Common complaints against children: Give up too easily; get bored quickly; are adamant and stubborn; lack of inner discipline; live in their imaginary world; throw temper tantrum to get what they want; have more power than they deserve; always stay online and play games.
Children deal with their daily challenges in the only way they know best. Emotional maturity develops gradually and, in the interim, depending on the context and situation children display varying emotional reactions. This unpredictability can feel exhausting and challenging to manage. Often it also makes parents feel that their role is being challenged. They expect children to behave in a way that gives them the freedom to parent effectively. Inability to do that is frustrating and leads to questioning the sense of entitlement they display. But it’s just the child’s way to say pay attention to me and what I’m asking for. They aren’t capable of self-reflection so lack the understanding of why their behaviour is being termed wrong.
Several psychological needs must be met for them to grow and develop well. When unmet, children learn to satisfy those by distracting themselves.
Autonomy is the freedom or control over their choices. Age-appropriate freedom to set goals and create boundaries to make choices that aren’t disruptive help them to develop a sense of identity. They feel like the decision-making process rests with them. Open conversation allows their point of view to be valued, provides the space to understand why goals need to be set and what their parents are asking from them. It encourages them to be responsible for their decisions.
Parents believing, they know best often take over and set goals without consultation. They might also feel threatened and use enticement, rewards and punishment to get the desired behaviour. This makes children fight for what they want, and that’s often viewed as rebellion. They don’t know what is okay for them to ask because parents have withheld their capability to make decisions for themselves. This can potentially make them pliant and unable to make decisions or extremely rebellious and reject everything.
Feel competent at something they enjoy. This feeling is transferable to other areas of their life reinforcing the sense of feeling good about themselves. If they experience things differently and for whatever reason feel they’re not doing well, they begin to question themselves, feel they can’t achieve and don’t belong. They stop trying when they strongly believe they’re not going to be able to do it.
A compulsion to choose and do well in sports, physical or extracurricular activity can feel challenging. They might feel unsure and unable to understand if they enjoy it. Simultaneously they can’t say no because parents seem invested in providing them with the opportunity to learn and participate in these structured activities. Structure means there must be an outcome and therefore comes with its pressure and expectation. Children feel bound by them and use distractions to find a way out. Yet fun and enjoyment can pique interest. Acknowledging and promoting it then can gradually develop a sense of commitment towards it.
Relatedness and connection emphasize the basic need to want to be important to others (especially significant caregivers) and vice versa. Free play provides children with the ability to relate to objects and people and feel connected. Through this process, they develop social skills. Isolation, declining interaction with extended family, grandparents and increasing involvement in the online world tends to interfere with learning this skill. When going through difficulty they might be unable to appreciate the parental effort, but they do understand genuine concern and build stronger connections with those who don’t give up on them.
Empathy helps to understand how a person is experiencing their world from their point of view. It allows children to value people, develop trust and patience and make secure connections. Children learn empathy by watching parents’ behaviour and by experiencing empathy for them. When children aren’t able to articulate their feelings, they often resort to attention-seeking behaviour like screaming, being adamant and generally difficult. At this juncture it’s important not to ask, ‘what is wrong with you,’ but rather ‘what is happening’ as these are indirect cues to parents to acknowledge something is not okay with them. Labelling the child because of their behaviour is detrimental. It makes them feel judged, shuts off access to their inner turmoil and feel parents aren’t available to them. Children must be taught to access their feelings. They must know how it feels when they’re hurting. They might hurt when angry, sad or worried and it’s okay to cry.
These are just some of the psychological skills children need to help negotiate their world and parents/caregivers are their biggest supporters in the journey to build these necessary skills.