“It’s just not the same…I miss the good ‘ol days!” Recently I overheard two grandfathers taking a break at work and spoke of their concerns for their grandkids. They listed concerns a lot of us share: technology, lack of respect, work ethic, selfishness, rabid materialism…you know, those things we humans have been worrying about for our kids for the past 2,500 years of recorded history?! These guys, like pretty much everyone who has or cares for kids, really wanted to do right by their grandkids. But when the phrase “the good ‘ol days” passes my lips, it is a usually a solid signal that my thinking and skills are stuck short of the mark.
“We seem to have replaced father knows best—in which the concerns of an individual are trumped by the concerns of an authority figure—with it’s all about me, in which the individual is consumed only with his own concerns. If so, we need a market correction in values. That doesn’t mean we need to return to the “good old days,” because they weren’t that good. It means we need a different model, one that bridges the gap between self-absorption and total selflessness.” (Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., Raising Human Beings)
It seems possible that the two grandfathers were looking for the hope that a lot of us seek for our kids—skillful actions that help adult peace of mind and a way to provide our kids what they really need for a life with meaning and contribution to those around them. We need kids to contribute for reasons both personal and collective. When kids test limits we can give them the gift of predictability by setting and keeping limits without getting sucked into emotional battles. While the good ‘ol days truly weren’t good in many real ways, they were great in terms of predictability. Kids, like all humans (see Robert Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for a deep dive) have some pretty simple needs. One basic need humans all share is the need for predictability. Kids don’t thank us for being predictable, especially when we set limits or change our expectations where they may have been lacking previously. They’ll likely argue and get upset—if they drag us into their chaos, we have little to offer other than lots of ineffective words (see Love and Logic’s powerful tip here). They won’t thank us for setting the limits they need—it’s not their job!
Ross Greene talks about “misbehavior” as incompatibility between a child’s behavior, our environment, often driven by a lack of skills for kids and adults. When we face an ongoing behavior pattern that doesn’t work for child and adult, it requires less emotion and more emphasis on problem-solving. “Seems like you really struggle with _________. What can you tell me about that?” Gathering some simple information about how or why a kid is pushing a limit requires me to ask, shut-up, and actually listen. Often times kids won’t share our concern—the pattern you know is better than the one you don’t…or something like that. When the kid states there’s not a problem I can share observation, “I noticed that we have a lot of struggle around (event, concern, interaction, relationship, etc.). This seems to cause (yelling, swearing, shut-down, etc.) What can you tell me about that?” Again, ask, shut-up, listen.
It is a true struggle for parents and teachers to actually accept the extremely limited power we have when we try to boss kids around. We’ve accepted that it’s bad to physically hit kids, but we still smack their thinking around with LOTS of words. “Well, I’m doing for their own good!” or “This is really important and they just can’t see it yet!” or “This is for their future” are some good clues we’ve overstepped our ability to help. We just might be talking about things to hear how good our intentions sound in our own ears. Despite what some of us “learned” in the good ‘ol days, it is NOT the adult’s job to “teach a lesson” and “hold them to high expectations” (note: expectations are great, they’re just not set by talking a lot). It IS our job to give the gifts of simple, basic limits. Then it’s our job to step back and provide the greatest freedom we can within those limits. Then they know beyond words that we love them. It’s kids’ job to run lots of experiments and consistently bump into loving limits and expectations of their own free will. Over time, on their terms, within loving limits they can learn in predictable ways how the real world operates via cause and effect.
That sounds like some old school love for kids to me!