RESILIENCY -- ACCEPTANCE TO MORAL VIRTUE
month, we looked at how significance -- the messages of worth that are given to
children by the significant people in their lives, is so powerful in creating
Self-Esteem. As parents are able to
take care of their own needs and give to their children the acceptance messages
that they need, their children Self-Esteem tends to grow.
However, parents realize that they cannot always be there to support the
children. That they cannot always
be there to always confirm to the children that they are important, and that the
things that they do are valuable and appropriate. Children not only need to feel loved by the significant
people their lives, but also to feel love for themselves.
From the movie "The Greatest" comes the song about Muhammad
Ali, "The Greatest Love of All" sung first by George Benson and more
recently, by Whitney Houston. In
this song, it said, "the greatest love of all, is to learn to love
yourself." Well-loved toddlers
live this song's message totally!
we enjoy how toddlers seem to love themselves so much, we also notice that some
toddlers are more vulnerable to the negative and positive opinions of others.
In addition, there are some children and some adults who fail to love
themselves. For some of them, it is clear that their low self-esteem comes from
a lack of the positive messages from there are adult caregivers -- a lack of
messages of significance from their significant people. On the other hand, why
do some children and some adults fail to love themselves -- who do not have
self-acceptance, despite being well loved and admired by many other people?
Also, there are those children who clearly love themselves when they are
younger, but lose that love for themselves as they grow up? The critical
question becomes how do toddlers, children, and adults develop the
emotional/psychological resiliency to continue to love themselves (the core
self-acceptance) despite the sometimes esteem-harming negative socialization
that they experience? How can parents armor children to develop Self-Esteem and
to keep that Self-Esteem? Part of
the answer lies in another of the four components of Self-Esteem -- in what
Coopersmith calls moral virtue.
CRICKET AND YOUR SUPEREGO
children grow up, they develop a sense of what is right and wrong.
They develop a group of values... a set of shoulds and should nots...
what a good boy or girl and what a bad boy or girl does... a pattern of
behaviors that is virtuous. This is what makes up their morality, their
conscience, the superego (from Freud), the Jimniny Cricket (from Disney's
Pinocchio!-- following Pinocchio and guiding him) that tells children and adults
whether or not their behavior is appropriate or inappropriate.
This set of values, of course is developed from the guidance of their
parents initially; later, from the influence of other significant adults such as
teachers; eventually, more and more as they move toward adolescence, from their
peers (oh oh!); and continually, from the messages of the society at large --
especially from the media. This is
why little boys and little girls continually ask, "Is that good?
Is that bad?” or "Is he/she a good guy?
Is he/she a bad guy?" Children
from their youngest look to their parents for guidance in the world.
"Should I touch that? Is
it too hot? Will it hurt? Will
he be mad? He/she nice?"
As a consequence, children's morality initially is made up of their
parents’ morality.... and of their parents' frustrations, fears, and, unfortunately, their
parents' hang ups, prejudices, and ignorance. Children need not only to learn the morality of their parents
(hopefully, a positive morality), but also to be able to internalize it in a
accept the morality of their parents and their own. However, the natural process of growing up causes them to
question that morality. This is
healthy if there is a healthy core morality that the child will make adjustments
to as he/she lives life. This,
however, can be dangerous if the core morality is not healthy or is fragile. In
addition to getting the approval of their parents and other adults, children
need to be guided to also be able to give
themselves approval for their decisions and behavior.
In the community of other children, and later, in their future
communities as teenagers and adults, they will not be getting the approval of
their parents (who cannot be normally present). In fact, they may be getting the very clear disapproval of
the others in the community. "That's dumb!" "You did what?"
Their ability to feel good about themselves will be dependent on their
ability to make the decisions that allow them to follow through with what they
feel they should do. In choosing to
do what they feel they should do, they will often feel the disapproval of
others. Their ability to approve of themselves -- to accept
themselves is critical to their Self-Esteem.
IDEAL SELF VS. THE REAL SELF
ideal self vs. the real self are very powerful concepts to help build the sense
of self-acceptance -- to develop the powerful moral virtue that allows children
to maintain their Self-Esteem into and through adulthood.
The ideal self is the composite of all the good things that an individual
wants to be; it is the definition of the person who totally lives up to the
values that he/she holds dear; it is the good...
no, the perfect little boy or
little girl... the perfect person that each person wants to be. The real self, on the other hand, is made up of what each
individual actually does. If the
ideal self says to be kind and giving, and the real self is able to be kind and
giving to a friend, or to a stranger, then Self-Esteem goes up.
The real self has been able to live up to the standards of the ideal
self. However, if the ideal self
says to be kind and giving, and the real self is not kind and does not give...
to he is/her little sister... or, for example, to that homeless man on
the corner, then (no matter what the political perspective, how much theory
about alcoholism and drug abuse one possesses, or how many other ways the
individual gives to charity and even perhaps directly gives to organizations
that support the homeless) there is a mismatch between the real self and ideal
self -- there is tension between the real self and the ideal self. And, with this tension, Self-Esteem tends to go down.
In other words, even as the ideal self seeks to be humane, the real self
is human. Failing to realize and
accept the humanity of the real self causes a loss of Self-Esteem.
these two concepts, there become two directions with which to build your child's
Self-Esteem. First, is to build the
ideal self in a manner that is healthy and productive.
Some individuals' ideal self are...
stupid! Or, even worse,
dangerous. For example, in the
adult world, there are parents who define being a good parent as being the
perfect parent... who define good
parenting as never allowing their children to have stress, or feel
disappointment... who define being good parents as never expressing anger at
their children -- to never raise their voice.
These parents expect themselves to be perfect, and in doing so, deny
their humanity. In denying their
humanity, they create an unrealistic and unattainable ideal self.
