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Category: Relationships / Topics: Character, Integrity Choices and Decision Making Family Parenting, Parents Relationships Teaching

Know your limits

by Ken Potts

Posted: October 27, 2019

Why it's important to tell kids…

Editor's Note: Ken Potts writes a lot about parenting, but what he says is equally important for those of us who are grandparents. When what Ken suggests leads us to realize we could have done better as parents, we can still use that knowledge to help our children and grandchildren.

"Well, Dad, if you'd told me that when I was 4, we wouldn't have this problem!"

That certainly stopped me in my tracks. I had to think for a minute, but Alex, my then 7-year-old, was right.

You see, I'd just uttered one of those standard retorts: "I can't be two places at once!" in response to my 3-year-old's demand that I help her with her crayons, my son's demand that I adjust the VCR, and my own need to salvage the supper burning on the stove.

I guess my irritation showed in my voice. I mean, couldn't Alex realize I was already trying to do too many things at once?

Well, of course he couldn't. Had I ever really sat down with him and explained that I had limits to how much I could do? Or had I expected him to figure this out on his own (or perhaps absorb it through some strange process of mental osmosis)?

Why Alex picked the age of 4 as the developmental period in which I ought to have introduced this concept of my limitations I am not sure. Perhaps that actually was when he could have first understood this idea.

Be that as it may, he was correct in that if I had explained it to him then, I might not be so frustrated now.

I suspect all of us parents fall into this trap. We, too, often assume our children will understand what's going on without our having to explain it. If something is clear to us as adults, we reason, it ought to be so to our children as well.

Put that way, the fantasy of such an assumption is fairly obvious. At each stage of our lives we are capable of seeing and understanding things differently. If we parents don't explain things in the right way at the right time to our children, we shouldn't be surprised (or irritated) if they just don't get it.

I'm not saying this is easy, or a lot of fun. It is part of our job. And if we do it well, we probably will wind up with fewer misunderstandings and petty squabbles in our families.

Maybe somebody should have explained that to us before we became parents.


Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Posted: October 27, 2019

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