Raising a Gentleman
My son is almost 6 years old, and I don’t like the way he treats his younger sister. I want him to be a “gentleman.” How do we, as parents, instill those values?
Well, my husband Bill worked hard with Liam about being a gentleman – teaching him how to behave, including things like saying, “Excuse me,” opening doors for women, common courtesies, not wearing your hat indoors, etc. It’s his “man training” and it’s something that my husband has always done. Bill and I have talk often about how the kids will learn what an adult man is supposed to do/be based on who he is. Fiona will marry a man who treats her as Bill treats her, and Liam will be the husband that Bill is.
At age 5, we talked to Liam about how was going to be getting more “man training” from Bill because he needs to learn how to be a man. We’ve tied it into his superhero love, too; he is always “practicing to be a super hero.” Thankfully, superheroes are mostly very gentlemanly. Now that he’s into Bibleman, this is even easier because we can ask him, when he does something, if it’s something Bibleman would have done.
Today we were running errands, and my husband went into a store to grab something while the the girls and I stayed in the van. My 5-year-old daughter asked to get out of her carseat and come sit in front of me, which I do sometimes let her do if we are sitting in the car waiting for something. However, since it was going to be just a very quick in and out trip for my husband, I told her that I wanted her to stay in her carseat because we wouldn’t be sitting there long, and because we were in a hurry to finish up and get home. Well, she immediately started screaming and kicking the seats, which I asked her to stop doing. And she did. But then she started trying to convince me that I should let her get in the front. I calmly continued to tell her that we weren’t going to get out of our seats this time. So she started saying things like, “You’re rude. If I want to get out of my seat, I can, and you have to let me,” all in this voice that very much agitates me! Then she started kicking the seats again, and I ended up yelling at her. What should I have done?
Here is a thought (that I have to remind myself and my husband of often) . . . if she can buckle and unbuckle herself, then during that time in the van (short or long) you could have been connecting with your daughter sitting and hugging you (probably what she was really asking for), rather than disconnecting with her being rude and you yelling. By asking your permission to get out of the seat, and obeying you when she stopped kicking, she was affirming that you have the power and authority. But her response showed how unjust she felt your ruling was. Even Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge and the woman who pounds on his door all night until he finally comes out and gives her what she wants.
As you’re being more respectful, you will see the change in your daughter; it really must come from you first. I have tried to look at my children’s (mis)behavior as an indicator of what I need to change in my parenting. Sounds like you’re doing this, which is great. I have also come to realize that change doesn’t come overnight – for me or them. I must be modeling the new behavior before it comes back at me with them having learned it.
At your daughter’s age, I’d talk honestly with her about what you’re wanting to change and what you want changed in her, and then help empower her to make the change. Give her some things she can do and say when she feels you’re not being fair or she doesn’t like your decision. Ask yourself, “Why?” before giving an answer and, if the reason seems silly or unnecessary, then be willing to be flexible. It helped around this age if I could ask questions in response while I sorted out an answer. “Do you think Daddy will be in long enough? He’s just getting a few things,” or, “Why do you want out of your chair? What will you be doing?” If he got back before I got answers or made a decision, then it was really a short trip. If not, then we didn’t waste the time fighting.
At five, your daughter is experiencing her power and what she can and can’t do with it. Don’t give in to tantrums like this, and don’t get caught up in them. Anchor yourself once you’ve made a decision you’re willing to back up. If I’m unsure, then I’m more likely to waiver, which means I didn’t need to draw that battle line. If I’m sure of my decision, then I’m more willing to comfort them as they express their feelings about my decision (positive or negative).