I watched the TV reports of the little boy who got into the gorilla area at the zoo, sadly resulting in the gorilla being killed to protect the child. It was a totally preventable tragedy.
In my work as a counselor in a Child & Adolescent Center where children with behavior disorders were referred, I found that most problems in young children were directly related to parenting style. Most of my counseling was aimed at teaching parents (usually mothers) how to be a more effective parent.
As mentioned in my last blog, in the parent-child relationship, love is of course the primary essential ingredient; but so often love is misinterpreted as indulgence of the child’s wants and wishes. A bad idea! The young child has no judgment—only wants and wishes. It’s the parent’s job to employ good judgment, that’s why children have parents instead of flying out of the nest at the end of the first year. Pay attention parents—shaping you child’s behavior is your whole job description. The love every child needs is not ‘candy-heart-lollypop’ love but ‘eat your vegetables and drink your milk’ love . . . not what she/he wants but what is needed for their well-being.
A young child has no idea about the world or how it operates, doesn’t know the good from the bad nor what will help and what will harm. The child needs a compass to guide him or her through possible dangers. The compass needed is the firm ‘voice of authority’ with “No” and “Stop” as true North. Every parent should develop it early. It evolves through persistence and consistency and kids can learn to read it early—beginning when the baby pulls up to the standing position and reaches for the ‘pretty thing’ on the table, a firm level ‘No’ without shout or scream—then praise if she stops or removal from that place if he doesn’t. It’s ‘The Voice’, with follow through that provides security as they grow. They don’t understand the world, but they have a protector who does.
Most of us have witnessed the scene where a toddler runs away when called by a parent . . . parent runs after . . . maybe even laughing—after all, a toddler is easy to catch! . . . but it’s a mistake. The mistake is not the game; it’s the ‘when’ and ‘who’. It’s fun to play chase with a little one; play it together and laugh, catch and toss in the air . . . all good fun, but not at the child’s whim when being called by a parent. That running needs a firm ‘NO’, followed by a firm repeat of the name using ‘the voice’. If the child responds, smile and say “that’s good, honey” or some such approval; but if he or she doesn’t stop, catch them and take the child by the arm and march him/her back to the spot you called from, and with ‘the voice’ say, “You do not run from me when I call you!” Children learn quickly.
In parenting, the most important thing to establish early is that you are in charge, you mean what you say, and behavior brings consequences. A child will respect a firm and fair authority. They don’t understand the big complex world and it is comforting to know they are in the hands of one who does.
That’s where it begins. It’s hard work, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. The parent’s consistency (or lack thereof) sets the tone; if you give directives and don’t follow through, kids come to consider it optional to listen or not. What it comes down to is that you are shaping attitudes and building mutual respect. The child who respects a parent will cooperate . . . and it will be so much easier to live together!
Again I think of the zoo and that totally preventable tragedy.
A woman who was in the area of the gorilla pen when the incident happened was interviewed on TV, she said she heard the mother and child arguing, he was insisting he wanted to go in there, she said no he couldn’t but he kept insisting --- What would be an effective response? Take his hand, firmly say, "We are done with gorillas" and leave the area; if he throws a tantrum, use 'the voice' to say, "Now we are done with the Zoo" and leave.
An adult arguing with a 4 year old?! And where was she when he stepped over the barrier?
Sadly, it truly was a preventable tragedy.