There was a film called the "Eye of the Beholder" that I saw when I was in college. It portrayed the same incident three times as seen through the eyes of three different people who had three different ways of looking at the world. These different observers held different beliefs about why people do what they do and as a result reacted differently to the same situation.
As parents we often react to the behaviors of our children in ways that have little to do with how our children are behaving and a lot to do with how we perceived their behavior. In this article I would like to evaluate one of the ways parents view children's behavior and how this belief affects both the child and the parent's behavior.
A typical belief about children is that they are naturally lazy or irresponsible. In the book "Lord of the Flies" and in the book "Animal Farm" the authors use this theme to develop their plot.
These stories make sense only if you assume that children, people, left to themselves would naturally become lazy, selfish individuals.
If a parent views their child as naturally irresponsible they will consistently intervene to assure that their child is stopped from doing what he would naturally do. The parent believes that children progress only when they overcame the natural tendency for laziness. The parent sees their job as making sure the child "does the right thing."
The sad part about this belief is that it creates a barrier between the parent and the child. The child does not see the parent's action as "helping or loving" but rather as "stopping or judging." The child comes to believe that his parents are right and that he must be "bad." To the child, overcoming or embracing the natural tendency to be "bad" is the choice he has. As a result, the child grows up holding the same beliefs his parents have and as a result will parent his children the same way.
It is amazing how even the most enlightened parent will hold firmly to this belief. If you suggest that there is another way to look at their child you are seen as a threat or as ungodly. Parents will point to the Bible to justify their belief that "Man is basically evil." This will be done in spite of the fact that most religions refer to God as "Father" implying something about our basic goodness.
Observation of children at play has helped us to see children in a different light. We now know that a child evolves slowly and some of the behavior that we call misbehavior is experimentation, ignorance, the desire for order, or imitation. The human species is loving and caring by design. It is interesting to note that other species of animals do not have the emotions and natural tendencies to be concerned about others that humans do. Reptiles, for instance, form no close relations with their young. It is not the way they are built.
If a parent believes that their child is by nature loving, and capable of making decisions that are responsible a different dynamic is in place. Children are not seen as needing control but rather guidance and assistance. Parents become caring individuals who are trying to help the child become what the child needs to become not what the parent thinks the child should become. When parents need to intervene because of a child's unwise decision the child and parent see this intervention as "help" not punishment. But more importantly the child is not seen a permanently "bad." Nothing that is basically good can be permanently "bad" but only on a detour.
When a parent believes in the child's basic greatness, goodness, or nobleness the child can evolve into the wonderful person he/she has the potential to become.
Let me illustrate what I am trying to say with a little story. Once there were two mommy frogs. The fist mommy frog saw her little tadpole as defective and deviant and insisted that the tadpole come out of the water and joins her on land. The little tadpole tried his best but could never become what his mommy wanted. He eventually grew into an adult frog but always thought there was something wrong with him. The other mommy frog saw the potential in her little tadpole and kept encouraging it to do what needed to be done to become the best tadpole he could be. The little tadpole always thought he was ok and eventually became the great frog his mother always thought he could become.