And, as the real self fails to live up to perfection, their Self-Esteem
plummets. What kind of ideal self
is unrealistic and dangerous to a child? One
only has to look at how adults express their frustrations at their children.
As they try to over manage their children's behavior, parents guide their
children to define a distorted ideal self. If children acquire ideal selves that says they should be
able to sit still, touch only with their eyes, remember what was said two weeks
ago, not be sensory motor, speak always in a quiet voice, eat their vegetables,
not stare when they are curious, learn to read before they are four, never
spill, love to bathe, be able to suppress their energy, remember to put things
away, be able to anticipate parents' moods, get straight A's, to " know
what I mean!"... their ideal self may not allow them to be fallible
children! (For some children, some of these things are impossible, and you
practically have to tie them down to get them to be still, or force feed them
intravenously to get them eat their vegetables!). They will be in continual
danger of failing the ideal self the parents had given them -- they would be in
continual danger of failing themselves. On
the other hand, if parents can guide their children to define a healthy and
realistic ideal self, then children will be able to fulfill themselves and
develop and keep Self-Esteem. Such
an ideal self would include a child that makes mistakes but continues to strive;
who has energy and passion and develops appropriate boundaries for expressing
them; is sensitive to others but respectful of him/herself; who has a joy for
living and learning; and, although he/she may not eat his/her or vegetables all
the time, takes good care of him/herself with an healthy lifestyle.
In other words, a good person -- not a perfect human being; someone who
accepts his/her her humanity; and, is a good citizen in the community.
to meet the standards of the ideal self requires developing skills and other
traits. This can be conceptualized
in the development of the real self. If
the ideal self is realistic and healthy, then the real self can be developed to
meet its standards. If the ideal
self is supposed to express itself but with understanding and compassion, then
the real self needs to develop healthy communication skills.
The real self would need to learn how to say please and thank you, how to
appropriately use eye contact, adjust the tone of their voices, use or avoid
physical touch as appropriate, and understand personal space as it is culturally
and individually defined. The real self would be trained to recognize differences
between one situation and another situation -- including the cultural demands of
different communities: of the library vs. the grocery store; of the school vs.
the home; of home vs. Grandma or Grandpa's; of a particular ethnic community vs.
another, and adjust their behavior to fit.
The real self may need to learn how to express itself physically in ways
that are effective personally, but are not intrusive to others' needs, and are
there is an ideal self need to be powerful, the real self needs to find a way
for that power to be expressed in a healthy form -- which may be as a leader,
and a builder, or perhaps in martial arts among other ways. If it is accepted
that the real self cannot sit still and needs to be sensory motor, then the
ideal self can be adjusted to say that the individual will take care of these
motor kinesthetic needs in appropriate ways.
Then the real self can be trained to find ways to physically active
appropriately -- gymnastics, dance, soccer, football...or, running around in
circles around the tree! The match
and mismatch between the ideal self and the real self creates crises for
children, but they also create the opportunities for real growth.
Crisis between the Ideal Self and Real Self,
can't do that to my friend!"
you my friend? Yes.
Will you always be my
What do friends do?
are nice to each other.
Will you be there for
I'll be there for you.
Are you a true friend?
What is a true friend?
true friend won't leave you for another.
Are we buddies?
Are we all buddies?
we be all be friends even when we're older?
MIDDLE SCHOOL CRISIS
couple of years ago, my daughter, Trisha faced a crisis regarding her ideal self
and real self. She along with
several other girls had grown up together since Kindergarten.
The girls had always gotten along relatively well.
However, it was now middle school. And
as happens often times in middle school, preadolescent and adolescent dynamics
begin to take place. In this
particular case, several of the girls decided that they were the in crowd -- the
"cool" girls. Many women
remember this time with a great deal of pain when some clique deemed them worthy
or unworthy. In order to have an in
crowd, you also need to have an out crowd -- or, at least a scapegoat. My daughter was not picked to be the scapegoat.
However, one of the other girls, Shelley was picked.
Like Trisha and the majority of the other girls, this girl had grown up
with the others since Kindergarten. Everyone had more or less gotten along with
Shelley even the normal personality conflicts that kids can have.
however it was different. It was a very difficult time for Shelley: the
"cool" girls talked about her, shunned her, and let her know in so
many ways that she was inferior to them- rolling their eyes, a snicker here, a
snide remark there, a snort, a look... Given all the intangibles that make up
one's rank and status, Trisha could have joined in with the in crowd.
She had status as a high achieving academic student, and as an athlete
because she played basketball -- at this school, basketball was a big deal. We
have heard about the clique through the school grapevine.
When we came to school one day, we noticed that Shelley was by herself on
one side of the courtyard while the in crowd girls were on the other side,
happily and smugly feeling superior. We
noticed that our daughter Trisha had not joined the in crowd, but had instead
stayed with Shelley; she was the only girl who had stayed by Shelley.
on as we were driving home, we asked Trisha what was going on.
She replied "Oh, those girls, they think they're so special.
They're being mean to Shelley."
We asked her, why wasn't she hanging out with those special girls -- the
in crowd, the elite clique. I will
always remember the look on her face when she heard this question.
She had a look of surprise on her face and she replied, "I can't do
that to my friend." I was
stunned... Wow! And proud. She
couldn't do that to her friend... She couldn't abandon or betray her friend!!
It was so obvious to her that she shouldn't do that. But, it would have
been so easy to do that to her friend. She
had stopped herself -- something had stopped her from doing that to her friend.
Most of the other girls had done
it to their friend! I told her,
"I'm very proud if you. Not
just for being nice to your friend. But
because you chose to be a friend even though in doing so, you put yourself at
risk to have those girls be mean to you too.
