Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.” Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer. What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.? “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.” That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.
Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.
Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens? Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message. Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”
I remember the story of a boy watching a butterfly slowly free himself from its cocoon. The boy felt pity as he watched the butterfly struggle to get out the cramped wrappings of transformation. He feared the butterfly was not making progress quickly enough. He feared the butterfly might hurt himself in the struggle. So, to be helpful, the boy got some scissors, cut the cocoon open, and freed the butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterfly did not fly away in gratitude. He fell to the ground with small, shriveled wings. The butterfly’s wings never opened up and he never flew. He was confined to crawling on the ground for the rest of his short life. The butterfly needed the struggle to develop his wings for flight and prepare his body for life outside the cocoon. I don’t know if the story is true or even realistic (I did find a rendition of it at Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!), but it does make an important point. Sometimes we need to struggle and take risks to grow.
Did you know that recent research suggests that one contributor to the increase in children suffering with anxiety is overprotective parenting? In a sense, we have become so protective of our children…so careful to prevent their risk, their frustration, their potential harm…that we have prevented them from the very experience they need to grow confident and independent. I learned many important lessons as a child in somewhat risky situations, lessons that helped me build confidence, know my limits, and exercise healthy caution.
I learned the limits of speed riding my bicycle.
I learned the dangers of playing with fire from a paper towel…and making smores.
I learned important lessons about height while climbing trees and small “cliffs” near my house (btw-these “cliffs” look small when I see them as an adult).
I learned the need for caution when jumping over things while jumping over fallen trees.
I learned the potential for hurting someone and being hurt by playing “pick-up games” of football.
I learned to use caution cutting grass by cutting grass and experiencing some “flying debris.”
We learn our capabilities and the limits of those capabilities when we take small risks during our play as children. Our children need the opportunity to play and engage in some independent activities, even ones that carry risk, so they can grow and learn about their capabilities and limits. Of course, we will provide appropriate levels of protection so those risks are age appropriate and not overly dangerous. Even so, they will get bruises, cuts, and scratches along the way. They may experience frustrations and even cry about some of those frustrations. And, they will learn. They will grow. They will become independent. So…how can you begin to allow your child, your butterfly, to emerge from their cocoon and become more independent over the next week?
How a parent thinks will influence how they parent. Here are six statements I hear from parents that interfere with effective parenting.
“I know my kids better than they know themselves.” Good parents do know their children well. They learn when their children need to rest. They can tell when their children are hungry or need to go to the bathroom. They learn the nuances of their children’s moods. However, assuming we know more about our children than they know about themselves sets us up for conflict and disaster. After all, children change. They don’t like peanut butter today but love it tomorrow. Sue was her best friend yesterday but her antagonist today. And, who can really know another person’s emotion, intent, or motivation? With that in mind, we need to check our assumptions and not let them prejudice our responses. Instead, ask your children about their feelings, their motivations, and their intent. Watch and observe them in action. Let them tell you about themselves through their words and actions as you learn about them every day. You might be surprised what you learn.
“I have to worry. It’s a parent’s job.” It is true. Parents worry and, chances are, parents will continue to worry. However, a parent’s worry doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t keep children safe. A parent’s worry does not protect children. In fact, if worry takes over it can actually harm children by preventing them from becoming involved in healthy activities that might worry their parents. A better job description for parent involves concern, not worry. A parent’s concern allows them to teach their children how to remain safe. Concern allows the opportunity for children to learn from the consequences of their own mistakes when the stakes are low. Concern allows for discussion about various activities and discussion allows for teaching. Let’s change a parent’s job description from “worry” to “concern.” Parent and child will benefit!
