Yes, My Child is Entitled. To be a Child.

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OMG I can’t believe I just did that in public. Wait, yes I can.

Sometimes my kids look like ‘those’ kids. Those rampaging, loud, possibly naked and undoubtedly dirt encrusted kids. The ones that shout ‘No!’ and flat out refuse to leave the park, even if I pretend to walk away (which I read somewhere is actually ‘withholding love’ so I felt super guilty about trying it out, and then just annoyed because it didn’t even work and if you’re going to do something as heinous as withhold love it should jolly well work right?) I worry that not only does my daughter not always share but occasionally she actually picks up all the toys her teeny arms can carry and runs away, possibly cackling. The concern here is that I might be raising what looks like an entitled child.

The thing is though, children are entitled. They’re entitled to be adored when sticky. They’re entitled to have bad moods and be outrageously grumpy for no obvious reason. They’re entitled to be learning, continuously and constantly learning. They’re entitled to make mistakes. They’re entitled to have fun and be impulsive. Their brains are still developing, and there are concepts they just cannot grasp, and what they truly need is time and understanding (Best & Miller, 2010).

This can be tough.

My daughter does ballet. I say ‘does ballet’ when realistically she romps around in a dinosaur shirt and rainbow tutu and follows *maybe* half the instructions. She also has a complete blast. On Ballet Days she has her chosen dinosaur shirt on hours before class starts. She races into the building and greets her classmates (who are always dressed in pink with brushed and ponytailed hair and I have no idea how that even happens). When the teacher says ‘OK Dancers, time to trit-trot like ponies!’ my daughter says ‘No, I’m a bunny!’ and hippity-hops around. The first time she’s asked to ‘March in line!’ I realise she has never lined up in her entire life. She has no concept of lining up and her subsequent zooming around the room was unsurprising. She practices a version of ballet that is not taught in the ballet class.

This was challenging for me. It was testing to see her so obviously going against the norm; she was putting her preferences into action (preferences we’ve encouraged her to have) in a situation where compliance was expected. No one was outright telling her she was wrong, her teacher would gently ask her to join the other dancers and eventually she would. However, I still struggled. Two sessions into the term, I pulled her aside mid-lesson: ‘You need to listen to the teacher! Do what the teacher does!’ ‘But why?’ she asks, ‘Because you’re here to learn ballet!’ I whisper. Her head drops and she walks back to her friends. She does not trit-trot like a pony. She does not hippity-hop like a bunny. She lowers her head and drags her feet like an unhappy puppy and occasionally throws wounded eyes back at me.

I feel like shit. I have stolen Ballet and replaced it with Sad. She’s just turned three. She’s not really there to learn ballet, she’s there to learn how strong her body is, she’s there to listen to music and pay attention to how it makes her feel. Most of all she’s there to have fun. I did not teach her about impulse control by telling her to follow instructions. All I did was hissy whisper at my kid and teach her that I don’t delight in her obvious, incredible, ridiculous love of Not Quite Ballet.

Children are entitled.

Punishment makes no difference to impulse control (Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997). Yelling at a child or getting physical with them for running in the opposite direction when you call them to the car will not make them less likely to high-tail it away from you next time. I was told to sit outside many times as a child, and not once did I use that time to ‘reflect on what I did wrong,’ instead, I reflected on how misunderstood I was and plotted quiet revenge. Sometimes, I even drew a diagram.

Research found punishment is more likely to result in distress than learning (Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997). What does work is talking, it’s our ‘inner voice’ that teaches us impulse control (Kemick, 2010). Our inner voice needs to be helpful, positive. It needs to tell us we’re good people, we can do this; we can keep going when things are hard and we make great decisions. While they’re little, kids aren’t great at seeing the big picture. But they listen to what their parents say about them, and they believe it.

Trust your child. They will be capable, maybe not yet though. Maybe they just need to practise Not Quite Ballet, maybe they need ten-minute reminders of when it’s time to leave the playground, maybe they can’t share because first they need to know what not sharing feels like. When their brain is ready they will follow instructions and they will share. More than that, they will know they are good people, people who are learning and making mistakes and learning again.

