COMPETENCE- WHO'S OKAY? WHO'S NOT
Mommy! Daddy! Hold me, hug me... Mmmm...
Mmmm... still hurts... scared... scared...Owww!
I'm okay!? Did you really
say, "You're okay" to me just right now?"
Look at my face!
Owww! Ahhhhh! Don't tell me
that red mark is no big deal! Hurts... hurts bad! Look at that wet stuff --
those are tears. Owww! Ahhhhh! Are
you stupid or something? You are the grown up -- I'm the kid. Can't you tell how I feel? I'm okay!? I'm okay.... No
way I'm okay! Don't tell me I can't... Ahhhhh!... be me. Don't deny me what's real to me. Owww! Ahhhhh! Owww!
last few months we had been discussing self-esteem using the concepts from
Coopersmith. Self-esteem is made up of four parts: first, significance --
the messages of worth and caring from the people significant in the person's
life; second, moral virtue -- the internalized values that a person acquires and
how well he/she lives up to them; third, power and control -- the degree to
which an individual has choice and influence over his/her life; and fourth,
competence -- the subject of this month's article. A child in order to have self-esteem that is powerful and
stable also needs to have a sense of competence.
intuitively understand that children want to do things well.
How often have we watched children struggle to make something work? They frown, grit their teeth, and grunt. But if we
ask if we can help or reach in to show them where that puzzle piece goes, often
they pull away and snap, "No, self!"
And, when your child is disappointed, we want so badly -- need so badly
to reassure them. The frustration
seems to be so painful, that we feel obligated to make it go away. So we
reassure them, "It's okay honey. You
can do that next time." Or,
"But you are very good at the other puzzles."
Another time when you ask what is the matter, he/she replies, "I
wanted to be the line leader for recess. But
they chose Johnny instead.” Almost immediately, you might say, "That's
okay." While definitely well
intended, this type of comment misses the mark in a couple ways.
"that's okay" inadvertently devalues the pain that the child is going
through. It implies that he/she shouldn't be upset -- that they should
be able to set it all aside quickly, and just be okay. This fundamentally disrespects him/her. Many times parents say, "that's okay" because they
want their children to be okay. A
father was sitting on the floor with his son who was about seven months old.
The little boy was prone to tipping over still. He tipped over and banged
his head, WHAM!! There
was a moment of silence with the initial shock. Quickly it turned into a wail of
pain! Waaahh!!! As hundreds and thousands of fathers before him, dad
(looking guilty and embarrassed) immediately said, "You're okay."
A societal and cultural pattern was duplicated.
Was a father was training his son to disconnect from feelings? To avoid the complexities of strong emotions including pain?
Or was it just embarrassment that his son cried, or over his own poor
supervision? Whatever the father' s
motivation, the most important issue was that the little boy was not
WOULD YOU LIKE IT....?
who was seven years old was running all over the soccer field.
Suddenly the ball bounced toward Andy. He took a swipe at it with his
foot and missed. As Andy was turning around, another kid ran up and kicked the
ball with all his might. SMACK! Flush right into
Andy's face! "Yeow....ahhhh!"
Andy screamed at the top of his lungs. Andy's
father, the coach ran out into the field. Andy's
face was turning a brilliant red! "Ahhhhhh!"
Even before Andy's father reached him, you could tell Andy was more upset
than hurt. "Ahhhhhh!" The
first thing his father said, "You're okay."
Andy, his face radiant red and covered with tears, for an instant
forgotten his pain and gave the perfect response as he snapped in outrage,
"What do you mean, I'm okay!? How would YOU like it if YOU got hit in the face with a soccer
ball!?" Andy was so outraged that his father would insinuate that he
was okay -- that it was not okay for him to have pain -- that his tears and the
sting on his face should be set aside, that Andy ironically forgot his pain for
a moment! If Andy were even more
articulate, he might add, " Maybe, I am not manly enough for you -- get
over it! Being a man does not have
to mean denying my feelings -- and guess what? Just because you do, doesn't mean
I have to do it."
an adult' s discomfort with a child's pain and distress is not about some
cultural or other bias about boy or girl standards, but from the adult's concern
that the pain and distress may be overwhelming or dangerous to the child.
However, treating a child or a person as if they cannot handle pain and
other stresses implies that they are too fragile to handle their own emotions.
It is important to allow children to have the emotions that are real for
them. Allowing children to have powerful emotions like fear,
anxiety, sadness, and disappointment will challenge you -- how much to intervene and how much to hold back, what is too
much support and crippling, and what not enough and rejecting or abandoning.
BE LIKE THAT
Often times a child's distress
ignites adult distress about their ability to protect their children, and/or an
over identification and over empathizing with the child's distress.
I worked with a Dad was having difficulty putting his three-year old
daughter to bed. He did not rush
her to bed, nor was he trying to avoid the interactions (leave it to his wife).
In fact, he relished the time together. He was a very involved dad who
wanted very much to be emotionally available and connected.
His father had been the classic provider who took care of
material needs but did not know how to be emotionally connected . He
disciplined harshly- sometimes abusively and terrifyingly. As a little boy, Dad
had sworn that he would never be like that -- he was going be a good... no, a
great dad! And here he was in the
bedroom of his youngest being available and being connected.
And, stressing like crazy! They
would do the entire routine: bath, washing up, bedtime stories, tucking her in,
night lights, door slightly ajar, special kisses, and so forth.
Then she would want more time, another hug, one more story, one more
question, another shadow, and on... and on... until the 15 to 20 minute bedtime
ritual became an hour, an hour and a half, and more.
Each time when he tried to
finish and leave the bedroom, his darling would become tearful.
It would break his heart. And he would go back in to soothe her... to
soothe himself. Five or 10 minutes
later, he would try to leave again. Again,
his sweetheart would become tearful. She
still wasn't okay. And he'd stay a
little... and they would go another round.
