As much as he coronavirus has paralyzed our lives in many ways, there is something that mothers and fathers have not been able to stop doing in these two months: educating our children. Let’s go through phases or stay where we are, this is something that continues, does not wait. There is no pause button for this important task that sometimes makes it so difficult for us.
Tantrums, sibling fights, compliance with rules and respect of limits, duties, the first mobile… are some of the challenges that we face in our day to day education and that we have reviewed with Maribel Martínez, psychologist and author of the book “How many times do I have to tell you?”.
Maribel, on some occasions we have heard experts comment on the possibility of asking their children what they want or not do to increase their autonomy. An example would be the menu of the week. Is it good to continually ask them for their opinion? Where does the balance lie? What can be agreed with them and what cannot?
Promoting the autonomy of children is one of the functions we have parents. Finally, children must be autonomous and feel capable of doing what they set out to do in life. Autonomy is not acquired overnight, it is a learning process in which parents have to guide. So we have to adapt the questions we ask children at their age. A 5 year old does not have a healthy judgment about what to eat. Your criteria will be based on your preferences and tastes, which generally tend to be foods based on carbohydrates or sugars. So if we ask a child this age what he wants for a snack, he can answer things like: “candy”, “pastries”, “chocolate”, etc. Obviously, he has no knowledge of nutrition, as he grows up we will talk to him about how to eat healthy and progressively we will ask him questions, initially of the type: do you want a cheese or ham sandwich? He will learn to choose, he will feel that we take his preferences into account and choosing what he chooses will be a good option for him.
Do you think parents sometimes feel too lost because of too much parenting information?
Yes, definitely. We have more and more access to information in an easier way. This should be a good thing, but it is not always the case. To begin with, because not all the information is truthful or reliable, and because many of the messages are contradictory. This often creates insecurity in the parents and indeed, they end up feeling lost. Before the child is born, they already suffer this crisis of criteria and they doubt about how to educate or raise them. In these cases I allude to common sense. Because in my daily practice I see that social pressure, fashions and other external factors are put ahead of the parents’ own instinct and logic. For example, there are parents who are clear that their 9-year-old son does not need a mobile phone, but they end up succumbing to the social pressure of “everyone has it except me.” We have to trust our own values more and maintain them, even if that sometimes goes against statistics.
More frequently we observe disrespect towards parents and teachers. In your book you say a very interesting phrase “parents want to achieve obedience when they have not earned respect.” How to achieve that respect?
Indeed, it is very worrying to see how the current trend of children and adolescents is to believe that they have all rights and no obligations and that nobody can tell them what to do. Therefore, they do not obey anyone: neither parents nor teachers. This fact is not accidental, it is the result of an excessively permissive education, in which children grow without clear limits.
Parents are the guides, not colleagues. If we are colleagues they are orphaned. We have to mark the path that the children have to go, it is what they need. For this they have to respect us. That means that from love and values we have to become an authority figure for them, this does not mean being dictators or authoritarians.
– Parents have to generate respect through admiration and consistency.
– Our attitude must often be firmerBecause if we say things and do not fulfill them, our words lose meaning. We disqualify ourselves.
– We have to get that they speak to us with respect and it must be clear which is the red line that they should not cross. (“don’t scratch me”, “heavy”, “silly” …).
– The gaze must be a communication tool.
– Parents need to be a team in parenting. They must unify values and norms.
– Coherence. Parents are a role model in the first years of children’s lives. Let’s be consistent. Leading by example is the best way.
– Set clear boundaries and consequences of their actions. (And apply them! Theory is useless, it educates the day-to-day practice. If I’m supposed to set the table, I don’t set it and nothing happens, obviously, tomorrow I don’t even consider setting it).
Another headache of mothers and fathers: the fights between brothers. How can we get through that phase in the healthiest way possible?
Parents want the fraternal relationship to be more than cordial and correct, we want siblings to be friends. But the day to day, the coexistence, the jealousy, the different characters, etc … propitiate that the children fight. It is normal, they try to resolve the conflict in their own way. Sometimes in an immature and primary way, right. But in general, if we see them fight we go to put peace, we cannot bear the discussion, we fear that in this way they will never become friends. In this way, they do not resolve the conflict, on the contrary, afterwards they are surely more angry because at least one or both, feel unfairly treated and believe that because of the brother’s parents, they have scolded him.
If the objective is for them to get along, they have to know each other, know how the other reacts, learn to ask for things, to be generous, to share, to dialogue, to resolve their differences. But we don’t leave them! We prevent these experiences. It seems that the objective is that they do not fight, when in fact it is that they learn to solve their conflicts.