I'm glad you made the right choice.
But I'm even more impressed that you had the courage to make the right
choice. Because, you know, I don't
know that when I was your age if I would have had the courage to stand by my
friend like that and risk being ostracized.
And, you know what else? There
were adults right now, who still don't have the courage to be a friend like
that. You should be very proud of
yourself." A small smile
spread across Trisha's face, and there in the car, it seemed that I saw Trisha
visibly grew larger and more powerful. (Whenever
I remember or recount this story, a lump grows in my throat and my eyes become
misty! I'm getting misty next to my
keyboard right now! Oh my!... Out
of the mouths of children!).
Trisha had said "I can't do that to my friend," she was not responding
to the situation because of her mother or father or some teacher had told her
that this was the right thing to do. Much
more importantly, she had internalized a set of values about what it meant to be
a friend. To do other than stand by
her friend would not have been a rejection of other people's values, but a
betrayal of her own values. Her concern was not that she would seem less worthy
in our eyes, but that she would have seen herself as less than she wished to be.
Her ideal self had said that as a friend, it meant she had to stand by her
friend. Whether or not Shelley was worthy as a friend was not relevant. For
Trisha it was about Trisha -- who she wanted to be.
And, her real self stayed with Shelley even though it meant personal risk
to herself -- a personal risk she could easily avoided by hanging out with the
children and adults have well thought out and secure ideal selves, whether or
not there is anyone else to watch them or to judge them, they hold themselves to
the ideal self. They hold
themselves to act in a manner consistent with the values of the ideal self.
To not do so would be detrimental to their sense of Self-Esteem.
Even as this challenges them, even as this endangers them, their
self-definition still requires them to find a virtuous way to act.
They search for a way that the real self can follow through.
Moral virtue encourages behavior in a person that allows him/her to
accept himself/herself because he/she can behave in a consistent manner.
Moral virtue is what a person carries with them when there's no one
around (especially when the parents are not around) to contend with the
tremendous pressure and influences in the world that would tell them to do other
than what is virtuous. Jimniny
Cricket had reminded Pinocchio to hold fast to his moral virtue when he was
tempted by the immediate promises of Pleasure Island.
IDEAL SELF/REAL SELF -- POWER RANGER VERSION
does the middle school child find the courage to follow their moral virtue
guidelines? When it happens, is
because as younger children, moral virtue was encouraged to develop in a healthy
manner. Many values are presented to a young child to internalize.
Parents are not always conscious of which values are internalized.
Some values are internalized, but are internalized in some distorted
fashion that can be harmful to the child in the long run. Potentially harmful
ideal selves can be developed. For example, as was discussed in last month's
article, some children have an ideal self that says you have to win.
Once an internalized ideal self is developed, it is difficult to change
it. Criticizing it usually creates
resistance, since you're attacking core values -- a core definition of self.
Never attack someone’s ideal self, if you want any chance of being heard!
(How could you be so stupid? Don’t
you have any morals? Why would you want to do that?!) When a parent or an adult
can identify the ideal self in the child, however, then he/she can challenge
that ideal self positively and provocatively. The trick is not to criticize it,
but to challenge it in order to raise it to a higher and more sophisticated
level. This is done by first affirming the most basic motivations of
the ideal self.
example, if your little boy (or girl) wants to be a Power Ranger (Hai
Kick!), and as a result, has been kicking and hitting other children (Hai Yah! Punch!
you might not get as far as you would like if you tell him that he is wrong to
behave like that. Although you are
addressing the behavior, he will experience you telling him to deny a powerful
motivation from his ideal self. However,
if you recognize that the underlying trait that is so appealing in Power Rangers
is their... Power! you can get to
adjusting his behavior through addressing his motivation.
Instead of attacking his desire to feel powerful, you should confirm
this. After all, having power is
always an appropriate goal for any person -- whether a child or an adult -- male
or female. This is why children, especially boys in our society are so
powerfully attracted to toys and games where they can exert or practice power
and control in their lives (or imaginary lives).
The issue is, however, whether or not having this power and exercising
this power is done in a manner that is appropriate and does not cause harm to
other people (that is, is it socially responsible?).
like Power Rangers don't you? Power
Rangers are very powerful. That's
cool. I like the Blue Power Ranger.
Which one do you like? They
are so strong and powerful." It
is important to distinguish the underlying motivation -- the desire to have
power in this case, from the behavior that is expressed.
After affirming the underlying motivation (Power), then you can define
more appropriate behavior that is socially acceptable for expressing this
motivation. "You know Power
Rangers solve a lot of problems. Did
you notice that they always try to solve the problems first by talking?
And, you know something else? The
Power Rangers, when they practice, they are very careful not hurt each other.
They only hurt the bad guys, and only if they have to.
They practice having a lot of control with their fighting."
setting a boundary about not hurting each other works just fine.
Other times, however, it doesn't work effectively by itself (note -- this
is not to ignore the importance of clear, firm, logical, and strict boundary
setting in discipline). When
setting boundaries about not hurting each other does not work, the next thing we
usually try is to be stricter -- set tighter boundaries and more extreme
consequences. Unfortunately, strict boundaries and aversive consequences often
don't work. It may not work because
it does not address the very compelling underlying motivation -- the desire to
be powerful. Or, it may work to stop the behavior, and leave the child feeling
impotent -- with a sense of powerlessness; and/or give the child the message
that having power is inappropriate. The boundary of not to play fight may, in
fact, deny the child his/her need to experience and experiment with issues
around power and control. By
accepting the ideal self (the desire to be powerful) but redefining it (to power
with control and responsibility and
boundaries), adults open the possibility of getting the real self to behave in a
more appropriate manner (playing Power Rangers without hurting each other).