My daughter and I resumed ballet – the other children imitate arm actions and my girl is looking at me and jumping around furiously. I blow her a kiss, ‘Look at you jump!’ She jumps faster, smiling. Ballet is back.

When the time comes for her to learn why we follow instructions, she’ll be there. But right now, she’s learning about herself – her skills, the things that make her happy and crucially – the way people she loves view her. I will try to always be a safe place for her, my acceptance of my badass girl isn’t based on how compliant she is. It’s based on her: her strength, curiosity, bravery and ability to rock a dinosaur t-shirt and tutu with the best of them.

References

Best, J. R., & Miller, P. H. (2010). A Developmental Perspective on Executive Function. Child Development, 81(6), 1641–1660. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01499.x

Kemick, A. 2010. Inner voice plays role in self control. Science Daily. Retrieved April 13, 2016 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921110956.htm

Straus, M. A., Sugarman, D. & Giles-Sims, J. (1997). Spanking by Parents and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior of Children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 761-67.

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

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31 thoughts on “Yes, My Child is Entitled. To be a Child.”

  1. This was a beautiful article and just what I needed to hear. I have two sons – who are fiercely independent. They are three and 18 months and I don’t want to take the joy out of everything – no matter what my inlaws say.

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  2. This is all so very true! Your daughter and her ballet class reminds me of my quirky middle son. He takes one look at assigned craft tasks (at the library) and then seems to make something that’s exactly the opposite of what is required. Even the library commented that he’s ‘free range’. I love that he makes it his own!

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  3. Completely agree! It’s absurd to expect children to behave like miniature adults!

    I was looking at a dance class for my little girl, because she loves dancing. But really, she loves moving her body to music. I don’t think she’d actually enjoy lessons nearly as much as just putting on music loudly and shaking it out in the living room.

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  4. Your daughter at ballet is every single experience I have had with my son at play group. They have craft time, my son has running around in circles time, they have story time, my son has climb on top of the furniture and dance time. I love this post. Thank you. You’ve gained a follower

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  5. Great article! I agree 100%. I’m raising my son in Uganda and absolutely love all the unstructured down-time kids here have. They learn how to act, make decisions, grow confident, and take risks by interacting with tonnes of other kids through play. Without adults telling them what to do or judging them. It’s amazing and real and doesn’t force them to be anything other than what they are: kids!

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  6. This is exactly why I don’t recommend ballet for young children. Creative Dance with a Modern Dance basis is much more functional for kids because it focuses on doing what your body already does naturally and offers a great deal of freedom. It’s not no structure, but low structure. Sadly, not enough dance studios offer these kind of classes. It gets too serious, too early, which is one of the reasons I won’t enroll my seven year old.
    I do struggle with what you way though, because my four year old really struggles to listen which I mostly deal with. But my concerns are two fold, yes, he is a crazy boy and I’ve learned to accept this. He will always be dirty, and loud. He doesn’t naturally sat and comply. But sometimes I need him too. He has no concept of safety. Keeping him out of the way of real dangers like cars, has to outrank letting him be naturally himself. The second issue is that I’m a tired mama of three, including a baby, and I need my kids to help out. I physically can’t do everything that needs to be done. My four year old is like Pig Pen, dirt and chaos follow him everywhere. But he refuses to help clean up. So I’m torn between complete physical and mental melt down (and the fear of raising a lazy child) and constant bribery, threatening and nagging. Yes, his brain is still developing and I don’t want to crush his wild spirit. But I also don’t think cleaning up what he just threw on the floor is too much to ask.