Therefore, there is no other choice: we have to let them learn. We must observe without intervening in their discussions and in any case, encourage them to continue arguing until they resolve it and then, of course, congratulate them. They will be closer to getting along really well.
What is usually failing when parents do not stop repeating things and their children never do it the first time?
What fails is that we do not self-criticize. We do not stop to assess whether what we do works or not. We say “you must obey the first one”, but then a second, a third, a tenth comes, and the final cry: “How many times do I have to tell you?” (Not surprisingly this is the title of my last book, what father has not said this at some time?). It is the greatest paradox of education. The children learn that after the first there are 9 more and that the good one, the one that really counts, is that of the scream. And that is what we are accidentally teaching them. Just what we don’t want!
So, again, let’s be consistent, if we want them to do things the first, let’s not say them a second. Let’s appreciate that what we do doesn’t work and let’s change it. If we say “go to the shower” and it doesn’t go, let’s not repeat it, let’s not scream. Let’s go where the son is, take him by the hand and with calm and calm, without saying a word, let’s take him to the bathroom door. With a firm voice we say “You know what you have to do”. And that’s it. If something we do doesn’t work. Let’s stop doing it, let’s do something different.
How can we arm ourselves with patience to avoid falling into screaming and fighting with our children?
It is not about patience, but communicative technique. We do not realize that we are entering a communicative escalation. For example:
– What a messy room, put it in order.
– It’s my room, nobody bothers you.
– It bothers me.
– Well, it shouldn’t bother you, don’t go inside.
– It’s my house, I go in if I want, and if you don’t order it, I turn off your computer.
– Don’t turn it off.
– Well, start picking up now.
– I’ll pick up whenever I want.
This scene can end really badly, because it is a communicative escalation in which father and son engage in a power struggle, arguing and counter arguing each one of their reasons. But this is already a wrong concept. The son counters because he believes he has the same right as the father to express his opinion and decide, and of course, this is not exactly the case. The children as they grow up acquire more rights and more duties, we must always listen to their opinion, but they must be clear that parents put the rules of coexistence and if we say that at 22:00 you have to go to sleep, that the room must be tidy or that they must brush their teeth after each meal, that is what it should be, even if they do not totally agree.
Screaming doesn’t educate. A role of close, empathetic, loving parents and with a concept of authority well understood yes.
7. Tantrums are usually the most feared problem in the early years. Normally, when they happen in public places they paralyze us and due to the shame of the moment we avoid doing things as we would like. How to overcome that barrier? How to face tantrums?
Right, who hasn’t it happened to? It is an undesirable but habitual situation. Children from the age of 2 discover that they can oppose and when they do not get what they want they express it in this immature way, they do not know how to do it in any other way. They still have no tolerance for frustration and we have to teach them little by little.
The problem is not the tantrum itself, but thanks to it, the child gets away with it. If the child gets a tantrum and gets what he wants, we are promoting that every day he does more.
The topic of homework and study, how should the process of helping parents to get them to end up doing it on their own?
Homework is a responsibility of the children, not the parents. Parents have to teach them to do homework when they start having them and help them organize their time, their material and to carry out the different tasks. But as we get older, let’s remember our goal of empowering autonomy. Therefore, we must let them take responsibility until they do it without any help.
In general in this matter the difficulty is the parents, who seem that if the child does not carry out the homework, they are bad parents. When in reality that would be a good way for the child to experience the consequences of his irresponsibility to learn, for example, to write down the tasks on his agenda.
What is the correct age to give a child a mobile phone and under what conditions?
In general I would say that the later the better, and certainly not before the age of 12. That is, with the entrance to the institute.
The consequences of misuse of screens in general and of mobile phones in particular are on many levels:
– Physical: sleep deficit, sedentary lifestyle, low concentration levels, visual problems, postural problems, etc.
– Emotional: low impulse control, low frustration tolerance, irascibility, etc.
– Social: Limits social relationships, limits developing social skills, etc.
– Psychological: it can become an addiction (WHO has already listed it)
– Unsuitable content: pornography, violence, etc.
– Untrue content, distorted vision of reality, etc.
The mobile must be delivered together with a “user agreement” where the parents specify how, when and in what way to use this screen. If you fulfill this contract you will have the right to use it, if not, it will be withdrawn for a few hours or a day depending on the fault committed.
At least, the contract must contemplate:
– The main function of a telephone is that it can communicate and that parents can call it.
– You must ask permission to download an application or publish photos or videos.
– You cannot take it to the institute or it must be off.
– Specific hours of use.
– At night the phone will be charging in a certain place, not in your room.