Dear Dr. Debbie,
Sometimes it seems my mother’s voice comes out when I’m upset with my children.
I remember as a child feeling like a disappointment to her – full of faults I couldn’t correct and mistakes I couldn’t prevent. Her raised voice and stern face would make me feel horrible about myself.
My sister only has one child, and even so, she also loses her patience quickly and repeats the insults we heard as children. After spending any time with her I’m painfully reminded that I want to be so much better with my children.
Dear Next Gen,
Wanting to do better is a good first step. Are there parents you admire? Take some time to evaluate and compare parents you have known. Consider the words and interactions that model the best parenting you’re striving for. You’ll probably notice:
The exemplary parent doesn’t lose patience for what would be considered typical behavior for a child. Every age, every personality, every mood, and every situation will have a predictable influence on a child’s actions. Instead of complaining about or criticizing normal behavior, this parent accepts what children are capable of. A child can be expected to clean up only so many toys at one time; less when he’s tired or excited about the next activity. A child can be expected to wait only so long for food. A child can’t be expected to refrain from climbing, running, chattering, and touching things unless specifically directed to do otherwise. A child needs coaching and practice to perfect many skills, among them, eating neatly and being kind to others.
Knowing what a child is likely to do in any given situation, the exemplary parent heads off trouble with suggestions of appropriate activities or behavior. Before boredom sets in at the doctor’s office, the parent is ready with toys, books, or an appealing topic of conversation. If danger lurks, let’s say on an escalator, the observant parent directs children to take hold of the handrail as they step on. If a snack quantity seems limited for the number of snackers, the parent proposes a fair division before a battle has a chance to begin.
Whether it’s reading a book or building a block structure, parent and child spend focused moments together absorbed with the same activity. They share their observations and ideas as partners. Rather than interrupting or trying to control one other, the conversation or project flows as if from one mind. An adept parent can even manage shared attention with more than one child at a time. This is evidence that the children have had mutual respect and cooperation modeled and enforced as a family standard.
Pride and Encouragement
The parents you would choose to emulate probably use the opposite of criticism when reacting to their children. Their words reflect sincere appreciation for their children’s efforts as much as their achievements. “That was hard for you, but you kept trying.” “That’s amazing! How did you think of that?!?” Such comments focus on the child’s abilities rather than his shortcomings – an approach which keeps his self-esteem and confidence intact.
Empathy is a basic component of any good relationship. A model parent accurately reads the emotions of her child. But more than understanding what the child is feeling, the parent responds appropriately with shared excitement, comforting compassion, helpful support, etc. In contrast, a verbally abusive parent disregards or denies a child’s hurt feelings. “That’s nothing to be upset about!” couldn’t be further from the truth.
Joint Decision Making
Along with the notion that children’s feelings are valid and important, you will notice the same parents are also likely to respect their children’s ideas and opinions. This can include honoring a baby’s preferences for certain toys to take along on an outing, a toddler’s input for choosing which fruit to buy at the grocery store, or a preschooler’s passing passion as the theme for her birthday party. School-age children will help to design the family vacation. Teens are encouraged to explore their interests and discover their talents when planning for life after high school.
A Model of Confidence
It’s hard to imagine that a parent who is finding fault with her children, and is verbally abusing them about it, could feel successful in her parenting. The opposite, self-assurance, is a trait seen in parents who enjoy the positive results of the good parenting they are doing.
Build your confidence for better parenting by choosing better models.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.