By Larissa Dann
Here is a challenging idea: the way we think about children, and the assumptions we make about their intentions, will shape our response to them. Ultimately, our presumptions influence our relationships.
When we are upset with our children, we think we are responding to their behaviour. Behaviour is what our children said and how they said it; what our children did and how they did it.
However – are we actually reacting to their behaviour, or what we think their intention is behind the behaviour? Do we have a preconceived notion of what drives children, and could this be impacting upon the way we relate to them?
The way we think about children can affect our relationship with them. Three beliefs that can influence our response to our children include:
Our belief on the nature of children.
If we think that children:
- are naughty by nature,
- deliberately want to press our buttons,
- can’t be trusted,
- always try to ‘win’ over us,
- when given an inch, will take a mile,
- deliberately manipulate us,
…then we will probably react defensively – even aggressively. How can we respond as we might wish, with respect and concern, if we have an underlying view that children cannot be trusted? We have sentenced them as guilty before we have given them a fair hearing, and without looking for their innocence. Sadly, the more we believe this of our children, the more we may act on our beliefs, perhaps punishing them. And the more likely our beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with our children displaying behaviour that ‘proves’ our assumptions. “Oh well, Mum won’t believe me anyway, so it’s pointless trying to tell the truth.”
Our attribution of intent.
When we ‘attribute intent’, we make assumptions about the reasons for our children’s behaviour. There is a saying: “to assume makes an ass out of u and me“.
When we assign a deliberate negative intent (or ‘hostile’ intention) to our children’s behaviour, then we are likely to react to our assumption, rather than the actual reason for our children’s behaviour (see below).
Let’s take the example of Sam, a 6-year-old boy who is playing in the sand pit and does not come into the house when he is called. His mother is annoyed, and tells him he is “ignoring” her. She implies that Sam is “deliberately” and “intentionally” not responding to her request. She may then make assumptions about the reason for him not responding. She might think:
- “He just wants to make me angry”, or
- “He doesn’t like me”, or
- “He just wants to ‘press my buttons'”, or
- “He wants to show me that he’s the boss”, or
- “He hates me”
In all of these presumptions, mum has taken Sam’s actions personally. If mum acts on any of these assumptions, she will probably blame Sam, react defensively, and say or do something that will impact badly on their relationship.
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