TEN UNIVERSAL TRUTHS ABOUT CHILDREN (taken from ParentShift pages 14-16)

Being a solidly great parent to your child, in your country, in your culture, in your family allows for endless variety. The limits and freedoms you place on your sons and daughters are determined, in large part, by your experience, values, and circumstances. What’s suits other families may not suit yours. Despite these differences, however, and despite the infinitely varied ways we can become great parents, there are certain universal truths about children’s behavior—truths that apply equally to all children, regardless of their culture, race, religion, environment, or experience. Each of these truths is deeply important and, as you will see, heart-centered parenting is among the few models that both acknowledge and honor these truths.

1. All children have emotional needs.

Have you ever ticked off some of the common culprits of your moody child—Hungry? Tired? Sick?—only to realize that none of them seem to apply? That’s because children don’t just have physical needs; they have emotional needs, as well. These emotional needs are not always easy to distinguish (unless you know what you are looking for—which you soon will!), but they are no less important.

(To learn a little more about the emotional needs watch our video – click here)

2. All children have innate, neurological responses to stress.

When children experience strong emotions, particularly anger or fear, they move into what is sometimes termed “survival brain,” which is associated with the brain’s fight-or-flight response. Brain scans show that when the fight-or-flight mode is activated, children are unable to fully focus, cooperate, consider consequences, or think rationally. When they tantrum, it’s not a choice; it’s their biological reaction to stress. And here’s the kicker: Quite often, when we fly off the handle and impose too-harsh punishments on kids, those are not choices either—but the result of our own survival brains.

3. All children must express their feelings.

Despite our best intentions, most of us, at some point in time, will send messages to our kids that their most intense feelings are unacceptable, invalid, or of little interest to us. Maybe we’re feeling embarrassed that Junior is melting down in public, or we only have ten minutes to get out the door and don’t have time for the whining. Maybe we’re just tired of the drama. Whatever our rationale or excuse in the moment, when we persistently deny our children the right to express their feelings, those feelings turn into negative or unhealthy behavior.

4. All children go through developmental stages.

Children are on a continuous path of physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. Much has been written about the development of infants into toddlers and toddlers into preschoolers. But what about five-year-olds? Six-year-olds? What are the developmental markers of an eleven-year-old? Many of the things kids do that concern parents are developmentally necessary behaviors, not signs of disrespect or ineffective parenting. When we know what’s normal, we don’t spin our wheels trying to change the unchangeable.

5. All children are born with unique temperaments.

“Temperaments” refer to children’s natural, personal inclinations. A child’s sensitivity to change is generally influenced by temperamental traits, as is his level of cautiousness. Although scientific research into temperaments is still in its infancy, and individual temperaments are famously hard to isolate, we know certain traits are genetic, present at birth, and unchangeable. It’s also important to note that there are no “good” or “bad” temperaments. All temperamental traits are associated with any number of wonderful outcomes—as long as parents recognize these traits for what they are and work with them rather than against them.

6. All children model their primary caregivers.

We are our children’s most important role models, and children learn more by modeling us than from any other teaching method. So much can be gained from understanding just how well our children will mimic us—and how much the things we say to our children are influenced by the things our parents said to us. It’s both poetic and a little scary to consider that the voice we use with our kids—whether it’s overwhelmingly critical, exasperated, encouraging, or supportive— will someday become the voice they use when talking to themselves.

7. All children need opportunities to solve their own problems.

Children learn to be decision-makers by being allowed to make decisions, good and bad—not being told what to do or scolded when they choose the wrong path. As early as toddlerhood, children are capable of helping work out solutions to problems, and each time they do, they gain confidence in their own critical-thinking abilities. While rescuing our children from hardship and potential failure comes easily to many of us—“Your teacher said what to you? You’ve got to be kidding! I’ll have a word with her.”—it tends to produce children who feel they are not equipped to handle the real world on their own.

8. All children need caregivers who honor personal boundaries.

If there was any doubt that children must be taught to set personal boundaries for themselves, the #MeToo movement has shattered it. The violation of boundaries abounds in our society, in large part because our sons and daughters have not been taught to respect the boundaries of themselves and/or of others. And it all begins with us. It is our responsibility to teach children about boundaries by respecting their boundaries—and our own.

9. All children need age-appropriate limits on their behavior.

A great number of family conflicts center on limits. In the controlling parenting style, parents set the rules and children are expected to follow them. When the limits are broken, the parent uses threats or punishment to bring kids back in line. Conversely, in the permissive style, parents treat limits loosely, often setting them only to see them broken time and again. Knowing how to set reasonable, age-appropriate limits, and knowing how to respond when limits are challenged, is a must if parents are to experience consistently close and cooperative relationships with their children.

10. All children move through and between four levels of discouragement in response to unmet needs.

The first truth was that all children have emotional needs. The last one is that when those needs are not met, children act out in a surprisingly methodical way. In response to unmet needs, children move through four levels of challenging behavior: 1) demanding attention, 2) power struggles, 3) displays of revenge, and 4) displays of inadequacy. The most effective parental response depends entirely which level is being experienced.

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