“My kids are my life.” Children are an important part of a parent’s life. But, if you’re a parent who say’s “my kids are my life,” your teen will likely offer the best advice when they say, “Get a life!” (More parenting advice from teens in Parenting Advice to Parents of Teens…From Teens)When children become the sole purpose of our lives, our lives suffer. Marriages suffer. Health suffers. We don’t take care of ourselves. Our children need us to model self-care so they learn the importance of taking care of ourselves. If they see us constantly caring for them and running ourselves ragged to meet their needs they might incorporate an unhealthy message about adulthood. “It’s no fun as an adult. Who wants to become an adult when all they do is what everyone else wants? I’ll never grow up.” Give children a sweet spot in your life and heart, but don’t make them the sole purpose of your every waking hour. Get a hobby. Make some friends. Enjoy some adult activities. Get a life.
“I love my kids too much.” I hear this from parents who are afraid to discipline. They love their children “too much” and fear their children will learn to hate them for discipline received. Truth be told, our children want structure. They actually long for discipline. They may not admit it in the moment (or even realize it in their younger years) but they will appreciate it as they mature. Discipline provides a measure of predictability, safety, and security our children need to thrive. It lets our children know we love them enough to teach them and keep them safe. Discipline establishes a baseline of limits and values our children can internalize as they mature. These limits and boundaries will promote success as they engage the world independently. Limits, boundaries, and values also teach our children that “you can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.” It allows them to learn how to manage the frustrations that accompany not getting what you want. So, do your children a favor. Love them enough to discipline.
“We need more discipline in this house.” As George Banks so aptly said in Mary Poppins, “Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools. Without them-disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!” Discipline and structure are an important part of a healthy home, but not the foundation or the only part. Discipline alone leads to fear. Fear of not doing good enough. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. People who live in a home in which discipline forms the foundation tend to struggle with self-confidence. And, when they taste the freedom of less discipline, they rebel. Children who grow up in a home with tight structure, discipline, and schedule do not learn how to manage their time. When they leave home, they still do not know how to manage time. As you can see, unlike George Banks’ beliefs, it is too much discipline that leads to catastrophe, anarchy, a ghastly mess! Instead, balance discipline with connection, structure with relationship, limits with love.
“Kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys.” This is true…to a point. I hear these statements used too often as an excuse for low expectations. Yes, “kids will be kids” but parents must teach them responsibility. Yes, “boys will be boys” but they need to learn respect and self-control. Rather than simply say “kids will be kids,” say “kids will be kids and kids can learn.” In fact, kids love to learn. Take the time to teach them responsibility, respect, honor, and self-control.
The October 26, 2015, issue of Time Magazine published a cover story entitled “Help, My Parents are Millennials.” The author of this article referenced BabyCenter’s findings from a survey of 2,700 US moms between the ages of 18 and 44 years and completed in February. One finding in particular caught my eye. According to the BabyCenter’s survey, 80% of millennial moms (18-34 years old) felt it “important to be ‘the perfect mom.'” The same was true for 70% of moms in “Generation X” (35-44 years old in this survey). Let me restate that: 70-80% of moms between 18 and 44 years old strive to be “the perfect mom.” Unfortunately, this means that 70-80% of these mothers experience extreme self-doubt and “a lot of guilt” about falling short on the impossible and mythical task of “perfect parenting” (read 6 Myths of the Perfect Parent). There is no such thing as a “perfect parent”…and that is a good thing! Don’t get me wrong. I do not condone intentionally selfish parents or uncaring abusive parents. However, when parents strive to do their best job as a parent and fall short (which they will), their children will benefit from their shortcomings. Children gain amazing benefits from their imperfect parents. Let me explain by noting a few of the benefits children receive from imperfect parents.
Children of imperfect parents learn how to manage stress and frustration. Studies suggest that effective parents remain “in sync” with their children about 20-30% of the time. Parents and children just can’t be perfectly “in sync,” in tune, all the time. Life carries too many distractions. That means parents are “out of sync” with their children 70-80% of the time, a frustrating experience that may leave children feeling unheard, unappreciated, or insignificant. These minor breaches in connection allow children to learn ways of managing frustrations and stresses in a healthy manner. Times of being “out of sync” with a parent encourages children to learn independence, how to soothe themselves, how to meet their own emotional and physical needs, and how to wait, go without, or modify their goals as appropriate.