Each time his heart would break and he would try some more. Eventually
frustration would set in and he would become angry and snap at her... and he
would feel like the worst ogre in the world -- far too much like his abusive
father. He would storm out of the
bedroom -- feeling like dirt. Sooner
or later... usually sooner, he would hear "daddy?
He couldn't just abandon her and he'd go back in. And they would go
another round -- "I'm thirsty," "I'm scared," "I need a
kiss," and on... and on... and on...
The magic pills -- the
magic solutions: the night lights, the special going to bed books, a special
teddy, and on and on, he tried them all; anything to be competent as a nurturing
father. Anything to get his little girl to be okay when going to bed.
Who was not okay?
Was it his daughter being challenged in the transition of going from the
waking world to the sleeping world like millions of other children? Or was it dad who was not okay?
It was the third and fourth persons in the bedroom that were causing all
the problems. The first person was
Dad who needed to help his daughter get to bed.
The second person was the little girl with normal bedtime anxieties.
The third and fourth persons were invisible but powerful.
The third person was the father that Dad had sworn he'd never be like.
And, the fourth person was the desperate hurt little boy that Dad had
been -- with the pain that he could not let his daughter suffer. He needed to
understand that he was a different father than his father and that he was a good
dad. And that his daughter while
upset was not being crippled with the rejection and desperation that he had
suffered. With that he was able to
follow through. Once he was able to
remove the third and fourth persons (the ghost of his father and the ghost of
himself in pain) from the bedroom, he was able to set boundaries and still
nurture his daughter. Now he could
tolerate that his daughter might not okay (right now) but still be fine.
And that he really was okay.
There are levels of competence
and there are levels of being okay. Being
skillful and becoming competent in the areas that become important to you often
depend on deeper levels of emotional and psychological soundness/competence.
This is true for a child and is just is true for a parent.
Feeling competent -- feeling okay for a child is strongly dependent on
his/her parents feeling competent, feeling okay about themselves.
Can you let your child feel distress?
Does his/her distress, distress you so much that it becomes intolerable?
Your child self-esteem depends on how you answer these questions.
17: COMPETENCE- DEALING WITH PAIN, “I’M NOT OK!”
Sad... sad... dark... darker... it
hurts. You know is just a small
boo-boo...or, a misplaced teddy. I hurt. I'm
scared. You try… you do care. But...
dark, sad. You know that it will
pass. You have the wisdom of experience. Me?
I'm a little kid. All I know is right now.
Sad... right now, I'm sad. Later?
Later is not right now. Right
now, I hurt. Before?
I got better before? Before
is not right now. Right now...
dark. This...this is it. Sad. Me.
Right now. Nothing else.
Later... how to is later... Now. This is me... this is it.
You knew how before... when I was
little... when I was a baby. I would get scared... be hurt.
You didn't try to fix me. You didn't distract me from what I felt. You
didn't say before... or later. You
just held me and loved me. I could
feel you feeling me feel. You said
words... I couldn't understand them, but I could feel you. I had just feeling sounds. I just felt the feeling in your
voice. The words really didn’t matter. The
caress of your voice... of your touch... in your eyes... I could feel you with
me. And it got lighter... I got
The sharp pain became soft hurt. A
little less sad... better, lighter.
You did it before, but what happened?
I learned how to talk and you got stupid! You started thinking words... talking
was how to take care of everything. You
knew how to love me when I was sad or scared. Remember? I older now, but...
sad... dark... hurt... scared... it's still the same. Feel me... feel my
sadness, feel my darkness… my hurt… my fear... I'm not okay, but let me know
you are okay with me not being okay. Love my feelings... don't be scared of
them. Don't be so scared of me having those feelings. Mmmm... Better... better... feel me feeling... let me feel
you feeling me... warm... better... safe... safe.
RIGHT TO FEEL
hard watching our children feeling sadness, despair, or pain.
We want to rescue them--to take away the pain.
One day, your little girl comes home with a long sad face.
What's wrong? They’re going to do "Annie" at school. She wanted
to be Annie. She would dress up and
sing and dance. But she didn't get
the role. Instead, she's going to
be in the chorus. The pain on her face -- in her whole body is deep and heavy.
Your heart breaks and all your instincts want to soothe her.
So you say what thousands of other parents have said.
"It's okay, honey. You’ll
be great in the chorus. The chorus is very important too."
children respond with silence; they have not been heard.
They are not okay! They want to be okay but the pain is real.
And, they had planned to do a good job in the chorus.
Yes, it is an important role, but it was not the role she wanted.
It’s the loss that is causing the pain. A child may think, "Did my
loving parent just ignore my pain? Did
my loving parent just disrespect me? Does
he/she really care? Does he/she
really understand?" Or,
perhaps to think, " My pain doesn't count. Maybe I shouldn't have this pain. Am I supposed to be able to
just drop my hurting and focus on the chorus? Is there something wrong with me
that I can't do that? That I hurt
so much -- that I care so much?" Doubt
about her right to feel what she feels begins to erode her self-esteem.
On the other hand, she might get furious at this clumsy attempt to soothe
her pain. She may snap back,
"I'm not okay!"
Or, if unable to articulate her pain, she may continue crying… throw a
tantrum or lock herself in her room. Through
words or through actions, parents express their own frustration and sense of
impotence, and inadvertently emotionally punish their child for not being
"okay." Self-esteem is
harmed again. And, if your child is
a boy, this dynamic can be even more dangerous since there are already so many
forces directing them to avoid their feelings.
This will create problems when they become adult men.
MILLION FISH IN THE SEA
you ever break up with a loved one? Someone
you had thought completed your heart and soul.
