Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Growing Pains Hurt Parents, Too!

I'm am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but being a parent can be emotionally scarring.  You don't realize this when you bring that darling little bundle home from the hospital.  You might feel a sting when someone thinks your beautiful baby girl is a boy.  Believe me, that is just the start of it.  Wait until you realize someone didn't choose to invite your child to a birthday party, or they didn't make the cut for the school play, or they share with you that kids in their class are saying mean things about them. Sadly, your child will go through some tough times.  Everyone does.  Unfortunately, sometimes even the best parent can make some poor decisions when it comes down to your child's feelings being hurt.  So what is a parent to do?  Here is what I suggest, because I have made mistakes when confronting this issue, and hope you can benefit from my missteps.

1.  Do Not Pass Go:  When you hear about something that has upset your child, your first reaction is probably not your your best response. Take some time to flush out the details and digest all the information that you are able to gather.  Picking up the phone to yell at a parent who has not included your child on a guest list, is an action that you will most likely regret.  And you may end up embarrassing your child, and making a situation much more awkward for him/her.

2.  Do Not Lead Your Child Into Emotional Jail: By overreacting to situations, you will ultimately teach your child not to tell you when they are feeling sad or bad about something.  And as they get older, this becomes much more of a problem.  Teaching children to verbalize and express feelings is the best way to guarantee emotional health in their later years.  This is very important.

3.  Do Not Throw Gasoline On A Fire:  Children and preteens have short attention spans.  What this means is something that is a huge deal to them today, is barely an issue the next day when they get a good grade on a spelling test and a friend notices their new shoes.  Kids move on very quickly.  But parents who ask leading questions about an incident and then continue to bring it up and focus on it can make it worse for the child instead of helping.  Parents need to be very aware of their words and their responses when children experience difficulties.  You can't always make things better, and often times your best response is to listen and offer guidance if asked, but do little else.

4.  Be Their Safety Net:  Your children do need you.  And they want to be able to share their lives with you.  They want to be able to tell you about the good things and the bad.  Make sure they understand that you are their biggest cheerleader.  You love them unconditionally.  And you will always listen to them.  Just be prepared to let them live their own lives and only step in when an issue is reoccurring, dangerous or serious enough to cause them harm.  Otherwise, let them work it out.  If you always rush in to solve their problems, you are communicating to them that you don't trust in their ability to survive and work situations out for themselves.  This is detrimental instead of supportive.

5.  Evaluating Friendships:  It helps to talk to kids about what makes a good friend, and how to be a good friend in return.  These discussions should occur over time, and generally don't work when the child is in the midst of a crisis. If things are not going well with certain friendships, you may want to encourage your child to seek out friends that have the qualities of a good friend--someone they trust, someone who is loyal, someone who values their friendship. Sometimes these relationships don't exist at school, so give your child other opportunities to socialize through scouting, church activities, sports or other activities.

The bottom line is, when the going gets tough, be there for your child.  Listen to your child. Encourage your child.  And remind your child that tomorrow will be a better day.  If your child is going through tough times, it will be hard on you, too.  So seek out a friend that you can talk to and get some support-so that you can be there for your child, but not regret the actions you choose to take.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Equality Is Overrated!

Like all good organizations, families need a hierarchy.  Why?  Because when there is no chain of command, decisions are difficult, arguments are frequent, and the lack of efficiency can result in total frustration.

Have you ever kicked an ant hill?  I am not condoning this behavior but for illustration sake, you can visualize the ants all begin to run in every direction and total chaos results.  Some families replicate this within the walls of their home.  These families are characterized by parents who have not established any authority with their children.  Children within these families view themselves as in charge. Siblings battle for domination of their wants and needs over the wants and needs of brothers or sisters.

I have worked with parents who feed into this disorganized family dynamic by trying to espouse the philosophy that all children are equal within the family.  This should not be the case, and I will tell you why.  Unless your children are multiples, children have age differences, which should be respected.  A younger child should not be given all of the privileges of an older child, but the older child should understand that he/she shoulders more responsibility.  Establishing a pattern like this for your family results in many benefits.  Here are just a few:

  • Older children feel valued and special when they are granted privileges that younger children do not have.
  • Older children can help monitor media messages and other inappropriate content to aid the parents in protecting younger siblings.
  • Younger children learn the powerful lesson of delayed gratification.  If an older child is allowed to walk to the store, the younger child anticipates the day that he/she is allowed to do the same.
  • Older children are more developmentally prepared to handle items that require self-discipline. (cell phones or MP-3 players)
I have worked with parents who believe it was best for their children to give them everything equally, even though they were a few years apart.  This results in a loss of opportunity for the parents to teach the powerful lessons about hierarchy.  It also results in the siblings being more competitive with one another because they are trying to understand where they "rank" in regards to how their parents feel about them.  Siblings are inherently competitive with each other in an effort to garner their parents attention.  By treating age different siblings as total equals, the older child feels disrespected and is determined to undermine the younger sibling at every turn in order to establish their dominance.  And the younger sibling views him/her self as an equal to the older child, and therefore willing to strive to dominate in situations.This is a lose/lose pattern for family harmony.

Think about your family's dynamic.  Have you established a hierarchy?  Are you teaching the powerful lessons about delayed gratification and anticipation?  If not, make some changes.  Look at bedtimes or neighborhood boundaries or electronics.  Make sure you are sending the important message that with privilege comes responsibility through extra chores and expectations.  And know that you are helping to build a brighter future for all the members of your household, instead of inhabiting a disorganized, chaotic household.