Someone recently shared with me the story of how Ibe, the only son of his parents, lost his life in a careless adventure at the age of twenty-five. I was told that he drove a friend’s car under the influence of alcohol and got involved in a ghastly motor accident. He was the only person who died instantly in the accident, while the others sustained minor injuries.
Immediately two of his sisters arrived at the scene of the accident, they wept bitterly on sighting his lifeless body. Their lamentation from the time they arrived at the accident scene to the time Ibe’s body was deposited at the mortuary was that their parents kept telling him that he was stubborn and yet he could not change from his rebellious life style. The wails of his sisters were heard as his body was being carried into the morgue.
“Ewo! Ibe, papa kept talking about your stubbornness right from the time we were toddlers. See where it has landed you” his senior sister said as her tears flowed freely.
At this stage, I could no longer hold back the urge to view the utterances of Ibe’s sister from the perspective of the effective parenting principles. My regret was that I didn’t have the opportunity to interact directly with Ibe’s parents. I would have clarified certain things from them.
- Was it really true that the label of stubbornness was put on a toddler?
- Was it true that they consistently told Ibe that he was stubborn all through their interaction with him?
If it was true that Ibe kept living a rebellious life style from infancy, then the following strategy could have helped him improve:
- Separating him from any personality in his environment who was modelling stubbornness. Ironically, the person could have been the domestic help, his siblings or close relation, a play mate or even his parents. I heard of a mother who tactfully sent her son to stay with her parents when she noticed that her husband’s drinking habit was worsening. This was to prevent the child from absorbing the drinking habit from his father.
- Withdrawal of negative name-calling.
It is proper to rebuke a child for a wrong action, but very wrong to give a child a wrong name because of a wrong action. I am surprised that many parents ignorantly believe that always telling a child that he is wrong will make him right. For instance, that calling a child lazy will make him to be diligent. Some parents even make such negative assertions about their children before their visitors. No! That’s wrong! It builds a negative self-image and would likely function to reinforce the negative trait and make the child comfortable with being given that description. No wonder some adults have been heard saying such things as “I know that I am hot-tempered”, “You know that I am lazy” and “You know that I am always late”
It was obvious that describing Ibe as a stubborn child did not help him to overcome the trait of stubbornness. It would have helped him if his parents were guided to withdraw that negative name calling early enough.
- Faithfully calling the child names that motivate him towards forming positive self-image.
No child is without a talent and no child is wrong all the time. It is easy to get a positive attribute of a child to emphasise, while skilfully working on supporting him to improve on his weak areas. It is true that rebuke is effective if praise is not withheld whenever it is merited. For instance, a child may be good with helping out in house chores, but barely average in academics. The parents should always commend his diligence with domestic chores. Strategies to help him improve in his academics should be explored without calling him a dullard.
Passionate parents don’t toy with any action that affects a child’s conviction on positivity. Consistently giving a child a negative description and any parenting practice that persuades a child into developing a negative self-image is retrogressive and should be dropped in the child’s interest.
-Uchenna N. Nduka