I am shocked and horrified that my best, most-beloved friends who are parents subscribe to a supposedly emotionally-educated methodology that turns some of their children into selfish tyrants, and I will be telling absolutely zero of them of my revulsion. I absolutely disdain judging fellow parents – its rampant and nit-picky and gross, but here I am doing it. I try not to give a hoot whether your kids eat from a boob or a bottle, if they sit in the car or hold your hand while you run into the store for milk, if you go to a bougie private school or down-to-earth public, if you feed them McDonalds or solely organic tofu. Brilliant! Good for you! If you’re not beating or neglecting them, I usually just look the other way and assume that human kids are resilient and will mostly come find basic human sanity and happy middle ground in life, despite their parents’ styles. Whether or not I’ll want to be friends or close neighbors with them later in life is less certain.
If you’re over-zealously hippie-ing your kids by never telling them “no,” and by never giving them real consequences, or by never demanding that they acknowledge others’ feelings, maybe even you won’t want to be friends with your grown kids. I’m a pretty big hippie myself: I was lucky enough to give my kids plenty of boob milk, I love shoving local, organic vegetables in their faces, and we co-sleep well-past the age that mainstream parents find reasonable. My kids both wear full rainbows of wardrobes, play with both trucks and dolls, and receive entire cucumbers in their packed preschool lunches. I horrify my parents by my choice-giving and feeling-talking as my kids meltdown. And there are a lot of meltdowns in our house. There are two children under the age of five and one of them is on the autism spectrum.
Possibly because there are so many different, wonderful varieties of neuro-atypicals in my life, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to solve many kinds of issues by talking even more about feelings. We talk about feelings when someone is having an emotional reaction, experiencing a sensory sensitivity, challenged to engage in perspective-taking, missing some social cues, unable to direct their own thought focus, or one of many other super common aspects of neuro-atypical life. A huge part of living and loving with toddlers or preschoolers or kids or teens or adults or humans period who are working to learn how to engage successfully in a mainstream world is also learning the damned rules of engagement.
“No,” is an important concept for all humans who are asked to participate in consensual society. Before you can hear the logistical and empathetic reasons for something that is forbidden, declined, or undesirable, you must, in fact, first learn how to respond to “No.” If we want to raise adults who understand how to react, anticipate, and understand, “No,” appropriately, we must raise children who hear reasonable, sensible, eventually-explained, feeling-filled “NO!” When they ask for ever more refined sugar, attempt to pinch their little sisters, scream in response to simple requests form teachers or grandparents, or throwing toy trucks against the wall, they should hear, “No.” Usually followed by an explanation, a discussion of their feelings and possible outcomes, including consequences.
Obviously, I give huge space and allowances for those who are not in a place to self-regulate (aka melting down). We should wait until the biggest feelings have been experienced and settled before we try to talk about them, but the pinnacle of a culture that doesn’t hear, listen to, recognize, respond to, or accept declinations, negative permissions, and consequences is White Dude America. Surely, we don’t want to raise an entire generation of people who resemble White Dude ‘Merica.
Timeouts and similar consequences don’t have to be embarrassing, shameful, or super intense. Sending a child to their room to finish their meltdown doesn’t need to be a horrific jailing in solitary (it’s actually a pretty good sensory solution for an overwhelmed kid). Regulations such as “if X no Y” don’t have to be completely invented and out of place; they can just reinforce the idea “show me that you can handle Y by doing X.” It is okay to have a behavior line in the sand, when “No,” is said, that the consequence becomes immanent. It can still be explored and talked about, but without wishywashy childhood (adorable, cute, funny) tyranny running rampant.
I am not shaming my child when I explain that “people don’t like to play with kids who don’t share.” I am not helping my child ignore his own feelings when I give him a choice between apologizing or exiting the situation. I am not terrorizing my child when I say, “I feel super grouchy when you treated my book like that.” I am creating a human who notices what is happening for others and does not just think of himself. It is important for emotional beings to learn to self-regulate, carry on polite discourse, and understand how to enter a perspective that is not their own.
When we do not require our children to choose between sympathetic displays of perspective-taking and consequences that they do not enjoy, we risk our children not being naturally gifted at empathy and never learning to be good neighbors, friends, and partners. If you have been blessed with an extra sensitive child who rarely stands up for himself and then is so horrified that he hit the kid who stole his doll – bravo! You maybe should be constantly hugging your sweet, tearful moppet after he punches someone.
For the rest of us, they probably need to hear, “NO! You may not hit your sister. You have to take turns. I will help you find something similar, or something to trade. I hear that you want that, but so does your sister and it’s her turn. That’s frustrating, but you may not hit. Hitting hurts, makes us sad and grouchy, and is not ok. I said no. You’re frustrated, let’s take a break. We found a fun book and I asked you to give your sister some space until her turn is done. I said ‘no.’ Hitting is not ok. Time out.” Etc.
And you know what? After a certain concept has already been explained twenty times, I jump straight to “No. No hitting. Not ok. You may tell her that you are sorry for hurting her and give her space or you can have a time out.” And then just, “No hitting. Timeout.” Because I already explained the feelings part, we’ll talk about it again after your timeout and you, kid, can either engage in the learning curve of enacting empathy or you can have a consequence, so that you don’t grow up to be an adult who doesn’t listen or be polite, and steamrolls over everybody like an American White Dude. And, kid, if you lose your shit, that’s understandable, but you can do it in your cozy bed, away form my ears and where you actually stand a chance of de-escalating and re-regulating so that we can discuss this again.
I guess that all I am saying is that my kids’ feelings are important, but not more important than the others’ around them. I will make sure that my kids understand “No,” and consequences and how to contain their own emotions so that they can at least understand if not absorb someone else’s. They may experience their feelings as they wish, but they will not always receive a hug for being aggressive, a glass of water for declining to share, or an understanding hair tousle for dumping soup on the floor on purpose.
I’m going to stick with, “What is my body doing right now? Does my face look happy with that decision?” as I scowl ominously, so that they learn to recognize how others are experiencing feelings before they grow up to be adults who can’t make friends without sexualizing them, who can’t be pleasant and polite with those with whom they disagree, who get repeatedly fired for not following instructions, who offer to have open relationships and then can’t follow boundaries and guidelines, who constantly embody privilege, who have disdain for their neighbors, or who don’t even notice when another person is uncomfortable. Kids should not always be self-centered, even when they’re experiencing big feelings that they need to experience and learn about.
My dear, sweet babies: nobody should be forced to handle “all of you” without consequences, sometimes we need to figure this situation out right now, you may not find endless ways to “get your mad out,” you must learn to listen to permissive boundaries, I don’t think that you should be spared all of my adult feelings, and you will learn to be a person who takes responsibility for your actions.
Let’s find some happy middle-ground between shaming, embarrassing, and negating versus creating selfish, arrogant, adult babies.
This is what I am opposed to: