The N word
One of the two Melbourne dailies featured an article in its Sunday edition, which announced the launch of a new book, The Me, Me, Me, Epidemic, by US parenting expert Amy McCready. When the book was previously ‘launched’ in August, 2015, the author was quoted as saying “Overly involved parents helicopter over their kids’ every move and mow down the potential obstacles in their path. In our attempt to shelter our kids from adversity, we rob them of the opportunity to make decisions, learn from their mistakes, and develop the resilience needed to thrive through the ups and downs of life. This is all done in the name of love – but too much of a good thing can result in kids, who always expect to get what they want, when they want it. Over-parented kids begin to believe the world revolves around their needs and wants, and the seeds of entitlement are sown.”
An epidemic of entitlement
Of course, there is nothing really new in any of this. For as long as memory serves us well, there seems to have been a continual cacophony of concern about the sins that some parents visit upon their own children. The vocabulary extends to such labels as unwarranted self-esteem, overly entitled, extrinsically motivated, self-centred, selfish, needy, emotionally fragile, insatiable appetite for approval, aloof, demanding, overly dependent, irresponsible, malcontent, pampered, spoilt, self-obsessed, etc. This time, according to the article’s author, Herald Sun columnist, Susie Obrien, the ‘experts’ are saying “Parents are facing an entitlement epidemic, thanks to a generation of children, who don’t hear the word ‘no’ often enough.”
Pressure on parents
According to parenting columnists Sacha Kaluri and Sonya Karras, parents are “too scared to discipline their children in front of other parents or adults, in fear they will be judged as being too harsh”. Sacha Kaluri believes that, rather than standing their ground, parents find it easier to give in, and that “tired” parents may be more likely to acquiesce to their children’s demands. She suggests talking about the matter “the next day when the heat of the moment is over, (when) they are more likely to listen and understand your reasoning.”
Gratitude and empathy
Sonya Karras explained that one way to keep things more in balance, was to encourage children to be appreciative of their lot in life. She said, “Being grateful for what we have is a huge deal in our family. On a daily basis on the way to school, we talk about all the things we are grateful for. We counteract the fact they have toy boxes that look like Toyworld, devices of all kinds and fancy outfits, with visits to the city to take blankets to those experiencing homelessness, listening to people tackling hardships and trying to get them to understand how lucky they are.”
Amy McCready sees “nothing wrong with helping our kids out every so often — but when our helping and allowing became a way of life, we were walking the slippery slope of the entitlement epidemic. Entitled kids are known for thinking of themselves as above the rules, and deserving the best of what life has to offer. We can change this by sticking with the limits we set, and ignoring the protests and negotiations.”
For the early childhood educator, this is what they know so very well: when dealing with children, at any and every age, you need to be fair, firm and consistent. If this means you have to say ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ … so be it!
However, this is only one side of the ‘NO’ phenomenon.
When a child says ‘no!’
Research carried out in 2007, which involved observations of mothers interacting with their one- and two-year-olds, found that the children of mothers, who had the most positive parenting skills, often also displayed the most defiance, when asked not to play with a particular toy or pick up toys after a play session. Researcher, Associate Professor Dr Theodore (Ted) Dix, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin proposed that, far from being abnormal or a reflection of poor parenting, defiant behaviour among very young children appears to be a positive development.
In order to better understand the reactions of young children to parents’ attempts to control and socialise them, the researchers videotaped 119 toddlers aged from 14 to 27 months, whilst they interacted with their mothers, who were asked to have their children avoid a set of attractive toys and, when the play session was over, to get their children to help them put away the toys, which they had been allowed to use.
Analysing the taped interactions, the researchers categorised the children’s behaviours, according to whether they were:
- being defiant, or
- ignoring maternal requests, or
- being willingly compliant with the requests.
The mothers’ behaviour toward their children during the play session was also observed, and the mothers were required to complete questionnaires designed to determine if they experienced symptoms of depression.
Positive parenting traits
Two of the positive parenting traits recorded by the researchers were the mother’s sensitivity to their child’s interests and her supportiveness during playtime.
Children, whose mothers demonstrated these traits and fewer symptoms of depression, were most likely to be defiant and least likely to ignore their mothers completely when a request was made.
Contrastingly, those children, whose mothers reported more symptoms of depression, were more likely than other children to ignore requests and less likely to respond to requests with defiance.
It was suggested by the researchers that very young children of depressed mothers may not fully trust their mothers’ reactions, and they may have learnt to be overly passive in the face of challenges.
Researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, told WebMD, “These children may realise, at a very early age, that defiance isn’t going to get them what they want. We know that depressed moms are more likely to use harsh punishments. They tend to have short fuses, and children may learn early on that defiance might get them hit or yelled at”.
Gershoff and Dix went so far as to say that it may be true, conversely, that active resistance by toddlers, who are fully engaged with their mothers, reflects a healthy confidence in their ability to control events.
Gershoff proposed that toddlerhood is the stage when children are testing boundaries and that this is a good thing. “They are becoming their own person with their own wants and desires and ideas about how to do things”, she said.
So, all that said, the N word is a good word, whether it comes from the toddler or the educator.