Raising a 'Well-Rounded' Child
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
In order to raise a secure, respectful and ‘emotionally well-rounded’ child, these two aspects should be used in a balanced and complimentary fashion. The two aspects are (i) Compassion and (ii) Leadership.
Actually there is a third or perhaps I should say a ‘first’. This essential aspect is not what this post is about so i’ll quickly whip over it. It’s ‘Time and attention’. In short, if you don’t spend quality one to one time with your kid in a selfless fashion, you’re done from the start. It’s the most real, soul-warming and character enriching form of love a child could ever wish for. So if you’ve got your head up your backside, or you’re just plain lazy and take your kids for granted or perhaps you’ve got your nose constantly buried in your phone to the point where you may as well be on another planet let alone in another room then you should really think about sorting it out. Their childhood will pass you by, you will miss your chance to emotionally invest and you will have created an indelible emotional memory of absence. They will eventually fill this void with the love, time and attention of another and you’ll just be old and sad wondering when you’re gonna get a look in with your grandkids. Leave your phone in another room and spend some quality focussed time with your child!
Annnd breath…Back to compassion and leadership.
I guess we should get an idea what these two things mean in practice. Let’s start with ‘compassion’. This is that ‘bottom line love’ where no matter what you’re gonna let em off and catch them when they fall. Why? Because you bloody well love the bones off em that’s why. You don’t want to see them suffer unnecessarily, they’re your baby and they’re so beautiful, if you loved em anymore you’d probably explode. So how might this compassion manifest itself in day to day behavioural interactions?
Your child trips and grazes their knee on the corner of the coffee. They’re shocked. As the pain sets in, their eyes fill and their mouth opens wide giving a silent scream. You pick them up, you hold them tight, you kiss them repeatedly “I know, I know, I know. It’s ok, it’s ok, Mummy's got you, shhh.” If you’re anything like me, you then let them join you in beating the s**t out of the coffee table “Naughty coffee table!”
Your kid messes up. They were irresponsible. They’ve got themselves in a bit of a bind. You could let them experience the full consequences of their actions but you don’t. You bail them out, you take the pressure off and tell them what a silly sausage they’ve been. Why? Again, it’s because you love them and you’ll have their back no matter what.
My pre-teen daughter woke up one morning (school day) and when I went into her room she had a bit of face on. “Whats up? You ok babe?”
“I don’t really feel too good.”
“Oh no, what you feel sick?”
“Yeah a bit and I’ve got a bit of head ache and a bit of a belly ache.”
I could tell she was laying it on a bit (you know when your child is pulling a fast one right?). She looked fine but I could tell she really wasn’t feeling it today. I sensed that things were perhaps feeling a little heavy at school and she wanted a day to catch her breath. I could have easily taken her temperature, told her it will pass and to get herself in and see how she goes etc but I didn’t. I thought blow it “Stay at home with Daddy today”. I got her a quilt, put her in front of the big TV with a hot water bottle and a bowl of chopped up watermelon. We watched movies together. It was wonderful.
Another example is when you know your child wants a toy or something and you could make them wait for their birthday or Christmas but at the same time you want to put a smile on their face and there’s a bit of you that wants them to have everything! So you get it for them anyway. It makes you feel good.
The point here is that there is this overarching ‘bottom line love’. It’s both blinding and beautiful. When a child knows or feels this love from their parent, it gives them a strong sense of self-worth and security. They know they’re the most important thing in your life. It’s necessary. The problem starts of course when a child begins to use this compassion to manipulate and control. That’s when we have to stay sharp. Perhaps more on that later.
Ok so let's talk leadership.
I was 9 years old sat next to my dad on a plane to France. We hit some turbulence and I was petrified. I grabbed my dad’s arm and started panicking and crying. He didn’t pull me close, stroke my head and and tell me there was nothing to worry about and that it would be over in minute. He laughed and said “What’s wrong with you you plonker, it’s only a bit of turbulence!”. You see whilst he didn’t console me, every bit of his behaviour suggested that we were safe. Instead of showing an immediate concern for my feelings, he chose to display leadership. Through his own behaviour and convictions he chose to teach me a bit about how the world works. This ‘leadership’ aspect of parenting is by it’s very nature more emotionless yet equally as beneficial and important as compassion.
Let’s say a child has a complete breakdown because they were supposed to be going to park but for whatever reason plans had to change. They throw a paddy and they want to get you to change your mind or compensate in some way. Now this is an attempt to create emotional leverage and play to two of your weaknesses (i) Your compassion (if they’re a real convincing actor) and / or (ii) Your inability to withstand their emotional pressure. Here you see, you might display leadership by deliberately maintaining a relaxed, self-assured and almost content state signalling to the child three things (i) that their attempt to manipulate you is futile (ii) Its no big deal, plans change, that’s life (iii) Throwing a paddy or sulking is not the way to get what you want.
Another little example. Child trips in the supermarket, hurts their knee, begins to lose it completely and wails at the top of their voice. You pick them up right quick, brush their knee off and say “Oopsy daisy, never mind, there we go all better, what breakfast cereal should we get?” Again we are creating a suggestion that it’s not the end of the world. We are exercising leadership rather than compassion.
Last example. Imagine if my daughter came home and told me she has ‘anxiety’ because her coursework is mounting up. ‘Anxiety’ is real thing however it has kind of 'caught on' in schools and sometimes it's a plea for compassion where leadership is required. So what do I do? “Oh no babe, have you been losing sleep? Don’t worry Tinker bell, daddy will help you sort it.” Absolutely not. More like “Ok well i’m sure its not all that bad and definitely not worth getting yourself in a state over, lets get a pen a paper and map out exactly what you need to do to get on top of it.” Leadership.
Notice the theme here. With leadership, we overlook the immediate emotional state of the child in order to teach them important lessons about how to cope, think and behave more effectively. This way we can help them to build much needed resilience, independence and respect.
A child needs both compassion and leadership. I guess the point of this post is to encourage you to reflect on how the balance tips in your own relationship with your child. It’s also useful to remember that some lessons children are not so keen to learn and they may for example play to the compassion of their father to escape the leadership of their mother (or vice versa). This can cause disagreements and conflict as one parent may feel that the other is being too harsh or that they have been undermined whilst trying teach their child a valuable lesson. (This is a HUGE problem in schools throughout the country). Talk things out in private, share your feelings, understand where one another are coming from and do your best to always show your children that you are united and supportive of one another. Single parents, you are often the most compassionate of all, but do remember that your child needs leadership as well. Finally if you are parent who is bringing someone new into your child’s life, understand that if you want them to invest and bond fully with your child that they too (in time) will need to display leadership in order to maintain a truthful and respectful relationship. Sit down and communicate with love and honesty. You most likley both want the same thing.