HHM Dec21 leader

What is CHILDHOOD for?

I was speaking with a group of several young children recently and asked them "Do you think that childhood is supposed to be fun?" One answered, "Yes." I asked them what does that mean, and they responded with,
"We should be able to do whatever we want when we want, because one day we will be adults and have to work all the time."
The other children concurred with their peer with cheers.

This type of thinking from your child could be a problem. What the one child was suggesting is that being asked to perform any task, other than what he wants, is an undesirable situation. What this child was saying is that he should be able to avoid any form of real responsibility until such a time as he desires to be an adult. The problem that I am suggesting is that unless a child learns to "grow up" during childhood, he may be hard pressed to attain any accomplishments later on. Who will help raise a 28 year-old child? Further, if for 28 years this child has been able to do as he pleases, what incentive will he have to change? It is likely that he will always look for someone to take care of him.

We can assist our children better if we can stop deceiving them about the idea that childhood is free from drudgery, problems, difficulty, and responsibility. Perhaps, we can assist our children into being able to reach adulthood as adults if they could learn to work hard. It is a farce to allow our children to think that during childhood it is all play and no work. You might wince a little when you hear what parents often expect the children do for chores. The oldest child reports, "I sometimes take out the trash." "Sure," says the mother, "after I remind you ten times to do it and then you yell at me to stop reminding you."
These are the same children that eat the cookies and drink soda; leave lights on everywhere; never have learned to do the dishes and would not know how to turn on a lawn mower or washing machine if their life depended on it.
No need to do that when everybody has maids to clean the house and gardeners to manicure the yard. What else can our children do but eat and play video games?

One mother with whom I spoke reported that she indeed had "overdone" childhood for her child. She remarked that her child refused to take on responsibility and had a terrible temper which he used to scare her off from expecting him to take on chores. Consequently she continued to be scared of the adult child. She mentioned that she now believes that she "over-parented" her child. She now understands that she did not make her child take on res-ponsibilities because of his resistance, did not give the child consequences for poor behavior, and noted that she did everything for the child. She firmly stated that if she could do it over again she would make the child work and earn everything the child wanted. In fact, that mother learned that even though she thought she had, she had not done everything for her child. She had not helped him grow up and mature, but he did grow up, in size, and she was still frightened of him because of his temper!

A young fellow I was speaking to about this theme stated that what needs to happen is for parents to help children see that doing work is not a harsh sentence but a good thing. He said that parents can help children learn to take on responsibility by making sure the child is accountable for the job getting done. "Sure," he says, "the child may complain, but don't give in and rescue him. They need to believe they can do it. Crying and whining are the tricks they use to keep from being responsible. Just wait the kid out. He will do it" He said that when children start early with this process, they accept the increasing level of work just as they can accept their increasing abilities in everything else, like walking, talking, and social skills. His sage advice made me think of my daughter already having her daughter, Molly, clean up her toys strewn over our living room floor before she goes home. Molly will not have any difficulty taking on increasing levels of work, but try to get a teenager who has done little, if any, work at home to do something without a fight and verbal resentment. "Why me," he shrieks, "…I'm playing Rough & Tough on the XBOX, you do it."

Our children can not perform this task on their own, we, as parents, must guide them. We must help them learn to work, to be persistent, to endure difficulty and hardship and to feel good as they experience their successes and conquests. A child who can work and complete assigned tasks on a daily basis, is willing to become an assistant to the household, and contributes daily by donating sweat and time to a family is a child who will grow up. Then and only then, through good, old fashioned hard work, will you be proud of your child and your child will feel proud of him and herself too. That… is what childhood is for.

Michael E. Kirk, PhD, a local clinical psychologist, is a father and grandfather.
He specalizes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

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