Learn to say no

September 01, 2012

To become healthy adults, children need to learn to deal with moments of frustration and annoyance, and know their limits.

A few years ago, education was a simple process since there was a clear demarcation of power with clearly defined roles. Adults continued to be governed by their parents and children followed the rules of the older generation without any dispute.

With the passage of time, some educators told us that this type of education was incorrect; it is necessary to hear children out and allow them a more participative role in family relationships. This may be true, but some parents have yielded to the temptation to follow the other extreme.

As a result, we have seen situations in which power is in children's' hands and the whole family avoids countering them for fear that they may undergo trauma or suffer from a psychological ailment. This can be avoided if parents deal with them firmly, following a few guidelines:

Establish the rules from the beginning

Having a child is a process that people usually associate with feelings of affection and some fear. We frequently hear first-time pregnant women voicing the fear of not being a good mother. But they need not worry at first.

Crying is the only way an infant can express comfort/ discomfort. Mother-infant bonding can be so strong that mothers can often decode different tones of crying as soon as three days after childbirth.

There are many possible reactions to a baby crying. For example, an anxious mother will run to the crib immediately and try to soothe the baby while a calmer person will realise that the baby may have woken up from a strange noise and needs a few minutes to recover before he can fall asleep.

In this way people create defence mechanisms, which are also used in other situations of psychological discomfort. But these two examples of maternal attitude outlining two distinct ways to educate will consolidate children's behaviour in the years to come.

The problem is that often the decision to enforce rules arises at an advanced stage of the child's life - for example, in adolescence – when the responsiveness of the young is already reduced, or even nullified.

Consistency is important

On rules, consistency of the father and mother's attitude is vital. We refer to the case of some couples in which one parent sets a rule and the other breaks it, replacing it with another.

For example, to ensure that a child does his homework, the mother tells him that he can watch cartoons only when he finishes homework.

Shortly after, the father comes home and tells the mother, "Don't you see how little Johnny also needs to be distracted? There is enough time to do homework after the cartoon show."

Both parents may then have an argument due to their concern and affection for their son, but the attitude they assume will be detrimental for the child's education. Conflict between parents increases at the same time the child accepts the rules of one and rejects the other's.

Children also take advantage of the conflict, behaving impeccably when they are with one of the parents but adopting an attitude of defiance when they are with both.