Adeline and I are at the children’s garden at the Botanic Gardens, the sun breaking through the clouds and heating up what was a cool day. We’re stuck at the beginning of the garden; Addie is in love with the shaky bridges and we haven’t moved past them. Back and forth and back and forth, we run across the bridges. She shouts with joy as she makes it over each bridge and laughs her hilarious laugh every time she hits that first shake. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
But it’s getting hot in the sun and I’m getting bored. I know there’s a stream further in that she would love and that would help us both cool down. I ask her if she wants to go but she just shakes her head and keeps running across the bridges. I ask a few more times and I just gets shouts of “No!” A couple minutes later a big group of kids runs by heading into the garden. Adeline loves older kids, so she pauses to watch them. I take my chance.
“Look sweetie, everyone else is going into the garden. Should we go see what they’re doing? Come on, let’s follow them!”
She considers for a moment, looking at me and back at the kids. Then she shoots me her best smile and shakes her head no, turns on her heel and runs back across the bridges. And in that moment, I realize: why am I trying to get my daughter to stop doing something she loves by convincing her that doing what everyone else is doing would be better?
This isn’t the first time, either. When I decided to make the switch from almond milk to cow’s milk (mostly just because I wanted the convenience of cow’s milk while we were on vacation), I got her to try the cow’s milk by telling her that it’s the kind of milk that her best friend, Izzy, drinks and therefore she should drink it too. It worked. She loved the idea and ever since has called it “Izzy’s milk”. And I know there have been countless other times, as well. Addie loves other kids, so it’s just natural to use that love to get her to do what I want.
No wonder peer pressure works so well, if we’re trained from an early age to place a high value on what others are doing. When parents and teachers use a natural inclination towards, and interest in, other children to coerce what they consider to be positive behaviors, all the child sees is that what everyone else is doing is incredibly important. Sure, when it’s getting your kid to eat healthy food or go check out the garden it’s harmless or even beneficial. But when it’s older kids believing that nothing is more important than fitting in, it’s decidedly less positive and even downright harmful.
Not to mention the implicit message that what your child wants doesn’t really matter. You want to play on the bridges for hours? Too bad, everyone else is playing in the stream, so we’re going to do that. When you use that tactic to get your child to do what you want, you’re really telling her that following the crowd, subordinating her own desires, and giving up her own interests are the most important behaviors to have.
Consider also why we do this. Sometimes it’s because what we want our child to do is really what’s best for her. But most of the time it’s because we want our child to do what’s best for us. I was bored and hot. I wanted to go put my feet in the stream. It had nothing to do with what was good for Adeline. It’s selfish on my part, and dishonest. Above all else, I want to be honest with my daughter.
As parents, we use this tactic because it works. If I had really cajoled Adeline into following the other kids, I know it would have worked. Kids love other kids; if encouraged to follow them, they will. But it’s not the only thing that works. I waited a few more minutes and then explained to Adeline once more that there was a lovely, cool stream just a short walk away. She was hot and tired of the bridges by that point and she happily moved on. All it took was a little patience.
Sometimes watching your kid do the same thing over and over is really boring. And sometimes you’d do just about anything to get them to do what you want them to. But is cooling your feet in the stream really worth it?