In the depth of your anguish... your loss, you turned to a close friend
for comfort. Your friend may have
said, "Forget 'em! There is a
million fish in the sea. Let's go out and catch you a new one!" And you felt.... confused
and upset. Confused because you
knew your friend was trying to nurture you (but failing), and upset because your
friend was dismissing your pain. You
didn't care about one million fish. You
cared that the one you had who was no longer yours (whether or not you still
wanted -- or could even stand him/her anymore!). The loss was about losing the hope of the perfect
relationship -- the happily ever after picket fence dream. Not about losing that
particular person. Your friend's
good intentions disrespected the intensity and depth of the loss. You needed first to experience the loss and process it.
It is always difficult to watch someone you care deeply about go through
pain. You feel their anguish.
In fact, the anguish you experience is worse because you do not know how
intense it is for your friend or child. If
it were your own pain alone, you'd know how much you could take and whether or
not you could handle it.
OKAY TO BE NOT OKAY
you able to let your babies cry? Did
you have to pick them up -- not because they couldn't stand it, but because you couldn't stand it? Did
you pick them because they too fragile? Or,
could they handle the distress with your help?
Did you distract them with a toy, food, or later when they are older,
with money. Unfortunately, the fundamental message of distracting children
disrespects their existential reality. Distracting
them -- pulling them away from their pain implies that what they feel it is not
important. The stress people have is inherent to life.
Dealing with distress -- the feeling of not being okay is how each person
acquires the personalities and the skills that will help them succeed or not in
the world. If you feel that you
cannot tolerate stress or the feeling of not being okay, then you will be driven
to find ways to avoid the feelings at all costs.
teenagers (sometimes as preadolescents) and as adults, people turn to self
medication in order avoid overwhelming stress, depression, and anxiety.
Self-medication can come in many forms.
It can be essentially behavioral -- behaviors that allow one to forget or
to avoid intense feelings: workaholism, excessive and compulsive exercising, or
thrill seeking behavior. Or, chemical self-medication can be done with alcohol
or drugs. Many people often misinterpret teenagers use of alcohol and drugs
(especially marijuana) as purely recreational or a sign of negative values.
Many teenagers use alcohol and drugs to self medicate for the depression,
anxiety, and stress. Or, they may
engage in dangerous activities that are highly stimulating -- the stimulation
help block out intense negative feelings. Recent research says that compulsive
behaviors create chemical changes within the body that function to change
sensation and feeling (actually activate the body's own self-medicating
chemicals). Eating disorders may also be ways to avoid intense painful
feelings. An anorexic's intense
feelings of hunger or/and compulsive overeater's intense sense of feeling
bloated can serve to block out painful emotional and psychological feelings.
Chocolate or shopping can also give you a "high" to serve to
block out feelings.
PAIN AND STRESS -- THE STEALING OF THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR MATURITY
who have been self abusing with alcohol and drugs since they were 15 may go into
recovery at 35. Although they may be clean and sober, they often still
function emotionally and psychologically (and even intellectually) like a
teenager. Why would this be true?
Each time there is stress,
pain, fear or anxiety, the individual is presented with an opportunity to gather
him/herself emotionally, psychologically, mentally, physically, socially, and
spiritually to face the challenge. As
he/she gathered him/her self and struggled, the child gained a small increment
of maturity. And, a sense of power
and control and resiliency. As this
happened thousands of times throughout their young lives and into adulthood,
these increments accrue to make up the maturity of an healthy adult. Unfortunately, for some, the pain is intolerable... true love
is not returned, a failing grade, a strikeout in the bottom of the ninth, an old
friend who has become a new enemy, sexual confusion, and so forth.
A teenager (or an adult) may deal with the pain chemically -- with a beer
or with pot (marijuana). One time... next time... almost every time.
And over and over, steal from him/herself the opportunity to gather
him/herself and struggle, and in the struggle accrue the increments of maturity.
After 20 years of lost opportunities... after 20 years of chemical
solutions to stress, pain, fear, or anxiety, even after becoming clean and
sober, the individual will still function emotionally and psychologically like a
of intense feelings can lead to self-medication and the
loss of opportunities to gain maturity. Being
able to have intense feelings and to
have healthy resources and skills to alleviate their negative aspects are
critical to emotional health. As
parents, being emotionally present and available, nurturing and accepting are
critical to helping your children develop the skills and resiliency to cope with
pain. There will always be difficult times. One's ability to tolerate the pain
well enough and long enough is essential for time to pass; and skills and
resources to be applied. How does
one develop the ability to tolerate pain? The
only way is to experience pain and survive pain. In order to have healthy
self-esteem, every person needs to be able to become competent at being
uncomfortable! To become
comfortable (enough) at being uncomfortable... at being not okay -- at least
until they can gather themselves to deal with the discomfort.
Resiliency is a key to self-esteem and a major key also to avoid
developing a victim mentality or personality.
In later chapters, we will start looking at victim personalities,
beginning with the frustration they cause for caring people.
Now, we will look at competence and its relationship to development.
18: COMPETENCE and DEVELOPMENTALLY
Water... water... water... gotta find water.
Wonderful smooth water. It
feels so neat. It goes through my
fingers... on my face... in my mouth... everywhere.
Water... water... where the water? Go
wash up for snack? Wash my hands with... water!
Oooooo! Cool water... warm
water... splish splash... water in the sink... water on the walls... splish
splash... water on the floor... Oooooo! Stop
Oh, all right. Snack time... what's for snack? Crackers, a piece of the
apple, and juice... juice? Juice!
Looks like water... with color and pulp... and a different taste!
Oooooo! It goes through my fingers... splish splash... on my face... in
my mouth... everywhere... splish splash. Oooooo!
