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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Threat

Threatening is something that my 6 year old daughter knows the definition of. I explained the meaning of a threat after a friend of hers said, "if you don't play my game then you can't come to my house". I told her that she never has to do anything she doesn't want to do and if someone ever threatens her she can simply say, "I do want to be your friend but I will go and find another game to play". It is hard to explain, but my daughter understands such conversations because we talk all the time about everything and I don't shy away from explaining certain things simply because "she is a child and how could she possibly understand" - she has, as a result, grown up to be very perceptive and wise.

In my opinion, any form of a threat is a form of peer pressure. As you get older these threats become more serious - "If you don't have this drink, we will tell everyone your secret" or "if you don't sleep with me then it means you don't really love me". Threats are a way to get people (and children) to do what you want without thinking how it makes them feel and without taking into consideration what they want.

So when I had an opportunity to share this with my daughter I felt so relieved that this teaching moment had come up. She understood immediately and she still tells me when children have threatened her and how she reacted. I really believe that if she can recognise a threat from this early age that she will save herself from a lot of heart ache in the future.

What I feel is even worse than children threatening other children are parents threatening their own children. How on earth can you tell you child "if you don't finish your home-work then you don't get to watch TV" - you know that you are making them feel bad - they may even cry, but you do it anyway. You are the one that is then instilling this preconceived idea in their minds that this how the world works and that you have to listen to threats. But later, the day will come when your child is told "if you don't do drugs with us we will not be your friends". Your child then takes the drugs and you (as their parent) find out and you get angry at them for falling for peer pressure. Honestly, how can this be a surprise?

Many parents use threats and rewards as a means of discipline. If you do something bad or not do something good then they take away something you like and in order to make you do something good they give you an incentive. Yes, many of you may be thinking that there is nothing wrong with this. From the outside it looks hunky dory but long term you are teaching your child that they only ever have do things out of fear of losing something or because they have something to gain...It's not looking so wonderful any more is it?

In every situation where I have had to discipline my daughter I have used it as an opportunity to problem solve. For example, if we need to leave the park and she is kicking and screaming all the way to the car I will wait till we are at home and she has calmed down and then we will begin talking. I will tell her that I understand that she wanted to stay longer at the park but we had to get home to make supper and that I want to know what we can do differently next time. Because my daughter is used to such dialogue, she will probably say that she can speak to me kindly and explain that she just wanted one more swing. I will then ask her what we can do if she doesn't listen again. She will reply that maybe I can just say "one more chance" and she will then listen. On our following trip to the park I will remind her of our conversation, If again it doesn't work we will have to go back to the drawing board and think of another solution.

You may be thinking that this could carry on forever but it doesn't - the solution my daughter has now come up with (on her own) is that she can't watch TV if she doesn't listen to me (this is specifically in this scenario). The difference between this and a threat is that she has come up with the consequence and not me - she is problem solving. So, in the future, when she comes across a problem she will be far better equipped to deal with it because she already thinks for herself and is able to think outside of other people's threats.

I am only touching on the tip of this ice berg because I have recently witnessed a whole lot of parent to child threatening and just had to vent. I hope that it does make sense to any of you who read this and I hope it makes you look at the way you discipline your children - are you going to be a parent that teaches your child to listen to peer pressure or are you going to assist them in thinking for themselves? I hope it is the latter...