By Troy Flint
A few months ago, I ran across a Tweet – now lost to the ether – that said, “There’s nothing more humbling than disciplining your kid when they’re demonstrating your own flaws.” Or something like that. Apologies to the original author for the lack of attribution and for butchering the quote, but hopefully you get the gist.
I’ll move on now because fixating on small and insignificant details and difficulty leaving the past behind are two flaws I’m trying not to pass onto my eldest child and failing miserably. Fingers crossed this is just an artifact of toddlerhood, another stage she’ll outgrow, and not the result of unfortunate genetics or modeling after her father. And really, I’m moving on this time.
Putting my neuroses aside, the bigger question is not who is responsible for these less-than-totally-awesome personality traits, but how to address them without projection or judgment (or at least judgment that the kids can pick up on). I think about this a lot, usually when I’m watching my daughter struggle with a bout of melancholy, admonishing her for a particularly intense bout of stubbornness, or marveling at her hypercompetitiveness about issues large and small. These were all hallmarks of my childhood (that have sometimes persisted into adulthood) and seeing them in my offspring triggers flashbacks and more than a bit of anxiety. How can I *fix* this before it becomes a real issue?!
I figure the first step is not to overreact. Don’t want her to develop a complex about it. But then, I don’t want to just do nothing, either. So, where is the fine line between studied indifference and massively projecting, hover-parent freakout? Still trying to determine that exactly. For the time being, I’ve settled on a course of hushed tones, empathy, gentle redirection, and suggestion of alternative modes of coping.
One technique that has informed my approach is called “Distract and Redirect.” There are many different versions of this, but my reference is Dr. Jane Nelsen, who writes for a website called Positive Discipline (there’s also a book by this name). Dr. Nelsen says that, “The three most important discipline tools to use with children under the age of four are supervision, distraction, and redirection. Showing them what to do instead of what not to do (showing them how to touch nicely instead of saying, “Don’t hit.”) During the first years of life, your job is to keep your child safe without letting your fears discourage her. For this reason, supervision is an important parenting tool, along with kindness and firmness while redirecting or teaching your child.”
Those are valuable words, particularly the part about not letting “your fears discourage her.” That approach is self-defeating and more likely to continue the cycle than end it (I remind myself as I wrestle with my emotions). I have to remember that, although I am one of the greatest influences on my children, they are not just extensions of me or my wife or any other relative, and they are not destined toward any particular fate or outcome. The beauty of the child lies in both the similarity and the difference, the relationship and the individual, the connection and the independence they develop as they blossom into their own beautiful person. It’s about the child and their journey and the more I’ve embraced that (albeit imperfectly), the more rewarding parenting has become.
Photo by Conner Baker