Michelle Martin

Looking ahead

Sunday, May 15, 2016

There are lots of things I never thought I’d have to say. Don’t eat the dog’s food. Don’t ride the dog. Don’t take your snack into the bathroom. Close the refrigerator door. Turn off the water when you’re done. Don’t leave the iPad on the floor under the table.

Before having kids, I think I knew that being a parent meant teaching them, and yes, telling them what to do and not do. But there are some things that I just kind of thought went without saying, things that are just common sense.

It turns out, that with young children, you can’t count on them looking ahead and understanding what will happen if they pursue a particular course of action. What happens if I take a shower and don’t pull the shower curtain closed? There’s water all over the floor? Who could have predicted that?

Or the teenage version: What if I take long enough, hot enough showers to turn the bathroom into a dripping, water-on-every-surface steam room, with my phone sitting on the counter? It eventually sustains water damage and stops working? Who knew?

Research shows that young children are experimenting to learn about their environment. They really don’t know that the dog doesn’t like it when they try to ride her. That’s why they have to be supervised.

Teenagers might get that — and that leaving the fridge open wastes energy and leaving the tap running wastes water — but they still don’t always think ahead. That’s normal. Human brains are still developing into the early 20s, and the last parts to mature are the areas that deal with decision making and impulse control.

So what’s a parent to do?

Have patience, mostly, I think. Remind them — little ones and big ones — to pick up their things and put them away if they don’t want them to get lost. Don’t overreact when things get lost anyway.

Talk through the potential consequences of decisions with them, from wearing a bike helmet to wearing a seat belt to not drinking and driving — or riding with someone who has been drinking.

Let them see your own decision-making process, when it’s appropriate. How do you decide what purchases to make, or not to make? How do you decide what charities to give to? When do you say no to something you want? When do you say maybe later, but not now? What values are you thinking about when you decide?

Acknowledge that no matter how much thought you put into something, you might not be able to predict the outcome. That’s OK. People plan, and God laughs.

That’s when you regroup, reassess and think again.