Stop it!? Mess? Oh, all
right... Time to paint. Painting is fun. All the pretty colors... brushes too.
The paint looks kind of creamy -- not like water exactly. I wonder how it feels?
Oooooo! ... running over my fingers.
Smear it. It's more fun than using the brush -- swirl
it here -- swirl it there... Oooooo! What? Stop it?! But
but... oh, okay. Go out to play? Okay.
It's nice outside. Oooooo! It
rained last night! There's puddles!
Oooooo! Splish splash!
Splish splash with my hands! Splish splash with my feet!
Oooooo! With mud!
Oooooo! ... my fingers... on my face... on the fence... on Jenny!
On Greg! Cool!
Stop it!? Why?
Mess? But... Oh, all
right... Almost time for lunch? Time to go potty?
Okay. Go inside to the
bathroom... with the sink and... the toilet!! Oooooo!! Oooooo!!
IT - STUNT IT
When faced with similar
situations, many adults will focus on management issues.
In other words, how to stop that kid from making such a mess!
Unfortunately, when you focus on managing a child's behavior to fit
within social custom (or, other adult hang ups!), you can often miss the need
that the child is trying to fulfill. Normally,
the satisfying of these needs is essential to the child's emotional or
psychological balance, social, cognitive, physical maturation, and holistic
development. As you stop their
behavior, you may also stunt their self-fulfilling drive.
For example, if there are strong emotional energies that are expressing
themselves, over management (" You better stop that crying!") may
prevent that expression and cause eventual emotional conflicts. If the need
being asserted in the behavior is essentially developmental, then frustrating it
may cause developmental problems.
The principle of
developmentally appropriate practices is key to facilitating the growth of
children. Children (and adults) go
through stages of development. In
each stage, there are particular needs and issues.
In each stage, they have particular abilities and limitations, challenges
and tasks to accomplish. The
movement from one stage to another depends on a combination of experiences,
learning, and maturation. Within
each stage, growth is primarily incremental -- a matter of quantity. Growth is
primarily small increases of strength, increased frequency, greater agility,
more of this or that. With
increases in quantity, eventually there are is a movement into a new
qualitatively distinctive stage of development -- a stage with different needs,
issues, abilities and inabilities, and challenges and tasks.
When your baby is very young, he/she gradually increases his/her
abilities in many areas. These are delightful to observe. However, every once in
a while, your baby will do something new and wonderful that is fundamentally
BABBLING TO "BALL"
Your baby will babble over and
over sounds that have no specific meaning.
The more he/she babbles and experiments with different sounds and in
different tones, the more he/she moves toward purposeful communication.
And, when he/she says "Mama" or "Dada" or
"dog" in recognition (sometimes the dog does rank higher!), that is a
great developmental leap forward to sounds with meaning -- words.
In this next stage of verbal and cognitive development, the baby acquires
more and more words with meaning -- increased vocabulary. In this stage, each
word serve multiple functions. For
example, the word "ball" means, "That's a ball," "Throw
the ball," "Give me the ball, Daddy,"
"Give Mommy the ball," "I want a ball," "I want
the orange, or balloon," or whatever.
The word "Mama" serves to mean a call for help, a name, an
accusation, a request for service, and so forth.
As the baby experiments with words, at some point he/she puts words
together to create more specific meaning -- "Mama" plus
"ball" are said in conjunction, "Mama ball" to communicate
"Mama, I want you to give me the ball," or "Mama likes to eat
oranges," or some other more specific relationship between Mama and the
ball. This is another stage where the child experiments with
combinations of words to create more precise communication -- in other words,
the development of grammar and sentence structure in addition to vocabulary.
There are comparable examples in physical development, social
development, and other areas of development.
There are many ways parents
can foster healthy development. However, parents also run the risk of
frustrating themselves and their children if they do not understand
developmental theories. The
principle of developmentally appropriate practices means to support and to
challenge children in ways that are appropriate to their developmental stages.
If adults are unclear where their children are developmentally, they may
inadvertently frustrate their children by pressuring them to do things that are
beyond their developmental abilities. Children
will feel incompetent and lose Self-Esteem as they struggle and fail at tasks
beyond their developmental competency.
RULES OF DEVELOPMENTAL THEORIES
There are about five basic
rules of developmental theories that can help adults support their children .
The rules are:
Development is sequential. Development
happens in a predictable order. There are first, second, third, and so forth stages in every
area of development. For example,
in order babies wave their arms and kick their legs before they can roll over
and push up; then sit up; then crawl; finally, walk and then run.
Development is progressive. The
challenges and successes (and the failures and incomplete accomplishments) of
earlier development build for (or cause problems for) future development.
For example, the development of secure attachment with primary caregivers
(normally, the parents) give individuals the ability to risk and succeed at
attachments with in subsequent relationships.
Conversely, insecure attachments with primary caregivers make it
difficult for children (even as adults) to form secure attachments.
Attempting to rush or skip development is harmful, causes problems,...
and doesn't work! Developmental
needs and challenges, including sequence and progression needs are intrinsic. If
you attempt to ignore them, the intrinsic developmental energy
will continue to assert itself until the needs are met. For
example, many babies have a very strong oral need.
For various reasons (cultural, recommendations from family or
"experts," inconvenience), some parents try to keep babies and
children from sucking on things -- including pacifiers and their thumbs. Despite a lot of work, children often continue into
Kindergarten and beyond putting things into their mouths.
The oral need continues to assert itself. In fact, there are theories relating unfulfilled oral needs
from childhood to eating disorders, alcoholism and drug abuse.
Trauma, abuse, and intense stress can cause individuals to regress or
get stuck developmentally. When
faced with intense stress, children (and adults) may emotionally or
psychologically regress to an earlier developmental stage where they hope to be
taken care of -- to be nurtured as babies and protected.
