As parents, this is easy when children enter our lives as helpless babies who can't give back. And even though there are times when we put ourselves first because if we don't we will be too exhausted to continue to care form them, for the most part those little human beings run the show.
But as kids get older the temptation is to put our needs before theirs. I've been guilty of it more times than I can count, so I'm certainly not attempting to sound condemning. And we certainly don't want to err on the side of giving our kids everything they want. But the key, I believe, is trying to figure out what they are thinking.
Here's an example in the parenting world. A 14 year old boy doesn't want to go to his aunt's house He is playing a video game and he won't hurry up and get in the car. Immediately his mom, assuming defiance and wrong priorities jumps into a defensive state. This is her family and they are important to her and besides he spends way to much time on video games. She is caught up in the immediacy getting him out of the door without asking why he doesn't want to go. She forces him to come and hang out with his cousins and on the way home he is sullen and angry. When she finally gets around to asking the question that could have been asked at the beginning of the day, she finds out that his oldest cousin has been tormenting him and bullying him over the last three visits. The entire day could have been different if the focus had been on finding out the why's behind the behaviors at the beginning of the day.
It's a simple example, but there are so many times as parents that we make assumptions without asking, and that we are more consumed with our own wants and needs that we ignore theirs.
In social work the same things happen all the time. Whether it is something as simple as scheduling a meeting without even knowing that you are taking a child out of their favorite class or something huge like making a major decision about their future without finding out their feelings about it, all of us serving children can do a better job with this.
So to summarize, how can we be child focused in our parenting and as professionals?
1) Get to know the child. As much as they will tell you. Ask questions. Find out what makes them tick, what is at the core of who they are.
2) Try to think like they think. Put yourself in their position as you make decisions.
3) Check yourself often. Ask if the decisions you are making are based on what is best for you or what is best for the child.
It's a lot easier not to worry about being child focused. It sure is more comfortable and certainly less challenging to just do what feels right to us. But as parents and professionals we have been given a gift -- the opportunity to change the life of a child. And the power and the depth of that privilege should never be forgotten.