By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Kids who are polite and well behaved are very attractive. We see polite children every day here in downtown Manhattan, and we adults are rightfully proud of them and of our families. However, this may not be the most important thing for the children. It is much more important that they be emotionally healthy and happy even if they are a little impolite and sometimes misbehave.
Emotional health means your child is aware of his or her feelings, needs, and desires, and most importantly, honors them. This is achieved when we parents show respect for the child’s feelings and desires. Thus, a child gains emotional health when his parents are basically nice to him or her.
It may seem obvious but it is often overlooked. You must be very nice to your child! Always strive to be a source of pleasure to him and never a source of stress. Yes, limits need to be set, but those limits should be mitigated with kindness, sweetness and gentleness. Being kind to our children fills them up with that kindness and it eventually spills out into acts of kindness onto others. This is exactly what we want.
When a child's physical and especially emotional needs are met she is freed from having to be preoccupied with them, and therefore is in a position to begin to think about the needs of others. But if her own needs are not met, she becomes preoccupied with them and has no time or energy to think about the needs of others. This attitude of kindness of a child towards others is accomplished principally through a warm, kind, gentle relationship with her parents. When children are on the receiving end of kindness from their parents they learn to be kind to others. We need to carefully protect this parent child relationship and avoid stress between parent and child.
Kids and Competition
One way to promote concern for others is to encourage cooperation and not competition. We should not promote stiff competition between students or siblings! On a much higher level, with individuals who are advanced and mature, competition can be a motivating and healthy factor. But generally in young children it is demoralizing. Competition defeats and discourages the losers and makes them jealous and angry. It tends to cause the winners to be obsessed with winning and beating others. It also reduces empathy and kindness between competitors because they see each other as obstacles to their success and therefore do not want to help each other. When thinking about kids and competition we need to remember that if children engage in competitive sports there should be a relaxed attitude about winning and no shame in defeat. They should understand that having fun is the goal, not winning.
Rather, encourage cooperative activities where mutual success is the goal. Show the children that by helping others they’re really helping themselves. When you catch them helping or being kind to one another, instead of merely praising them, make an observation describing what they did. “You really helped him with that math problem. You made him happy.” “You gave them a piece of gum, now he can have one too”. Such acts of description allow the child to evaluate himself and conclude for himself how good he is. It promotes in the child an appreciation of helping and kindness. For a discussion of the pitfalls of praise, click here.
In school, cooperative learning is king. Working together with other children or with parents promotes much deeper thinking. Try to encourage studying with a partner or in groups as much as possible. It is a much more pleasant way to learn. Not only is it better academically but it encourages mutual kindness, help and cooperation. Remember, mental health is always improved when people come out of isolation.
Please be advised that the above represents a parenting ideal which may not be possible to achieve perfectly so have patience with yourself and implement new ideas bit by bit. Please feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my informative free reports.
If you've been thinking about kids and competition,
or are facing challenges with your child behaviorally or emotionally and would like help, guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 646-681-1707. I look forward to speaking with you!