4 Critical Parenting Lessons that No One Ever Taught You
Age 3 – My daughter was jumping on the couch and when I told her to stop, she didn’t listen. At first I asked her nicely, and then after 3 or 4 times, I started to get frustrated and I raised my voice. The louder I got, the higher she jumped. Finally, I was so upset that I slammed my hand against the wall to get her attention. I scared her. She stopped jumping and started crying. It went from bad to worse after that. How do I get my daughter to listen?
Ages 9 and 11 – My boys fight incessantly. If they are not fighting over Lego, then they are fighting over who gets to play XBox first. If it’s not the XBox then they fight over who gets to sit beside me. They are at it non-stop. If I remove the item they are fighting over they find something else to fight over. I try to step in and separate them but they find their way back to each other. I am exhausted and I am sick and tired of the fighting.
Age 19 – My son is a bum. He goes to bed late every night and can’t get up in the morning. He misses all of his morning classes and he can’t hold down a job. I’m pretty sure that he’s smoking pot with his friends who are all bad influences. I tried laying down the law and setting boundaries but he avoids me or lies when I ask him what he’s been up to. I try the tough love approach and threaten to kick him out but he doesn’t care. I am out of my mind with worry and I don’t know what to do.
Parenting isn’t an easy task. It’s not something we learned at school and it’s not something that we really took the time to study before we were thrown into the job. The only real lessons we learned about parenting were the ones our own parents taught us through their own parenting – and they weren’t always the best.
So what do we do when our kids aren’t cooperating or when they are unruly and have strayed off the path we want to see them on? How do we set them straight and ensure they grow up to be decent human beings? Here are a few parenting guidelines that will help you steer the ship when the waters get rough.
Parenting Lesson #1 – It’s Called Parenting for a REASON
What is parenting really about? The Parent! That’s why it’s called PARENTING! If parenting were about the child, it would be called CHILDING!
What am I really getting at here?
Simple. Awesome parenting is about SELF-MANAGEMENT. In other words, parents who do an incredible job raising their kids spend a whole lot of time managing their own behaviour rather than that of their children.
Let’s take a closer look…
Our kids were not born into this world to follow all of our rules and live up to our expectations. They were born to explore this life and turn it into an experience that brings THEM joy and satisfaction. What that means is that as they explore, they will do and try all kinds of things that may leave you rattled.
Our job is to manage our own emotional state as they do their exploring. When our toddler crawls toward a staircase, our job is to calmly help them up or down the stairs and/or redirect them to a safer spot. Our toddler did not aim for the stairs to freak us out – she was just being a toddler who was exploring her environment.
This applies to our teens as well. They may explore friendships with people who we feel are not the best influences. They may experiment with drinking, drugs, and late nights among other things. Why do they do these things? Not to piss us off but rather to figure out who they are and what they mean in the world.
Understanding this premise is important for the purpose of understanding our role as a parent and lays a foundation for self-management when our kids do not behave as we might want them to.
Parenting Lesson #2 – Our Actions Speak Louder than our WORDS
Our kids watch every move we make and model our behaviour at every opportunity.
From a very young age, our kids observe absolutely everything we do. They watch how we talk to people, how we treat others, how we react to difficult situations, and they absorb how we think about every subject. They know how we manage our money, they know how we feel about our jobs, and they know how we greet our guests when they walk through our door. They learn from us and they mimic everything we do.
When we become angry because someone isn’t behaving the way they ‘ought’ to, they learn that it’s okay to rant and rave when others aren’t cooperating. When we swear at the driver who cuts us off, they learn to swear as well when other people do dumb things.
When we belittle our spouse for not putting the dishes in the dishwasher properly, they learn to speak to their siblings the same way. And when we ignore someone who is talking to us because we are busy responding to an email, they learn about our priorities and take their cues from us.
Our actions are integral to how our kids behave. When we don’t like what we see in front of us, the first thing we need to do is look in the mirror. If we want our kids to manage themselves effectively, we need to ask ourselves if we are modelling that behaviour. Are we managing ourselves effectively even when they are not able to manage themselves? Do we stay calm when they are distraught or do we yell back when they are yelling at us?
Do we demonstrate resilience after a fall or a failure or do we sulk for a while believing that life is hard? Do we behave in a kind and generous manner to others or do we feel like we need to protect our assets? What about moods – are we joyful and warm or are we broody and sarcastic? The bottom line is that our kids learn from us. ARE WE TEACHING THEM WHAT WE WANT THEM TO LEARN?
Parenting Lesson #3 – More than Anything, Our Kids Want Our APPROVAL
Believe it or not, our kids WANT a good, harmonious relationship with us!
