An important question for a parent with a child of any age is, “How do we want our kids to look, act, think, and live their lives when they leave our home? “
Eighteen years sounds like a long time, but then suddenly, it’s not. When the finish line looms large, it’s too late to start thinking about stuffing in extra character lessons or requiring respect or teaching responsibility. The time to start is when that sweet innocent face looks at you with those pouty lips and says, “me no want to.”
The sooner a child learns that “want” isn’t part of the game, the more peaceful life he and everyone around him will have. You see, want is ingrained in every human being from the moment of birth, and a lot of what a child wants is counterproductive to maturing into a responsible adult.
So, let’s first identify the differences between need and want.
A child needs love.
A child wants to be the center of attention in front of the police officer looking at you suspiciously.
A child needs healthy food.
A child wants to eat everything on the candy aisle at the grocery store.
A child needs a safe place to play.
A child wants to stick metal knives in the electrical outlets.
A child needs a warm home in the winter.
A child wants to play with matches and start a fire with the lint under the bed.
A child needs an education.
A child, or teen in this case, wants to stay up until midnight, sleep until noon, send thousands of texts a month, and basically goof off.
Of course, wanting, in and of itself, isn’t bad. It’s the wanting at the cost of obedience, respect, and all else that retains a parent’s last shred of sanity, that will ruin a child’s life. That might sound harsh, but take a look at the latest gossip magazines for a realistic view at what wanting has gotten people who have a seriously distorted view of need.
Now that we know the difference between need and want, let’s consider how to provide for one while harnessing the selfishness of the other.
Fill a child up with hugs and kisses and as many snuggly moments as his busy body can handle. But never give him free reign in public to run and scream and throw a tantrum. Do not be afraid to abandon a full cart of merchandise in a store and leave with him in tow if he cannot act with some decorum. I warn you that some children may take more than once to learn this lesson. Not that I have any experience with a strong-willed child, or three.
Offer healthy and balanced food at every meal. If the child chooses not to eat what is offered, put it up until the next meal. Do not offer snacks in between meals. No one is forced to eat anything, but there aren’t any unhealthy alternatives, either. Sooner or later, the child will find a sudden affinity for vegetables.
Maintain a clean play area with a reasonable amount of toys…not so many that he might get buried in an avalanche. Cover electrical outlets and frisk anyone leaving the kitchen for metal objects. Always be suspicious of closed doors and quiet playtime.
Not many people suffer from frostbite where I live, but we have a handful of cold days each year that require heat. Children, on the other hand, find fire fascinating 365 days a year. Secure all matches, flint sticks, and magnifying glasses under lock and key. Man has already discovered fire, and children don’t need to replicate the historic event.
Whatever your schooling philosophy, education is non-negotiable. Some children with learning challenges may need special assistance, but more often than not, teens suffer from brain fog. I won’t go into the various causes of this malady, but I am earnestly working on a cure, as are many parents of teens. My current strategy is to ban all social interaction during homework time, require all completed schoolwork before any extracurricular activities are approved, and install an obnoxiously loud alarm for morning wakeup. Keeping teens busy with productive activities, such as part-time jobs and special projects, gradually reduces the amount of time available for goofing off.
Many wants seem so innocent in a young child, but magnify that habit by a thousand to get an idea of what it will look like in 10, 15, or 20 years. It won’t look so innocent then, and there are no replay buttons on raising your kids. Provide for their needs with love and generosity. But identify their wants and develop patterns of fulfilling them in a way that won’t burn down the house or flunk them out of school.