"You can play Power Rangers, as long as you don't hurt each other.
Here, you can use these pillows to be the bad guys.
You can hit and kick them. But
you can't hit and kick each other. If you can't play Power Rangers without
hurting each other, then you cannot play it." If after this, the child is
still unable to play Power Rangers without hurting other people, the parent can
be clear and confident in following through with whatever appropriate
consequences that have been set. The learning about the ideal self, and the real
self has been presented and followed through with from the parents’ side.
later chapters, we can discuss additional issues around setting boundaries and
consequences (including the differences between consequences, punishment,
rewards, and positive and negative reinforcement) along with a discussion around
the Four Theories of Timeout.
the Ideal Self vs. the Real Self,
going to let them play you like that?"
Forget school!! Stupid
teachers…stupid principal… stupid deans… They've never respected me, so to
heck with them. Just when I'm
starting to do better in school… just when…
Well, never mind, I'm not going to hang around for them to kick around. Always on my case…always criticizing me…always making me
wrong. They say they're trying to
help me. Well, maybe some of them,
but most of them… stupid teachers!! They're
messing up all the time. I don't
hear them on each others' cases. Adults
stick together even if they're all wrong. I'm
not sticking around for more mess. Stupid
adults! Forget them.
I'm outta here!!
ahead to adolescents, I would like to give you another real-life example of the
ideal self vs. the real self as a way to work with children.
Although the focus of most of these articles will be around younger
children, there are many issues that parents get away with young children that
they cannot get away with teenagers. In
other words, you can get away with a pattern of mistakes when children are
younger, but when they become older, you will
pay the price! Many of the great
difficulties of raising adolescents can be precluded with effective parenting
with the children are younger. Some
discipline approaches that seems to "effective" with young children
have harmful consequences that do not appear until they become teenagers. For example, it is often "effective" to over
control and dominate a child when they are younger. You can disrespect their
needs and force young children to do what you want them to do. However, when
they become teenagers, the over control and domination becomes more and more
intolerable, and they can become oppositional and defiant.
In other words, sweet little kids don't suddenly and inexplicably turned
into monstrous teenagers! Sometimes, difficult teenagers are a consequence of
problematic earlier parenting. Understanding this, can lead both to more
effective discipline when they are younger that is respectful of issues of
control and power, and also to effective interventions even when there has been
a history of (usually inadvertent) disrespectful and disempowering actions that
has created a difficult teenager.
was a very talented therapist that I supervised that worked with a teenage boy
who had a fairly negative history in the school. He had been on the verge of being kicked out of school
several times. His parents, to be
honest, were alternately worried about him and being sick and tired of him.
He had been placed in Special Education as well. His Self-Esteem was not
very strong. Fortunately, because
of the support he had gotten from certain caring adults including the therapist,
he was beginning to feel better about himself, and to look forward to do better
academically and career-wise. However,
as often is the case, he still got into trouble at school sometimes.
After one particular incident, the school was on the verge again of
kicking him out of school altogether. He
felt that it was very unfair -- he was outraged!
As often happens, he was ready to quit. He felt disrespected; he didn't
like being told what to do -- he especially didn't like being threatened.
He was ready to say to heck with all of it, and to slam the door on high
school. The standard approach would
be to encourage him to stay in school, to accept responsibility for his
behavior, and try to work things out with school.
The standard approach would not have
worked. He was too upset. He had
been through all this all too many times. They were attacking this sense of
Self-Esteem again. They were
jerking him around!
were the underlying issues that could be used to help him make a better choice?
Adolescents, like adult, have a lot of issues about power and respect.
He felt that he was being disrespected by the school.
He also felt that all he could do to assert his power was to leave -- and
to leave in as loud and angry a way as possible.
These two underlying motivations were the keys to working with him:
respect and power and control. As he complained about the school, and said that
he was ready to forget it, using some principles that we had discussed in
supervision, the therapist challenged him.
She challenged his self-respect; she challenged his sense of power and
control. She activated his ideal self by challenging his need for respect and
accused him, "You're goin’ to let them play you like that?
You're goin’ to let them win? That's
not too smart. You get mad, walk
out that door -- no matter how loud you leave -- no matter how much noise you
make while you go, remember... after that, you're on the outside and your
education was left behind. You quit
-- they win! Those school officials
win because now they got rid of you. They
already have their education -- they already went to college-- they already have
a career. You won't have nuthin'.
They would have won -- they would have suckered you into losing your
education -- into losing your future. And you think you're so sharp!?
You goin’ to let them do that to you?
You goin’ to let them manipulate you!
Or, are you smarter than that? Who's
in control here?" With this,
the young man got very upset, but upset in different way.
His eyes got big, his nostrils flared, he set his jaw... he practically
jumped out of his chair! "No way! No
way! Ain't no way, they're going to
make me give up my education! I'll
show them! I'm
going to graduate! Ain't nobody
goin’ to keep me from graduating!!"
want to acknowledge that using the idea of "them" can be somewhat
controversial. This seems to
confirm his negativity toward adults, or to agree that adults, specifically
school officials were against him. In
his existential experience, however, they had been against him.
By using " them" as a reference point that he understood, the
therapist was able to get into his reality -- his sense of what was happening in
the world to him. From that empathetic connection, he opened to consider what
she had to say. At that time, her
clinical judgment (and I concur) was that it was necessary in order to be heard.
If she had taken the standard line (that he was responsible, and that the
school officials would be reasonable and had his best interest in mind), he
would have dismissed her like he had been dismissing all the other adults.
