Me! Me! Me!

17 Jan

Raising considerate children

A day off work waiting at home for a delivery is not without its dangers. First, there is the guilt over sending the kids to nursery whilst you put your feet up and enjoy visiting the toilet in peace. Secondly, stuck inside and craving interaction with the outside world, your usual defence mechanisms are weakened and this can lead to you answering the door in a reckless fashion. Cue people of a certain denomination ‘spreading the word’. Cue a parenting blog post. Yes, really. Inspiration moves in the most mysterious ways.

I don’t believe in God myself but I do make time to listen on the doorstep. I will inevitably shut the door clutching a selection of leaflets and, because I feel guilty at having taken leaflets that could have gone to someone more likely to be converted, I do try to at least flick through them. (Thus, I expect, earning myself brownie points should there turn out to be a god.) Amongst the latest batch of leaflets, little did I expect to find a whole pamphlet on parenting. Whilst it didn’t leave me questioning my lack of faith, it did leave me questioning my parenting skills.

The feature article was entitled ‘Raising Considerate Children in a Me-First World’ – “If you are a parent, how can you help your children to reap the benefits of being kind and to avoid being contaminated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds them?” I was transported back to Christmas Day and an image of my 4-year-old surrounded by piles of toys and wrapping paper. She asked “Are there any more presents?” whilst I sat thinking about how lucky my children are and wishing she could find contentment and happiness in a lump of coal. Everyone wants their children to be happy but how can you ensure this without the negative consequences of them believing that they are at the centre of the universe?

The article outlined 3 “traps” that can create inconsiderate, self-centred children:

1. Overpraising

“Do not dole out praise just to make your children feel good about themselves” – a slapped wrist for parents who “have been unduly influenced by the self-esteem movement”. Of course, you shouldn’t praise your child for everything and bad behaviour should be addressed in an appropriate way. If my 4-year-old threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall I certainly wouldn’t praise her for the wonderful mural she had created. However, as someone with low self-esteem who is terrified of passing on my own neuroses to my children, please do excuse me if I choose to lavish praise on them to make them feel good about themselves, however small the achievement. A lack of self-confidence has the tendency to saddle you for life. That self-doubt (whether it be a drop or an ocean) can permeate everything you do and hold you back rather than propel you forward. I would much rather my children approached everything believing they can do it well, rather than wondering whether they will do it well enough.

2. Overprotecting

“Whilst it is natural to want to protect your children, overprotecting them can send the wrong message – that they do not need to take responsibility for their actions.” In my opinion, there is a difference between protecting them against the consequences of their own actions and protecting them against adversity in the world around them. My children are both under 5 and are firmly wrapped up in the cotton wool I have spun just for them. Every day in the car I have to switch the radio off when a news bulletin comes on describing death and destruction in the world. Yet my 4-year-old still picks up odd words and asks questions – as much as I can sensitively bat away those questions, I know that little snippets will be sticking in her mind and sowing seeds of worry. She is not old enough yet not to be overprotected from the world around her. As for my children’s own actions, no, I won’t completely ignore it if, for example, they fail a test. However what I will do is ensure they understand how they can do things differently in future. I hope I can give them the confidence to accept responsibility and move forward, learning on the way.

3. Overproviding

“In a survey of young adults, 81 per cent said that the most important goal of their generation is ‘to become rich’ – rating it far above helping others.” This is about stuff. Stuff and money. Stuff and money and things. It is also where I hold my hands up and look shiftily at the floor. I acknowledge that I am guilty of buying my children things as treats to make them happy and – okay, okay, I admit it – things that they ask for. I also acknowledge that I’m not doing a good job of trying to instill in them a sense of the value of things or that treats sometimes have to be earned. Am I creating monsters? If I am watching a full-on tantrum in a toy shop then I would say ‘yes’, I am. If I am watching my oldest sellotape tissues to a toilet roll and use it as a sword to attack her brother then I would say, most definitely, ‘no’. Like all children, they take pleasure in the most modest and unexpected of things and, thankfully, are not complete slaves to the best that money can buy.

The emergence of a generation of self-centred individuals seems to be weighing heavily on society’s conscious. The policy in China of only one child per couple has, it is commonly believed, created children who, being used to being the sole focus, have grown up selfish and prone to neglect their parents. Indeed, China has recently introduced a law to force children to visit their elderly parents. In the last few days, research in the US has suggested that high-self esteem in students can actually lead to less successful lives. (Of course, the definition of success is debatable – if my kids end up scraping gum off the pavement for a living but are happy, healthy and contented then I would consider that a success.) My own recent experience in a very rich foreign country (which shall remain unnamed) and the proliferation of kids there with an enormous sense of entitlement and a complete lack of manners left me very conscious of the little people I am bringing into the world. Reminders of my duty as a parent to help my children become considerate members of society appear where I least expect them – and for that reason my door will always be open.

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10 Responses to “Me! Me! Me!”

  1. simonsometimessays January 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    The three overpr____s, Hmmm.
    In one sense anything “over”done can be said to be too much. But what is too much must surely be an individual question, and highly variable even for the same child at different times of their lives. What’s necessary to nurture a 5 year old and keep them safe and sensible can’t be the same as what is needed for a 10 year old, or again for a teenager or a young adult. Praise does not make achievement, but absence of praise can be a barrier to achievement. Protection does not make a child invulnerable, but it does make them secure and confident. Parental desire to keep the cotton wool in place does not recede, but it takes a different form as they grow.
    Nothing wrong in buying presents for your children – I regard it as insurance for being kept in comfort in my dotage. .

    • Crumbs & Pegs January 17, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      Totally agree. I guess the degree of ‘over’ is on a sliding scale depending on age. Seriously considering keeping mine tied to the apron strings forever though!

  2. Isabel Thomas January 17, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    I am a meany mean-pants and never make time to chat on the doorstep. Your niceness has paid off!

    I’m hoping that having a sibling or two balances it all out – you may overprovide but they have to share many things; you are less likely to overprotect 24/7 as you will have eyes elsewhere half the time; and overpraising is punctuated with criticism (as you spring into action to overprotect the the child getting beaten up by their sibling!).

    • Crumbs & Pegs January 17, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      That is very true – hadn’t thought about it like that! The natural degradation of over-parenting, ie parenting spread thinly! 😉

  3. Funky Wellies January 19, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    A thought-provoking post that I enjoyed reading. My hope is to strike the right balance with my two daughters. So far it looks that way, to my great pleasure!

    • Crumbs & Pegs January 19, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Thanks for commenting.Same here but so difficult isn’t it? Why is parenting so peppered with guilt?!

  4. Elena January 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    Guilt and parenting seem to have become synonymous! I reckon we give ourselves too hard a time and we should surely take comfort in the fact that children “turn out” how they do also because of their own pre-determined personalities. (DNA is such a convenient scapegoat!)

    • Crumbs & Pegs January 29, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

      Gawd, could write reams about guilt! Agree re blaming DNA. 🙂

  5. Nell @ the Pigeon Pair and Me February 28, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    What a great, thought-provoking post. To the three ‘overs’ in the pamphlet, I would add ‘over-analysing’. I’m sure there are plenty of us bloggers who fall into this trap (myself being number one culprit). Our children will be the first generation to grow up with parents who are part of a culture where therapy and psychoanalysis is the norm. It’ll be interesting to see whether we produce people who are centred, caring and fulfilled, or a load of little narcissists….

    • Crumbs & Pegs March 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Ah, yes, over analysing – definitely the all-important one! Sometimes writing about something especially can make you think about it TOO much. Thanks for commenting!

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