Have you heard yourself saying that phrase to your child? You are not alone. It is also a common complaint I hear in my practice from parents exasperated with their children not completing chores or getting ready for school. When we discuss this further, the parent usually tells me that their child "should just know" what is expected because it is the same thing everyday and why should the parent have to remind them.
I decided to write this blog because I end up saying the same thing each time. That is, you are yelling at a fish because it can't climb a tree. It is not the case that your child doesn't know what to do, the problem is for your child unpacking the dishwasher isn't high on their priority list. What is high on their priority list is watching a youtube video because that is fun, and it makes the emotion part of their brain light up. Packing a school bag...not so fun. Partly this isn't your child's fault and that comes down to brain development.
The role of our frontal lobes
Our big adult brains are fully developed. In particular, our frontal lobes which act as an executive decision maker. Ideally, our frontal lobes are able to make sensible decisions like not eating a whole block of chocolate in one go, or stacking the dishwasher before sitting down to watch Netflix. Our frontal lobes have the capacity to override the emotion part of our brain, the part that wants to sit down in front of the tv, binge on Netflix and eat a whole block of chocolate. Our children's brain, however, is still developing, especially the frontal lobes, and they won't be fully developed until they are in their early 20s.
Learning versus discipline
With this in mind, as parents it is more helpful of us to think of helping our children to become sensible functioning adults once they leave the family home. That means helping our children to learn to prioritise what needs to be done over what they enjoy doing. This is a skill, and like any other skill it requires lots of practice. Dr Dan Siegel suggests to think of the role of parenting as educating our children on how to learn how to behave and cope with big emotions, and he notes that discipline comes from the root form disciple, meaning student. Using this approach we can have more positive interactions with our children because we can move away from the "you should know" approach to "I'm here to help you learn" approach. With a "I'm here to help you learn approach" we can be more flexible and understand that some days our children will manage all their tasks well and other days not so well. But more importantly, we can give ourselves permission not to yell so much and realise that we are teaching our children important life lessons, some of which on reflection, took a long time for us to fully develop.