January 4, 2002
January 4,2002

"Your room is a mess. Clean it!" is the most frequent complaint that I, as a counselor and teacher, have heard from parents through the years. There are no easy answers to a lifetime of responding to your children in one manner and then expecting that as adolescents they will automatically accept your orders just at the moment that their psyches are motivating them to rebel against every parental message ever given.

Erik Erikson states that it is necessary for the teenager to throw out every significant message in order that it be reassimilated as their own truth. Without this very irritating strategy ( for the parent) the youngster will never truly mature possessing his/her own set of values which the parent has tried so hard to instill. Yet parents want to tear out their own hair over such rebellious behaviors.

The knack is to let the teenager believe it is his/her own wish to do what you the parent would like him/her to do. It is best to start when the child is an infant so that the desire to be helpful and cooperate is rewarded and appreciated. Yet adults are often too busy to want the child to "help". My daughter awoke from her nap at two years of age, while I still slept exhausted from the night shift. I found her mixing uncooked spaghetti, peas, and flour, with a wooden spoon between her legs. She said, "Look Mommy I'm making dinner." She knew I was exhausted from working the night shift and sleeping whenever I could fit in the time when the children napped. When she was older she enjoyed acting as a "pixie" and dusting so that she could receive my delight for her gift of time given altruistically. Or my three year old son joyfully told his Dad, "I'm helping Mother make the donuts!" My husband chuckled as he viewed the disaster area of confectioner's sugar over the entire kitchen floor. Gratitude for the gift of wanting to assist is important so that the child feels as if s/he is a cooperative/contributing part of the family. This doesn't naturally guarantee that the teenager will continue that throughout those difficult formative years, but it is more likely to happen.

As I grew up in a farm community from ages eight to fifteen, my schoolmates were expected to and did milk the cows at five each morning. Everyone brought in the family income so that everyone benefited from it. In that same spirit, I willingly worked with my father to repair a roof shingle, paint and plaster a room, build a chicken coop, feed the chickens, wait on our hotel customers, do the dishes and whatever else was asked of me. I even thought up extra chores such as making dinner, cleaning the rooms, and began painting the outside of the three story building with the paint I bought myself. (I only did one alcove two stories high when I became allergic to the paint and had to stop.) Through all of this my Dad encouraged me by saying, "Bernadine can do anything." I was less likely to do things for my mother because after I'd mop the floor, She'd say, "You call that clean. You moved the dirt around." Her negativity denigrated my efforts and the result was that I stopped doing things for her, but accelerated my efforts for Dad. There were times when he forgot to give me credit, but at no time did he ever demoralize my efforts by finding fault with what I had accomplished.

Gratitude for the intention inducing the behavior, not the poor results according to adult standards, should be the encouraging impetus of parents towards their children. Today's children are thought of more as fantastic gifts that should have every whim pampered. That attitude prepares them for Royalty as a King or Queen. How many Kings and Queens are needed throughout the whole world? Bringing up youngsters should prepare them for the life which they are most likely to live. The qualities that are needed today are resourcefulness, independence, self-confidence, and initiative. My parents gave me all of this even though they sometimes hadn't enough food to feed us. I grew up with the knowledge that I could accomplish just about anything which I set out to do. For that which I found difficult, I worked harder. For that which I found impossible, I reconcentrated my efforts on the many gifts I had, and perfected them rather than be miserable about what I was unable to accomplish. Challenges build a kind, cooperative child. Gratitude helps to cement the lessons. Are you giving all the right gifts that you should be giving to your child?