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Parenting Trap. Does Your Child's Past Behaviour Predict Future Behaviour?

By Yvette Vignando - 13th March 2012

You may have heard of the phrase “past behaviour predicts future behaviour” - it’s often referred to in the context of job interviews, or in guessing how customers are likely to behave in response to a marketing idea. But do we use this assumption too much when we are parenting or teaching our children?   What do you think? I have no basis for asking this question other than my own experience as a parent – and I think I have made this mistake many times. You know … you assume your son or daughter or your student will like or not like something, or will behave or react in a certain way … because that’s how they reacted last time?

I am calling it a ‘mistake’ because I think it’s something we do automatically; it’s our experience of life in general that if an adult has behaved a certain way a few times, they’re probably going to do the same again in a similar situation. But we forget that our children are still learning how to behave, still working out what they like and don’t like, maturing and growing, and hopefully becoming more flexible thinkers.  Our kids are often highly emotional beings, as they go through various developmental stages, so their passionate reaction to a situation on one occasion, may be quite different on another. And younger children have a tendency to get overtired (just like their parents) and this sometimes causes them, on one day, to react strongly to a request from a parent or teacher,  when on another day, they will happily cooperate.

Here are two examples from the last week to illustrate my thoughts:
1.    Our Mr 10 is not shy, but he sometimes objects to being left with family friends or even family because he is so keen to have his 'own time' with his 'own toys'. Possibly being the youngest of three boys and having to attend events for his brothers has made him more protective of his time. Yesterday, due to a family situation, I had to ask him with no notice to go home with my husband’s cousin’s son for a play – they know each other but not very well, and he had never been to their house. I expected a protest. But he simply said “Okay” quite happily – I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve toughened up a bit over the years – if this had been my first child, I'm sure I wouldn’t even have suggested this option, ‘knowing’ that my child would get upset at having to go to an unfamiliar house for an indefinite period of time.
2.    Our Mr 10 likes reading, likes getting certificates and is fairly conscientious when it comes to getting his homework done. (By the way, not all our children are like this …). Based on his past behaviour, I was sure he would be a keen participant in the Premier’s Reading Challenge – a book reading challenge in our state, where rewards are given for completion. But no – he absolutely “hates” the idea of this – he doesn't want to be told what to read, how much to read and in what time frame. He tells me he is “not interested” in the certificate or the class picnic which is apparently part of the reward system. And there have even been tears about this threatened ‘imposition’ on his reading habits.

Does this ring true for you? Do you think as parents and teachers we should make fewer assumptions about how our children might react to situations – does this sometimes lead us to make decisions that lead to them becoming even more rigid in their behaviours? I think this is worth pondering.

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