What do you do with a primary-school-age child who climbs every tall object in sight, forgets to look both ways before crossing the street, and eyes your tools with unnerving interest? Or who makes a habit of telling people what he thinks (or what you think) of them?
Take It Easy
The first thing not to do is lay down a host of “thou shalt nots.” If your child is naturally strong-willed, every “don’t” will fuel her “Nobody bosses me around” determination. And if you get hysterical whenever she climbs a tree, she may take perverse pleasure in leading you on. Choose your battles carefully, and when you do have to head off an action, stay firm but emotionally detached. And accept that some physical injury is probably inevitable—but, thankfully, heals quickly at that age.
Be an Understanding Listener
Rather than focus on the frustration your child’s recklessness causes you, recognize that he’s feeling frustrated too. A heedless explorer is usually a natural leader who is less than happy about time still to wait before he gets “big enough” for official leadership authority. Show some empathy when he vents to you. Steer the conversation toward things he can do now, to prepare for the bigger things he dreams of doing.
Let Children Be Themselves
Definitely do not try to turn your natural leader into a quiet, cautious person. Besides making your home a battlefield, this will leave your child doubly frustrated, inhibited, and angry—and will likely turn her suppressed energy toward truly dangerous behavior. Give her your blessing for engaging in active play, innovation, and big dreams—even if you’re terrified at the thought that she probably will lead a spaceflight to Venus someday—and she’ll be on track to accomplishing great things.
Know How to Head Off Real Trouble
All the above is not intended to imply you should allow a child to run blindly into busy streets, knock over breakable objects, or improvise his own parachute for jumping from sixth-floor balconies. There is such a thing as legitimate caution enforced by firm rules and boundaries. Such rules are less likely to meet outright rebellion if you:
- Make setting the rules a family project, allowing everyone input into the final decision even if you can’t always give everyone an equal vote.
- Be clear on consequences for violating a rule—and follow through with them. (Don’t think that a willful child won’t test the rules. Any hesitancy of response on your part means a harder battle next time.)
- Recognize in advance that rules will evolve as a child grows up. Establish criteria (not necessarily age) for periodic reevaluation.
Note to Teachers
Don’t confuse restlessness with rebelliousness: even less daring kids hate spending every school day in a seat and limiting their input to predetermined “right” answers. To bring out the best in everyone, provide time to exercise creativity, play actively, and engage in thoughtful discussions. And if you have an annoyingly willful/outspoken/thoughtless student who is encouraging others to follow her lead, channel that energy in the right direction by asking her to help plan the next group project or field trip.
WE BUILD LEADERS AT SHADY OAK PRIMARY SCHOOL
Whether naturally daring, dutiful, or timid, all children deserve ongoing encouragement to develop their individual strengths. Shady Oak’s whole-child program emphasizes teamwork, creativity, and purpose alongside reading, science, and mathematics. Contact us to learn more.
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!