Preparing for the real world

Step back from your parenting job for a moment and look at what you are really aiming for. Your job is clear. You have about 18 years in which to train a child for life. Your aim is to produce a person who can make it in the real world — be happy, take care of themselves, get along with others, stay out of jail and perhaps even make a contribution to society.

Think about some of the rules operating in the real world, which you and I have to deal with routinely:

– You can’t always have what you want.

– Other people have feelings, too.

– Hitting people is not on.

– Some things take time.

– Your feelings don’t change the world.

– Think first, act second.

These are lessons a child has to come to grips with, in thousands of practical situations, in the toddler years and beyond. They can best learn them from you — as you love them and teach them in a good-humoured, balanced way. The outside world will teach them, also, but not so caringly. If parents don’t get discipline right, children, teachers and others will not be able to build on it.

Not everyone learns these things and there are plenty of adults who go through life having tantrums, hurting people, acting impulsively and so on. But they are not happy people and no one likes them.

Let’s get specific. You’re at the supermarket checkout. Three-year-old Johnny sees the sweets hanging close at hand. He wants them. At this age, seeing is wanting is getting because, until now, that has mostly been true. But you, as his parent, do not agree. This time, no sweets, for any number of good reasons — it’s almost mealtime, that colour makes him hyperactive, you’re broke or you just don’t believe in giving kids what they ask for every time.