This scene comes to you from my earliest memories as a child.
I am at the playground or in someone’s house. A child (not I) falls down – maybe while walking or running. Or maybe a child bumps into a table, door, chair, tree – any stationary object.
The child begins to cry. An adult rushes over to soothe the child. Their conversation goes like this:
“What happened? You hurt yourself? How?”
The child tells the adult what happened.
“You tripped over the stone? Which one? This one?”
If the stone has been correctly identified, the child will nod.
“Bad stone! Very bad stone to make the baby fall down. Let’s hit the stone. There! Let me scold it also. You are a very bad stone to make the baby fall down! You’d better not do it again, okay? Otherwise you’ll be in big trouble. Very, very bad stone!”
The child watches and listens in fascination as this is enacted. The adult turns to the child.
“Did you see me scold the stone? I’m sure it must be very sorry to have made you fall down. Now that I’ve told the stone not to make you fall down, it won’t do that ever again. And if it dares to, I’ll scold it so badly that…”
Then the child is taken into the adult’s arms and the place where she was hurt is petted and soothed and maybe kissed. The child herself is cuddled and kissed. “Bad stone! We’ve punished it for making you fall. Feeling better now? Great!”
And the child scurries off.
In this way, innumerable pieces of furniture, doors, corners, walls, counters are hit; the ground, stones, leaves, twigs, mounds of earth, grass, leaves are stomped on; and all of them are scolded roundly because ‘they hurt the child’.
I suspect this might be true only of Indian / Asian families, but it is rampant here.
Cut to 10 years later.
“Mummy, I couldn’t do my homework because you didn’t make a tasty lunch.”
You can’t believe your ears. “What?!”
“Yes. The lunch was so bad – none of my favorite dishes. I kept trying to eat it but I couldn’t. Then I decided not to eat it. But I was hungry, so I had to find and eat some snacks. I had to eat a lot of snacks to fill me up. All this made it really late, so there wasn’t enough time to finish my homework. And then it was time to go and play… So you see, it’s your fault that I didn’t finish my homework.”
You’re furious enough that you could shake him till his teeth rattle. What nonsense! He could just as well have gone to play later, or come back earlier. What does he mean by “it was time to go and play”? The time isn’t exactly set in stone, and at age 12, he should know better.
I guess you can see where I’m headed. You can’t blame your child. You cannot find fault with him.
From day one, you have been blaming other people or things for whatever goes ‘wrong’ (more accurately, whatever happens that is not in accordance with your child’s wishes).
The ceiling was ‘bad’ because it bumped his head (he wasn’t being careless with a low ceiling); it was too cold for him to have a bath (he wasn’t being lazy about undressing in a cold bathroom); you were late because the traffic lights were against you (not because he woke up late or threw a tantrum or lost track of the time).
When your friends came in for a quiet supper as she was going to bed, your 7-year old’s refusal to say “Good night” to them was not churlishness; she was too sleepy or tired to observe the basic courtesies.
If he falls, it not because he’s not looking where he’s going. The kite flying in the sky distracted him. When he hits out at someone, he’s being playful and spontaneous, but when someone else hits him, they’re bullying him. When he gets the star role in the school play, it is because he is so talented. When he doesn’t, the teachers are playing favorites.
Are you shaking your head? You’re not this kind of parent. You get after your child all the time, asking her to be responsible for what she does or doesn’t do. I agree. You are working towards teaching your child responsibility.
But you have her earliest memories (her most basic understanding of how the world works) warring against your efforts. Because these earliest memories blame someone or something else for whatever goes ‘wrong’. And you, or someone in your family, has helped create these memories.
It is unreasonable to expect that your child will forget the ‘learning’ of a lifetime of holding people and situations to blame; that he will suddenly ‘become responsible’.
Initially, blaming people and circumstances gives your child an ‘out’ – a feeling that she is a success, or could have been, had it not been for… But eventually, the habit of finding fault only gives her excuses to fail. To teach your child to find fault is to set her up for failure.
Look around you. Despite the millions of ‘reasons’ for failure, there are people who have amazing achievements to their credit. They must have fallen too; they must have met food they didn’t like; they must have been sleepy or tired or unwell or unwilling or all of them at the same time; they must have had bad days or bad relationships; but still, they had worthwhile achievements.
What your child achieves is not as important as the fact that he achieves something.
If he enjoys studying and gets good grades, getting straight ‘A’s may not count as an achievement for your child. He wants to be at the top of the tree in all subjects – that would give him a sense of accomplishment.
For a sick child, getting out of bed and getting dressed to sit up for an hour might be an achievement.
If he’s very shy, making eye contact with a stranger may be an achievement for your child.
But she will not achieve anything, she will not succeed, if you are on a fault-finding mission when things go ‘wrong’. Fault-finding takes away your child’s power to determine her life. It makes her powerless.
You know what ‘powerless’ feels like – every adult does. Think back to the times in your life when you felt powerless. Feeling powerless is disheartening, hopeless, debilitating, paralyzing, and in its worst form, it leads to severe depression, if not worse.
Why would you want to teach your child to be powerless? But, in an effort to ‘make her feel better about herself’ in the moment that her wishes are thwarted, that’s exactly what you do! And the pattern begins.
How to break the cycle? One thought can break it – abruptly and effectively.
Why find fault?
When something goes ‘wrong’, rather than figuring out who or what was at fault, why not simply try and understand why it happened?
“You fell down? Hurt yourself? How? Tripped on a stone? That’s okay – people trip on stones sometimes. You need to watch where you’re going. You need to lift your feet when you walk.”
Soothe, cuddle, kiss, off you go.
“Didn’t get the star part? Well, others have to get star parts too. You think you can do it better? Maybe the last time when you got the star part this child thought he could do it better. It’s alright. You can’t be the star every time.”
Your child can’t win at everything, not all the time. Things won’t go his way always. And that’s okay. It’s nobody’s fault. 🙂 It’s the way things are, the way the world is. Even at the poles, where the polar night lasts for months at a time, it only lasts for months – not through the year. 🙂
Why find fault?
Try, instead, to help your child find understanding – so that he can be happy, fulfilled, so that he sets himself up for success (with some failures along the way 🙂 ) .
Understanding is about ‘if-then’.
- If you work, (then) you will do better.
- If you are kind to people, (then) you will have better relationships.
- If you are selfish, (then) you may not have true friends.
But wait a minute! These ‘if-then’ situations aren’t always true!
That’s called Growing Up – in the next post! 🙂
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