"We must encourage critical thinking rather than blind obedience."
Some interesting points about child development and issues such as labeling.
No matter how well we perform our role as parents, it's almost impossible to stop children being jealous of their siblings. According to statistics, 90% of older children become jealous when a younger brother or sister arrives. You can look out for signs of jealousy from the start of a pregnancy right through to when the baby is born in order to minimize the impact of such behavior. Jealousy is more frequent in certain situations, such as if the younger sibling is of the same gender. Also, things tend to be a bit more difficult if the older child is between the ages of two and four. It's a good idea to help your child to feel involved in your pregnancy as much as possible. You can do this by encouraging them to be in close contact with the mother, so they can touch her stomach and feel when the baby kicks. They can also be involved in preparing everything for when their little brother or sister arrives. They can help set up their room and join you when you go to buy things the baby will need. It's also very important to give them a central role in the hospital when the baby is born. You're going to meet your son or daughter, but they're about to see their brother or sister for the first time too. This is a critical time for the older child in terms of their emotions. It's normal for them to feel a bit left out. Perhaps the most delicate time is when the baby is no longer just a creature in a crib that doesn't do anything apart from feed, sleep and poop. When it starts to do cute things, like laughing and crawling, and when it starts to show signs of autonomy. That's when the older sibling suddenly starts to think: "Uh oh, this thing is a threat. People think it's really cute, but it's stealing my toys." That's when, sometimes, we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But, you have to make the situation normal.
People (in this case mothers and fathers) react differently to the same set of circumstances. Paternity and maternity are no different, because both people involved in the situation experience it in different ways. So, differences of opinion will start to arise. This makes the whole experience of being a father or a mother richer. If you try to pretend that you're both the same and treat your children in exactly the same way, in the end, they're going to miss out, because the subtle differences in approach that a mother can offer, both as an individual and as a woman, are going to be lost. Or, because they won't get to experience the slightly different ways a father may deal with a situation. Fathers must be involved in raising their children, and this means being present, not just taking part.
The issue of labels is very important. Think of jars of jam in a supermarket. It's easy to stick labels on them, as it's done sequentially by a machine. However, have you ever tried to remove one of those labels? It's almost impossible. You can try to get it off using hot water, alcohol or a scourer, but it's not easy. It's the same with the way we label children and other people. When you create a label for yourself, or if others devise one for you, almost without noticing, you start to behave in the way that's expected of you.
The academic system focuses too heavily on qualifications, exams and tests. Almost no value is placed on effort, despite the fact a child might have been working hard every day of the school year. In the end, whether you use one methodology or another, you still have to sit a test. If your child gets very good grades, you should acknowledge how much effort they've put in over the year, rather than focusing on what their results are. It's a matter of getting them to realize that the grades they got are a consequence of the effort they made. Above all, they should know that you'd still be pleased if their grades hadn't been so good, because you want them to be able to learn and enjoy what they're doing, rather than just get good grades. You should try to convey that you want them to be curious and motivated and that you value their strength and energy.
We all want our children to be obedient. My own children are still small, so, when we're outside, I want them to do what I say. I want them to stop if I tell them to, and I want them to behave in way that makes my life easier. However, when children approach adolescence, things get more difficult because the relationship you have with them changes. Teenagers no longer see their parents as sources of inspiration and guidance and instead start to focus on their peer group more as their frame of reference. If you teach them to be blindly obedient when they're little, they're going to behave in the same way when they're teenagers. So, when the leader of their group of friends says, "Smoke this, it's awesome," they'll do it.
Instead of teaching our children to be blindly obedient, we should be encouraging them to think critically. However, as parents, that's much more difficult to do when they're small because it's time-consuming and inconvenient. You have to exercise restraint, bite your tongue, be patient and stay one step behind. However, if you encourage your child to think critically and not just do things because either you or someone else tells them to, as they grow up, they're going to be better able to distinguish between right and wrong and will not just stand by when they see someone being treated in a demeaning or unfair way. Instead, they'll be able to stop this type of behavior from occurring. Furthermore, they will have the awareness to avoid taking unnecessary risks such as drinking alcohol and driving without observing safety regulations and will also respect their own bodies and make sure others respect them. They can only do this if they value critical thought over blind obedience. Of course, we all have to follow the rules, but only when it comes to things we think are important. Therefore, as parents your job is to make this easy for your kids by only expecting them to be obedient when they really have to be.
Find out more about Alberto Soler
- Alberto Soler is a Psychologist and has a Master's Degree in Clinical and Health Psychology. He is the co-author of the book "Hijos y padres felices" (Happy children and parents) and the author of the vlog "Píldoras de psicología" (Psychology pills), where he offers advice on education and discusses the dangers of teaching children to blindly obey orders rather helping them to learn how to think critically and autonomously.
- How do I discuss sex education with my child?
It's a good idea to deal with it in the following way: 'Never just ignore sexuality'. You can do this when they're very little, from the time they're born, by always trying to answer their questions and resolve their doubts sincerely. You have to explain to them what happens, and you also have to be ready to answer their questions at any time. From the moment they can use language, they're going to start to ask these sorts of questions. However, we tend to focus much more on what we tell them verbally, when what we should be doing, from the time they're very small, is showing them to respect their own bodies. They should know how to respect and look after their bodies, love themselves and be able to set limits as regards what they are allowed to touch and what other people are allowed to touch. They should also be able to decide whether or not to allow evaluations or judgments of their bodies and what they look like, as well as their height, weight and color. These are private issues. When they are still very young, they also have to learn that their skin is a barrier to the world and that only they can decide who can and who can't touch it. If you view respect as a fundamental part of sex education, you'll gradually be able to answer your child's questions. They'll set the pace for these discussions by asking you what they need to know through direct or indirect comments. You should try not to give them more information than they can process and not ignore information that might be important to them.