This article is the third and last in the “Parenting School” series. You can read the first two here and here.
The counsellor phase is the best period in which parents can guide their children through acquiring practical skills. At around 5 to 6 years, to avoid certain activities that they dislike, children often use the “I can’t” method. In the prepubertal period, their natural tendency remains the same. The transition from “I can’t” to independence largely depends on the parents’ ability to find ways of holding them accountable. Playing still remains the best method by which children evolve. In the previous parental stages children need to learn that life is a game. In the counsellor stage they need to learn that work is a game, and work can only be perceived by children as a game if the field of activity correlates with their abilities and preferences.
Childhood “infantilization” through toys
The commodification of society affects even the innocence of childhood. Under the influence of mercantile philosophy, the toy industry creates a form of “infantilization” of childhood. In addition to the moral degradation of many models proposed by today’s toys, they also steal the realism of life. It’s not just the fact that the imaginary replaces reality, but also, because toys mimic certain realities, children may come to prefer these bland imitations. Toy bicycles, toy cars, plastic hammers, phone games that mimic mowing the lawn or playing football, or running, and so on and so forth—all these imitations deprive children of the pleasurable perception of reality. Their colours, their ease of use, the images and stories attached to these toys, combined with the absence of the parents from their activities, are arguments in favour of their use. However, it is to the detriment of engaging in the real-life activities that these games imitate.
It’s easier for parents to work alone while children sit quietly for a long time without bothering them, playing on the phone. This is how addictions are created. They satisfy the children’s senses in the short term, but in the long run, they are proven to be destructive. These addictions produce superficial satisfaction as opposed to the satisfaction of real games or activities.
If activities are adapted to the child’s age and are carried out in the parents’ company, they have the potential to meet the deep, good-natured needs of children. More joy can be found in cycling than in imitating cycling through a digital device; the actual game of tennis is more enjoyable than a game on the phone that mimics tennis; children may find more delight in building things than in having them already replicated and playing with them using their imagination; children get more of a thrill when they drive an electric or pedal car than when they “drive” a virtual replica of a car. Living reality is better than imagining it. Equally, working in the garden or at home can satisfy children if it is done in a cheerful spirit, and in the company of their parents, without pressure, and adjusted to their abilities.
It’s only fair to protect the family from such infantilization, which can pervert abilities and tastes in such a way that imitation is preferred to reality. It not only transposes the child into a virtual dimension, but the lack of involvement in activities, work, and games atrophies the child physically, mentally and spiritually. The being, as a psychosomatic whole, is deprived of what can facilitate their development and happiness.
Personality development spiral
In the counsellor stage, children between 7 and 12 years need to understand and do their chores. The tasks performed by children facilitate, in addition to personal satisfaction, an increase in self-worth. Self-confidence is achieved only through individual success. The results obtained by children in all areas of activity increase self-esteem, disinhibit harmful behaviours, create initiative, and thus, develop creativity. This cyclical pattern becomes the upward spiral of knowledge and personal development and is achieved in direct proportion to the increase in independence from parents.
The development of an independent spirit
At this stage, children need to begin the journey of independence from their parents by forming a clear sense of self-awareness and personality. The role of the parents is to be supportive and guiding. The things that children ae able to do should not be done by their parents. When it comes to tasks that exceed the children’s ability, parents have to involve them. The Bible paints God in an strikingly similar picture: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love, he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” When parents are present around their children and ready to intervene, they look out for them and take delight in watching them in action.
This stage gives parents, above all, the role of teaching responsibility, motivation and training. In the first 7 years of life, the child’s education is mainly focused on values. Starting at the age of 7, these acquired values are applied in life through personal abilities. The acquisition of these skills is done precisely based on previously acquired values, and with their help. This is how the parental stages intertwine and are dependent on each other.
The ability to choose, acted out early: early choices, minimal risks
By adolescence, children need proper self-knowledge to identify and strengthen their personalities. This is achieved not only through actions and results, work and play, responsibilities and duties, but also through choices. The counsellor phase also includes the responsibility of parents to create a controlled environment for the children’s exercise of choice. The exercise of choice makes children responsible and shapes their personalities. The younger the age at which a child makes choices, the smaller the consequences. That is why children should be encouraged to make their own decisions about issues that do not endanger their safety or that of their families. The results of good decisions are appreciated. In this way, children develop self-confidence. If, at a young age, the negative consequences of children’s decisions are insignificant, compared to those taken in adulthood, the impact on the development of their personality is greater in childhood than in adulthood. There is minimal damage, but a significant impact.
Choices are not exercised by subjecting the child to the parent. Effective education requires models and variants. Positive education not only holds back from subjecting children to a multitude of prohibitions, but also gives them the freedom to choose between multiple options. A parent’s role is to find more good options. Nothing makes children happier than the satisfaction of making their own decisions, even if the options were offered to them by their parents. When children refuse to eat a certain meal, if this meal were to be contrasted with another less preferred one, and the child was allowed to choose, they would eat the former one. Of course, this does not solve the problem of picky eating; children do adapt, but the impact of the positive education principle that allows them to choose is irrefutable.
