Buddhist Approach to Stubbornness in Children

By Venerable Panyananda Bhikkhu from his book Love Your Children The Right Way 

DEAR PARENTS, Please listen to me again about this important matter. Several days ago, a lady came to see me at the temple. She said she had only one son but he was trouble for her. I asked her how. She told me that her son was very stubborn. He did not listen to her at all and always acted as he pleased. Any time she disagreed with him there would be big trouble. When he became angry he would break things, which were close to him at the time. I listened and could not help feel pity on her and on that boy as well.

Mothers always have problems with stubborn children. If the children cannot be cured, the stubbornness will become a bad habit. When they grow up they may become hotheaded and cruel. I knew another boy. When he was young he would always be angry at something. When he became angry he would hit his head against the wall every time. The parents had to help each other hold him and talk to him to calm him down. After a short time, this family moved away. I met this boy again when he grew up to be a nice young man. He seemed to have changed and became a decent cool-headed man and not a quick-tempered one any more. It was probably due to the fact that his parents had corrected his condition in time. Ill-tempered children bring a great deal of heartache into the family. We should look at this issue as well.

One way to correct the stubbornness in children is by improving the behaviour of other people in the family. The fact of the matter is the children will not know anger if we do not teach them to be angry. The children will not know stubbornness if we don’t teach them stubbornness. The mistake in cases like this is usually that of the adults more than that of the children. The children are always innocent by nature. They don’t know how to do evil things yet. If we want to compare them to an object then they are like a piece of clean white cloth. It has not been stained by dirt. Nothing has contaminated the white cloth. It is the same for the children. Their minds are still controlled by nature. They have only a few needs. They also act in a direct way without any tricks up their sleeves. We have a duty to bring up our children, but we have not learned to know about their needs. For example, they may be busy doing something on their own and are having fun in their own little way. The adults do not understand what the children are doing and they do something against their wishes because the adults are only thinking about themselves. That makes the children angry but they don’t know how to justify their action. They don’t know how to tell what is inside their mind so they show their reaction by getting mad. If the adults force them more, they will become angrier and the reaction will be as strong as the action of the parents. You will end up thinking that your children are stubborn and do not want to comply with your command.

Why don’t you try thinking about yourself for a minute? Suppose you are enjoying yourself doing something and some one interrupts, you probably will be unhappy too. That kind of interruption is the thing that irritates people. The irritation, which occurs frequently in the mind of anybody, is a sure way to accumulate anger little by little. Eventually that person will be easily provoked and becomes angry-prone. Any person in anger does not know one’s self, does not know reasons and does not know anybody. Listening to nobody is a sign of stubbornness. So we can conclude that to contradict the children often will turn them to be easily provoked and angry-prone. The grown-ups must be very careful about this. Both children and adults love freedom. Give freedom to the children and don’t get involved with them too much. This is when the parents are usually wrong. They try to get involved too much. They lack understanding about their children. We can easily see in the following example.

A little girl is enjoying herself playing with a new toy. She is having fun with it. An adult comes by and picks up the toy to take a look at it without asking. The girl is unhappy because she was enjoying it. We interrupted her enjoyment all of a sudden. The girl is unhappy and shows her resentment. When we see that she is unhappy we want to make her angry seeing that it is a fun thing to do for the adult. But it is no fun for the little girl. She is angry because she is unfairly treated. The adult actually loves the girl and wanted to play with her. But she does not understand the intention of the adult. The adult does not know the feeling of the girl. So the two don’t get along. The little girl is at a disadvantage. Such action by the adult made her angry. When she is angry we punish her and we blame her for being a cry baby. This is actually the fault of the adult.

We adults should remember not to interfere with the children’s business before they have agreed to let us get involved. For example, if we want to take a look at their toys. In stead of taking your liberty to look at the toys, you should compliment them first and act like you want to see the toys. “Do you mind letting me see your toy?” They would say, “Of course not.” Then you can look at it, as you so desire. This is the right way to do it and it will not hurt their feelings. It will not anger them as well.

When the children are playing with their friends in a make believe situation such as playing at selling goods. You will see that they act as sellers and buyers with all kinds of things for sale. The buyers are buying and bargaining just like the way they have seen and remembered. You see them you may feel the love for them all of a sudden. The love in you makes you do things without any constraint. You go to your child and kiss her with love. You thought that your child would love it but you were wrong. The thought of the children were still with their world of make believe. They are sellers and buyers. How could you embrace a seller? They may feel that they will lose the money from damaged goods. They are not happy and they may be angry and cry. Then you were mistaken again for thinking that your children were too sensitive and they get mad all the time. It was you who were at fault to interfere with their business needlessly. Remember always not to interfere with the children when they are having fun playing. As a matter of fact, you should be thankful that they are not bothering you and leave you to do your work by playing like that.

