I hope you find something helpful, heartwarming, or meaningful in this post. I struggled with the title simply because I know the word “therapy” comes with a certain stigma and that’s not what this is about. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times. Therapy (and my therapists) helped SAVE MY LIFE. They changed it from what it was and where it was heading and I couldn’t have more gratitude towards them. So I tossed around, “Being the best parent I can be,” or, “Parenting 101,” but the truth is I would have never known most of these specific things if I hadn’t sat my butt for three years in a therapists office/group figuring out how to do things differently or why it even mattered.
Now, as I write this I’ve currently been a parent for two years, one month, 20 days, 16 hours and 47 minutes, but it’s not like having a baby changes your life or anything so who’s counting? Really. In all seriousness, I don’t think I’m an expert. I have learned a few “aha!” tidbits that struck me as interesting and maybe they will do the same for you. Here it goes…
8. Follow compliments on their actions (great job, you’re so smart, you’re incredibly athletic, etc.) with a praise of character (you worked so hard to accomplish that, I admire how you gave up things you wanted to achieve that, you studied a ton for that test and it paid off!) This sends the message to a child that you admire their values rather than the achievement itself. In a culture that’s so performance/achievement based it’s natural to want your children to be ahead of the curve. If I asked you what you wanted more for them though, I bet it’s that they know what they value in life and act in alignment with those values. What happens after that is out of everyone’s control.
7. Using the term GOOD/BAD BOY and GOOD/BAD GIRL when speaking to children. I know it seems extreme, but hear me out. I remember a specific instance in church when we were sitting behind a family with child a few years older than Noah. On this particular Sunday he was having a hard time sitting still and being quiet. After he threw a book during a prayer, the dad grabbed him sternly and said, “Bad boy!!!” I cringe when I hear this term (and it’s all the time) because it sends the message that children’s actions make them good or bad people. If the boy had been sitting quietly would that make him “good” in his parents eyes? You’re probably tempted to answer yes, but that’s like saying my struggle with an eating disorder makes you a bad person which I don’t believe to be true. Children’s actions don’t make them good or bad, just like our actions don’t define us. We all make mistakes and that doesn’t mean we are bad. I think what parents mean when they use this term is that their action isn’t appropriate. So tell them that instead! “Noah, you don’t throw books in church! You could hurt someone!” See how that statement is different because it doesn’t reference a child’s character? It does let him know that he is responsible for the behavior and it tells him why it’s not acceptable and could be potentially harmful.
6. Comparing two children. In our minds comparison is a natural thing and that’s why it’s so easy to compare one child to another. Like I mentioned above though, children tend to hear things we don’t mean. I was talking to a friend once and he told me that his second child had so much more personality than his first did as a baby. I wanted to die, hoping the child hadn’t heard because that could be hurtful to a seven year old. What the man meant was that his second had a DIFFERENT personality as a baby than the first did. Not more, better, worse, etc. Just different. And if for some reason he did think his second child had a better personality, he needed to keep it to himself. That’s my opinion because I don’t want any of my children to get the impression I think more or less of them than another child.
5. Using the term WE inappropriately. This was simple but so hard for me to change!!! When telling Noah not do do something I would say, “We don’t do this/that.” The thing about using the word we is that it’s a codependent term implying that you and the child are one and the same and he must share your values/beliefs. It also doesn’t give them ownership for their actions. Now when I talk to him I make sure I say, “YOU don’t do that. If YOU choose to do it again, there will be consequences.” His actions = his responsibility. He can still make whatever choice he wants and I can’t force him to behave. Yet if that’s what he chooses, there will be a consequence.
4. Become the best listener of your child and know them well. I don’t know about you, but I’m quick to tell Noah how to do things more efficiently, better, faster, etc., and sometimes this is appropriate. Other times, when he’s talking to me or showing me something he just wants me to be with him and listen. It let’s him know I value who he is, how he thinks, and who he is becoming.
3. It’s a good thing you aren’t the perfect parent. What parent hasn’t lost it? Gotten angry, annoyed, frustrated, and irritated with their children? Who hasn’t spoken unkindly to their spouse or another person in front of them? As important as it is to model healthy behavior, it’s also important to teach them how adults mess up too. That’s reality. And it gives you the perfect opportunity to let them see you make amends, whether it’s to them or someone else. I want my children to know that I’m not perfect and neither will they be and that’s perfectly ok. We learn lessons and humility from our mistakes.
2. Take joy in your children. I know you love your kids. More than anything. Why else would you be reading my oh-so-eloquently written, grammatical error free post? You want, hope and pray to be the best parent you can be to them. I know sometimes when I’m sitting and playing with Noah, I look over at him and I can’t believe he’s mine. How could I be so blessed to have him? In that moment there’s no where I’d rather be than playing with trains or reading a story. TELL THEM THIS, AND TELL THEM OFTEN! I assume he knows how much I love and care for him but how meaningful would it be if someone were to tell you how there’s no where they’d rather be than with you on a regular basis? It never hurts to hear how loved you are.
1. Knowing that as a parent, you do your best and ultimately, you have no control over what your children decide to do in life. Sure you influence them. But you can be the near perfect parent and your child can commit murder. On the other hand, you can be a neglectful, abusive parent and your child could end up like Mother Theresa. Knowing that all you can do is your part and that who they become is up to them is extremely scary but very freeing.
My intention in this post isn’t to guilt-trip anyone or suggest you change if you have it down! By all means, if you know a different way and it’s working for you: go for it. These were just tips that made total sense to me as far as raising a child who is independent, thinks for them self, and knows I love and value them for who they are rather than their accomplishments. That’s why I wanted to pass them along to you. Actions and words are so powerful and you can change what your child hears with the language you use. I know the majority of parents out there just want the best for their children (like I do) and don’t realize that a few language choices and actions can make a big difference. So take what you like, leave what you don’t, and be sure to give your child an extra long hug and tell them how much they mean to you today.