By Tim Middleton
Folk have come up with imaginative signs at their gates warning people of the dogs within. One sign reads: “Is there life after death? Come in and find out!” That certainly makes a serious point! Then there are others which read, “Forget the dog; beware of the wife!” Generally, when people read those signs, they heed the warning and do not enter, though some folk see a small timid dog and think that the sign is misleading, not knowing that the small timid dog is there to waken the big fierce dog sleeping in the shade! We all know about dogs!
There are also two things that we know for certain about children. Firstly, children will misbehave, be it knowingly and deliberately or innocently and subconsciously. They want their own way; they think they know better; they believe they are impregnable and they do what they want — it is all very simple! The rules, regulations, requirements are all laid out nice and clearly but they will do their own thing.
Secondly, children will question. They will question why said rules, regulations and requirements are in place and will respond accordingly, most likely by choosing to adopt the first principle above, namely, ignore the instructions and warnings but rather choose to misbehave. Very often when they question, they do not actually want an answer (it is their way of saying they do not want to believe it) but there are indeed times when they do want an answer (and usually do not receive one).
At the same time, there is one thing that we know for sure about parents and that is that they will generally not handle those two facts about children well! Generally, parents react to their child misbehaving either by ignoring it or by over-reacting, be it with a physical action, telling them to grow up, grounding them for ages or comparing them to their siblings or other children. The truth is that rarely will any of these measures have any positive effect.
When it comes to their child questioning them, parents tend to respond in a typical, very limited fashion. Often the response is a blunt “Because”! The brevity of this response reveals without question (even to their child) that they do not have a reason or if they do, they know it is utterly unreasonable, unacceptable or even unfathomable. “Because” what? Because they like ice-cream? Because they support Chelsea? Because they are grown-up (even though their response indicates they have not grown up)? However, they may even at times stretch their patience and say very definitively, “Because I say so”. In this response they are underlining their belief that as the ultimate authority they are always correct and should never be questioned or even doubted.
Children know that such tactics do not work. In fact, such tactics usually have the opposite effect — they harden their hearts and make them determined simply not to get caught next time while they distance the child who will offer no communication in return. Yet parents persist with them.
Given all of that, it should not be too difficult for any of us to realise that if such tactics do not work with our children they will never ever work with adults. And yet, many in leadership, be it in business, politics or education, often resort to exactly the same tactics as those ill-prepared parents. When the electorate or an employee does not behave in a way that we desire or think they should, we are likely to pretend to ignore it or we overreact by physical restraint, grounding, shouting or comparing. We do not like to listen nor consider what has caused the declared misdemeanour. Furthermore, many in such leadership do not take kindly to being questioned and lamely resort to the authoritative “Because” — because they say so, even when no reason is or indeed can be given.
It is not the children that need to grow up; it is the parents and leaders. Treating people like such parents treat their children will have absolutely no benefit. It is not the dog of which we should beware, nor indeed the wife; rather beware the small mindset that awakens the big ego. Why? Because the child becomes the parent and then the parent becomes the boss. Because the bark is worse than the bite. Because children and adults deserve an answer. Why? Because…..
- Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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