While we have accepted that stress is a part of adult life since long ago, stress in childhood is usually mentioned when it is necessary to point out difficult experiences children are exposed to, e.g. in a crisis. Adults often think that experiences children are exposed to are not so important. However, in the course of their growth, children and youth are exposed to various stressors: injuries, difficult separations, losses, disturbing events in the family and at school and other things.
It is important that parents are consistent with their child because it sends the him/her the message that they mean what they say and that they can be trusted. Upbringing should be adjusted to the developmental stage and the child’s individuality. Parents should recognise and understand their child’s needs, behaviour and possible reactions.
Requests and setting boundaries
Requests most often rest on punishments and the child’s fear of a punishment and parents’ anger. Setting boundaries rests on avoiding conflicts and a power game between parents and children and on motivation for desirable behaviours.
In situations when the child screams or cries because s/he has not got what s/he wanted, the parent should explain why s/he cannot get what s/he wants and offer solutions including delay of instant gratification or a replacement. If the parent lets the child get what s/he wants, such (undesirable) behaviour will probably appear more frequently.
It is even more important to explain in advance which behaviour is expected as clearly and detailed as possible, so that the child understands which behaviour is desirable and which is not. The child should be taught about the consequences of certain behaviours so that s/he knows what follows after s/he has behaved appropriately or inappropriately. This way we prevent the emergence of problems because of the boundaries set in advance, before the problem occurs.
Threatening, as well as blackmailing, insulting and humiliation of the child indicate the power of adults and the worthlessness and inability of the child. If some method is successful at one moment and helps the parent control the child’s behaviour, it does not mean that it is good for the child or that it will always work.
The power of reward, approval and privilege
There are many methods how children learn to differentiate the desirable from the undesirable behaviour. One of the most powerful is rewarding, especially in the form of approval and privilege (meaning granting the child something that makes him/her happy, e.g. longer watching TV).
Negative consequences may be the absence of such a privilege. The child should not be punished with depriving him/her of satisfying basic needs, like food, safety, love… or corporal punishment. S/he should be rewarded when s/he changes something in his/her inappropriate behaviour. The consistency of this will make the child change his/her behaviour in the positive direction.
In brief, the parent must set his/her children clear, concrete and well defined boundaries, i.e. rules of behaviour in advance, tell them under which conditions they can get or deserve certain privileges, and under which conditions they can lose them.
Requests most often rest on punishment and the child’s fear of a punishment and parents’ anger. Setting boundaries rests on avoiding conflicts and a power game between parents and children and on motivation for desirable behaviours.