WORDS: Mark Le Messurier
When I present workshops to parents and educators, I often show an image of a building ‘under construction’. This is a visible reminder that our children; their brains, bodies, and spirit are in a precious process of construction. Their brains, quite invisibly, are undergoing a profound 30-year wire up.
Our children are genuinely naïve, experimenting, participating, and preparing for life. And as they learn and gather experience, they are bound to make poor judgments from time to time. It is what young inexperienced human beings do. You did it. I did it. We swung between being unbearable to virtuous in our search for identity, independence, and purpose. Developmentally, at every age, there is a clumsy and vital tension between our children seeking greater autonomy and living within thoughtful limits we have created. Our mission is to support them to learn through every interaction, observation, success, and mistake, in a shame-free, fully supported environment.
Consequently, this is the perfect time to treat children with a deep reverence around consistency and persistence. How do we model and build these important foundations?
- We use language that is constructive, helpful, and connecting.
- We give poised responses – a thoughtful beautiful blend of kindness, attachment, strength, and leadership.
- We acknowledge the behaviours we value – carefully placed praise is the strongest shaper of desirable behaviours.
- We notice their stressors and co-create opportunities for them to achieve greater success.
- We teach new skills so they can function more effectively, everywhere.
A while back, I had a consultation with two parents about their sons. They had three boys aged 12, 13 and 15 years. The eldest boy frequently punched his brothers hard in the stomach to wind them. He thought it was funny because it got a big reaction as they doubled over and dropped to the floor. Mum did not think it was funny. Dad was unsure whether it was a problem. Mum was a school principal who worked enormous hours and Dad worked from home, part-time, and was mostly at home. I cut to the chase and explained family was the place where each person’s safety must be guaranteed, and this was dad’s job.
“Well, how do you expect me to do that? I haven’t got eyes in the back of my head!” he countered.
I agreed, and suggested he follow up every time there was a punching incident with a private conversation with the perpetrator as well as supporting the unsuspecting victim.
“Seriously? Every time? I’ve got better things to do than pander to this. It’s just a phase!” He complained, rolling his eyes, then shooting his wife a dark stare.
I boldly pushed on to where no other man had ever been with this father. “Yes, every time! And these private conversations must be private, must take no longer than two minutes, must start by you telling your son you love him, must reaffirm your family values and what you want, and you must stay gentle, connected, and good humoured!”
“How long for?” he asked.
“Ideally, forever. But if you’re up for it, let’s give it a red-hot go for six weeks.” I urged.
Unbelievably, he returned in six weeks. I opened the door to one of the best greetings I have ever received.
“I did it,” he said, “I did exactly what you asked, over and over, and for the last fortnight we have been free of punching. You know, I grew up in a tough part of Glasgow. I can remember coming home to brag to dad about a fight I’d had as a kid and older. It was all around getting his approval. If he thought I’d done well there’d be a smirk of approval on his face. If I hadn’t won, then he’d send me back again to square up. I think it got into my DNA and messed up my thinking. It was pretty dysfunctional.”
This amazing man’s love for his boys carried his heart and soul into this experiment. He persisted for the boys, for his wife and for his family. I know that his resolve saved much more than he will ever know.
Remember, every day is a new day, and with it, comes the opportunity to restart a promise you’ve made to yourself even though it may have fallen short the day, or days, before. New days invite our hopes and wishes to become real. Please persist!
Mark is a teacher, counsellor, public speaker, and the author of 17 publications, with a new parenting book just around the corner. He works in private practice in Adelaide as a mentor to children and adolescents, and as a coach to parents. Mark is the recipient of SA Senior Australian of the Year 2022.