I call it “Vitamin N.” It is the word children need to hear most, but it is currently the word children hear least. It is arguably the most character-building word in the English language, but then helping children achieve great things (or creating the illusion that they are achieving great things) has eclipsed helping children build strong character.
That is unfortunate indeed because high achievement alone does not produce solid character, but a person with solid character will always do his or her best.
Children do not know what is in their own best interests. They are short-sighted, pleasure-seeking, impulsive, and instant-gratification oriented. They have great difficulty realizing that pain often leads to gain, failure to accomplishment, and that putting off reward often results in even greater reward. The job — it is their primary job, in fact — of parents and other adult caregivers is to determine and do what is in children’s best interests. That sometimes means incurring wrath, which is one of a short list of reasons why adults should never, ever want to be liked by children. The fact that an adult knows he loves the child who momentarily hates him, loves the child enough to make the supreme sacrifice (which the child cannot grasp and will not until he has children of his own), is sufficient.
When people of my generation get together, the conversation often gets around to what we see going on with today’s parents. We share our observations with one another in large part because many if not most of today’s parents are not interested in our observations. They see their children with tunnel vision and cannot fathom that their preoccupation could possibly be a handicap to both themselves and their kids.
Tunnel vision is, after all, a form of blindness.
The above conversation always, without exception, comes down to one conclusion: today’s parents, despite their good intentions, are their own and their children’s worst enemies. The so-called “issues” they are having with their kids are the logical result of their parenting behavior. They complain about these difficulties but God help the boomer who points out, however diplomatically, that they, not their children, are the problem.
They argue with their children not because their children are argumentative, but because they explain themselves. Their children do not do what they are told because the parents in question do not tell; rather, they suggest. Their children are petulant and ungrateful because they indulge.
Their children have never learned to pay attention to adults or take adults seriously, therefore they disobey and are disrespectful. And so on.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all contemporary parenting complaints is “My child can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” It is the aural equivalent of “My child won’t eat broccoli.” In both cases, it is the absence of what the child supposedly cannot take or eat that causes the child’s aversion. The solution to a loathing of broccoli is broccoli, as in, “Your dinner is two florets of broccoli. When you have eaten them, you may have ample portions of what the rest of us are having.” Likewise, a child who cannot take “no” for an answer simply needs lots more of it.
The best “vitamins,” after all, are those that are the hardest to swallow.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.