or you don’t do. If you’re just ‘trying,’ your efforts are not whole-hearted, and Lucy can feel that. Your uncertainty makes her feel unsafe, so mostly she ignores you and does what she wants. ”
Children can’t behave badly all day unless we allow it. Moreover, they tend to give us many warnings that they’re not happy even before they begin behaving badly. But we don’t pay attention until they’re dramatically acting out. They start off with “small” indications that something is wrong, and we just hope the problem will magically go away, because we’re lazy and irresponsible.
As parents it’s our responsibility to love and teach our children all the time. We need to be like gravity for them—always there, always dependable. Imagine what the world would be like if gravity operated only most of the time. The results would be chaos and destruction. This is how our children experience their lives if we are not consistent in loving and teaching them.