For children, it may mean getting whiny and pouting and waiting for
someone to feel sorry for them... "You know what Susie did to me!?"
For adults thing, it may mean getting whiny and pouting and waiting for someone
to feel sorry for them! "You know what the boss (my wife, my husband, the
clerk...) did to me!?" Developmentally
stuck individuals function from a time when trauma or abuse occurred. As adults
we have experienced adults, who acted like a two year old throwing a tantrum...
or seemed like a defiant adolescent. Individuals suffering trauma or abuse may
get emotionally or psychologically stuck at that developmental age.
This creates complex issues that may be problematic throughout their
Satiation of developmental needs helps individuals progress
through the sequences and the progression of development depends on the needs of
the stage being satisfied -- satiated. Skipping
or rushing development does not allow for needs to be completely satiated.
Trauma, abuse, and intense stress can overwhelm the developmental
capacities of an individual -- by definition, are outside the capacities of
developing individuals. They draw the individual's focus away from satisfying
their developmental needs. Recognizing
needs as developmental and facilitating the complete satisfaction of these needs
becomes the key to helping individuals progress.
GO PLAY IN THE WATER
Keith was driving everyone
crazy. He was always in the water
or something wet. He was always either being a mess or making a mess!
The adults, of course wanted things to be neater, and were always telling
Keith to cut it out. "Keith, stop playing in the water."
"Keith, get out of the water."
"Keith, stop making a mess!"
Keith was driving everyone crazy. And,
everyone was driving Keith crazy! Keith
was responding to a powerful internal need in the sensory motor stage of
development. When an individual has
a developmental need, he/she normally explores and experiments with that need
until it is satisfied. By telling
him to stop it all the time, the adults were inadvertently frustrating his
developmental process. Keith could
not choose to do or not do it; playing with water was a compelling need.
And everyone kept stopping him from satisfying it!
If he could only satisfy himself, he would stop himself.
When we figured this out, I told the teachers to stop disrespecting Keith
-- to stop disrespecting his developmental energy.
So we set up a sink with warm
water and bubbles, spoons, funnels, bowls, and sieves (and rubber mats on the
floor). As soon as Keith came in,
we dropped an apron on him and told him to "Play in the water!"
And, did he ever! Splish
splash... splish splash... water was flying everywhere!
Keith loved it! And, it was
in an appropriate and safe setting. After
30 minutes, Keith went to play
someplace else. The next time Keith
came by, we dropped an apron on him again and told him to "Play in the
water!" Splish splash... splish splash splish SPLASH!...
again Keith had a ball for about 20 minutes.
The next time he passed by, again we dropped an apron on him and told him
to "Play in the water!" Every
time he came by -- an apron and "Play in the water!"
Finally, as we grabbed him once more, Keith stuck out his pouty lip and
in a sad voice, proclaimed, "I dun' wanna to play in the water anymore!
I wanna play outside... Please?"
By eleven o'clock every day, Keith's need to play in the water had been
satiated. After two weeks of this,
Keith's need to play in the water had been satiated altogether, and with this
sensory motor need satisfied, Keith moved on to other developmental tasks.
When you understand children's
needs from a developmental perspective (or from temperamental theory, or family
systems perspectives, or learning theory, or other relevant theories), you can
better support them. You can help
them competently fulfill their needs and have healthy progress.
If you do not recognize a need as developmental, you might frustrate its
fulfillment. If you do not
recognize the appropriate developmental challenge your child is ready for, you
might set up your child to feel incompetent.
For example, three year old children are not supposed to be able to nor
need to read. Reading at this age
does not mean your child is brilliant. Probably,
it means your child has been rushed developmentally inappropriately. Reading
this early can be very harmful to meeting more appropriate developmental needs.
Children who read at three often read robotically without comprehension, and
usually without any joy. At three, children need to be exploring and
experimenting with their environment, including the social and emotional
environment. These experiences
contribute to overall development (including the development of pre-reading
skills!) that form the healthy individual.
NOT DOGGIE? RABBIT!!
"Come give Grandma a big hug!" Here
comes Johnny! "Grandma!" 40 pounds of Johnny running to Grandma in her
chair... leaping... flying through the air... dropping like a boulder into
Grandma's lap! Ummpf!! Crunch! Oh
jump on Grandma like that... you'll hurt her!" Oh. "Okay." Johnny loves Grandma... he doesn't want to hurt her...
got it -- Don't jump on Grandma
Auntie Nan is here for a visit. "There's my favorite great nephew! Johnny, come give Auntie a big hug!" Oh no! Here
comes Johnny! "Auntie Nan!" 45
pounds of Johnny running to Auntie in her chair... leaping... flying through
the air... dropping like an asteroid
into Auntie Nan's lap! Ummpf! Crunch! Oh no, not again!
I tell you before, not to jump in Auntie Nan's lap!?"
Mmmm? No, you didn't tell me not to jump on Auntie Nan's lap. You
told me not to jump on Grandma's lap.
Remember I'm only four? You told me, but I am an existential child --
that means that was then... and this is now!
I live in the moment! Before?
Before is when you were a kid... when the dinosaurs ruled the earth...
five minutes ago... two days... two months... ten years ago... when George
Washington chopped that cherry tree... you told me not to jump on Grandma's
lap. That is not Grandma! That
is Auntie Nan. They look kinda
alike because they're sisters!
How was I to know that the underlying principle of not jumping on
Grandma's lap is that Grandma is an old lady... and that old ladies might have
osteoporosis... and may be somewhat brittle!
And that jumping on her might scrunch her! And
then I was supposed to figure out that since Auntie Nan is an old lady too, I
shouldn't jump on her either because she is scrunchable too!!
Jeez! I'm four!! -- a
preoperational child!? Not even
a concrete operations child yet!