Children of imperfect parents learn to accept and love in spite of flaws. In general, our children experience our love and affection, justified anger, appropriate discipline, and emotions that make sense in a given situation. However, life is filled with distractions. In the midst of life’s messiness, we will miss the mark, fall short, misunderstand, feel misunderstood, disagree, have bad days, get tired, feel overwhelmed, get hurt, etc. At those times, our children may experience another side of us—a less attractive side. They may experience unjustified anger, irrational sorrow, or even our intrusive overwhelming preoccupation with their well-being. They will learn great things from such shortcomings. They will learn that everyone has good and bad qualities, healthy and “not-so-healthy” reactions. They will learn that our love is greater than our mistakes. They will learn to accept us in spite of our flaws, love us in spite of our shortcomings…just as we accept and love them in spite of their flaws and shortcomings. And, by learning to accept us in spite of our flaws, they will learn to accept themselves as well…warts and all.
Children of imperfect parents learn to forgive and be forgiven. Sometimes we will need to apologize to our children for our mistakes, to ask their forgiveness for our wrongs. This provides a powerful lesson in forgiveness. Our children learn that everyone can humble themselves to admit a wrong and ask forgiveness. They also learn the grace of offering forgiveness and the joy of restored relationships. If we, the parents, can seek forgiveness, our children will learn to do the same. When parents forgive, children learn to forgive.
Perfect parents are a myth. Even more, the myth of the perfect parents is dangerous. It adds stress and pressure to an already difficult task. And, perfect parents hinder their children’s opportunity to grow. But an imperfect parent…now that’s a different story. Imperfect parents strive to parent more effectively but realize their own imperfections. They focus on developing a parent-child relationship filled with acceptance and repair. In so doing, their imperfections become opportunities of growth, maturity, and intimacy with their children. (Read Open the Door for Change to learn how relationships promote growth.)
The art of parenting has gotten lost amidst media hype and controversy. Instead of focusing on effective common sense aspects of parenting, the popular media turns our attention to the sensational and controversial. Tiger moms, free range parents, helicopter parents, attachment parents…a dizzying array of parenting styles presenting the opportunity to debate and argue, which may be great for media ratings but not so good for effective parenting. What is a parent to do? In reality, each of these parenting styles actually has benefits; and each can have a negative impact when taken to an extreme. Take a moment with me to consider the pros and cons of each of these parenting styles.
Tiger Mom Parenting. Tiger moms balance high expectations with love for their children; and children tend to live up to the expectations of those who exhibit great love for them. Tiger moms teach that persistence and effort leads to success. This helps children develop a “growth oriented mindset” shown to result in persistence, effort, and resilience.
On the other hand, tiger moms can become intrusive. Their children may experience difficulty establishing an identity apart from their overinvolved and demanding parent. Children may even rebel in an effort to establish their identity apart from parental expectations and demands.
Helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents obviously love their children. They delight in their children and want them to grow into successful adults. To aid in this growth, helicopter parents maintain an awareness of their children and their children’s world, create opportunities for their children, and leverage the environment for their children’s success. This can lead to some wonderful opportunities and successes for their children.
Helicopter parents can also become intrusive. If they do not allow their children to experience failure, they rob them of the opportunity to learn persistence and resilience. By fighting their children’s battles, they rob them of the opportunity to “fight for themselves” and problem solve under pressure. In the long run, children whose parents manage their environment and time too closely will prevent their children from learning to manage their own schedule and assure their own safety.
Attachment parenting. Parents who practice attachment parenting delight in their children. They become active students of their children and their children’s world. Children of attachment parents come to see themselves as valuable, significant, and loved. They learn to talk through and resolve concerns and disagreements they might have with other people.
