April 26, 2002
April 26, 2002


Guilt can be destructive.  A single parent feels badly that s/he has taken the children from their biological parent.   Instead of thinking about the consequences of parental decisions, guilt drives one to give in or present gifts instead of firmly disciplining. However this behavior is not restricted to guilt.   In many cases the parent of today wants to vicariously enjoy all the treats that s/he felt were denied him or her.

Regardless of the motivation, parenting became a making up period instead of creating a foundation for future behavior.  It became a demand for adults to mimic children's thoughts rather than vice versa.  A demand to play games and be on the same level with them as buddies.  In my opinion this is a great mistake. Children need to model their behaviors after a mature generation.  If all that is reflected to them is their own immature ideas how can they learn?  Would an adult ever conceive of asking a first grader to teach college?  Or to ask a novice to illustrate the moves of soccer?  

Children feel comfortable when grown-ups are in control of their boundaries.   Several teenagers have said to me, "I'm a teenager.  I'm supposed to be difficult." This was said in humor, but harbors truth.  The youth of today, have all the answers (at least they think so), but certainly they are well informed of their rights. Parental rights are diminishing because the State can and does interfere if there is even a whisper of possible abuse.  This is a difficult call for Social Workers in order to maintain the safety of our children.  However our children learn at an early age that threats to call CPS is an excellent way to manipulate the elders into relaxing all discipline.  However, please note that discipline is firmness and maintaining boundaries without violence.  CPS will never interfere with that criteria.

Parents need guidelines in order that they are not intimidated into withdrawing the direction that our youngsters need, more today, than was needed in any other generation. Erik H. Erikson's stages of development creates a plan in which parents may identify when to encourage the personality of a growing child.  (You may complain that you don't want to read how to take care of your children, but when you purchase a new refrigerator, washing machine, car, or computer, it comes with instructions which one is forced to read in order to get optimum efficiency from your item. Yet people act as if a manual is handwritten on a new babies chest that will take them through the next twenty years without concern.)  

Basic Trust:  Babies need constant love and attention(and yes playtime) for the first two years in order to develop basic trust.  They need a parent to pay attention to their cries, for that is the only way infants can communicate. Once an infant can talk the child can learn to wait short periods for his/her wants which teaches them to develop patience.

Autonomy: As they mature they need to learn how to do things for themselves. Watching your baby feed him/herself can be agony because the food becomes entangled in their hair when they miss their mouths. Initiative:   I have seen initiative squashed by Cub Scout fathers who would rather their son win than have the boy fashion the lesson (in this case aircraft) for themselves.  This defeats the object that scouting is trying to teach.   Industry: Three year old's want to mimic the work that they see.  Adults don't want to take the time to supervise an enthusiastic infant.   My son couldn't reach the sink so he just tossed the glasses into it.   (I bought plastic so that he could continue to work cooperatively with the rest of the family.)

Identity:  Developing ones sense of identity when there are so many paths to follow is as confusing for the elders as it is for the youth.  Perhaps that is why this is one of the most difficult times in life.  Parents must step back and allow autonomy and at the same time offer enough information so that the direction will become very clear.   For example:  the old rules about waiting for sexual intimacy.  Teenagers need to understand that sex changes a relationship.  Real intimacy is not sexual.  It is learning to communicate and care.  Jumping into sex tends to hop, skip, and jump, past learning the ABC's of valid relationships.

With each stage of development, a parent needs to ask, "How will this effect my child in adulthood?  What are the short-term effects?  If I say "No" and it causes sulking or crying or an "I hate you" response, should this deter mature actions that are necessary to discipline a child's mind for his future requirements? Don't allow Guilt, or your need to be accepted, to direct your actions. Instead let common sense direct you to establish reasonable boundaries for your child.