The result of that would have been him quitting school and losing his
education. She was willing to take
a chance in order to save his future. If
this failed, it would have made no difference -- to therapist referring to
adults to as " them" would not have made him anymore or less
suspicious of school officials. By
violating this unspoken rule -- that all adults are supposed to back each other
up no matter what, she was able to get him to stay in school, and eventually, to
develop a greater trust in adults. To
be quite honest, I feel that breaking such a rule in order to have a chance at
saving a person's potential- to help this young man have a possibility of a
future is not a hard choice.
that he accepted the redefinition of his ideal self -- that his ideal self could
continue to demand respect and power, but would get it from staying in school
rather than leaving school, the therapist was able to ask him what he was
willing to do to make it happen. In
other words, what was he willing to do in order to stay in school.
Since he wanted to graduate (that graduating served his ideal
self-definition), he became receptive to working things out so that he could
stay in school. While he still
resented certain limits that were placed on him, these limits which he used to
consider as controlling became less important to him.
It was more important to him to control his life so that he could
graduate from high school. Where
before any feedback on his inappropriate behaviors was perceived as an attack on
his ideal self, now he was willing to get feedback on more successful ways to
achieve the new ideal self that would not be controlled or manipulated. Now he was willing to adjust his real self behavior so that
he could fulfill his ideal self goals. There was much more to this process than
can be discussed here, but this is a real success story. As he adjusted his real
self behavior, he became more and more successful academically and socially.
His grades and Self-Esteem continued to grow.
Then, as his Self-Esteem grew, he was able to take more and more
responsibility for his behavior -- even to the point that he could be critical
of his "immature behavior" when he was younger (all of a half a year
ago!). Two springs ago, he
graduated from high school! He is
now in a community college continuing his education.
So, who won? Everyone did!
Caring adults were able to help a young man succeed.
And, a young man was able to get his real self to live up to a more
sophisticated and healthy ideal self. And,
hopefully, he will carry his ideal self with him through the rest of his life
and he faces more challenges.
therapist in this situation seized upon a great opportunity and made a
difference in this young man's life. These
opportunities occur all during a child's life.
It is up to adults to recognize them and take advantage of them.
Moments for a Positive Ideal Self
and Real Self,
My Teddy. NO!
Mine. My Teddy.
Don't touch. You can't touch. Mine.
NO! My Teddy. Get your own
My Teddy. My Teddy.
Mine. Uh uh. NO!
don't like you no more! No more!
Go home! My Teddy.
often speak about what are called " teachable moments." These are the
moments in children's lives where the circumstances are such, that children
become open to learning about themselves,
others, and about the world in general. Their
natural curiosity, their desire to solve problems, their need for stimulation,
and sometimes, their anxiety, their needs, and even their fears are so powerful
at these points, that they open themselves to instruction and input from their
significant adults. The teenager I
discussed in the previous column that was on the verge of being kicked out of
school was in a teachable moment. Teachable moments occur naturally in
children's exploration of and involvement in the world. Adults who are vigilant
and look for these opportunities (including seeing opportunities in moments of
intense stress), can have tremendous influence on a child development.
teachers and effective parents can also facilitate teachable moments by
introducing new things into their lives; by introducing children to new
experiences, or, simply, by being excited themselves. Adults, however, need to take care that during the teachable
moments that the children learn things that appropriate.
As opposed to learning things that are positive, adults may inadvertently
facilitate learning that may be negative, or that only serve children in the
short-term but not the long-term. Or,
serve short-term adult needs for order and management, but inadvertently teach
children principles that may be harmful for them in their lives.
GUEST... A SPECIAL TEDDY
this scenario. Your child has a
friend over to play. Your child and
the friend are both very excited. Everything
is going well... Until the friend
wants to play with your child's special teddy.
Your child doesn't want to let his/her friend play with the teddy.
Both of them are getting upset. This
is the teachable moment -- your child is very emotionally invested in this
moment, and will be receptive to your input (which, by the way, does not mean
that they will like your input or agree with what you have to say!).
You might say, as many parents have said, "You need to share your
teddy. You invited your friend, and
this means your friend gets to play with your toys.
Don't be selfish." What
have you taught? What has your
child learned? Your child has
learned a concrete rule about social
etiquette-- that the guest should have certain privileges, and the host should
have certain responsibilities. That
the guest gets to play with your toys; and the host has to... has to...
suffer!... I mean, to give it up! You have defined the ideal self with specific
real self behavior. But to follow
the ideal self values, does your child have to perform this particular real self
behavior? You might add, "Be a
good friend. That's a good
boy/girl." Now you have
defined the ideal self (a good friend) as someone who shares his or her toys.
And, because your child does not want to share his/her teddy, they cannot be
good. Unfortunately, you may have inadvertently forced your child to conclude
that he/she is a bad boy/girl! And, you may have also ignored and/or also taught
your child to ignore his/her own personal needs -- in this case, his/her need to
have something that is personal and sacred for him/herself only.
In the extreme, this can lead to self sacrificing behavior that does not
take care of one's own needs -- at all; in the adult world, in the extreme this
could be called co-dependence.
parent can still promote the same type of behavior (regarding social etiquette
regarding the guest), but can use this teachable moment to also build the ideal
self. The parent might say, first
acknowledging their child's need to have something special and private,
"That is your special teddy. I
know that it is special for you. It's
hard for you to share it with your friend." In the previous response, the child's needs were ignored.
In fact, if the child had tried to assert his/her feelings, by saying
"But it's my teddy!” it would not have been surprising for the adult to
say, "Don't be so selfish!” This
denies the child his/her feelings, and makes it so that when he/she tries to
assert his/her feelings and needs, he/she must accept a negative label. It
becomes impossible for the child to achieve the ideal self standards.
