A couple of weeks ago, my wife decided we needed to wean little man off of his pacifier (aka binkey or "paci"). What a week it was! We were still adjusting to daylight savings, the political landscape was changing (good or bad, depending on who you ask), and we had a grumpy two year in the house.
Isn't it funny that parents introduce "routines" into their children's' lives for their benefit (primarily sleep), only to later take away those very same things because they could create long-term mental and physical health concerns? Not really that funny.
What is a Crutch?
There are a few definitions of the word "crutch," but I will be focusing on the following in this post:
crutch (noun) - a source or means of support or assistance that is relied on heavily or excessively Source - Merriam Webster
A crutch is something (or perhaps someone) that is used to help deal with problems.
Parents Introduce Crutches
As I referenced earlier, parents are the people who create early routines for children (rigid or flexible, depending on the parents). As a result, parents not only provide the "crutch" but often encourage their child to use the crutch.
Parents often train little children to use a pacifier, childhood blanket, and/or a favorite animal as a sleep aid. Guilty! And at times, these "aids" are introduced (consciously or not) with selfish motivations. I want my child to sleep well, because I
selfishly want to sleep well.
Please hear me out. I definitely see the benefit of family routines and family traditions. My family has many of our own. But there is an interesting transition that often takes place when parents realize that an aid has turned into a crutch. We have to backtrack away from something that we once leaned in to.
Sometimes a child becomes so attached to a particular item that he or she can not perform normal life activities without that item. Sometimes the crutch can create long term mental and/or physical health issues.
Not only are children introduced to sleep aids as babies, they may also progress through a variety of sleep aids as they grow older.
Most 5 year olds do not use a paci/binkey any longer, but they may still have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. What about white noise or playing music at night? What night lights and fans?
I do not want to be overly critical of any of the above (because again I am guilty!), but I struggle when I notice that these
aids crutches are "relied on heavily or excessively."
And sleep is not the only area of life where crutches might pop up. With the advancement of technology, entertainment is at our fingertips - everyone's fingers, including our children. I need to be careful not to absolve my parenting rights to an "electronic baby sitter." Devices can be a crutch for both parents and children. We are both susceptible to digital addiction. Becoming a "device user" is easier (and more social acceptable than becoming a drug user. As an adult, I hope I am never accused of being a "digital" dealer - one who has actively and intentionally spreading this digital drug.
Let's jump a few more years into the future. Now our 5 to 10 year olds are 13 to 18. Add puberty, hormones, and a digital addiction and we have a dangerous cocktail.
At this stage of childhood, devices are not only viewed as entertainment centers, but also as social connection centers. But there is an interesting twist that has been building as your child has been growing older. Big tech is very invested in your child's addiction. They are financially invested and ready to benefit from every "digital" crutch that each member of your family leans on.
Let It Go
I often catch myself in my own hypocrisy:
Me to my kiddos: "Get off your device." (while I am scrolling through social media)
I admittedly have stronger restrictions on my children than for myself. I know that I am the adult and they are the children, but it does not mean that I am immune from the addiction.
I need to be a role model, a mentor, an example of someone who finds the right balance. They need to see that I am not too dependent on any "aid" of any kind - devices, alcohol, drugs, etc.
I must be willing to let go for a moment, in the moment, so that my kiddos can see that there is more to life then the crutches that we claim to need.
Taking This To The Next Level
My wife and I have talked about some general guidelines that we want to implement. If you have any other suggestions, lets continue the conversation in the comments below.
- No devices (aka distractions) at the dinner table.
- All devices are put away at a certain time at night as we prepare for bed (this might be a tough one for mom and dad).
- Limited device use throughout the school/work day. We realize that some use is required for some of our children's students and definitely required as I work from home.
- There may be times throughout day where recreational use can be enjoyed, but we expect and encourage other types of recreation to take precedent. I find this more challenging to enforce as we all struggle with less time outside due to colder weather.
- Find ways to gather as a family that does not involve devices - family games, crafts, etc.
It is foolish of me to think that my children will not struggle with teenage and adult "crutches" in the future. As a parent I need to be mindful of each child's tendencies and potential addictions. If my wife and I work with our children to identify and overcome their crutches today and promote open communication (judgement free communication), then I hope my children will be willing to approach us with their struggles in the future as well. No guarantee that things will work out as I hope, but I can guarantee that my kiddos will hide everything from me if I don't try now.
I want my kiddos to know that I love them no matter what they are working through in life, and that I am ready and willing to help them overcome every obstacle.
These are the steps I need to take:
- Constantly Love
- Carefully Identify
- Faithfully Stand Beside
- Eventually Overcome
- Celebrate Victories
- Show Grace Throughout the Entire Process
I want to hear from you..
- Are there any aids or routines that you introduced to your child that you later regretted?
- Are there any patterns or behaviors that your children see in your life that they mimic?
Thanks for stopping by!