Perhaps the most emotionally committed ally you can ever have is your own ten year old child, even if they are afraid of you. They sit in the middle of infancy and adulthood balanced in the world you have shown them. They are wanting to be just like something, though perhaps not everything you are showing them, and possibly without either you or them realizing how powerful that influence is.
Children see. Children hear. Children follow their parents around and mimic them. This isn’t new, as we are all hardwired that way. Hominids have been doing this for over four million years as far as we know. Since most children will develop behavior patterns from how their parents teach them to deal with the world around them, being the parent of a ten year old makes who you have been for the last decade, and who you are now, a powerful influence.
Teachers also influence the children, don’t they? Of course they do, and they can also be powerful forces, either positively or negatively. But the parents are the ones with the strongest, and therefore most likely to be the longest lasting overall influence. Because of this, and the huge difference in the amount of time and control parents can have more than any individual teacher, few teachers will ever have enough time to overcome all that the children have already “picked up” from Mom and/or Dad. And it’s also important to remember going forward from age ten, a child’s eagerness to begin to assert themselves as individuals, and even rebel against parental authority, is likely to accelerate–far more so now than at any earlier time.
By the time a child is ten years old, whether the mix of parental influence be predominantly good or bad, a human child is arguably at a most critical pivotal point for the formation of the principal parts of their belief and value systems. And whether any recognition is given to a pivotal age, societies tend to place a high degree of importance on believing the child-rearing process has a lot to do with, not just what the child learns to value, but also how society values that child when it reaches adulthood.
I’ll bet you’ve heard someone say to another person some kind and uplifting or generally positive remark about the way the other person was probably raised. Our culture centers around family units. So to speak respectfully to most of us about our families is usually taken, as well as intended to be, a compliment. The opposite is also true.
Just because a parent or a grandparent was an ethical person does not mean the child will always grow up to act ethically all the time. But on the other hand, if we are raised to believe it’s okay to be unethical, the handicap of what we believe, no matter how true or untrue those beliefs may be, could cause them to be most difficult, and for many, unlikely to ever overcome. Why? Because by the age of ten, our perceptions of the world around us are very well established. And they are so to the extent of determining what we will value, as well as some of the things we don’t want (to have or to happen to us) for the rest of our lives.
So as a parent, how long do you have? Psychologists tell us early childhood will determine a lot about what a child will want to learn, and become capable of learning. When children are very young, they are dependent on their parents. But it’s also true for the most part, that they actually do want to be with their parents. And that is true even when parents, unconsciously or not, are giving the child good reason to want to be away from them.
By the time puberty kicks in, their following and mimicking days are over . More and more, they’ll want to make their own decisions. They may not always fully understand why they feel that way, but they might think they do. And when that occurs, there is little point in expecting them to want mom or dad to show them how to do anything. Sometimes, their parents don’t understand all of what’s going on, either, because…they have forgotten.
Learning is a process. That means it takes time. Well, unless the learning is due to trauma, and when learning is the result of that kind of experience, it ceases to be a process, and becomes an event. How you help your child get to age ten is largely up to you as far as dealing with processes, or allowing (or causing) trauma.
By ten, a child has a pretty good idea how mommy and daddy resolve problems, disagreements and conflict. Some children are quite accustomed to yelling, screaming, and physical violence by the time they are ten years old. And they may well believe, consciously or not, that aggressiveness and force is not only an acceptable way, but the quickest way to get them what they want. In other words, if they’ve leaned by trauma, they will be likely to teach by trauma. That’s what they’ve learned; that’s what they know.
A sad addendum to that is, while some children learn to commit violence, quite a few also learn to accept it. Some who were abused as children continue to allow themselves to be abused as adults, often finding something strangely addictive to what they’ve grown up believing was normal–or at least what they believe they deserve.
Whatever it is that you will teach them about who you are, what you do, and what you stand for and not stand for, will pretty much be well established in their minds by the time they are ten years old. If you wait ’til then to get started, you may have waited too late.
But even if you haven’t, you’ve wasted a whole decade that will never come again, and the time you have left will pass quickly. And during most of that time, they might not listen to you the way they had been willing to earlier. Be sure that for whatever it is they’ve learned, you were far and above all others their principal teacher whether you realized it or not.