A former school parent of mine said that there were two places in town where he refused to take his preschool-age sons: the art supply store and the hardware store. He felt that to do so would literally be asking for trouble!
I always admired that father’s wisdom – and the respect he showed for his sons’ development. Was it always convenient for him to put off visiting those stores until he could go unattended? Of course not! But he knew that to expose the boys to all the temptations of those stores would push their self control to the limit, and most likely his, as well! He foresaw their insatiable desire to touch so many inviting items; the appropriate reminders “not to”; the inevitable “touching anyway”; more reminders; more touching; then yelling; then crying…….before long, everyone would be headed out the door in a bad mood and, most likely, empty-handed. Instead, he chose to respect his sons’ developmental needs and tendencies and not put them in a situation that would be doomed to failure..
But don’t children need to learn how to behave? Don’t they need to learn that they can’t touch things, or hit, or throw food on the floor? Of course they do! In fact, one of the greatest needs of the young child is learning how to fit into society…..but one step at a time.
Imagine yourself visiting a foreign country – alone – for the very first time. You don’t understand the language. You aren’t quite sure how to act. You’re totally dependent on those around you to take care of you and show you what to do. What if their way of teaching was to put you in situations you weren’t prepared for and then yelled at you for “not doing it right”?
As parents, our job is fourfold: (1) meeting our child’s needs, especially for love, safety, and security; (2) respecting his developmental stages; (3) modeling appropriate behavior; and (4) establishing authority. When behavior does need to be corrected, the foundation has already been laid.
Adapting to children’s needs may be inconvenient or even downright challenging at times, but it’s only for a short while and the reward is responsible, well-behaved members of society.
As for those young boys mentioned above, they are all grown up and perfectly capable of entering art supply and hardware stores on their own without wreaking havoc.