Lapses in behavior offer opportunities to teach
By Lysa Parker & Barbara Nicholson
There's no such thing as a quick fix.
If there were ever a true maxim in parenting, this is one to remember.
Now that may sound sad or daunting to parents who may want some simple tools to raise their children, but it's important to step back and look at the big picture when we find ourselves opting for quick fixes. If our goal is to raise healthy, happy, compassionate, loving human beings, who are responsible citizens of the community, this could be compared to creating a masterpiece in music, art, or even some business endeavor.
Can we expect to create a musical masterpiece by ignoring our need to put hours into practicing our instrument, learning theory and listening to other virtuosos in developing our craft?
Each stage of our parenting journey has equal amounts of relief and new challenges.
Just when we rejoice that our toddler is out of diapers, he decides to draw us a masterpiece with markers on the newly painted kitchen wall. Just when our teenager gets his driver's license and we have him run a few errands for a change, he gets in a fender bender in the parking lot of the grocery store.
The parents who look at the big picture use this mantra to help them keep their cool, "This is a teachable moment. What can we all learn from this?"
The quick fix answer would be to put the toddler in the corner or to ground the teenager from driving, but how will that accomplish our long term goal of a healthy, responsible human being?
Yes, it takes so much more time to get out the cleaning supplies and engage the toddler in cleaning the walls and it takes more time to set up an art corner in the kitchen with appropriate supplies for painting a picture.
It also takes more time to give the teenager more instruction in parallel parking, and possible restrictions on his driving until he's more mature, but what incredible opportunities for connection, understanding, and empathy.
Once when a friend's oldest son was a toddler she had the experience just described. Her son found some markers and joyfully created a beautiful mural all over the walls in the freshly painted main hallway of their house.
Being a new mom, she was shocked at how strongly she reacted to this. She was so angry, yet he was so proud and happy.
Seeing her reaction he dissolved into tears but she lacked the maturity and parenting skills to know what to do. She actually left him crying while she called a friend with older children and wonderful parenting skills. Her friend wisely told her to get out the cleaning supplies and enlist his help, thus beginning her journey into seeing these episodes as teachable moments.
Parents may fear that this is taking away their power, that if they don't harshly chastise their children, they will not learn a lesson and repeat the behavior.
But going back to the musical metaphor, what if you were spanked or yelled at every time you made a mistake playing your instrument? Who can learn anything by this kind of treatment? However if our instructor or parent can patiently demonstrate the correct way to play the song, or clean the wall, or drive the car, then the lesson is deeply understood, often not repeated, and everyone's dignity remains intact.
How can a quick fix compare to that?
About the authors
Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker are the authors of "Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children," and are recognized authorities on attachment parenting.
For more information go to www.attachmentparenting.org
© Copyright 2010 Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker