You stare at them incredulously as they look up at you, a guilty expression on their faces.
Gentle, you reminder yourself. Be gentle!
“What were you thinking?!” you ask, truly wondering what train of thought led them to commit the act that brought you do this point.
They shrug, pout, and answer, “I don’t know.”
In frustration you puff out your breath with enough force to blow down the 3 little pig’s houses all in a row (you’ve made your point mom!) and try to decide what step to take next.
I don’t think there’s a parent out there who hasn’t found themselves in this situation of wonder and confusion at a decision made with a seeming complete lack of understanding and forethought. Am I right? :D
I’ve been reading this book that has absolutely nothing to do with parenting, but talks a lot about how marketing, industry, sales and retail strategies defy reasonable thinking (in case anyone is interested, the book is Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture). It makes mention of primary and secondary processing systems in each of our brains, and this thought really struck me.
The primary function is the knee-jerk reaction, do without thinking response that finds us reaching for that second slice of cake. Our secondary function gives us pause, causing us to weigh the possible ramifications of indulging in that second piece of cake – extra calories, stomach ache, are there others who haven’t had any or would like more, etc.
Here’s the kicker. Apparently, the secondary function doesn’t fully kick in until around age 7.
You don’t say.
It was like a literal light bulb went on in my brain when I read this. I instantly understood that when we say to our kids “What were you thinking?!” and we KNOW they weren’t, that there’s a good reason why.
Now. Before we go all freedom-fighters and let our kids do, think and say whatever they want because they aren’t thinking properly anyway, this by no means is an excuse for wrong or poor behaviour.
It is however an opportunity to find and extend grace for those moments.
As The Man and I were discussing this, he brought up a really valuable point.
The importance of training and disciplining our children when they’re young is crucial. For though they may not have the innate secondary response developed until they’re a little older, our loving teaching, training and consistent discipline can help to formulate that response to make a better choice in the future.
Over the last few years we have noticed a marked improvement in The Boy (who will be 10 in April – where does the time go?!) as far as showing wisdom in the choices he makes and the things he does and says. Knowing what I know now about the functions of our brain, and recalling the discipline and training we are giving him (though far from perfect), I can see how these go hand in hand for forming the character of our children.
But he is still a kid :0)
So moms (and dads!), the next time you’re ready to throw your hands up in exasperation at that crazy thing your child just did with no apparent thought to anything or anyone – remember this: they aren’t thinking, and even if they are, it’s still a tremendous moment to extend grace while teaching, training and discipling them in a correct response the next time.
Don’t give up! The hard work does pay off :0)