Not surprisingly, children often react to this sullenly, "But I
don't want to!" Parents attack
began, " Don't be so stubborn!” and the ideal self is denigrated again.
the other hand, the parent might say "I know it is hard for you share your
teddy with your friend. It's hard
to share when is something so special that you want it for yourself.
I know you want your friend to have fun.
I know you want to be nice. You
like being nice, don't you? If you
want to be a good friend, then sharing your teddy would be a good idea.
Can you share it with your friend? That
would be so nice." It is clear
from this that the parent still wants the child to share the toy.
The difference is that having to share is not presented as an absolute
rule. Instead, is presented as
behavior (that the real self might do) that reflects an ideal self of a friend
who wishes to be nice to their friends. This
makes it possible to not share the teddy, and still consider oneself a nice
person. The previous, more rigid approach precluded this possibility.
IDEAL SELF IS NICE --
THE REAL SELF SHARES TEDDY...
is important to note that in this particular scenario, I do not necessarily feel
that a child should be forced to share his/her special toy with his/her friend.
You can be a good friend, a good citizen, and a socially responsible
individual in the community, and have some things that are private and personal
that are not to be shared with others. This
definition of the ideal self includes an ideal self who also takes care of
itself -- that being sensitive and responsible to others can and should balance
with self-love and self-care. If at
this point, the child can share his/her teddy, then great.
If on the other hand, the child is not able to share his/her teddy
readily, perhaps the real self can be guided to find a way where he/she can
share the teddy. For example, if
the friend shares his/her own special toy with your child, perhaps your child
can share his/her special teddy with his/her friend; or that they play a game
together with the teddy; or, the friend can play with it for a limited time; or
the child possibly be given a special treat or privilege in exchange for his/her
sacrifice. If your child at this
point is still unable to share his/her special teddy, don't force him/her to
allow an intrusion into his/her special relationship with the teddy. If
you stop here (your child has refused to share), since the real self has not
shared, then it is implied that the ideal self cannot be honored -- hence your
child must be a bad boy/girl. To
avoid this and to develop the ideal self and real self in healthy ways, the
parent may ask, "Since you can't share your teddy with your friend, and I
know you still want to be a good friend, what can you do for him/her that would
be nice? Is there something else really special that he/she can play
with that is okay for you?" This
allows the child his/her feelings, encourages them to have and develop a healthy
ideal self, and trains the real self in developing positive pro-social
behavior-- behavior that does not have to be rigid.
This approach also encourages your child to be creative in finding the
real self behavior that is positive.
as the adult, you may be required to provide suggestions (and, perhaps some
boundaries too). With all this, you
may still end up forcing the issue if your child is absolutely unreasonable.
While this may sound contradictory, you must remember that striving for
the development of the healthy ideal self never means allowing a toxic real self
to operate. For example, if after
inviting a friend over to play, your child refuses to that him/her play with any
of the toys-- that should not be allowed. The short term selfishness in the real
self may get the child all the toys to play with. It can become internalized in
the ideal self. However, such behavior if it continues in the child's life will
result in social sanctions against him/her. For the long-term, it is against the
child's best interest to be allowed to assert truly unreasonable and negative
behavior. Finding a balance between
selfishness and selflessness is the key -- a difficult key.
the differences between the ideal self and the real self offers tremendous
guidance into working with people of all ages.
I have been able to use it in positive ways with young children,
teenagers (even oppositional and defiant adolescents), parents, couples,
families, schools, organizations, and businesses, including supervisors and
supervisees, bosses and employees. These
articles, themselves are also presenting ideal self and real self issues as we
examine how to raise young children.
and moral virtue were two of the four components of Self-Esteem described by
Coopersmith. Last month's and this month's articles were devoted to these two
components. Your children feel loved and valued by you and the other significant
adults in their lives, and you are consciously and actively supporting the
development of their internalized values that will make up the moral virtue that
would guide them throughout the rest of their lives.
However, there is still more to developing self-esteem in your children (by now, you
may have figured out that there is always more!). Next, we will begin discussing the third component of
Self-Esteem as described by Coopersmith- power and control, which we have begun
to allude to.
and Control- the Struggle, Power Crazy Kids?
A scream rips through the house. It's coming from the living room.
"No! Stop it!"
What is it now? "Ahhhhh! Stop hitting me!" You
come out of the kitchen. It's
Volume 54 No. 12... in the ongoing
serial saga, "The Battle of the TV Remote Control," the epic struggle
continues. "It's my turn! You
chose last time. I hate you!
Mommy! Make her stop!" “Make him
stop!” What do I do?
Who is right? Who is wrong? Who
cares? (Not me!) They act like Rug
Rats vs. Bugs Bunny is a life and death choice! If I let him have the remote
control, she feels betrayed and gets sullen.
If I let her have the remote control, he will say he doesn't want to be
my kid anymore and throw a tantrum. If
I turn off the television, they both hate me!
Is he right? Is she right? Am
I going crazy? Are these the joys of parenthood!? Ahhhhh! I think King Solomon would
have cut the dang remote control in half!
much as children feel loved by the significant adults in their lives and as much
they hold themselves to behavior that the ideal self has designated as being
moral, their Self-Esteem still requires for them to have a real sense of power
and control in their lives. Often
times, adults or teacher consult with me about discipline problems. Intuitively
the adults realize that there are power and control issues at play. However,
upon closer examination, it often becomes evident that the discipline problems
are more management problems adults
have with children's attempts to get power and control.
Management problems are situations where a child's or children's behavior
is outside of the control of the adults (which, like it or not is a lot more of
the time then you think) and affects the environment in a way that is disruptive physically
or emotionally to the adults or other children (in other words, they make you
nuts!). Oftentimes, a child is
actively seeking more power and control in his/her life and, unfortunately, does
it in a manner that is disruptive to adults.