Let alone a formal operations child when I finally am supposed to be able to do
divergent thinking! NO,
YOU DIDN'T TELL ME!!
Kids don't know how to respond
like this... thank goodness! Perhaps
they should when parents make developmentally inappropriate demands.
Is Johnny really supposed to be able to understand that a specific rule
-- that is, "Don't jump on Grandma's lap," has implicit meaning for
future behavior based on unarticulated underlying principles? Clearly, when he
was younger (how young?), you didn't expect Johnny to understand this. What age
is it possible -- reasonable to expect them to figure it out?
Intuitively, we understand that children's ability to understand and to
do things improve as they grow older. However,
if we are unclear we overwhelm our children by demanding that they do and
understand things that they are not developmentally able to handle.
We set children up to be incompetent and to suffer Self-Esteem loss. A
look at some basic developmental theory -- specifically, the cognitive theory of
Jean Piaget would help us determine what we should or should not expect from our
children as they grow up.
DIFFERENT -- ASSIMILATION AND ACCOMMODATION
Piaget believed that all
children adapt to the environment. They
build upon their sensory, motor, and reflex capacities to learn about the world.
Picking up toys, touching the cat, crawling around the room -- all these
experiences help them to figure out how the world works.
They develop schemes -- organized ways to think about and act in situations.
As people experience more, their schemes become more varied and complex.
When our baby was a few months
old, Laura came to visit. Trisha
gazed intently at Laura's face. My
wife and I are both Asian-American with dark brown eyes and black hair.
Laura is European American, fair skinned, blue-eyed, with very curly long
blond hair. As Laura held her,
Trisha stared at Laura -- absorbing every detail.
"Hey, what's this?" Her little brain trying to figure out how
this face that was similar to Mom's and Dad's faces but was so different!
Eyes, nose, mouth, and hair, uh huh... but the complexion... and the
color of those eyes!... and that hair! It
is hair, isn't it? Not black and
straight but golden... What is it doing!? Wow!
From Piaget's perspective,
Trisha had a way of understanding the world -- a scheme
about faces based on her experiences with her parents.
Now she had to make an adaptation to
deal with new information -- Laura's incredibly curly blond hair!
To make an adaptation, people usually take a two-step process. First,
they attempt to assimilate the
information into a previous scheme (way of understanding).
Trisha was trying to fit Laura's fair skin, blue eyes, and curly blond
hair into how she understood faces (from models of her parents' faces). A baby
who learns that the four-legged furry critter running underfoot is called a
"doggie," starts identifying every furry animal a "doggie."
Jackie next door has a furry critter... a doggie? That's right! That's a German
Shepherd... it's is a doggie too. The
poodle is a doggie... the St. Bernard is a doggie... the dachshund is a
doggie... whatever that mutt Josie has... is a doggie! "That's right,
Trisha! Good girl!"
baby sees another furry four-legged critter. "Doggie!" But this
critter has long ears, a fuzzy little tail, eats carrots, and goes lippitty
lippitty hop! Baby thinks rabbits are doggies, cats are doggies, cows are
doggies... all doggies! Assimilation
doesn't work... well enough. The second step to adaptation when assimilation into previous
schemes doesn't work, is to accommodate
the new information/experience into a new way of thinking/understanding.
The furry four-legged critters that go "bow wow!" are doggies;
the ones with long ears, a fuzzy little tail, eats carrots, and goes lippitty
lippitty hop is a rabbit! The ones that go "meow" and scratches if you
squeeze too hard are kitties! And
so forth. Each one of these is an adjustment in the previous scheme to
make better sense of the world.
people experience the world and try to make sense of it, they move into more
mature stages of development. Piaget believed that there are four major stages of cognitive
development: approximately birth to 2, the Sensorimotor stage;
2-7, the Preoperational stage; 7-12, the Concrete Operations stage; and
12 and up, the Formal Operations stage.
AND EXPERIMENT -- CRASH! BOOM!
sensorimotor stage, an infant changes from responding primarily through reflexes
to organizing activities in relation to the environment. Sensory and motor
activity fuels the change. Parents
understand infants' ability to express and interact is limited.
However, in meeting babies' fundamental practical and emotional needs,
parents give them the sensory and motor stimulation necessary for intellectual
development. Infants and toddlers
need to explore and experiment with their world as much as possible.
The problem is as they explore and experiment, they may do things that
scare that heck out of you! Crash!
challenge of parenthood is how to facilitate exploration and experimentation
without your darling hurting or breaking something, or driving your blood
pressure through the roof! Children
are supposed to explore and experiment... they have to explore and experiment!
They will break things, endanger themselves, scare you, and generally,
make your life much more complex and difficult. It is not unusual for some parents to experience children's
activity as intrusions -- as
purposeful and callous attacks on adult serenity; and adults may respond with
resentment and punishment. This is
dangerous. Children are doing what is natural and essential
to their development. Crash!
Boom! Bang!... Oh well!
Understand this, set the limits for safety and for socialization, but
don't stifle the drive to explore and experiment.
BUGS AND LIGHTS -- PREOPERATIONAL TO CONCRETE OPERATIONS
you replace the word "operation" with the word "rules," it
can help in understanding the differences between the preoperational, the
concrete operations, and the formal operations stages.
They become the pre-rules, the concrete rules, and the formal or abstract
rules stages of cognitive development. The
preoperational or pre-rules stage between about 2 to 7 years old is a time when
children have so little experience with the world, that they don't understand
the rules and workings of the world. Everything
is magic and magical. "The light switch opens the jar of lighting bugs in
the wall. They fly out through the
walls and ceiling into the light bulbs... and that's how the lights work!"
And the kids go, "Ooooh!"
