I’ve noticed a pattern in my own parenting, and in the parenting of many mums and dads I work with.
We parents can often exhibit a relatively low tolerance with our kids – particularly when we ask them to do something and they don’t do it. We typically expect that if we say jump, it will happen instantly. When it doesn’t, some parents have been known to flip out!
And some of us also seem to struggle with patience when our children are learning a new skill, be it tying a shoe lace, cooking their eggs, or navigating challenging social situations. We show them how it’s done, give good advice, and expect that, ‘hey presto’, they’re trained and competent.
The trouble is, teaching our kids to get their food, clean their room, or get their food isn’t as simple as downloading the app or installing a driver. A one-off demonstration doesn’t cut it for learning. Instead, the teaching takes time… precious time. We have to teach them, guide them through their mistakes, give them more chances to get it right, and continue the laborious process until they get it right
We know this, obviously. And we know that it’s our job to teach them. But it’s the time issue that seems to create the stress and angst – for us and the kids! So often it’s time we don’t feel that we have.
An easy example is tying shoelaces. Put simply, we’re somewhere between frantic and frazzled in the morning, so there isn’t time to teach them to tie them. And we forget in the afternoon because of the extra-curricular rush, the dinner planning, and the final tidy up before bed.
So we have two problems: kids not doing as they’re asked, or kids not knowing how to do as they’re asked.
So we end up doing one of two things…
In the first instance (when they don’t do), we get cranky, start shouting and threatening, and make demands. Something like “Do as you’re told when you’re told” ought to sum that one up.
In the second instance (where they don’t know how), we tend to actually do things for our kids. We make life easy for them… but mostly for us.
It’s faster that way.
We get more done.
We get out the door on time (or close to it).
We get the quick-fix results we need…
But it doesn’t help our kids.
Some time ago I came across this phrase – fast is slow and slow is fast – by the late Stephen R. Covey. Dr Covey was a giant in teaching about personal relationships. This idea resonated with me.
Of all the relationships we have, there is no relationship where this is more applicable than to our relationship with our children.
Kids aren’t co-operating? A common parental response is to blow up, or we threaten, shout, and carry on. We might ridicule, dismiss, demean, or ignore. Or we bribe, dangle carrots, and go for the sugar-coated quick-fix. In each instance we rely on our parental power.
Our focus is quick results. It’s about being fast.
That’s because our kids don’t learn to do the right thing for the right reasons. They only learn to do the right thing when we are around so that they can get the goody or avoid the punishment. So their moral development is slow. Their progress into responsible, thoughtful, considerate, autonomously motivated individuals is slowed or even stopped when we go for ‘fast’.
Same goes for doing things for the kids when they can’t do it themselves. Fast means we just do it. We’ll teach them later!
Slow, on the other hand, requires considerable effort in the early phases. It’s about laying a solid foundation in the relationship – one of trust, compassion, and emotional availability – and spending time in effortful dialogue, guidance, and teaching.
This stuff is slow, and it can be hard work.
But as time goes on, it is required less and less. And soon enough, slow becomes fast.
Kids trust us, learn from us, come to us for guidance, and love to be with us.
When the kids are doing the wrong thing, or ignoring us, we spend time with them. We speak quietly. We listen. We are patient. We consider their preference to wait until the ads, or until they lose a life in their game. When we HAVE to hurry, we talk with them clearly but kindly and explain rather than demand.
And when our children are developing a new skill, we tell them, we show them, and we let them try… over and over and over again!
In your next interaction with your children, rather than pushing for a fast result, slow down. Be present. Ask questions. Listen carefully. Respond with empathy. And watch how slow is so much faster.