Parents and teachers alike need to stop thinking that cultivating warm and fuzzy relationships with kids is all that is needed to produce successful, secure children. I can understand people’s good intentions, but I am sick of constantly hearing that the fruitful rearing and educating of children is “all about” relationships.
Just because you sincerely like or love a child and they like or love you right back does not in and of itself guarantee that the child will also regularly show you respect and reliability. To your horror, that loving child may act decidedly disrespectful and downright irresponsible much of the time. Leadership, not just love, teaches kids courtesy and cooperation.
Unfortunately, close adult-child bonds also do not automatically ensure that a child will ardently pursue their personal interests and develop their talents in ways that feed their spirit and share their gifts with the world. More than mere love, kids need adults who actually model a life of purpose and passion, as well as needing exposure to peers and experts who share their same dreams and desires.
Additionally, a rich rapport between adult and child does not instantly promise academic accomplishment for that student. A long series of highly-effective teachers who are supported by parents who walk their talk about the importance of education will be more beneficial in this respect than relationship alone.
Obviously, relationships do indeed encourage and enhance crucial qualities of character beyond just developing confidence and solidifying belonging and trust. Therefore, a nurturing, attentive rapport with children is absolutely crucial.
But it is no more or less important than providing kids with restrictions and responsibilities, direction and drive, or comprehension and capabilities. A holistic, balanced approach to children is the only way kids get all they truly need from the significant adults in their lives, and until we truly embrace the whole child, kids will fail to realize their full potential.
(Click to read Part One of this article.)
Relationships are Only One Part of the Picture
I would not have such a strong reaction to people who assume that a close relationship between adult and child is the only answer, if not for the fact that what they most often are implying is that rules and routines, procedures and parameters, and guidelines and guidance are not only superfluous, they are outright harmful to kids. Such an unbalanced approach favoring relationships above all else is just as counterproductive as a parent or teacher relying exclusively on punitive consequences in order to nurture and educate a child.
Again, love is no more important than leadership, just as laughter is no more important than learning. The point is that not only are all of these four common components of parenting and teaching equal, they are inextricably intertwined and dependent on one another for the success and satisfaction of every child.
Yet since the leadership component seems to be getting a bad rap or neglected altogether these days, parents and teachers would do well with a refresher course in the myriad benefits of appropriate, proportional adult authority.
Grounding the Helicopters
The irony of this overemphasis on relationships is that many of these same parents and teachers think they already are being good leaders for children as evidenced by their constant hovering and handholding. Of course, this coddling is merely another form of adults taking their duties to a counterproductive extreme.
Parents and teachers need to abandon the notion that being conscientious and concerned about kids necessitates being over-protective, over-indulgent, and obsessive about every move a child (and the adults in their lives) make. By freaking out about being the perfect parent who must find the perfect school and perfect teachers in order to create the perfect child, parents foment a level of anxiety and expectation that never dissipates and constantly disappoints.
With some support and lots of modeling, kids gradually must learn to constructively process, manage, and express their feelings—especially struggles, stumbles, and setbacks—on their own. Children also must progressively solve their own problems and fight their own battles, the decision for when to stand up or back down being a crucial life skill. Additionally, kids must begin to take ownership for what their actions and attitudes present to the world and to a large degree for how other people perceive and treat them as a result.
Let Go of Agonizing and Over-Analyzing
Every childhood misbehavior, from the mild to the severe, from the random to the persistent, need not be psychoanalyzed or presumed to stem from some deeply rooted problem that must be handled with kid gloves for fear of further devastating such a “delicate, damaged child.”
The simple fact may well be that a kid is chronically acting in negative, unproductive ways precisely because he or she, as well their peers or siblings, have long been given the implicit message from their parents and teachers alike that their antics will be tolerated or flat out ignored—and thus unintentionally encouraged and exacerbated.
Children will always be prone to do silly or stupid things, but they mostly stick to the things they think they can get away with. Kids also naturally test limits to be sure that the adult who says they are in charge actually means business and is worthy of allegiance. Whether consciously or not, if adults have given kids the slightest impression that there exists a window of opportunity for naughtiness or that a blind eye will be cast, many children will seize upon these lapses and weaknesses and exploit them.
Empowerment Instead of “Enabling”
How we decide to approach the most needy and most difficult children comes down to two basic questions:
- As adult leaders who deeply care about kids, do we want to “enable” and thereby reinforce what have largely become a child’s bad habits, or do we want to empower that child to progressively handle and hopefully rise above her or his personal challenges?
- Do we want children to be held back, forever limited, and branded by their behavior, or do want every kid to be held in esteem and reap the benefits of their newfound positive, productive choices?
Adults must certainly be responsive and attentive to real situations, struggles, and sensitivities a child may have, yet sometimes when a kid is lazy, distracted, deceitful, rude, hostile, or mean, that behavior simply needs to be nipped in the bud—without adults falling all over themselves and fawning over a child who is actually in complete control of the situation.
Know that more often than not this child is probably loving all the attention their tomfoolery and tantrums are receiving, as well as inwardly snickering at how yet again they got away with things without the slightest negative consequence or discomfort.
The Problems with Overprotecting
While there are unquestionable benefits to being prepared and proactive, it seems today that parents and teachers are taking these precautions to their counterproductive extremes. Too often, all we are doing is stirring up and reinforcing a perpetual state of panic, paranoia, crisis, and conflict that mostly is unwarranted and ironically flies in the face of the confidence and calm such readiness and rehearsal are supposed to foster.
The current adult compulsion to erase all discomfort from children’s lives, to sanitize their youth, and to baby-proof their entire world is baffling given that the entire goal of nurturing and educating kids is to increasingly prepare them for the responsibility and rewards of adulthood.
Thankfully, all the necessary adult leadership, love, laughter, and learning it takes to progressively transform children into self-sufficient, self-actualized grownups can be accomplished with a preponderance of joy, closeness, and meaning. No meltdowns required, neither for children nor adults.
Notwithstanding, raising and teaching kids can have moments that are “messy,” dramatic, and decidedly unpleasant, both for the adult and the child. Yet navigating rough patches and coming through the other side stronger and wiser only serve to facilitate growth and develop character. Kids gradually cultivating self-control and the ability to self-correct are crucial life skills that affect every aspect of their lives, especially learning.
How do you include leadership in the ways you interact with your children or students? How does that adult leadership actually enhance the flow of love, laughter, and learning in your home or classroom? Please share your insights, opinions, and experiences in the comments section below.
Click to read Part Three of this article.
For more on this whole-child approach, read the new book by Robert Ward, A Teacher’s Inside Advice to Parents: How Children Thrive with Leadership, Love, Laughter, and Learning.
This book is available directly through the publisher at a 20% discount using the promotion code RLEGEN17 at checkout on the Rowman & Littlefield Publishers website.