What Your Child Needs When They Have Everything They Need

Rene': "My children have everything they could want - toys, siblings, education, attention and it's still not enough. They constantly want attention and entertainment. What should I do?"

Thanks for the honesty Rene'. This reminds me of something I came across a few years ago. I watched a documentary about a man travelling through Japan. He visited a rice farmer who showed him around the property and, at the end of the day, invited the traveller to stay for dinner. The film captured the farmer, his wife and the son preparing the evening meal. The son was a little boy, perhaps 6 or 7 years old. He stood beside a large chopping block and, with a cleaver, sliced the vegetables for dinner. I remember sitting back and thinking, "Wow - he would have so much self-respect." 

Not only was the little boy making his own dinner, which some children in the west can do, but he was also contributing to the meal his whole family would eat. At some point, he must have been shown how to safely use a cleaver and skillfully use it to slice the vegetables - not haphazardly - properly. In order for this to have happened, his parents must have had an expectation that he should contribute and that he was quite capable of using this tool without hurting himself. 

So few parents in the west would trust their child with such a tool. And just so you don't blame me when you hand-over a cleaver to your child and they decapitate themselves, I'm not encouraging you to do this. I am making the point that we have low expectations of children, in the west. 

In the past, children were treated as mini-adults and punished for crimes beyond their capacity to have prevented. Children were jailed for stealing food because they were hungry but expected to restrain themselves. Children were also put to work like adults, again, demanding results beyond their years. The pendulum has swung away from the horrors of the past to the present day where children are protected, as they should be but, so far that they're also prevented from gaining the self-respect that comes from overcoming obstacles and developing skills.

Research shows that children thrive when given two things: compassion and high expectations. 

Children need care, understanding and emotional connection. Their brains are developing and, as we handle them with sensitivity they learn to handle themselves with sensitivity. Emotional stability, the result of such compassion, is one of the most powerful predictors of success in adult life. It means you can manage yourself to accomplish your goals. So, give children emotional support and compassion.

Children also need skills, ambition and standards. Children live amongst others and need to make a valuable contribution in order to be valued by others and to value themselves. Your contribution is a result of your efforts and your skills. High expectations from parents sends the message that children must make an effort, develop those skills and contribute to others. This doesn't mean vacuuming the house at 3 years old. It means doing something useful within your age-appropriate capabilities. Young children are typically eager to help until we extinguish this urge with easier alternatives. Helping is not a chore, or demand, or a paid-job. It's the natural contribution we can expect from anyone in the family. Contribution builds self-respect. Treat it with the same sense of inevitability as you have for tooth-brushing. 

In the TV program I watched decades ago, I saw the results of parents who cared enough to also have high expectations. Rene', perhaps that's something worth considering if you have children with so much but who still wants more. Your children can be the creators of their own satisfaction. They would know this if they saw themselves as the source for satisfaction, rather than their things. How do we see ourselves in that way? When we see someone capable and who we respect when we look in the mirror.




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