What is a good childhood? Is it one that is happy? For the most part, yes. But happy in terms of being confident about self, rather than happy meaning without any sadness? Parents who cannot stand to see their child feeling sad may do them a disservice by trying to eliminate this feeling prematurely.
If the child is sad because he or she wants a certain toy, or to watch television, and the parent gives in rather than allowing the child to feel sad, then this is creating an unhealthy pattern. The child learns to intensify or extend the sadness until they get what they want. As an adult, this person may feel sad for years awaiting a promotion, a certain special car or special house.
If, on the other hand, parents use opportunities such as the ones above to explain to the young child that it is not always possible to have what we want, when we want it, and model for the child productive strategies to use at such times, healthy coping behaviors are developed. “No you can’t watch T.V. now. I know that you are feeling sad about that, so what can you think of to do instead?” We can explain, in language that they can understand, that they create their own sadness by limiting their options. Many adults are still stuck in this pattern.
The same applies to conflicts with playmates. If we rush in too quickly to come to the child’s defense, or take the issue up with the other parent, we deprive children of a valuable opportunity of learning to communicate to another about the conflict, and find a way to resolve jt. The other extreme is not helpful either – when a child comes to an adult with a problem he or she is experiencing with a playmate or sibling, and is told to go away and stop tattling, this does not teach problem-solving skills. These are complex skills which traditionally have not been taught.
This is why relationships struggle and office politics present continuing problems in adult life. We were never taught that conflict is a natural part of life, nor taught to deal with it in ways that may move past it with trust and respect for one another. Grudges held toward others, whether family or co-workers, are testimony to our rather restricted understandings about human feelings and behavior and our lack of models of positive communication patterns. This is no ones fault, it is simply where we are in our evolutionary development. But we now know there is such a thing as peaceful conflict resolution.
Perhaps our generation is on the leading edge of a new kind of literacy which is more profound in its implications than modern computer literacy. “Communication literacy” may allow children not only to get along with others meaningfully and peacefully, but also to create the inner dialogues which will help them to cope productively with whatever challenges life brings.
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