Now that my oldest son is getting a little, well, older, I enjoy talking to him more. He was never very good at articulating his thoughts. He’s more a man of action. Man… he’s 10. Still. He has preferred to express himself physically, through actions rather than through words.
This is not in itself a negative thing. Every child is different, no matter what age. The compounding issue is that he’s always been one of the biggest and usually the strongest boy in his grade. So, when he acts out physically, moving his arms and legs, making sudden impulsive movements, other things near him tend to fly – pencils, chairs, other children.
That’s a problem.
Once in pre-school he picked up a stone. A girl was looking at him. Maybe she was watching him, maybe she was curious or perhaps she wasn’t looking at him at all, just in his direction. The reports from witnesses all stated that the girl was a good distance from my son.
Nonetheless, he didn’t like what he saw and his body went into action: he threw the stone at the girl. The stone hit her in the mouth, chipping a tooth. The girl's parents were not happy with my son or with us. We were lucky they didn't sue. I think her Dad was a dentist, actually.
We come to our children’s defense. Sometimes they make it very, very hard for us to help, like when they throw a rock at a girl’s face without cause. Like I said, if the parents had decided to sue for dental expenses or whatever, they would have been within their rights. And I would have been in dire straits.
But what if we had come to his defense, and faced a lawsuit, and worked it out with lawyers and paid the fine or damages. What lesson would my son have learned? If we made him pay for the damages with what money he had accrued at the ripe old age of 6, then maybe he would have learned a lesson. I know I did. I learned that my son should not throw stones at anyone because it could hurt them. That’s what I learned. There’s only one problem with that lesson:
I ALREADY KNOW THIS LESSON!!
I NEED MY SON TO LEARN THIS LESSON!
We have to get out of our kid’s way. We have to make them face the consequences of their actions. If not, no lesson is learned and the behavior is likely to repeat itself.
Of course, none of this is news. Then why is it still news? Why do we need to repeat and remind ourselves of its importance? We’re intelligent, thoughtful parents. We know the rules. We try to enforce the rules so that they sink in.
Is this some kind of cosmic joke? Is it our destiny to teach, observe, reteach and repeat? Ad infinitum? When does the baton of responsibility get passed on?
Now I am certain that some of you reading this far in this post might be shaking their heads while thinking, we teach our kids these lessons. My children are responsible.
Is it because you enforced great life lessons as they were growing up? Or is it because your child was more naturally conscientious and mindful, unlike my child who is emotional, impulsive and reactive?
Each situation is different. Every child is different. And each child must be approached as unique and independent of any other. We cannot, as parents or teachers or caregivers or coaches, approach a one size fits all mentality and assume that every child will get it at the same rate. Of course not. That’s why there are those that shine in various areas and those that get by. And that’s fine.
No matter what our kids take on, at some point frustration will take hold. This can be especially true of the brightest and most gifted kids for whom everything comes easily. They might excel in school and sports but at some point they will meet their match. And that kid, the one who is not used to working hard, usually meets difficulty with fewer tools for coping.
That kid will need your help to get through. At the same time, you can’t do it for them. You can’t pay the fine, take the test, or do the time for them. They must put in the effort.
All our kids will need help learning tough lessons at some point. And we need to be there to guide them through. My point is this: as caregivers, coaches, mentors and teachers, we can never do it for them. We can model the process, we can show them how, but we cannot complete the task for them.
That part they have to do alone.
Final take away: No matter who you are, it’s never a good idea to throw stones at people. Someone will get hurt.
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a novelist, screenwriter, educator, and father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and optioned screenplays, articles, and this blog.