Sometimes it is disruptive to the adult because the adult him/herself has
issues with power and control. (And
now this little character is messing with my power and control -- who does
he/she think he/she is? I thought at least with my own kids, I could be the
children supposed to seek power and control in their lives?
Of course they are! The
desire to have power control is a lifelong venture.
A better education, a good job, better income -- these are all things
most adults struggle for throughout their lives.
And as they are successful in gaining these things, people are to able to
have greater power and control in their lives -- gaining the lifestyle they
desire, a nicer house, a better neighborhood, the quality of schools for the
children, and so forth. Even the
struggle for the nonmaterial benefits in life -- serenity, fulfillment,
security, a sense of purpose, or spirituality can be seen as gaining power and
control in your life, but power and control in your emotional and psychological
life. In other words, as children
push for power and control in their lives at home, on the playground, at
school... at the grocery store and
at the... oh no, Toys "R" Us!, they are developing the skills for
their lifelong adult struggle for power and control.
The key here for children and also for adults is whether or not in their
struggle for power and control, they do it in the way that is socially
responsible. In other words, are
other people harmed? Are other
people's rights ignored? Are other
people respected? Do other people
lose their power and control as they assert theirs? Are you making me crazy!? Do
you eat out where you want all the time while your partner does not get to
satisfy their culinary desires? Do
you get a promotion while your colleagues get stiffed?
Do you get to keep playing with the truck while your little brother
gets... to cry in the corner? Do
you honor or betray your ideal self in gaining power and control?
TYRANTS TO PETTY TYRANTS/BOSSES TO......?
need to take care of your power and control issues is so compelling that many
people will develop an ideal self that places power and control as an absolute
first priority.... no matter what the cost.
A cultural attitude that promotes gathering power and control can develop
that taking care of No. 1 at the expense of others is acceptable -- even
desirable. In fact, being particularly vicious and cold hearted becomes
something to be admired and celebrated... "Ooooooh...that was cold!"
As the bad guy who falls into the pond of piranhas and is eaten alive,
James Bond, Agent 007 smirks suavely and says, "Bon Appetite." A
theater full of spectators laughs with admiration. A linebacker makes a
tremendous hit on a receiver crossing the middle, and as the player lies
unconscious on the turf, he stands over him and taunts him, "This is my
house, boy! Don't you think you can
come into my house!" 70,000 people in the stadium cheer, millions more
watching on TV go "Oooooh!” and the linebacker gathers additional All-Pro
votes. Heather Locklear on "Melrose Place" (or Joan Collins on
"Dynasty", or Betty Davis) is deliciously vicious, cruel, and
vindictive.... and celebrated for
years with high ratings. Mike Tyson, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and innumerable
politicians keep us fascinated, at least in part, because of the power
(physical, financial, or political) they seem to have.
And, adults wonder how kids can be so power crazy -- so cruel, and are so
attracted to violent shows and video games!
people how to "swim with sharks" encourages being the most
intimidating and voracious predator with amoral and sociopathic principles.
People begin perceiving the world as being split between winners and
losers-- with the implicit and sometimes overt message that losers are just
getting what they deserve. And,
being the winner is getting what I deserve because I grabbed it first!
Or, have it now! Or, can intimidate you into letting me keep it!
Or, can violently keep it mine! Many
people feel this way whether it is a toy, a parking space, or land or
property.... Whether it was fairly
gained or violently seized... Whether
it was a recent acquisition or a historical, colonial, or imperialist conquest.
This becomes codified in the sayings prevalent in our society: "Possession
is nine tenths of the law." "The
golden rule -- he who makes the rules, gets to have the gold."
"Might make right." "That was then, this is now!" The
parents' version of these slogans become "Because!", " Because
I'm the mommy/daddy!", "...or else!", "Because I said
so!" The children's versions
of the slogans become "Mine!” "I don't care!” and especially,
TRAINING BECOMES A STRUGGLE FOR POWER AND CONTROL
and control is such a fundamental issue with children and adults that people do
seemingly unreasonable and even outrageous things to gain it -- even to gain the illusion of it. Some
of you may have experienced this when toilet training your children.
For those of you who have not toilet trained your children yet, play
close attention! For those of you
who have been through this, you may be able to gain a clarity of principles that
will help in future (there will be versions of these conflicts throughout
childhood and adolescence). Sometimes infants and babies experience being over
controlled by their parents. Parents decide what they wear, what they eat, what
time to get up, what time to go to sleep, who they can play with, what they can
play with, what they can do with their bodies, and sometimes even what they are
supposed to feel and think. Well-intended
parents may "reason" with their child and continually force them to do
things that inadvertently cause them to lose their sense of power and control.
In other words, parents continue to work on them until they wear them down
enough so that the kids finally just give up....
give up just to get away from the hounding. "Just this time"
becomes virtually all the time. Having
lost control to the parent, children will seek ways to get a sense of control
back. How they do this varies from
child to child and depends on many things including developmental stage and
temperament. Toddlers may assert control and power over the last thing that they
have -- the only thing that parents cannot manipulate or control, their pee and
You made need wear that yucky
shirt. I don' like little hearts anymore -- I like ponies, not hearts!
I like peas. I like carrots. I hate broccoli! You
made me eat that nasty stuff!
I didn't want to get
up -- I was still sleepy. What's an
appointment? All I know is that
it's something that makes me wake-up when I don' want to.
I don' want to nap! I don'
want to nap! I hate naps! I want to play! Grrrrr!
I'm not tired -- you'd be grumpy too if someone tried to make you nap
when you didn't want to!