Taken too an extreme, attachment parenting can result in permissive parenting. Children may not have clearly defined limits reinforced by a consistent “no,” whether spoken or unspoken. Although they learn to solve problems with like-minded parents, they may experience difficulty working through the drama introduced by other children who have not learned these skills.
Free range parenting. Children who experience free range parenting learn independence. They learn creative problem solving as they experience various obstacles in their life. In addition, children of free range parents learn how to manage their safety. They learn what they can and cannot without adult help. Free range parenting also allows children to learn how to manage their own time and schedule effectively.
Free range parenting, when misapplied, can result in neglect. If parents are not aware of their children’s developmental needs and unique vulnerabilities, they can place their children at risk of harm or overwhelming failure.
Overall, we find parenting strengths in each style of parenting. We also see that any parenting style can be taken out of context and misapplied in response to our particular fears or weaknesses as a parent. Rather than getting caught up in the debate and controversy of the latest parenting fad, take the time to learn what makes each parenting style effective (whether you want to call it a balance of love and limits, rules and relationship, or structure and love). Then—whether tiger mom, helicopter parent, attachment parent, or free range parent—practice that balance with as much consistency as you can muster.
Many factors contribute to the emotional health, happiness, and success of our children. As parents we work hard to bring those factors together in our children’s lives. After all, we want happy, successful children. We want children who have resilient emotional health. To that end, we seek out opportunities for our children. We introduce them to positive activities, steer them toward healthy peer interactions, teach character, and encourage gratitude. In the process we often overlook one very important ingredient…an ingredient that, if left out, will neutralize the effectiveness of all the other ingredients put together. This often neglected ingredient is taking care of our own emotional health and happiness. If parents do not take care of their own emotional health, their children’s health and happiness is at great risk for several reasons.
First, children imitate their parent’s emotions. As early as 6-days-old children begin to imitate their parent’s emotions. Within months they are basing their response to the world on their parent’s emotions.
Second, people tend to become similar when they spend time together. Specifically, the person with the least power tends to become like the person with more power. In a parent-child relationship that means children will become more like their parents…for better or worse, happiness or not.
Finally, a person’s happiness is influenced by the happiness of the people he or she is connected to. A happy family will likely create a happy environment and raise happy children. In other words, a happy child lives in a happy family.
That’s all well and good We know that we, as parents, must take care of their own emotional health and happiness in order to raise emotionally healthy, happy children. The tough part is doing it. Here are four ideas to incorporate into your lifestyle to help you take care of yourself. You might think, “But I don’t have time.” Consider this…do you have time to increase your children’s happiness? Taking time to increase your happiness will increase your children’s happiness and security. It’s worth the time, isn’t it?
Build supportive adult relationships. Make some friends and nurture those friendships. Go out for a cup of coffee and talk with your adult friends. Do you grocery shopping together. Get together for lunch. Find a way to build and nurture supportive relationships with other adults.
Learn to create quiet time for yourself. This will involve not only training yourself to take some quiet time, but teaching your children to allow you that quiet time. Go for a walk. Walk the dog. Read a book. Meditate. Choose your modus operandi for quiet time and enjoy some every day.
Get some physical exercise. You can go to the gym. In fact, go to the gym with a friend and you will be knocking off two of these ideas “in one fell swoop”! If you don’t have the time to go to the gym, go for a walk. Get an exercise video and exercise at home. Physical exercise has a myriad of benefits to enhance your happiness. So enjoy a little exercise.
Last, but definitely not least, strengthen your marriage. A strong marriage enhances happiness for husband and wife. A strong marriage improves our parenting. A strong marriage offers a buffer against stress. A strong marriage…the list goes on. A strong marriage is a little taste of heaven. Nurture your marriage and your marriage will multiply the joy in your life…and your children’s lives.
