Our son is 11 and runs with a large gang of equally active 11- to 12-year-olds in the neighbourhood. While none of them are particularly unruly, it does sometimes happen that their activities end in a complaint from the neighbours (broken glass window, banging into an elderly person, knocking over a younger kid—all inadvertent). I do believe in pulling up my child and making him apologize and making amends for such incidents, but I am struggling to find a way to do this without humiliating him in public. Please help me find the middle path on this one.
When children do something that ‘gives cause for complaint’—something that teachers/neighbours/other parents disapprove of—the situation is often a tense or awkward one. It calls for a fine balance on the part of parents. They have to find a way of responding to the situation appropriately, without overreacting or under-reacting.
Ouch! Does this deserve a public yelling?
However, we are often unable to do this and adopt either of two rather extreme positions. Some parents go in for the “court martial” method. They immediately come down hard on the child, right in front of other people, cross-examine him or her, angrily, give the child a tongue-lashing, and even a slap or two. They then order him, or her, to apologize immediately, also providing the text of the apology: “I am a very bad, thoughtless boy (or, girl), and I should know it is bad to play cricket near glass windows, and I will never do it again”. In this way, we feel we have made the child see, accept and atone for his or her mistake, all in one go.
More importantly (for us), we feel we have demonstrated that we are right-thinking, fair people, and will not hesitate to punish our own kid instantly and effectively if he or she is in the wrong.
What is operating here is our embarrassment at being “caught out” by our child’s behaviour; we fear that people will judge us as “bad” or “irresponsible” parents. So, we shout even louder at our kids than the situation requires!
Some parents take the other route, that of the cover-up. They instantly and firmly deny the “charges”, come up with justifications for the child, or simply dismiss the complaint by saying, “She’s just a child”. They may even take the issue to the adult-to-adult level, mounting an elaborate and loud defence campaign to prove the child is not in the wrong. What is at work here is the parents’ inability to stand any criticism aimed at the child.
Neither option makes for appropriate parenting. When such a situation arises, it is best to first listen quietly to the complaint. You can call your child out and have him or her listen too. After this, you can say: “I need to speak to my child in private, and I will get back to you on this”.
Then you can take up the issue with the child, get to the bottom of the matter, tell your child that his, or her, behaviour has really saddened/angered you, and ask the child to go and apologize or offer to make amends in some way, if required. This is the only way that misbehaviour can be corrected while maintaining your child’s dignity.
Court martials or cover-ups are both uncalled for. They are unrealistic and ineffective parenting behaviour, and will not help build your child’s character or emotional core. Teaching your kids to recognize a mistake, apologize for it, and come up with a sensitive and sensible way to make good any damage/insult caused is a crucial three-step lesson in growing up and growing good.
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