I don' want to play
with yucky Johnny. I don' like
yucky Johnny! I don't care that
yucky Johnny's mother is your friend. I
don't like yucky Johnny!
This is fun. Hitting the
bowl with a fork makes a neat sound. Whatcha'
mean? Don't play with the fork?
It's fun! Hey... Give it back!
Mmmm, that feels good.... Mmmm,
real good! Mmmm! Mmmm! What? Mmmm!
Don't touch? Why not? Mmmm...
Because what? What's nasty?
Auntie Judy smells
funny. And, she pinches my cheeks
and gives yucky kisses! And she
gave me that yucky shirt with the hearts... I'm supposed to feel grateful?
That's yucky... she's yucky!
Yucky yucky yucky! I'm wrong
to feel that way? That's what you
meant? That's what you want?
I knew what you wanted!? I
knew what you meant!? You know what
I was thinking!? I was thinking
what!? I was trying to get away with what!?
Sheesh!! Can't I do
anything!? Can't I even feel what I
feel... or think what I think!?
That's it!! You make me
do all that... you tell me what I feel and think... that's it!
There's only two things left I have control over -- only two things you
can't take away... can't control. It's
my pee! It's my poop!
You can't have it when you want it!
You can't make me put it were you want it!
It's mine! It's
mainstream American society, toilet training is usually begun somewhere around 2
1/2 to 2 3/4 years of age. Successful
toilet training is usually accomplished somewhere around 2 3/4 to 3 years old or
slightly older. This varies a great
deal from family to family and from culture to culture within mainstream
American society and cross-culturally in non-mainstream American societies and
non-American communities. Generally
speaking, this is the age range when children are now physically able to control
their bowels and bladder; language skills have developed enough so that they are
able to both understand communication from the parents and to communicate back
to the parents; cognitive abilities have developed to the point that they can
understand the process and the need; and, social development that supports the
process has occurred (social situations where toilet training is required have
become desirable -- such as preschool). Children
who were toilet trained earlier than these ages, may be developmentally
precocious; or, (more likely) are physically highly regular as to when they have
bowel movements and urinate; or, (even more likely) they have exceptionally well
trained parents! Sometimes,
exceptionally well trained parents can be counted on to anticipate toileting
needs and put their child on the toilet quickly and effectively enough so that
it seems that the child is actually trained.
In those situations is arguable about who actually has been trained!
In my experiences working with young children and parents, when toilet
training prior to two and a half has been "successful", it is often
the result of extreme vigilance and very hard work; in other words, the
vigilance and hard work is compensating for the child being marginally
developmentally ready to be toilet trained.
An important question here is-- Is
it worth it? For some parents it
is, and for many others it is not. The
other important question is-- Is it worth it for the children?
Or, is it stressful or even harmful to the children?
THE CHALLENGER IS.... AN ITTY BITTY
the other hand, when a child's toilet training is not completed successfully
(allowing for occasional accidents) by about three to three and a half years of
age, it is often because there are major power and control issues between
parents and children. By not doing
the only thing that cannot be physically forced upon or from him/her, the child
asserts control and power. Since
he/her cannot control the other parts of his/her life, at least, this can be the
one thing that can be controlled. And,
in controlling this, the child can get some power and control at least by
aggravating the parents! "Maybe
I can't get candy. Maybe I can't get out of the playpen.
Maybe I won't get the La La talking TeleTubby. But, I can make Mom crazy!
I can. I can make Dad's veins pop out! I
can.... and his eyes bug out! I
can. I can make the whole family
wait...and wait...and wait -- I can... I am... powerful!
I am the boss! I win!" The
"winning" comes, unfortunately, with major negative consequences:
implicit and overt negativity from the parents that affect children's
self-esteem, frustrated and increasingly intolerant parents, and many practical
implications that affects their social growth.
can parents do? Parents must first acknowledge their own issues with power
and control. Imagine your itty
bitty little kid in boxing shorts with humongous boxing gloves squared off
against you the parent also in boxing gloves. A power struggle? How silly! And
worse yet, you're losing! You're in
a power struggle with a runt, and you are losing!
Ridiculous! If adults find
that their interactions with children become power struggles, then something is
fundamentally wrong for the adults because of their own issues with power and
control in their lives. Unresolved
issues with power control can contaminate the parents' perspective of their
children's developmentally appropriate
struggles for power and control. Remember, it is said that there's nothing
like becoming a parent to bring up all the emotional and psychological garbage
that you had thought you had already taken care of! And, to bring it up with an intensity that had never been
experienced before! However, while it is developmentally appropriate for your
child to struggle for power and control, it is not
developmentally appropriate for mature adults to have power struggles with
children. Who said we had to be mature to have babies!?
Physically mature -- sure; emotionally and psychologically mature too!?
Oh my! I used to ask my community college child development class to come
up with a list of 10 requirements to become a parent.
The students, aged 20 to 60, most with children and some with
grandchildren came up with some excellent requirements.
However, when I asked the class if they as individuals had fulfilled
these requirements before they had become parents, very few said that they had
been "qualified". As a
consequence, most of them and most of us learn to parent on the run -- an on the
job training process where we help our children deal with their issues including
their power and control issues while we are still dealing with our own power and
control issues. If you can accept
this (actually it doesn't matter whether or not you accept this -- it is still
reality!), you can take responsibility for it and parent more effectively.
children are supposed to seek power and control.
Does that mean we're not supposed to discipline them?
What if they are abusive? What
if they are doing dangerous things? Power
without sensitivity... control without responsibility is dangerous politically,
socially, within the family, and for individuals. You want to raise a child with Self-Esteem -- that includes a
sense of power and control, but you don't want to raise a tyrant. Setting
boundaries around power and control becomes critical.