There is a fierce competition in the world of parenting. If a child excels in sports, music, academics, or some other area, his parents are grilled by other parents–“What did you do to…?” “How did you get her to…?” “Did you make him practice…?” “What did you do when she didn’t want to…?” This barrage of questions is not mere small talk. No, it is all part of a reconnaissance mission to gather crucial intelligence–information we can utilize to perfect our own parenting and shape our own “super kid,” a kid who can proudly reflect perfect parenting. In our efforts to become the perfect parent, we “tyrannize our children with good intentions,” force opportunities for success upon them (whether they want it or not), and stone them with information they did not request. As perfect-parent-wanna-be’s, we diligently read up on various parenting styles, worry about topics ranging from hyperactive boys to the impact of nutrition on cognitive development, and strive to become our kid’s best friend while giving advice and pain-free, yet effective, discipline. It is exhausting just thinking about it all. Why do we exhaust ourselves in search of becoming the perfect parent? I believe two reasons. One, we love our children and we really do want what is best for them. Two, we are anxious, insecure parents. Several myths perpetuate our insecurity. Maybe…just maybe…if we could relieve some of our insecurities, we might become more effective parents. With that in mind, here are 6 myths of the perfect parent that perpetuate our anxiety. Check them out and let them go.
1. “I must parent perfectly so my kids will turn out OK.” If that were true, you and I would all be in trouble now! After all, have any of us had perfect parents? Has anyone had parents who never made a mistake? Never yelled at the wrong sibling? Never forgot something that was important to their child? Never accidentally said the wrong thing? Always understood? Of course not. Even with imperfect parents, we turned out OK. Granted, we did not turn out perfect, but we did turn out OK. In fact, our parents’ imperfection taught us some important lessons (see myth number 2).
2. “My kids will be scarred for life if I make a mistake. I have to parent perfectly or my kids will be messed up as adults.” Actually, kids are quite resilient. Parents’ mistakes and imperfections teach children important lessons. Our children learn how to recover from simple mistakes by watching us make mistakes. They also learn how to apologize and make amends by watching us (their imperfect parents) do so. Children learn how to manage discomfort and struggle by dealing with us and our imperfect responses to them as well. Our imperfections give us and our children the opportunities to grow and learn!
3. “The real perfect parent will judge me and think I’m incompetent.” First, there is no “real perfect parent” out there. Second, all of us struggle to the “right thing to do.” Parenting is not an exact science. If it were, we would not debate about “tiger mom’s,” “attachment parenting,” and “mindful parenting” as well as issues like how long to breast feed (if you breast feed at all), how strict a style of discipline to use, how to toilet train, etc.
4. “I must be my child’s best friend and discipline them perfectly.” How many of us discipline our friends? What would happen if we did try to discipline our friends? If we cannot be both friend and disciplinarian to our friends, why do we think we can be both friend and disciplinarian to our children? Instead, we strive to form a loving relationship with our children–relationships from which we can guide and teach our children to live by positive values. In this process, our children will get angry at us sometimes. They may even say they hate us. We will even experience anger toward them and, at times, feel like we don’t really like them. But, they remain our children. In the end, we still love them. Our love holds them near…and our love holds them accountable.
5. “My children’s behavior is reflection on me.” This might be true…IF we were programming robots. But, our children have a mind of their own. Peers and teachers influence them. Diets and sleep influence them. TV, twitter, instagram and minecraft influence them. We do our best to influence our children, but we are not the only ones. Ultimately, our children’s behavior is a reflection on them and their choices. Our response to our children’s behavior is a reflection on us!
6. “If my children do not have everything they want, I am a failure and my children will hate me.” A good parent does not give their children everything they want; they give them what they need. Our children need food, shelter, clothing, positive attention, guidance, affection, and loving discipline. Parents who provide these basic needs, even imperfectly, give their children a gracious gift; and they will experience their children’s love for years to come.
