Raising children is one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs in the world. Yet this is a job in which most of us have had very little training. We read books about childbirth and infant care. But as our children get older, we have a tendency to fall back on the ways in which we were parented as our main resource. How many times have you uttered words and phrases that were exactly what your parents said to you? This shows us the power of their words, and how these words can become an unconscious part of how you react to your own children. You might take a moment to ask yourself if these words had a positive or negative impact on you. And also how it feels to say them to your kids.
With today’s busy lifestyles, one of the most difficult things to give our children is time. Undivided attention from parents is key to developing a child’s feelings of importance and self-worth. They need to know that you want to be with them, that you enjoy their company and that you are interested in who they are as unique individuals.
They also need to know that you are a safe place for them to vent their feelings, and that you will not punish or put them down for feelings such as anger, fear, sadness or envy. Kids who don’t have a place to talk about their feelings, act them out. For example, if a child is not able to express anger to his parents, the feeling can come out on the playground in being aggressive with other children. Or the feelings can be denied, resulting in depression, anxiety or even physical symptoms. In many families, parents are allowed to be angry, but not the kids. This sets up extreme frustration in children causing a variety of negative behaviors and attitudes.
Of course, there needs to be parameters around unacceptable behaviors in the home, such as hitting, cursing, etc. However, the child needs to know that he has access to talk to his parents about all his feelings, positive or negative. And it’s a parent’s job to talk to their kids about these feelings in a non-judgmental way. Remember, feelings that get talked about aren’t acted out. Ask yourself how tolerant you are of intense emotions in your child. Can you tolerate your child being angry with you? Does their intensity spark something from your own childhood? How do you handle their fears and sadness? Remember, having feelings is part of being human. To deny our feelings, is to deny who we are. Our feelings can’t hurt us. It’s only negative behaviors associated with unexpressed feelings that are destructive.
Each child in a family wants and needs one-on-one time from both Mom and Dad. It is crucial for children to develop a sense of self that is individual, and separate from siblings. Most sibling conflict has to do with power and control over attention from Mom or Dad. Kids pull for parental reaction, positive or negative. But kids who know they have access to alone time with parents, will have less of a need to fight with their siblings for position. Parents need to protect their private time with each child, and create clear boundaries for this within the family. This is also an excellent opportunity to talk to your kids about feelings such as envy and jealousy.
Steps to Positive Parenting
Nurture your child’s self-esteem: Children see themselves through your eyes. Your tone of voice, body language and every expression are absorbed by your child. Praising your child for accomplishments, however small, goes a long way to making him feel proud, confident, and self-assured.
Set limits and be consistent with your discipline: The goal of discipline is to help children choose acceptable behaviors and learn self-control. Even though they may test limits, children need them to grow up responsibly. Establishing house rules will help your child know what is expected and develop self-control. Be consistent with rules and consequences.
Be a good role model: Children learn a great deal by watching you. Model respect, honesty, kindness and tolerance toward them, as well as others. Be humble. Admit when you’ve been harsh with your child and apologize for it. You will be showing them that we all make mistakes, and that being dealt with harshly, is not how your child should expect to be treated.
Make talking a priority: Take opportunities to explain why you do the things you do. Answer questions. Our children want to know us. Talk to them about your values and motives. Let children participate in family decision-making. Be open to your child’s suggestions. Urge your child to share feelings and opinions. Try to be there whenever your child wants to talk, regardless of time or location.
Be willing to adjust your parenting style: As your child grows and develops, you may find it helpful to re-assess your parenting style from time to time. If you’re hitting a rough spot, take a step back and see if something needs to be changed on your part. Be open to input from others and be flexible.
Take care of your marriage: The greatest gift you can give your child is an example of a loving, caring relationship between a man and a woman. Let them see affection and warmth between you. When you have a disagreement, apologize. Show them that you have forgiven each other and that your relationship is solid. Effective parenting is not always easy.
Getting past what can be negative attitudesfrom your own upbringing can be a challenge. If you are finding it difficult to be open to your children’s needs, please do not hesitate to contact a family counseling professional. Remember, we all need help at times.
Dr. Pamela Wilson is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Psychoanalyst, with a private practice in Mission Viejo (949) 922-7758.