On some occasions, your children were interested in something. They were paying full attention to that so much that they forgot all other things. They were concentrating on that particular thing and you wanted them to do something for you or you wanted them to come to you to do an errand. You called them once, you called them twice and they still did not move. You started to feel angry and said, “What kind of a son your are. I called you twice and you did not come to me.” If you became angry easily, you might beat your children and they would get hurt in vain because here again the adults were wrong. Please understand that the mind of the children can concentrate more easily than that of the adults. When they are doing something, they cannot hear anybody calling them at all. Don’t be angry with them. Be angry with your self for lacking an insight to do the proper thing. If you want to talk to the children, look and see what they are doing first. If there is no real need, do not try to separate them from the interest they have in whatever they are doing. When you need to ask them to do something, approach them and draw their attention from their _activity to you. Then you may ask them to do whatever you want them to do. Your children will understand and their feelings will not be hurt as well. The relationship should improve this way.

Some children like to do things as they please. When they do anything like that it does not mean that they are pretending but they have not understood the right and wrong in this world. They just do it because they are naive. The adults may feel frustrated by this kind of behaviour and will be offended by it because they think the children are so naughty. Sometimes you will forbid them to do things by saying, “Stop! Don’t! Come here! This boy is so naughty!” To do that is totally wrong. Words like that come from a depressed mind. A depressed person has a sad face and the action is gross due to the depressed mind. You are showing a bad image of yourself to your children. They may remember this image and do the same thing to you later on. Besides, your action like that may provoke the children. It is of no use to you and to the children when you release a poisonous rage in your mind. Please refrain from doing anything like that. If you see your children doing improper or bad things, tell them nicely Show them your love first then talk in a way to make them understand. In general, the children tend to be good to start with. Try to support them. But some parents love to compliment the children and spoil them unwittingly. For example, there are guests in the house. Because you never taught your children before or because your children stay close to you all the time, and the children can never stay put like puppets, while you are enjoying yourself talking to the guests, the children start doing their own things. You may tell your guests that, “Oh! This little guy is very naughty.” Or you may say, “This boy is very good.” This kind of remarks may anger the children. They may think you want them to be that way. This is a no win situation. So it is better not to say anything at all about them.

There are parents who train their children to receive bribes. For example, when the children are angry and crying, and making all kinds of obnoxious gestures, you are annoyed by the way they cry and do not know what to do to stop it so you give them a bribe. “Be quiet, I will take you to a movie. Be quiet, I will give you some cookies.” The children are happy that they will be going to a movie; they are happy that they will be given a cookie; so they stop crying and get whatever they want. Or some of you may forget the promise you have given to the children. The results are two ways. If the children get as promised, they will have a bad habit or wanting all the time. If they don’t get as promised, they will think that you don’t keep your promise. It is a no win situation as well. So I want to remind you not to bribe your children — they will be spoiled. This is just like the situation we have in Thailand with the people taking bribes in this day and age. This is a shameful thing, to say the least.

If your children start being easily provoked. They get angry very often. You have to try to correct the habit. If you leave it like that too long, the anger will stick to the mind of your children and it is hard to get rid of it. To correct this depends on the example in the family, i.e. the parents, the nanny and other people close to the children. Everybody must be careful not to show anger for the children to see. Do not argue in front of the children. This is an improvement on the part of the environment in the family first. Then try to find out the cause of the anger of the children. Hopefully it is something you can discover. Usually it is something inside your own family. Try to learn about the needs of the children as much as possible in order to be able to comply with their wishes. As mentioned before, to contradict the children often will make the children easily provoked. The children do not know anger if the grown-ups do not teach them to be angry. This is a basic principle, which the grown-ups must recognize.

children do not know anger if the grown-ups do not teach them to be angry. This is a basic principle, which the grown-ups must recognize. ing and playing to a certain degree. Allow them to be alone or to have fun with their friends. The adults should not be involved with them so much but only to watch what is going on. It is something like some one who keeps a watch on an engine. When the engine is running smoothly, he does not bother it any more except listening to the noise to hear whether it is running properly. It is the same for adults and children. If there are no needs, don’t bother. It is the best way. But whenever they want us to get involved, you must do it with a cool head and with loving kindness and compassion just to allow them to see that we are there to help only. When you see that something will bring harm to the children, you should do or say something to make them understand that it is not the right thing for them to do. And you don’t like what you see. The children will understand and will behave accordingly. Remember always that:

Children will do as the examples they see often. No matter the example is good or bad. Grown-ups should behave well to set good example for the children. Whenever you are in a bad mood, don’t go near your children. A bad mood can do anything improper to your children. Love and compassion are important tools to help your children become good persons by receiving good example from the parents. You, the parents, should be proud to have a chance to make some one a really good person. Your status and your job are not a limit, which prevent you from doing the right thing for your children. Please turn your attention more to your offspring. They will brighten you up in doing their good deeds. A parent is a big mirror, which gives a reflection for your children to see. Try to clean up the mirror and show a good image for your children to remember it for a long time.

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