When I think about the issues of mediating internal needs with social expectations and guiding our children to integrate these, my focus is on being present.
One of the things that really interferes with staying present is a sense of shouldness – I should be able to do something or my situation should be different. Shoulds and should nots are a function of our unconscious that help us follow rules and laws. Shoulds and should nots are very important from that point of view. The problem is that many of us make should and should not rules around things that are unreasonable – like I should be a perfect parent or I should not get mad, ever.
Being present with flexibility allows us to evaluate what is in conflict as well as whether the rules we are following are real or reasonable. Reading our children’s needs includes knowing them, knowing the expectations of the outside groups, and understanding their developmental stage. We sometimes have shoulds and should nots about how our children should be behaving that do not incorporate their developmental stage or some of their unique characteristics. This creates a disconnect for us from our children. And it makes it more difficult for us to help them manage their internal needs.
There are some great books that you can use as resources to keep in step with the developmental stages of your child. My favorite series is a set of books by Louise Bates Ames, PhD and Frances Ilg, MD. They’re based on original work done at the Gesell Institute of Human Development in the 70s. This work provides fundamental information about the developmental stages of toddlers through age six. And the series continues through age nine. Ames works with two other authors to present this information for children through age fourteen years old. The series books through nine are single books per year and they are very useful to use to remain mindful of the developmental challenges for normal development.
Erik Erikson is another theorist that is very useful in reading to understanding some underlying psychological and spiritual issues for various ages through adulthood. His work is less useful as a daily mindful tool but gives a global description of theses stages.
We want them to be strong, have good self-esteem, be resilient, and have the character to tolerate frustration and have perseverance so they can work through things. Knowing what their developmental issues are really helps to keep yourself mindful, and be more effective in helping them negotiate their world. It helps to normalize their behavior as well as identify truly problematic behaviors that need to be extinguished. In addition it’s helpful to understand your own mistaken should and should not expectations.
An exercise to help with this is to review the primary issues you are currently dealing with your children. Evaluate if there is an unreasonable expectation that is at the core. Let’s say it is something that you know is not an okay behavior but your attempts to extinguish the behavior are not effective. Look at the precursor behavior or event to see if there is an unreasonable expectation that is leading to the maladaptive behavior. For example if your child is losing control of his temper with some aggressive action, look to see if one of his basic needs are being stressed like hunger or sleep or time with parent – (the unreasonable expectation is that they should be able to be okay even under these stressed situations) then you can also evaluate if there’s a transition issue or other frustration issue (ie: he is not at a developmental stage where he could transition quickly but the unreasonable expectation is that he should). If you can both give a logical consequence for the negative behavior and change the preceeding event/schedule issue, then you will be using mindful action to change your child’s environment and create a positive outcome for your child.
You can also apply this mindfulness exercise toward your own belief systems about shoulds and should nots in your own living. You may find that you have unreasonable expectations for yourself that are interfering with your own success.
See you tomorrow.