Guiding Children with the End in Mind
by Steve Wright, LPC.
Children do not come with instruction manuals.
You cannot reboot them when there is catastrophic failure and go back to the default settings. We don’t get to return them when things go wrong. What we do get is the opportunity to shape another human being into an adult. Who that adult becomes is a combination of heredity and environment. Parents have a say in both those aspects, one out of their control (heredity) and one partially in their control (environment). Although there are no guarantees when it comes to kids, we can give them the chance to become responsible and dependable adults.
To raise children well there is an overriding principle we must live by. Without this perspective we meander in our discipline, we function out of our emotions, we confuse our kids and we create ill prepared adults. The principle I am talking about is parenting with the end in mind.
The best trainers of children have the adult version of the child in their minds at all times. Childhood precedes the responsibilities of adulthood and parents are given the task of preparing the child for those responsibilities.
The simple question that brings all of this together is, “What kind of adult do I want this child to be?”
Charles Dickens in the novel “Great Expectations” tells the story of a young boy named Pip from an impoverished home. He comes into money through a mysterious benefactor. Woven into the story is Pip’s relationship with a young woman whom he knew as a child and with whom he was asked to play. The girl’s name was Estella and she was raised by her guardian, Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham had been jilted by her lover in her youth and left standing at the altar.
In revenge to all men, this bitter woman came into guardianship of young Estella and determined to use her as a weapon. Estella was beautiful and boys, and later men, sought her favor. Under her guardian’s tutelage she learned to use her beauty and charm to entice these suitors until they were hopelessly in love with her and then she would coldly break their hearts.
Miss Havisham had the right idea but the wrong goal. She was focused on the end result—the adult that Estella would become. However, her goal in doing so was to create an adult woman who would herself be miserable and would make others miserable.
Parents sometimes have wrong goals, as well. One of these is to make children like themselves.
A child does not need a friend. He or she needs a guide, someone to set boundaries for them and to instruct them. If your goal is to make a child like you, then you will act from that motivation and give in to them when you shouldn’t.
Another bad goal is to live vicariously through children.
The stereotype of this would be the dad whose son wants to play the piano instead of football and he makes him play football.
A third goal to avoid is to want a child to take care of you.
This can happen when a parent loses the ability to maintain their strength in the face of trauma or crisis. In that vacuum, the parent can sometimes look to the child to fill that void of responsibility in a number of areas.
Tied to these bad goals is how we view emotions. We will talk about this later, but let me say here that part of the job of a parent is that of an emotional mentor, helping children label and deal with those emotions, whether it is sadness or anger or even joy. We must not make them feel bad for feeling anger or sorrow and we should not minimize their feelings by distracting them from those emotions or laughing them off.
The goal a parent needs to espouse in raising children with the end in mind is: “I want this child to be a faithful and dependable adult.”
As a parent myself, I want my children to grow up to become really good adults. I think every parent, if they were to imagine what their child will be like when they grow up has aspirations of success and happiness, to be a good spouse and parent. We want them to have integrity, to be honest and hard working. We want them to have strong character and be people on whom others can depend.
What is often the case is that, although we want these things for our kids we tend to relate to them in ways that lead to other ends. We try to make them happy instead of helping them become responsible. We try to cushion them from reality instead of helping them deal with reality. Trying to make reality adapt to me is one definition of insanity. Yet, so much of the time we give children the impression that reality is adaptable and they are not. To build a sense of responsibility and dependability in the lives of our children we must allow them to experience the consequences of not adapting to reality.
Helping children adapt to reality is just another way of expressing the idea of boundaries and consequences. Setting up those fences in a child’s life will help them. If we continually rescue them so they avoid any consequences for their actions or if we punish them out of our own anger causing them to shut down from us, we won’t get them to the place they need to be in order to see true change in their lives.
The idea is to help a child experience sorrow for their hurtful or negative behavior. Sorrow happens when we are able to set really good boundaries for children. A good boundary includes a clear expectation and a clear understanding of what the consequence might be if they choose not to meet that expectation. If the child chooses not to meet the expectation then it is our obligation to help him or her understand that, in doing so, he or she has chosen the consequences instead.
By the way, there is no reason to get deeply emotionally involved in a child’s anger or sorrow at losing a privilege or receiving some discipline because it was their choice, not yours. They will certainly make every attempt to pass the blame off on you, but if you understand that those things are simply manipulation tools, you will be able to relax, hold to your boundary and continue to exercise the authority needed to enforce those boundaries.
This doesn’t happen overnight. However, as you are consistent in setting good boundaries for your kids and following through with them, you will find that your child will eventually begin to make the turn in their behavior.
Remember what the goal is. We want our kids to grow up to become dependable and faithful. Part of that is helping them know that they can depend on us to discipline them and love them faithfully. Giving a child his or her way all the time and lavishing them with anything they want shows them just the opposite by not providing the proper structure they need to become healthy, dependable adults.