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How Parents Create 'Badly' Behaved Children
And How To Reverse the Process


  

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Home
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Restoring Childhood
How We Create 'Badly' Behaved Children
©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016
(Copyright Unedited Beta Version)
(To be read online only)

Book One

Chapter 5

Trying to control what children think

Children are inclined to say: “I don’t care about what happens later, I want what I want now”. Their view of the world often does not coincide with ours. Even when they accept the logic of what we say, there desire to have it now can countermand that logic. Children can be as reluctant to accept our long-term reasons as we are to accept their primary now reasons. While it is always possible to get children to agree to do something, in many cases it is completely unfair and unrealistic to expect them to want to do it. Past a certain point it is emotionally coercive not to respect that they have a different view and to continue to expect them to agree. Agreement can never be categorical and compulsory. Parents can make compliance compulsory but they should never ever act as if they think their child’s agreement with their view is compulsory.

It is this erroneous search for agreement that is a major cause of discord in many homes. If parents ignore the continuing evidence that they are not going to get agreement and continue to strive for it then their child will begin to openly question and defy every decision. If agreement is the priority it creates an addictive climate of dissent and argument in the home. Attempts at getting agreement should be brief. If children are not going to agree then parents need to accept this quickly and switch the priority. The lasting priority for parents should not be the child’s agreement but their allowing themselves to comply. For instance in fundamental areas like safety the child agreeing with their parents’ reasons for insisting on an action should never be seen as a prerequisite to their allowing themselves to enact it. Past a certain point parents cannot allow themselves to be too concerned about their child’s apparent refusal to accept their view of events. The parent’s view of events and child’s view are often in natural and healthy opposition.

A fundament child’s right is at stake

Refusing to recognise when we have reached this point has serious implications. It can lead us to begin undermining our child’s fundamental rights. The threat to the child’s rights here lies in the fact that ‘wanting to’ or ‘agreeing that they should’ do something is a thought, not an action. If the child does not ‘want’ to do something this is what he or she thinks and we have no right to attempt to insist that this change. As parents we can put consequences in place for what our children do but not for what they think. Children have the right to continue to think that they don’t want to do something the parent has stated categorically. They also have the right to think that the parent should not have asked tell them to do it. They do not have the right, without consequence, not do it. If any parent cannot see or understand this distinction it is vital that they persevere until they do. Parents only have the right to be categorical about what their child is required to do or not do. They have no right to be categorical about what they expect their child to think. The quagmire of endless discussions and disputes with children that many parents get themselves into is often because they do not fully understand this distinction. The child has an absolute right inside their own heads not to want to do something. They have the absolute right to think, to believe, that they should not have to do it. These thoughts are something over which the child should have – must have – complete freedom and autonomy. Children have the absolute right to think differently from us.

Whilst parents would be right to feel they had failed if their child ended up holding antisocial attitudes or beliefs this is far more likely to happen if they attempt to take away their right to hold them. Correct thinking has to be demonstrated and taught: it can never be insisted upon.

Usually parents do not think they are insisting that their child thinks as they do. They just think that it is so glaringly obvious that they are right their child must be able to see it. ‘Must’, to misquote a line from my favourite cowboy film, ‘has got nothing to do with it’. The belief that the parental argument is so glaringly clear that the child ‘must’ accept it often leads parents to disastrously redefine what constitutes ‘bad’ behaviour. ‘Bad’ behaviour, for these parents, stops being what the child does and becomes their refusal to agree that they should not do it. Look at the difficulties that this parent gets into by attempting to get agreement with a view, rather than agreement to comply:

“My son will be 11 this year. The problem we have is at home with his defiance. For example, he doesn’t think it is fair that he has to do homework, as he works for 6 hours at school and doesn’t see why he has to do more work in his free time (his words!). He finds it difficult to do his homework, and his concentration span is approximately 5 minutes. If we try to force him to do it, we are looking at at least 2 hours of battling and then he gets himself in a state and doesn’t do it properly anyway.”

The parenting fault here is to mistakenly have a discussion with his 11-year-old son about whether doing homework is fair. After 2 hours of verbal battling with his son’s primary mode attitudes, the parent is no nearer resolving the problem. It is clear, when he quotes his son’s reasons, that this father does not just want his son to do his homework or agree to do his homework: he wants his son to agree with his view about homework. During the 2 hours he spends each evening listening to and countering his son’s arguments, there are lots of words, lots of reasons and counter-reasons, and lots of frustration and anger. Significantly for the child, there is a lot of feeling important and lots of rewarding attention.

This father strives for something to which he is not entitled, and this enables his son to challenge his leadership in the home. What challenges it even more is that he had not realised right at the start that his son was playing with him. Did his son really expect to be taken seriously when, in the context of everybody else at school having to do homework, he first gave his reasons why he alone should not have to do it? Gullibility is not a quality that children respect in parents and they happily play with it; and because it undermines their own sense of security, they self-righteously punish it.

