I haven’t written on parenting in a while … the reason is simple, I believe when you focus on your marriage first – your kids reap the benefit.
The greatest thing you can do for your kids is learn to focus on yourself.
Let me say that again, the greatest thing you can do for your kids is learn to focus on yourself.
Who would you say is in charge in most families?
Is it the parents or the kids?
In America, the answer is the latter. Take a look around at the cars beside you as you drive down the road. The stickers plastered on the back window and bumpers tell the tale of child focus as the latest status symbol in America. We’re broadcasting our Trophy Kids, the same way we broadcast our affluence by wearing labels with someone else’s name all over our clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc.
Think of the time spent running kids to and from one event to the next (some days I fell like that’s all I do). Our days are filled with events geared solely for the kids. Family life in America has moved from “Children should be seen and not heard” to “No adult conversation possible.” And the kids know it too.
Who’s in charge? Who gets their way? What is the organizing force in family life – the life of the adults . . . or the kids?
Is it possible that too much focus can be on the kids? Absolutely!
And it’s this over-focus that is harmful to them, the family… and you.
Here’s something you may not know – the kids that function best in life – in relationships, education, careers – are the kids that were most free of child focus during their growing up years.
Child focus can be negative – the scapegoated kid who can do nothing right — or positive – the golden child who can do no wrong.
The results of either kind of child focus are a lifetime of struggle.
The kid left to find his/her own way [NOT absent affection and NOT neglected] is the one best prepared to deal directly with life.
I know you’ve been there. A couple of years ago, I’m walking down the isle of Target with my 3 and 1 1/2 year old. Now possibly this was set up because I was allowing them to walk rather than ride, but no matter.
As we progress through the isles, wouldn’t you know it that something caught my 3 year olds eye. I can’t remember what it was but it must have been pink and princessey. She made sure I saw it as well and then the negotiations commenced (it’s quite amazing that a 3 year old is such a good negotiator).
So here I am, battling it out in the court room of the isle at Target. And it’s starting to intensify.
“Honey, put that back, we’re not going to buy that toy.”
“But I need this daddy!”
“No honey, you don’t.”
And we’re off.
You know where this is heading. The tears soon follow (from her, not me, although there are times I wish I could) and the tantrum pressure cooker is warming up. I’m beginning to feel trapped.
Add to this pressure building inside myself, I’m a licensed family therapist, my skills are now on display for all of Target to see.
What the kids need at a moment like this is a parent who can keep his cool. A parent able to calm himself down allows a child to explore his or her full range of emotions without spiraling out of control.
What happens with many of the blow ups between parent and child is the result of parents who lose their cool.
When a parent reacts on the level of the child, it’s bound to go bad.
What do you do?
- Focus more on yourself. This is not at the cost of others, it’s FOR others. When you are at your best, you are able to give the best of yourself to others.
- Do what you need to calm down without taking it out on the kids. Start by taking several deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Walk a short distance from your child, or to another room and calm down. Not every situation needs to be addressed immediately.
In fact, one of the great tools for misbehavior is the delayed consequence. This gives you time to calm down and think things through. You might even collaborate with a few friends about what would be an appropriate consequence for the given situation. Meanwhile, your child has the opportunity to think about what’s to come, thus increasing the weight of the bad choice. This works well with older kids and teenagers. Remember, you’re not raising a puppy and you don’t have to catch them in the act in order for an appropriate consequence to teach a valuable life lesson.
- Let the child handle more of their own problems. When a child comes to you needing help with their homework, what do you do? Do you do it for them? One of the main things growing up entails is struggle, and the struggle to grow up continues across our lifespan. Homework is supposed to be difficult. Learning to accomplish any task takes effort and work. The more a parent clears the path for the child, the more unprepared for the real world the child becomes. It’s important to be alongside them through their struggle, but as a support, not a snowplow.
- Let natural consequences teach the lessons. Give up the goal of being liked by your kids – parenting is not a popularity contest – it’s not for wimps – it’s a sacred charge to be in charge. Let the consequences do the screaming. They didn’t do their homework, let the low score teach the lesson. Meanwhile, you are an understanding and empathetic ear for them to talk to. You get to support them, not necessarily their choice.