Let’s be honest. Parents are not perfect. We make mistakes. Those mistakes provide a great opportunity for parent and child to grow. So, cherish your imperfections. Acknowledge your mistakes. Love earnestly…for love covers a multitude of mistakes.
Parents can promote good behavior, maturity, and positive growth in their children through encouragement and praise…well, most of the time. Encouragement and praise can also undermine a child’s growth and maturity. “What’s that you say?” It is true. If we, as parents, want encouragement to promote maturity and positive growth in our children, rather than undermine it, we have to avoid these five mistakes.
·Do not overdo the praise. Go ahead and encourage, but keep the encouragement appropriate to the behavior. Too many times we praise our children endlessly because they completed a chore like setting the table or taking out the garbage. We raise the roof with accolades because they obtained “A’s” on their report card. We celebrate “graduation” from preschool with a big party and catered dinner. Children see through this façade and soon learn to interpret praise and encouragement as simple manipulation. Studies conducted in the classroom have revealed that students believe that praise and encouragement, when given indiscriminately, simply reveal who is least capable and who is struggling most; after all, parents and teachers, in an effort to encourage and build their self-esteem, “pour the praise on” those students who do more poorly. Don’t let this stop you from encouraging your children. Go ahead and praise. Give encouragement. But, make sure the encouragement matches the act. Some behavior requires a simple “thank you” or an acknowledgement that it was completed, not a party or a flood of accolades.
·Do not praise with global statements like “Good job” or “That’s beautiful.” Such global statements leave room for misinterpretation. What was good about it? What makes it beautiful? Global statements of praise and encouragement also call the credibility of the person offering praise into question. After all, if I praise everything my child does, which acts were truly praiseworthy? A child will begin to question our “praise-credibility” when they hear us praise making their bed and graduation from college as “amazing, you did such a wonderful job.” Instead of offering global praise, encourage, acknowledge, or praise some specific aspect of what they did. For instance, rather than, “What a beautiful picture,” you might say, “I really like the colors you chose. How did you pick them out?” Instead of saying, “You did an amazing job helping with dinner,” try saying, “Thanks for mashing the potatoes.”
·Do not attach a character label to your praise. When we say things like, “Good boy,” “Good girl,” or “That’s Daddy’s girl” when our children do something for us, we build a performance-based standard of acceptance. We subtly imply that “goodness” is only achieved through performance; our love is tied to performance. Instead, offer a simply smile, a “thank you,” an “I appreciate that,” or a pat on the back. Also, remember to acknowledge and praise the efforts our children make, even if the effort does not pay off with success. Thank them for their thoughtfulness, their desire to help, their effort to improve, even when they fall short of perfection. This communicates unconditional acceptance…and, it encourages continued effort.
·Avoid the “Yeah, but’s.” You know what I mean…”You did a good job cleaning your room, but…” “Great job mowing the grass, but…” “What an excellent report card, but…” “That is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen, but….” (Notice the “overdoing” in these statements as well.) Any praise with a “but” added on becomes a criticism. It puts our children on the defensive. It makes them feel as though they are “never good enough.” They hear us telling them that they are inadequate and incapable of satisfying us. So, offer up your praise and encouragement, but leave the “but” off. Keep the praise “but-less.”
·Finally, do not step in and take over. When we step in to finish the job or “put the finishing touches on it,” we communicate that our children “cannot do it” and that we “do not trust them to do it.” When your children wrap a present, let it go. It may not be perfect, but it was their job. Find some positive aspect of the job to acknowledge and let it go. When your children dust the furniture, do not redo it. Instead, offer some supervision while they do it; and, if you see an area in which they can improve, simply teach them. Doing so will communicate that you trust your children to do the job and you know they have the ability to learn the job.
There you have it, 5 mistakes to avoid when praising and encouraging children. So, get out there and praise your children. “You’ll do such a wonderful job. I know you will. You are so talented….” Oops, I got carried away and broke my own rules. I guess we all make our mistakes. Have fun!