Birth to 7 years…Childhood:

This is where the child gets the core sense of themselves, the world and future.

Prince or Princess

If a child is treated as a prince or princess, they will tend to view themselves as most important and everybody else is regulated to second place. They see the world is at their disposal and for their entertainment and at their disposal. Their sense of future will be NOW.  As you can imagine the prince or princess has the potential be rather difficult if things are not going their way.  And, they not have a great amount of internal resources like self-sufficiency and resiliency.

Piece of Dirt

A child treated like a piece of dirt or is unwanted or merely a piece of property; what do you think will happen?  They will see them self as rather insignificant, with limited value and without an intrinsic sense of self-worth or self-respect.  The world is an oppressive place.  The future will seem dismal and often hopeless.  This child will generally have a depressive outlook and interpret life as a struggle.

Raised in Chaos

If the family environment is chaotic, unpredictable or there is no consistency, the child may become rather anxious and fearful.  Or maybe they become rather manipulative an attempt to control their environment.  Perhaps later they will become skillful in observing, reading and interpreting the environment and as a result can become quite skillful in navigation and negotiation.  Perhaps they will become opportunistic and make sure their needs are met, but they will be unsure of their self-worth and self-respect.

Part of a Team

The child raised in a family who views itself as a team in which the child is a part. The child will view himself or herself as a team member.  In which they are important, that they have certain duties or responsibilities and feel that there is a purpose and meaning to their existence. The world will be a place where there is give-and-take.  The skills of negotiation and navigation are required and thus to be developed. They view the future is generally hopeful.  They understand they have a meaningful contribution and that their participation is required if they are to enjoy their desired future.  This child will develop a sense self-worth, confidence, and competence.

Learning Style

How does a child learn or what is the child’s learning style?  The three principle learning styles are:  By doing, by observing or following the rules.  One of my kids was a doer…schooled by natural consequences and hard knocks.  The youngest was an observer.  Geez my older siblings were dumb…I can see that it did not work for them and I don’t want to have that experience.  She was always a bit reserved.  But would observe for a while and then if it looked fun and safe enough she would jump in.  Otherwise, she would walk away and find something else to do.  The eldest was the rule follower.  He would read the rules or instructions and made sure he understood the rules and how things are supposed to work.  Then he would set about on ticking things off on the list, he was very structured and a bit ridgid that there was a correct way.  On a few occasions when he knew he did something wrong, he even grounded himself.  

When it is about safety, there are times to say NO!  However, there are also times when experience or the school of natural consequences is the better teacher. Generally, children react to and learn from their environment.  Children watch our (the parent’s) reactions.  We are their role models.  Children are naturally inquisitive and want to learn.  It is important to be mindful of when and what we are actually teaching.

Discipline and Timeouts

Discipline is really about education.  Time-outs are about moving a child to more calm place, having them become aware of their offending action.  It is to give them time to consider other alternatives and use more appropriate behavior.  Initially when giving the child a time-out, tell them (in a calm matter of fact manner) the offending behavior (education or awareness), while in a time-out (generally 1 minute for each year of their age).  At the end of the time-out, have them tell you why they were in the time-out (to ensure they are aware of the offence).  Then ask them what they could do differently/better next time (sometimes you need to suggest 1 or 2 more appropriate behaviors).  Then, tell them, “I know that you will do better next time” (you are setting the expectation and the belief that they are capable…that you believe in them).   Lastly tell them that you love them.  Thus a time out becomes an educational opportunity for them to become awareness of their behavior, better options/alternatives to their behavior and that you setting/expecting confidence (belief) in their ability to do better next time.

A couple examples of learning:  I distinctly remember as a toddler, putting a paper clip in an electrical outlet; I never did it again…excellent teaching from the school of natural consequences.  My youngest when she was a toddler loved to climb things.  She would climb anything and then yell for me to get her down.  I eventually figured out a better response.  “If you climb it, you have to get yourself down.”  I would be close by but instead of lifting her down, I would instruct her how and where to place her hands and feet so she could get herself down.  She quickly figured out how high she wanted to climb.  However, more importantly she developed the confidence, competence and skills required to climb up and down.   On the other hand, if my response was fear and anxiety about her falling and as a result grab her and safely put her on the ground; what would she learn?  Realize that children learn from their parent’s reactions…what to fear, what to feel and how to cope with a situation. 

With toddlers it is about identification and the question is “what”…cat, dog, bird, car, truck and etc.  Then at two and three years old the question becomes “why?”  Which is about how do things work (verbs); stop, go, where, sleeping and etc…and of course the use of the word “NO!” (as an action verb).  As parents we encourage the toddler to “say please and say thank you.” Later the toddler becomes insistent about wanting to do it themselves.  Often what is heard is “No, I want to do it.”  They have developed an elemental sense of themselves, their ability and thus want do it themselves.  Later as preschoolers, there is a developing sense of mastery and accomplishment.  It is the “show and tell” stage.  They look for reinforcement, reassurances and praise.   In kindergarten and first grade, there is continued mastery, accomplishment and the beginning of social/peer interactions.

Understand that family life during the first seven years of a child’s life can have a lifelong impact on the quality of their well-being.  A large part of the first seven years is dependent upon the quality and content of the relationship with the parent.  The parent’s intention and mindful interactions are primary factors.  Kids are observant and intelligent.  They learn from what they are exposed to…which are mainly their parents and their family environment.  Thus as parents, it is important to be mindful of your behavior, affect and manner of your interactions with your children.   Are we angry and intolerant, frustrated, anxious and fearful?  On the other hand, are we calm, encouraging, instructive and loving?  What are you really teaching your child?