The harmful nature of comparison
If comparing children or their behaviours with those of others is counterproductive at any age, between 7 and 12 years, when their personality is still being consolidated, comparisons are particularly harmful. A child’s psyche is most easily destabilized by comparisons or negative value judgements. Words have the power to attract corresponding actions and behaviours and thus to form character. “Naughty”, “evil”, “liar” and so on are destinies. Words are alive and have transformative power, incarnating in deeds and characters. Even if, for children, generic evil represents something to be detested, bad behaviours in certain situations are desirable for them. If they are called bad or liars, children start believing they are indeed like that, and bad deeds are normal for bad children. Otherwise, by believing they are good, children fight at least some of the bad behaviours; when they believe they’re bad, they have no reason to fight them.
Even if it is meant to emphasize the qualities and successes of a child, comparisons are counterproductive in that they change the motivation of children’s actions, from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Competition is activated. At the same time, feelings about oneself and the person they’re being compared to can be altered. Superiority, pride, or inferiority are some states that children can attribute to themselves or the person they are compared with.
Appreciate their behaviours—don’t label your children
If negative value judgements are destructive, is positive appreciation desirable? Interestingly, by being praised, children can become frustrated and discouraged. When parents call them “smart”, “beautiful”, and so on, children—in contrast to the reality they are aware of through other relational factors—end up losing trust in their parents or feeling the pressure to rise to their parents’ standards. Praising is counterproductive, but the appreciation of positive behaviours is stimulating. Children correlate the appreciation of good behaviours with their nature. If they repeatedly hear that what they are doing is good, clever, or ingenious, they conclude that they are good, clever, and creative children. This type of appreciation removes the psychological pressure and brings parents closer to their children, while the child’s self-confidence increases.
Tell them as many times as they need
When children refuse to perform certain tasks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they hate them or don’t want to do them. A child needs to be told several times what to do. Repetition is not tiring, or annoying, but a motivation, guidance, and a learning tool. Myelination in children is completed at around the age of 8, which means that it can be 16 times more difficult for children, compared to adults, to put into practice the decision to act. The saying: “I’m only telling you once!” is not only unproductive, but it shows that the parents misunderstand their children’s way of being. Tell the children as many times as they need. Say it each time as tenderly as the first time.
The consultant phase
The consultant phase can also be called the “last chance.” Children between 12 and 18 years old usually acquire the courage to manifest their beliefs, values, and personality. If parents fail to educate their children in the early stages of parenthood, adolescence becomes the most feared enemy. For example, if a child didn’t learn obedience during the commander period, when they had the best chance to learn it, as a teenager it is almost impossible. If parents, due to the tenderness of the young child, have hesitated to impose the rules and values of the house, in adolescence, the rebellion of the youngster can have consequences so severe that they can cause parents to treat them as they should have up until the age of 3. Choices not being made during the counsellor phase and the lack of experience will lead to decisions with irreparable implications when teenagers are exercising their right to choose.
If in pre-adolescence a wrong decision could have led to bruising, broken toys, ripped clothes, broken dishes and the like, in adolescence mistakes can lead to expulsions, unwanted pregnancies, or even criminal acts. In the face of these threats, parents are determined to impose their authority.
The authority imposed in adolescence creates a relational wall between parents and their young ones. The more authoritarian the relationship, the more the teenagers distance themselves. This is how parents who failed in the early stages of parenting are subjected to an experience that often causes them to impose themselves through authority, but this aggravates their child’s shortcomings. Rigidity, imposed norms, and authority lack the potential to change teenagers. On the contrary, they will steer them even more towards those decisions that are following their mis-formed values. They can even break the family relationship. In addition to the pain caused by the negative behaviours of the youngsters, parents may find it impossible to help anymore.
Any external commands should disappear
During adolescence, any external authority must disappear. Only by boosting their confidence and treating them as equals can parents remedy certain behavioural deficiencies in their children. An argument presented from the position of a friend is the only way in which teenagers can be helped. Friendship puts parents in an equal position with their children, makes them confident, and is the expression of unconditional love. In such a context, the temperamental behaviour of adolescents can be influenced.
The father of the lost son model
The perfect model of the parental attitude in the relationship with teenagers is the parable in Luke 15. “The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.” The lost young man’s rebellion carried him among strangers, from wealth to poverty. He became so poor that he even wanted to eat the waste that the pigs were eating. When he came to his senses, he returned to his father with the idea of working as a slave, but his father, waiting for him on the street, hugged him, welcomed him as a son, and ordered a feast in honour of his return. This behaviour seems irrational. He gave him his share of the fortune, although the young man had no right to ask for it or receive it. The father waited for him on the street every day; the son came home after losing everything and received the trust and status he had before. Love and friendship are the only antidotes to rebellion.
All other parental stages build foundations and tools through which adolescence becomes a culmination of parent’s education efforts.
If children learn to obey before the age of 3, as teenagers, they will have respect for their parents and a neural pattern of obedience, through which they obey their parents, and, at the same time, will have the foundation of personal discipline. Children become able to listen to themselves and carry out their personal decisions.
When children consolidate their values in the seven years at home, during the rebellion phase, they cannot act outside these assimilated values. Rebellion can be identified as a strong personality, but without deviations from the culture and beliefs of the family. When children make decisions during the counsellor phase and are guided towards independence, in adolescence they will decide for themselves, according to the culture and beliefs of their family. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”