Also, ATMs give us money! And,
if you don't wear a jacket, you'll catch a cold... and you made me forget... and
you knew you weren't supposed to do that.
the preoperational stage, everything is magical… or is everything is
arbitrary? Unfortunately (for their Self-Esteem) children believe everything
adults (especially parents) say -- whether adults are angry, frustrated... or
even crazy! Parents can teach rules
children that are unfair, unreasonable, and even cruel.
Particularly in this stage, when children are learning from everyone and
everything, they are highly vulnerable to emotionally and psychologically
harmful interpretations. "Didn't
I tell you!? You knew better than
that!" must be replaced by "Daddy is tired.
And got grumpy... and when you... I got upset and..."
2 to 7, they gradually acquire more rules about how the world works.
They develop schemes (rules) like object permanence (objects or people
continue to exist even when they are out of sight), decentering (thinking
simultaneously about several aspects of the situation as opposed to being
centered on one aspect), conservation (something remains equal despite changing
shape or being placed in different containers), reversibility (an operation or
action can go both ways -- be reversed). From the vagueness of the
preoperational or pre-rules stage, at around 7 children move toward the concrete
operations or rules stage. Now,
they know the lightning bug story is a joke.
About the ATM... let me tell you how that works... actually, how that
COME... BIG TROUBLE!! FORMAL
the next several years, children develop greater clarity and numbers of concrete
rules about how the world, how people, and how they themselves function.
These rules, however, tend to be very specific to particular people or
understanding of underlying principles. Consequently,
applying a principle to a person or circumstance and coming up with an
appropriate response is difficult. Children may learn to eat their carrots... to
eat fruit... to take vitamins... to exercise... to read because it is good for
them. Not to eat too much
candy... to avoid excessive stress because it is bad for them. Underlying all the specific rules are principles about
behaviors that promote positive consequences and those that create potential
negative consequences. Children
learn to say to be good and do good things.
However, unless specifically told, they may still eat high salt fatty
hamburgers. Or, associate with a
friend who is abusive... or, play video games instead of doing homework.
positive and negative experience and
maturation... from specific commandments to do or not, children move into the
formal operations or abstract rules stage, where they recognize and apply
underlying principles to specific situations.
From specific experiences: "When things came too easily, and I ended
up with problems. Jason said we
could eat as many cookies as we wanted, and we got sick and in trouble with my
mom. I was lazy and copied Jill's
homework, and then there was a quiz that I messed up because I had not learned
the material in the homework. Once
Glenn said he had a way for us to make a lot of money and we got stuck with four
big boxes of wrapping paper," a principle is derived -- "If something
good is easy to get, or is supposed to be easy to get, you better watch out!
Easy come... big trouble!" Then
(hopefully) the underlying concept is applied to a new situation or experience.
"Drugs are an easy way to feel good... Watch out!
Easy come... big trouble! No!"
can not give our children exact instructions to deal with all the circumstances
and people that they will experience. So
we try to give them the logic with which they can make the decisions.
However, the development of this abstract logic depends on children
experiencing consistency throughout childhood (from the sensorimotor stage
through the preoperational stage and through the concrete operations stage).
Consistency means that if A then B, it happens virtually every single
time. Without consistency, there is
not the basis from which the child can discover underlying logic.
Even with consistency, developmentally it is difficult to understand
abstract logic significantly before age 12 or so.
"Didn't I tell you...?" Maybe
you did, but remember what I can and can not understand (and other words, my
developmental comprehension maturity level)?
Recognizing your children's intellectual (cognitive) stage can help you
avoid making them feel incompetent, and help you frame developmentally
appropriate communication. Significance, moral virtue, power and control, and competence
make up the four components of Self-Esteem.
How they interact and are dependent upon each other is important to
20: THE FOUR LEGGED TABLE
OF SELF-ESTEEM, IF
ANY ONE LEG IS WEAK...
don't know why Grady doesn't feel better about himself.
Golden Boy!? Samuel's feels depressed?
Miss Competent?! Low Self-Esteem?!
is such a responsible kid, but she seems so sad.
According to Coopersmith,
self-esteem is made up of four components: Significance, whether or not
the people that are significant to you believe that you are significant
(important) and; Moral Virtue, how well an individual lives up to the
values that he/she holds dear; Power and Control, the degree that an
individual has power and control in his/her lives; and Competence, how
skillful the individual is doing the things he/she finds important.
These four components are important in themselves, but also are highly
interdependent. They are very much like the four legs of a table -- all four
of the legs need to be strong, or else the stability of the entire table is
harmed. If any one leg is weak...
any aspect of self-esteem is weak, no matter how strong the other three legs
are, the table... self-esteem will not be solid.
EXCEPT ACKNOWLEDGEMENT -- Missing Significance Feedback
Grady, four years old is
visiting at dad's house. His
six-year-old half-brother, Evan lives with his father. Dad is gruff and
intimidating to him. Grady has learned to work things out from his mother-- to
use his words because good kids work things out instead of fighting.
Grady has the action figure that Evan wants. Evan snatches the action
figure from Grady. Grady tries to live up to his internalized morality. He tells
Evan that he didn't like him grabbing the toy.
Grady tries negotiating. He
offers Evan the other action figures and offers to take turns.
If an adult makes his big
brother give him the action figure back, then Grady might learn that only adults
have the power to work things out. On
the other hand, if he successful with his own words, Grady's self-esteem would
probably be boosted since he has gained power and control (gotten the action
figure), experienced competence (succeeded as a problem solver) while being able
to live up to his own moral values (by being able to work things out).
However, all this can be broken down if someone significant to him
belittles or disrespects him and how he managed the situation.
Dad sees the interaction and gets outraged at Evan. "Don't be a
baby! Grab that back!
Don't be letting him push you around!"