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    1. That’s why I struggled with this issue so much! It was/is really difficult to remember that our wild kids probably will always be a just a bit zany, and to let them know how fantastic that part of them is (it will undoubtedly help them as they grow up!) but to steer clear of permissive parenting. It’s finding the line that’s the hard bit hey? xo

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    2. I half struggle with this article. The headmistress at our local decile 10 school said she has never in her 30 years of teaching met such an underdeveloped 5 year old intake (emotionally immature etc)…I think kids actually need structure and guidance and be taught from an early age there are perameters and boundaries, eg you listen to your teacher and you’re here to learn, be a lunatic any other time just not when you are there to learn something and be taught specific skills… I’m all for letting kids be kids but theres greater balance needed between that and teaching / guiding them how to handle themselves & life from an early age

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      1. I actually think this is often why some choose to homeschool…self included. I can also say that from homeschool groups I know I am not alone in this being a real determining factor for many. The fact that we have flipped to all day K with teaching of reading & such is way beyond what I feel is fair to most 5yr old brains. When I was a kid…(30yrs ago) it was half day, we focused on learning letters & shapes & circle time & recess…and went home before lunch. This isn’t what K is now. And frankly K now, isn’t what I wanted for my kids. Turns out 1st grade wasn’t much of what I wanted either & from there we have just kept on. LOL

        And before you think it’s me being lax…my kids could read (I could too, by age 4yrs) and frankly it was more about the excessive amount of structure paired with boredom that concerned me. I absolutely thought about how bored I would have been had I been asked to sit for lessons at 5. We weren’t. We sang, did crafts, played, and had a blast. For my kids, they were going to cover things that we already went over (I actually interviewed about 5 schools – only one private in there) AND drag it out into a full day of mostly learning to follow instruction in a group & sit still. None of that is of value to me as a mom nor did I think it was of any value to a 5yr old. If I felt it were truly an actual benefit, I’d be all about it. Studies actually show it’s not. It’s of value to the teachers & administration for the kid to know to sit still at young ages. It does nothing for the benefit of the kids long term & academically we are not further along than we were when we asked less of the young ones. We are more pressure than ever on the youngest ages & by the time you hit 5th grade, you see no difference in academic performances, yet we keep doing it anyway.

        I won’t hide that I was terrified to try homeschooling. On day one of what would have been his 1st day of school I wondered ALL day if I had made a big mistake. Then I talked to friends who have same aged kids…an every one of them came home with homework…on day one, at 5yrs old. It happened again, on day 2. They talked about their kids crying, not wanting to do the homework, about not wanting to go to school, about how much pressure this was for the working moms to try to do this homework in the few hours they had once home, dinner, bath, etc…and all my fears quickly faded into relief.

        I get it – homeschooling isn’t an answer for all families. It’s not. There isn’t anything beyond love & food that is for ALL families. Parenting isn’t a one path sort of gig. I just wish that our school would catch up with the data & see that this kind of pressure & pace in small kids isn’t helping anyone. I wish that we would invest more to ensure that classrooms had more adults or smaller class sizes & I wish we respected that this busy age is developmentally busy for a reason & that reason is learning…and the way children learn best isn’t sitting still at 5yrs old. It’s just not. I don’t care what person you plop in front of me I am confident in that after enough research to scream it loud & proud & I wish families with 2 working parents had more options for education so they could allow their kids the same learning setting that parents like me are able to. And I am not a supermom. I simply mean that if my kid has the wiggles, we *can* take a break…then…not at “recess” time…but NOW, when he needs it most.

        And before anyone worries this means they never learn to sit or be in a group or listen to a teacher…I only have one little one now. And by 7, mine have been good to go for an hour at a time in a class setting (behave, follow instruction, stay quiet & seated). By 10, you can count on about 3hrs & more as they get older. The fact is humans will develop this as a skill. It need not be taught. And we have done dance…but never at super young ages. I tried it once with a 4yr old….we figured out very quickly (I think 4 classes) it was too young.

        I have often though I wish I could run a dance class for littles with no focus…but I am not classically trained in a thing & IDK who might show up even. But I agree….after letting my 4yr old try, that it was no point as it was just too many rules for something as fun as dancing should be. It was frustration. I’d just mostly like to allow them to get together, dance together, be silly & look at themselves in huge mirrors doing it. LOL It’s a pipe dream, but it sounds great to me. I wish there was already something like this.

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      2. Exactly. Especially the whole wanting to run around at age 4 not being associated with wanting to run around at age 7. Kids do things when they’re ready! (also your sentence about love and food being the only things for all families is spot on!!)

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