As a general rule, kids want their parents to love them. In fact, kids want their parents to LIKE them and approve of them too!
What does that mean? It means that many kids will go to great lengths to build a positive, harmonious relationship with their parents, including hiding and lying.
Many adults I have spoken to have shared how lying is the worst thing their kids could do – worse than the ‘crime itself’. They share how they can handle anything their kids throw at them, but lying is utterly unacceptable. When I explain that kids use lying as a tactic to preserve their relationship with their parents, they begin to understand the role that they have played in designing a relationship where the child feels a need to lie in order to feel safe.
Parents unknowingly build the kind of relationship with their kids where there is harmony when their child obeys and does what the parent wants. They reward their kids with treats or positive affirmations when their child performs accordingly, and discipline and maybe even punish them when the behaviour is less than appropriate.
Kids learn early on what they need to do to please their parents. As such, they hide or lie about the things they know will be less pleasing to their parents. Unintentionally, parents build conditional relationships with their kids that are dependent on their approval.
Interestingly, as parents, most of us want our kids to be independent thinkers who are able to use their judgement to make wise decisions as they become adults. Unfortunately, this model of parenting forces kids to either acquiesce to the preferences of their parents, or face their disapproval. Bit of a trap, don’t you think?
What’s the alternative? We need to help our kids learn naturally from their experiences, not from the approval or disapproval that we inflict. We need to allow them to make mistakes, and we need to help them learn to pick themselves up and move on.
Parenting Lesson #4 – What You Focus On GROWS
When we look at our kids – what do we notice?
Do we notice the good? The strengths? The potential? Or do we notice the messy room, the broodiness, and the poor marks? What are we paying attention to? And… what do we communicate? How much of our time do we spend saying “Don’t”? “Don’t hit your sister.” “Don’t make a mess.” “Don’t leave your dishes in the sink.” “Don’t be disrespectful.”
The bottom line in this parenting lesson is that when we focus on the things that are good and awesome about our kids, they expand. When we focus on what needs to be fixed and what they are doing wrong, the relationship becomes strained and difficult. When we see our kids in their best light, they shine! When we see their flaws, they dim and they hide.
When we tell our kids what we DO want instead of what we don’t, life becomes a whole lot easier. Focus on what you want. In fact, it’s actually a great way to approach ALL relationships!
Let’s apply what we’ve learned to our 3 cases…
Case 1: Your 3 year old is jumping on the couch. Why? Because it’s fun! Why is that something to get angry about? You might be afraid that she will hurt herself – fair. But allowing your fear to be the reason for your yelling and slamming the wall is not fair. It demonstrates a complete lack of self-control. In this case, focus on what you want. You want her to sit down? Sit down with a book and say, “Let’s read this amazing story.”
Or even grab her playfully and airlift her to the kitchen, planting her on a stool at the sink and asking her to help you wash the dishes. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t.
Case 2: Your kids are fighting over a toy. Ok – that’s a pretty normal way of figuring out one’s place in the world. Allowing their fighting to be the reason for your exhaustion means that your kids are really in control of your emotional state. Understanding that the Xbox argument is really about developing a sense of assertion and self-confidence enables you to manage your own emotions while they work things out.
Your instinct is to step in and mediate. How about removing yourself from the situation and allowing them to work it out on their own? If they are in danger, then how about stepping in to allow them to take a break while you ‘coach’ each one independently and help them think through ways to get what they actually want? In both cases, you are teaching them to think, negotiate, and work out challenges. These are good lessons they will carry with them into adulthood!
Case 3: Your son is a teenager and from your perspective, he has lost his way. Your view of him is that he’s a lazy bum who lies regularly and who’s up to nothing useful. Clearly this perspective of your son does not draw him your way. In fact, he probably knows that you see him this way and his strategy for self-preservation and harmony has been to avoid interacting with you or to hide things from you.
The truth is that he’s still at an age where your influence can be very powerful, PROVIDED that your view of him changes. You cannot influence anyone to change direction when you see them in a poor light. You must start by cleaning up the picture you have formed of him and focus exclusively on the things that are awesome and wonderful about him. When he understands and feels that you see him in a far better light than he may be presenting, then, and only then, will he be open to your influence and guidance.
Frame of Mind Coaching™’s principles are unique and special — that’s because the principles we teach our clients can be applied to EVERY situation. Parenting is no different. Restructure and rethink your parenting strategy — have a complimentary chat with us. This one conversation alone will have a huge impact on your perspective and will provide you with the clarity you need to make the parenting choices that are right for you and your family.