Strategies may be all that is needed to harmoniously raise a justice-oriented child
My son needs everything to be equal. He has always been a scorekeeper. He wants — actually, demands — that everything be fair and even. Which it can’t possibly be. And his memory is a steel trap — he will remember who took out the garbage the past 15 times and explain mathematically why it shouldn’t be him this time.
We often just do things the way he wants them done because it’s so draining to do anything else. But I know this isn’t good for him in the long run.
What steps can I take to help him become more flexible and let go of the constant scorekeeping?
Your son is not the only one with this personality trait! The tendency to need fairness and justice seems to be inborn. Just like some kids are flexible and easy-going from infancy, there are others whose brains seem to routinely get stuck. Some are strong-willed and simply must have things go their way. Some need things to look, feel, or taste “just right.” And there are some who need things to be exactly fair. Frequently, a child has all of these types of “stuckness” simultaneously. When this happens, it is a challenge both to be that youngster and to live with him.
Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, explains that chronically rigid children do not become unrigid. Rather, they can learn to live more comfortably with their own challenging brain processes. Dr. Greene offers parents information and skills that allow them to approach their inflexible child with more understanding, compassion, and know-how.
He points out that rewards and punishments are ineffective in modifying the child’s perspective and that a better approach is to modify his environment. Parents themselves need to become less rigid in the ways they interact with their youngster and carefully choose their battles so that constant confrontation is avoided.
Choose Your Battles
From this perspective, your decision to do things the way your child wants them done may not be as bad as you think. Everything is not worth fighting over. The trick in these cases is to give up and give in immediately, rather than allow the child to win a prolonged argument, or even worse, get his way after throwing a major fit. It’s not so terrible that the child has discovered some sort of unfairness — in fact, you can’t stop him from perceiving what he perceives. What you do want to stop is the unpleasant behavior that accompanies his discovery.
No one wants to live with an argumentative person. This is why it’s important to accede before he begins to “present his case.” Doing so will help prevent the constant practicing of an aversive interpersonal habit (relentless arguing).
Although you are concerned for your child’s long term well-being, you might consider that his special lens on life might contribute to his success if channeled in the right way. Perhaps he will grow up to be a defender of justice, making an important contribution to the community. His sharp memory can certainly be an asset to many endeavors, from Torah study to professional applications.
Go ahead and praise his attributes even as you gently direct him to a better use of them. “It’s amazing that you can recall the last 15 turns that were taken on garbage duty! I’m sure you’ll be able to employ your excellent memory for accomplishing important and worthwhile tasks in life!” This can be followed with, “For now, please take out the garbage because it needs to be done tonight, and I’ve asked you to do it. I’m aware it’s not fair.”
Acknowledging the injustice is an important part of gaining compliance, as is the routine application of your own flexibility, as mentioned previously. For instance, regarding a matter that you’ve decided you can let go, you might say something like, “You’re right; it isn’t fair. I can fix that for you as you’ve requested — especially because you’ve asked so nicely!” Again, encouraging respect is something you can and should do.
Looking Toward the Future
What about your child’s future interpersonal relationships? Well, when it comes to shidduchim, look for a young lady who is extremely flexible by nature. It may not seem fair (irony intended), but a strong-willed, justice-oriented fellow can enjoy an extremely happy marriage with an easy-going, no-fuss woman.
“Oh, I just let him do whatever he wants — it doesn’t bother me at all,” she’ll say when her best friend asks her how she tolerates such rigidity. Obviously, an equally rigid and opinionated partner would create a different dynamic altogether. And, when it comes to his vocation, your son may do quite well as long as he is in control of his environment. Guide him toward occupations where cooperative attributes aren’t the main requirement.
These strategies may be all that is needed to harmoniously raise a justice-oriented child. However, if they aren’t, you can seek professional counseling for further interventions and assistance.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 805)
Oops! We could not locate your form.