Having entered these foolish discussions, this father wants his son to agree with his view. He does not just want his son to perform the right actions, he wants him to have positive thoughts associated with those actions. While this is not an unreasonable goal right at the beginning it needs to be dropped long before discussions concerning it begin to take the place of the homework. Clever children will begin to deliberately manufacture these discussions as a tried and trusted avoidance mechanism. Worse than this, the process of trying to convince them often becomes the reward that they will lose the moment they allow themselves to comply. This father has foolishly allowed an intellectual contest to develop that will have a winner and a loser. This issue could have been presented to the child as a fait accompli. Instead, this father ends up fighting two ‘battles’ when he should only be fighting one. He wants his child to comply and agree that he is right, when all he should want is for his son to decide it is best to comply.

“If we try to force him to do it, we are looking at least an hour or two of battling, and then he gets himself in a state and doesn’t do it properly anyway.”

There are three significant words here: the first is ‘if’. The main reason this child has not accepted that something as crucial to his future as homework is categorical is that he has discovered that, if he can inconvenience his parents enough, they begin to use the word ‘if’ about it. Nothing will ever be categorical if the child can make the parent doubt whether insisting on it is worth the inconvenience. It is vital for children to have parents who are certain about what is and is not categorical.

The joy of battle

©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016

The two other significant words this father uses are ‘force’ and ‘battling’. Parents often see ‘battling’ over a categorical instruction as ‘forcing’, the implication being that these interactions are unpleasant or punishing for the child. This could not be further from the truth. They give the child a ‘buzz’ that can quickly become addictive. The ‘state’ that he says his son gets into is just his son’s attempt to show determination. Children often get no closer to distress in these situations than would a good professional actor. The more adversarial their relationship, the more rewarding this boy’s ability to inconvenience his parents becomes. Allowing the ‘battle’ to reward the wrong behaviour makes it very difficult for the child to be honest. Children often secretly accept the adult argument; it is just that it does not suit them to admit it. Children rarely let beliefs get in the way of more tangible rewards. They ask themselves “do I admit that Dad is right and lose the contest and forfeit getting my own way?”; “do I ‘holla uncle’, give in, and lose all this focused attention?” While parents continue to give attention to their supposed views the answer will always be “no”.

Lots of attention

The moment this boy accepts his father’s view, all the rewarding argument and attention ends. He will have allowed his father to win and he will have lost. If he were to quietly do his homework each evening, he would be lucky to receive 10% of the attention he currently receives. Attention is a child’s biggest reward bar none, and nothing gives more attention than combat and heightened parental emotion. A never-ending cycle of explaining or telling-off will not convince the child of the parental point of view: it will merely provide the fuel the child needs for more combat.

Earlier we said that ‘bad’ behaviour is interactive and that the child does not have the power to change content and tone or these interactions. We said that placing the onus on the child to change is doomed to fail. Here we have a very clear and very typical example of why this is. This parent does not see that by taking part in arguments that he cannot possibly win, he turns a perfectly natural individual act of defiance into a protracted process. Only parents have the power to create this pattern of defiance in the home. While parents continue to be unaware of the rewards they provide, they trap their children into a cycle of ‘bad’ behaviour.

Slipping into George Orwell’s 1984

George Orwell’s vision of 1984 was far worse than simple dictatorship. His dictator did not just want control over what individuals did; he also wanted control over their thoughts. Parents should never want their children to indicate that they approve of being made to do what they do not want to do. I pray every parent sees that this is incontestable. Whether the child thinks the parent is right or not has to remain entirely up to them. The fact that the child disagrees with a decision can never be considered ‘bad’ behaviour. Every child is entitled to disagree.

Parents may prefer it when their child is happy about their decision, but it should never be turned into a goal. Parents who persist with this goal are moving as far away from democracy as it is possible to get. They have begun to imply that they have the right to dictate what their child thinks.

Making agreement with my view the target immediately makes an obstinate child invincible. It immediately strips the parent of the moral right to provide consequences. Insisting that they agree with our view can turn the child or the teenager’s defiant behaviour into a perfectly healthy response. A child has the right to think what they like, even when, for shock value, they pretend to adhere to a ridiculous or harmful view. They are still entitled to fight for their right to (supposedly) hold it. It is so easy, particularly for teenagers, to undermine parents who do not understand this. Their battle to maintain their right to think what they like is a righteous battle. It is a sign of mental health, a sign that they are striving to remain a person in their own right. There may even be some anecdotal evidence, for instance in Laing and Esterson’s 60’s book Sanity, Madness and the Family and similar books, to suggest that the child’s failure to win this battle can incline them towards mental illness or to having their behaviour mistaken for it. After years of working in this field I am convinced that ‘bad’ behaviour is, by far, the child’s healthiest response to inappropriate parental leadership. Children are entitled to disagree with their parents and to have a different view. It is just that, in key areas such as safety, they are not entitled to enact any behaviour stemming from these views without consequence.

No way of being certain what children think

There is, of course, a far more practical reason why we must accept that children have the right to think what they like. If they say they agree with us or say they disagree, we have no way of knowing what they really think. Children can and will play with the power this gives them. Parents will always be left in the dark as to whether their actions are generating the ‘right’ thoughts or the ‘wrong’ thoughts. They will never know when their children are just playing with them. If we allow their agreement to be our goal, there is no objective way of ever knowing if it has been achieved.

   
                 
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©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016
  

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