A few months ago, a colleague of mine shared an exchange she had with the mother of a 3-year-old. The mother was complaining about her child’s behavior at home, claiming the child is a “terror at home and only behaves at school”. When my colleague offered “Discipline IS tough at this age”, the mother replied “Oh…I don’t do that. He’s too little.”… End of conversation. While we shared smiles of chagrin, it occurred to me that this was the first time me I’d heard it of it being said out loud, articulated so simply and honestly: the shift in parenting mindset that has happened over the past few years. Anyone who works with families (likely anyone who interacts with families anytime or anywhere) has noticed the trend. We’ve read about it, seen the blogs and heard the song:
“…So let them be little
‘Cause they’re only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise,
Give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle,
let them sleep in the middle
Oh, just let them be little”
These are incredibly touching and wise words. And it’s true… childhood IS fleeting. We should cherish as much of it as possible.
But when did this beautiful notion give way to a movement that calls for a strike on discipline? When did we decide that letting young children experience frustration or anger or sadness and learn to express these feelings appropriately was a terrible thing? Yes, childhood is a glorious time full of wonder and discovery. But it is also a time for growing, for learning, for taking lessons in as adult selves are being formed. Children require help of varying degrees and forms all along the early years and beyond (don’t we all still need a little help?) and those times when they are struggling to learn the basics of emotions, intent and discipline are THE times to help them. The times when what they want is not acceptable are the times to teach them that what they feel has a word and a validity and they’ll feel it again, so here are some ways (or here we see inappropriate ways) to handle it. The time is not when they are bigger and older and have learned already that they are more powerful than is reasonable. The time is not when they go to school- if we send our children to school, preschool or group care before they have learned to be PART of, not the center of, a group we are sending them unprepared. Teachers do not have magic. They have an obligation to know a number of personalities that requires them to set expectations that allow for each one of them to thrive. If a child can function at school, they can at home as well. And really, that’s what children want. Not to have every whim answered, every tear saved. Children are social little humans. They WANT to know how to contribute positively to their group, no matter how small it is. They want to know everything. That is what discipline is: derived from the Latin word “discipulus” for pupil, it means “to learn”. Discipline is not about compliance or conformity or spirit breaking at all. It’s the way we help our children learn to regulate themselves so they can achieve and receive more now AND in the future. So the time is now, while they are made for learning. Because as the song also says, they are:
“So innonencent, a precious soul
You turn around, it’s time
To let them go.”
So yes, let’s let them be little. Let’s let them make messes sometimes, let them make mistakes, let them be silly, let them explore. Let’s savor the cuddles. And let’s help them learn. While they are little.