The first people who are
significant are parents. Then other
family members, teachers,... and peers. If
any of these people implicitly or overtly disapprove of the child's behavior,
despite living up to their own moral virtue (or reflecting social standards),
how competent they are problem solving and gaining power and control,
self-esteem would be shaken. Also, being ignored when doing well, can be just as damaging. Ever
been in a job situation where there's no acknowlegement for contributions --
only criticism for messing up? Self-esteem
and employee morale goes down.
EXCEPT FOR THE GHOST OF DAD -- Impossible Moral Virtue Demands
Samuel is a highly successful
businessman, respected in the community, and loved by his family.
His colleagues and even his competitors admire him; his neighbors and
friends respected his character; and his family loves and adores him. His achievements have given him power and control to choose
work that is stimulating, meaningful, and rewarding; to live an the enjoyable
lifestyle; and to be a good provider. All
indications from his life indicate that he should be a happy fulfilled
individual. Samuel, however, could not enjoy all the successes of his life.
When Samuel came to counseling, he was depressed with low self-esteem.
What was his problem? Three
of the four components of self-esteem -- significance, power and control, and
competence were strong. However,
the fourth component -- an unhealthy moral virtue weakened his entire structure
Samuel's father was very
critical of Samuel and his siblings during their entire childhoods.
No matter how well Samuel or his siblings did, his father would find
something to criticize. In Little
League, if Samuel got the winning hit, his father would find fault with how
Samuel stood in the field. If
Samuel got straight A's... who got the highest score?
And so on and so on. Samuel
never could do enough to please his father no matter how much he tried.
And he tried... and tried... and tried.
Even after his father had died, Samuel continued to try to please... and
fail to please the ghost of his father. He
had internalized an impossible set of values (moral virtue) of being perfect for
father. Samuel's ideal self was as
unreasonable and unfair as his father had been unreasonable and unfair.
Despite constant confirmations of significance, power and control, and
competence, Samuel's self-esteem remained fragile because the formation of his
moral virtue had been distorted from childhood.
Through a lot of work, Samuel was able to challenge and rebuild his moral
virtue. He was able to redefine his ideal self in more appropriate and
reasonable ways, and consequently, accept the successes of his real self
A GOOD KID, AND VERY COMPETENT, BUT... No Power and Control
Alice has always been a very
good kid... attentive and respectful to adults, especially her parents. She got
along with everyone. Alice expected a lot out of herself and was able to live up
to her standards. Since middle
school, she had been doing volunteer tutoring and working as a candy striper at
the community hospital. At 16 years
old, she was clear that she wanted a professional career helping people.
She had the grades to pursue a career in a human services profession such
as social work or psychotherapy. A
well loved and well-respected individual, with a strong and healthy moral
virtue, and highly competent, Alice was also very frustrated with a growing
sense of helplessness.
Alice had been offered an
internship at a community health clinic. Although
she would be doing clerical work, she would get to experience human services
work and begin to meet potential mentors that would facilitate her academic and
professional careers. It was a
tremendous opportunity for her. However,
her parents would not let her do it. They
felt she was too young. They felt
that she should be focusing on school. This
is the third time; the first time was a summer excursion to Washington D.C. to
meet with the local Representative in Congress and learn about the political
process, and the second time, was an honorary position as a teen advocate for a
school district anti-violence committee. With all the compliments, Alice was
still frustrated -- even insulted, and definitely helpless.
She was losing opportunities to exercise her skills and stretch herself.
All her life, her parents had been telling her that she would have to make
choices on her own, but now her parents were saying "No, not that
choice!" She felt she had no
power and control because of her parents' decision... and her self-esteem
suffered. Any adult who has ever
had the skills to do the work but was not given opportunity to do the work
("We really like you. And you
are well qualified, but we can't use you."), knows how lost opportunity
becomes lost power and control. Without
the opportunity, even with significance, moral virtue and competence, power and
control cannot be exercised and self-esteem suffers.
SHE TRIES... BUT SHE CAN'T -- Unreasonable Competence Demands
is another well mannered child... a very responsible child.
She never causes any
trouble. She sees herself as well behaved, a good student, who helps her parents
out a lot. In fact, at 12 years
old, she is responsible to make sure her younger siblings do their shores and
homework before their parents come home at 6:00.
They have to do what she says. Her
younger sister, Daisy who is 10, however has begun to resent Rose's authority.
"You're not my mother! You
can't tell me what to do!" Instead
of coming home right after school, she stops to talk with her friends.
She sometimes refuses to do her chores or watches television instead of
doing her homework. Rose tries to
discipline Daisy. But she can't. When their parents come home and find out that
Daisy has not done her chores or her homework, they get mad at her... and at Rose. "It's
up to you to make sure Daisy behaves. We're
depending on you. You have to do
wants very much to please her parents, live up to her self-image as being
responsible, and maintain the power and control she has.
However, being a surrogate parent is developmentally beyond Rose's
capabilities (especially with a oppositional sister only two years younger).
Rose is very vulnerable to losing her Self-Esteem as she tries and fails
to live up to a role that she cannot be competent at. Even if her parents understand that Daisy is beyond her
control ("Do the best you can with Daisy.
We understand that she is being defiant."), her high standards for
herself (moral virtue) would drive her to keep trying anyway.
needs to feel supported by those important to him. Samuel needs to develop a
realistic moral virtue. Alice needs
to exercise and experience power and control.
Rose needs to feel competent attempting what is a realistic and
appropriate. By understanding how four aspects of self-esteem work together, you
can better put it together and build the self-esteem of your child... and of
yourself. However, there is more to
it (there's more to furnishing a house than just a table!).
What else do you need to know in order to put it altogether? You need to
know the seven fundamentals of the
foundation (YOU!!) to building the
self-esteem in your child.