Take a look at this example of parents as models. As you read, think about these questions:
- Are these parents being positive role models?
- Do the parents’ words and actions match?
- Are the parents showing respect to others? To their children?
- Are these parents being honest with themselves about their own actions?
- How might you handle a similar situation with your child?
Anna, Ignacio, and Tomás (Age 11) 1,2,3,14
What’s the Story?
Tomás has been getting into trouble at school. To figure out what the problem might be, Anna and Ignacio met with Tomás’ teachers. According to his teachers, Tomás is usually a well-behaved, calm little boy. But when he spends time around some of the girls in the class, he is aggressive and usually more physical, often pushing or pinching them. When questioned, Tomás explained that he is “just goofing around” with the girls and doesn’t mean to hurt them. But Tomás is big for his age, the teacher says, and doesn’t know how strong he really is. Anna and Ignacio are worried; they tell the teachers that they will talk to their son.
I think I know what he’s doing. Ignacio and I are a physical couple. We sometimes tease and wrestle as a way of showing our fondness for each other. In fact, Ignacio has told Tomás that we are “just goofing around” a number of times. Maybe Tomás is starting to notice girls and being physical is how he’s showing it.
That’s silly! Tomás knows that he shouldn’t be pushing or hitting the girls. His mother and I tease each other, but it is never as physical as pushing or hitting. Tomás must’ve gotten this from TV. I think we should punish him by not letting him watch TV for a while. That’ll stop this nonsense.
What's the Point?
Even though Anna and Ignacio know the context of their playful contact with one another, Tomás does not. Ignacio knows that his and Anna’s actions are the result of many years together, their respect for each other, and their love; in his mind, these facts should be clear to Tomás. But Tomás is only 11 and love and respect are only words to him. Tomás is not aware of the time and work that Anna and Ignacio have put into their relationship; he only sees the end result. Tomás thinks that all men and women are playful with each other because that is what he sees every day; if he “likes” a girl he should be playful with her, too.
Tomás also has a limited knowledge of his own body. He grows and changes every day, so he may not know his own strength. What he sees as “goofing around” may actually hurt someone else. Ignacio and Anna’s actions never go far enough to hurt, Tomás doesn’t have that kind of control over his body yet. He doesn’t know when to stop.
Anna and Ignacio need to discuss how they want to handle this situation and find a compromise. Anna may have a point about Tomás and his possible new interest in girls; Ignacio could be correct about the types of TV shows that Tomás is watching. It could be that their son’s actions result from a combination of things. By talking over their thoughts and opinions, Anna and Ignacio can come up with a plan of action that is acceptable to both of them.
Ignacio and Anna need to explain to Tomás that how they act with each other is special. It’s different from how Tomás should act with other people. They may want to tell Tomás that he shouldn’t touch any of the kids in his class for a little while, even if he thinks he is just being playful. These limits will allow Tomás to learn some level of control for his own body. He will also learn what actions are proper, when, and with whom. The process of developing self-control or regulating one’s own social behavior is a slow process. In addition to having patience with their son, Anna and Ignacio also need to model more appropriate behaviors for Tomás to learn and adopt in his daily life. These behaviors may include keeping their relationship more private, until Tomás is older and can understand it better.