Imagine a routine mishap during childhood. A 5-year-old with a turbocharged body is curious to explore his world. Attracted by a sparkling new item Mom has just brought home, he dashes across the room, loses his balance and hits his head on the wooden floor.
Startled, he looks to his mom for comfort and reassurance that all is okay.
In scenario 1, Mom is terrified. She shouts hysterically, “Oh my God! Are you okay?” The child bursts into tears, convinced that something terrible has happened. If such scenarios take place frequently, the scene is set for the child to develop a fearful lifestyle, becoming nervous, timid and overly careful.
In scenario 2, Mom is angry. She shakes her head in disgust, yelling “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right?” If such scenarios take place frequently, the scene is set for shame and self-doubt to flourish, choking out any self-confidence and sense of mastery that he has begun to develop about his abilities.
In scenario 3, Mom is calm but concerned. She checks on what happens, kisses the boo-boo and tells him that everything is okay. The child’s fear is eased. After she has reassured him, she may gently tell him to slow down and be more careful so he doesn’t get hurt next time.
Since he is not burdened by a response that is fearful or angry, he continues his exploration. His face lights up when he opens the new toy Mom bought. With her even-tempered response, Mom is creating an encouraging place for a child to grow, take risks and overcome everyday mishaps and frustration.
Which one of these scenarios do you believe occurred most frequently in your family of origin? How do you think you were affected as a child by the scenarios you experienced?
Do you believe you continue to be affected by those childhood experiences? If so, how? If scenario 1 or 2 dominated your childhood, are you doing (or have you done) better for your own child?
No study has ever shown that one particular parental style works best for everyone. However, extremes in parental styles do create problems. Some parents are so overprotective that they won’t let their child be. They are constantly afraid that something terrible will happen, or they are constantly angry that their child is doing something wrong.
Other parents are so distant or uninvolved in their children’s lives that they create an environment in which their child is vulnerable to physical or emotional harm.
The mind of a child is an impressionable place. Put young kids in an ambiguous or threatening situation, and they will look to their parents for information about how to react. Those reactions then become woven into the fabric of their minds, teaching the child how to decipher, define and respond to what happened.
Hence, parents have an obligation to respond to mishaps such as a physical fall, a mess that needs to be cleaned up, a disappointing social experience, with life lessons that do not destroy a child’s confidence. It’s not always easy to do, yet it’s definitely worth it.
For a child looks to a parent to define what is good and strong and healthy in him. And if instead, he keeps receiving messages as to what is wrong and bad and stupid about him, well, I don’t have to spell out what the ramifications of that kind of upbringing is, do I?