Thursday, April 24, 2014

It Is Not Just a Stage: Your child is on the way to becoming a brat.

Why do people say "it is just a stage" to excuse compulsively bad behavior?  It is not just a stage.  If you don't help your child to stop acting like a brat guess what? That is exactly what he is going to grow up to be.  Sure kids are going to be harder or easier at different times in their life, but that doesn't mean it is okay to accept crappy behavior from them!  You are the grown up.  They are the child.  Teach them.  Fix the situation.  Because if you don't do it now when are you going to do it? Ask yourself - How bad are you willing to let it get?

We are all created in God's beautiful image with the capacity to love and the desire to be loved.  I do not share John Loche's assessment that kid's are born Tabula Rasa or a blank slate.  As a consequence of original sin we are born with concupiscence, or the internal drive towards sin.  This drive needs to be recognized and mastered in order for virtues to take hold.  Janet Smith and others much more schooled in the subject of virtue, sin and concupiscence continue to discuss the interplay between these elements elsewhere so I can focus on the parenting piece here.

So I parent I ask you
What is your end 'goal' with your child?  

Each child is on his/her own path and I am not suggesting that you chart out this path alone and become a helicopter parent.  You need to adjust your parenting in response to their needs and when your child is repeatedly acting inappropriately that is a sign that you need to make an adjustment.  Your child is with you for just 18 years and then he is off 'on his own' in the world.  Sure you will be there as a model and mentor his whole life, but your relationship with him in these first 18 years will determine the degree of closeness you share.  Letting him run amuck for a few weeks turns into a few months and before long your sweet child is not so sweet anymore.

Every so often my husband and I have to really sit down and talk about one of the kids.  That is one of the reasons why date-nights are so important!  As the new year started it was Anthony that had us wringing our hands.  His grades were sliding, his normal helpfulness was becoming a rarity, sibling quibbles were hitting an all-time high, and he was no longer bordering on disrespect but rather being outright disrespectful.  I think it would have been easy to say "it is just a stage.  I hope it is over fast".  I talked with my mother (who raised one great son) and my mother-in-law (who raised two great sons) and I stressed and fretted and then Hubby and I talked.  I honestly wondered "are all 10 year old boys like this? Is this because he has a birthday coming up?"

And then I realized that the reason WHY he was acting this way was not as important and I was making it out to be.  Is it because he has a birthday, or he is bored, or burning out with sports, or because the moon is full - that doesn't excuse the behavior.

We needed to fix the behavior quickly.  We implemented more zero-tollerance with everything.  We pulled in the reigns and discussed responsibility with him.  He was responsible for good grades, for having his homework done, for remembering his books etc.  When performance slips we crank up the supervision - we began reviewing his work nightly not just weekly. We signed him up for tutoring one day a week during lunch recess.  We put him on total electronic restrictions when he was disrespectful in his tone.  And we gave him some incentives - He had been invited on a mini-trip with his grandparents so if the behavior improved he could go.  

At the same time we also opened the door to explore the WHY for his backsliding.  Was it too much extracurricular stuff? Was it something going on with friends at school? Was it problems with a teacher?  But we didn't use any of those rationales as an excuse for his misdeeds.  We just opened the door and provided more opportunities to talk.

Think of your child like a garden.  There are some wonderful Gifts of the Holy Spirit that you hope will grow through their life.

Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Strength, Knowledge, Fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2) and Piety

But it doesn't happen on accident.  Those gifts are like seeds are planted in baptism,  They are given a boost of miracle grow through confirmation, and will grow through Grace, but the garden of their soul needs to be tended, watered, temperature managed, and you are the helper for the Master Gardener and His Helper.  Pluck out those weeds of envy, spray those bugs of pride.   It is hard work.  The longer you let the garden of your child's soul go, the more work you have to do tending it!  But with a little determination and fortitude your child will grow in the Gifts and show much Fruit.

We are in a much better place with Anthony now.  He is off on his trip with my parents and having a delightful time.  His grandmother reminded me yesterday of my concerns a few months ago and she commented that she has seen none of the issues.

But I know that we aren't done with him yet.  He is still a child although more and more he seems a Man-child.  I am so glad I didn't give up and throw in the trowel.  This latest experience has rekindled my faith that my kids are going to be great adults, and as they enter each new stage challenge in life, I pray for the Gifts to grown in me that I may be able to bear Fruit in their presence and bring them through the difficult time with greater grace.  Praying for you to do the same thing!

What ages/behaviors have been most challenging for you? Is it those toddler tantrums, the eye rolling tween, the sassy 4 year old…something else?
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