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How should we act when faced with a “bad” child?
Let’s take an example which could play out a little differently in different circumstances - much like a variation on a theme - but which have the same basic effect on the child
Here is the situation:
A little boy is shouting, stamping his feet and smashing his fists against the wall...
“Would you put up with this?”
Maybe you would respond:
“Not really! I would tell him to go to his room and not to come out until...I don’t like boys like that. I am ashamed of him – and what will the neighbours think? That I can’t control or discipline my own child? They will think I am useless and will laugh at me behind my back, I know it.
This example could be a slice of life taken from anywhere around the globe...it is so human. Even so this parent, be it a mother or father (though from now on just to simplify things we will use “mother” only). Even so, the reaction of the mother shows that she is more concerned with her own personal comfort, rather than what her son is experiencing. She is thinking of what her neighbours will think of her: “A mother who can’t control her own kids”. As a result she is furious with herself and also with her son who exposes her to ridicule. The command that she gave her son was “Go to your room and don’t come out until...” but isn’t this command really due to the emotional impetus “I cannot stand my feelings of shame any longer”?
What is at the root of this problem? What has this young mother lived through herself in her own childhood? What is it that is echoing through her own personality? Ideally if she were able to bear it, she needs help: She needs to talk about her situation, she needs to be heard and understood, perhaps even healed of her own suffering first.
As for the son, once he becomes an adult, he will likely not be able to deal with conflicts constructively. He will find it difficult to assert himself, except by recourse to anger. He will also feel that one has to be “nice” to avoid being rejected, consequently he will an evasive attitude when confronted with authority figures.
Let’s examine the same situation once again – this time more constructively. So, this time let’s also take into account what the child is going through:
A little boy is shouting, stamping his feet and smashing his fists against the wall...and an adult is also present.
“You’re very angry aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m very angry...” responds the child. “Would you like to tell me about why you’re feeling so angry?” asks the adult.
“Because my friend he, he stole my red truck.” The child starts crying loudly.
“He stole your red truck? That’s not very nice is it? I can quite understand why you’re angry” responds the adult.
The child stops crying and looks at the adult through teary eyes and explains: “Yes, I lent it to him and now he’s gone home to his place with it...”
Now we are at the heart of the problem. “Was his Mummy with him?” And the child answers sweetly “Yes”. “Didn’t she say anything?” you will probably ask.
“No, she didn’t say anything”.
“I am angry too” you might then add. “Here, give me your hand, we are going to go to your friend’s place to find out what is going on” The child will then start to smile shyly and gradually will start running and leaping about. Together you go on a few blocks together, then you ring at the door of the house that the child points out to you.
The door opens (let’s certainly hope so anyway!):
“Good morning, sorry to disturb you, but your son may have mistakenly taken this little boy’s truck”.
Then turning to the child: “Can you explain to this lady what happened?” And the boy will explain...until suddenly his little friend – red truck in hand - comes and pokes/puts/sticks his head around the corner.
“You gave it to me” says the friend.
“No, I lent it to you...”
So, next comes the explanation of the difference between the word ‘give’ and the word ‘lend’. Then the friend’s mother encourages her son to give the truck back...the friend throws a tantrum and chucks the truck on the floor saying:
“Your truck is no good, it’s a bad truck. I don’t want it now”. Now the little friend himself is quite angry himself, in turn.
The friend can’t stand having the truck taken away, so to find a solution he ends up denigrating the truck to deflect his own guilt. The little boy himself will have discovered that it is better to act using words and communication rather than to simply react with yelling and anger. By speaking and explaining his feeling in words he finds that he can be vindicated. In this way he can realise that he too has a place in the society around him. He exists.