The other day my six year old son ran his school’s annual cross-country race. Twice around a fairly large football field. He finished somewhere in the upper middle of the pack. Not the fastest. Not the slowest. When I came over to him, his eyes were bright and his smile was wide.
“Mummy,” he said excitedly, “I ran the whole way! I thought about walking for a little bit, but I didn’t. I tried really hard the whole time!”
I was so proud of him. Proud of his resilience. Proud of his persistence. Proud that he didn’t give up. Proud of the way that he was able to value effort, divorced from comparative result.
He isn’t always so sportsman like. He plays soccer with his friends in a Friday night competition. They are quite good for their age and they win more than they lose. But when the other team starts scoring unanswered goals, the boys take it hard. There are minor on-field tantrums. There is giving up. There is anger. My husband coaches the team and tries to quickly curb that behaviour.
Both situations got me thinking: Do we expect more of a child’s behavior than we do an adult’s?
The way my son took his cross-country results in his six year old stride was in stark contrast to how I reacted recently when I didn’t reach the finals of a blogging competition. I spent a great deal of time and energy mulling over my perceived failure. Digging myself into a hole of disappointment that was in no way constructive. My son was happy that he did his best and let everything else go. I should be doing the same thing.
I think we ask a lot of children. When they are just learning about emotions we stop them from expressing them. Do not cry. Do not use your body to let go of the energy that you cannot control. Stop those tears. Stop that tantrum.
When they are just learning about owning things we ask them to share everything. When my friends come around, I don’t expect them to mull through my DVD collection, pop something on and head over to the fridge and help themselves. But we do expect the childhood equivalent of our very little kids. For them to share all their toys and to be gracious about it.
When they are exploring tastes and senses we ask them to eat everything on their plate. I don’t eat things I don’t like. Yet I expect my kids to. I want them to try a variety of things – and that’s important. But when they don’t like something, I still expect them to finish it. Without complaint.
I am terrible at forgetting things. I remember as a kid I would lose things left, right and centre and be terrified of the consequences. As an adult, I am no longer fearful of being punished, yet I still misplace stuff. That, in itself, is normally punishment enough. But if my child loses something, I revert back to the same tone my parents used about not respecting property and being irresponsible.
When my husband or children ask for my attention, I may not give it straight away. I will say “give me five minutes,” or “I am just finishing something up.” I think that they should be patient. When I ask for my son’s attention, I expect it to be immediate. It’s not entirely fair.
I am not suggesting that we should be permissive as parents or that we should say yes to every childish demand. But I think sometimes we need to reflect on what we are actually asking of our children. I think we need to be aware of what is age appropriate behaviour and apply tolerance. I think we need to be mindful of applying a higher standard to our children’s behaviour than we do to our own.
What do you think? Do you think we expect too much in terms of childhood behaviour?