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Why do we shove our “shoulds” at our children?

At my daughter’s preschool this week, there was a little boy upset at drop-off, and crying because his dad was leaving.  One of the teachers was comforting him and his dad left, but on the way out he said, “shouldn’t he be over that by now?”

Yes, we’re nearing the end of the school year.   The child in question just turned four.  So should he be over it?

Separation anxiety comes and goes in these situations.  Even kids who don’t experience any separation anxiety at the beginning of school sometimes have a hard time later in the year, especially after a break.  The teachers at our school tell parents this fact often.  I’m sure this dad knows.  But the “should” still slips out.

Why are we so concerned with should?

I think it all boils down to embarrassment and fear.  We as parents get embarrassed by our children’s behavior, or overwhelmed by their behavior or emotions ourselves.    But why?  Why do we feel that we can’t support our kids big emotions?  Possibly because most of us were taught as children that our big emotions were not okay, and were meant to be shut down, sucked in, and punished out of us.

But for those of us who choose to do things differently with our own children, or send them to preschools like ours where they do things differently and actually learn about social and emotional skills, it can be a hard thing to un-learn.  So while even though we know we should be supporting our kids big emotions, it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact that they “should” be over it.

What does fear have to do with it?

We are so afraid that if we let our children have their big emotions, that they will never be able to deal with them, or control them.  When in fact, the opposite is true.  It is by dealing with their big emotions as children, with empathy and understanding, that they will learn to be emotionally intelligent adults.  This push-down of developmentally inappropriate expectations is so prevalent in our society, and people don’t even notice or think twice.  Just because kids will have to do something when they are older is not a reason to start now.  Again, the opposite is often true.  If we push skills they aren’t ready for in the place of what should actually be developing, we’re actually stunting their growth.

And then there’s shame

“Why would you do that?  You should know better!”  I hear it often, adults thinking that if they tell the child himself that he “should” know better or do better that it will somehow help it be true.  But this is no more than hoping shame will improve behavior.  And no one learns best through shame. This is the worst form of the “should,” in my opinion.

Learning from the teachers

The teachers in my daughter’s preschool handle these big emotions so well.  They give the kids space for their feelings, don’t patronize, stay calm, and help the kids work through their feelings and the situation.   I feel lucky to be learning from such talented people that truly like and respect my children.  Educating ourselves as parents about what is developmentally appropriate is a great step. I’m far from perfect, but work at it every day.

 

One thought on “Why do we shove our “shoulds” at our children?”

  1. I’m also far from perfect in accepting my children’s emotions and behaviors. I always try to do better each day. This was a good reminder to me today that my children are always doing their best, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

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