Parenting can be a roller coaster of highs and lows. From my experience as a family counselor in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, as a therapist in private practice and as a professor in psychology at a community college, I have come to realize there are three major principles in positive parenting.
Help build your child’s self image and self-esteem, so he/she will look beyond social media affirmations. However, when your child looks in the mirror and may think: I am not good enough, I am not tall enough, I am not smart enough, nor good looking at all, he fills his thoughts with doubts and negative evaluations. Often, she compares herself to Photoshopped images on the internet and magazines. If you, the parent, would say,” You are wonderfully talented and very good looking”, your child might think: that’s my mom or my dad and they don’t know. And you really do not know with what criteria and guidelines your child is measuring his self worth or her acceptability. As an example: if he makes the sport team of his choice, how is he treated by his teammates? If she is accepted into the drama club, what role is she given? You really do not know how their experiences are perceived. It is to your child’s advantage to discover and the determine individual strengths, weaknesses and areas needing improvement. Your report card on your child’s worth may not he helpful. When I look at my adult children, I see the infant, the toddler, the teen and the young adult. I see growth, the struggles and the achievements. I do not see who they see in the mirror. The need to be accepted and belong is a major turning point in a teen’s development. You, the parent are powerless in this decision. Sounds scary, but true. The core issue is that you will not be pr4esent when your child gets an offer to ‘party’. That decision and subsequent behaviors belongs to your child. What can you do to build a platform for the growth of decision making skills for appropriate choices? Appraise good decisions and judgement when appropriate. Between the ages of 3-11 years old, before your child looks to the peer group for affirmations is your best window. Do the best you can and hope for the best.
Communication involves active listening and shared activities. Communication is the glue in relationships from which all feelings are expressed: mad, glad, disappointment, pride and appreciation. Communication is most solid when you are expressing your feelings in reference to your child’s behaviors, especially when it is specific: “ I appreciate your thoughtfulness in the way you helped me” Or “ I was disappointed in your decision in your decision not to tell me you’ll be home later than expected”. Such specific references do more than say your child is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
At times, parents do not express their feelings in words but in behaviors. As an example, my parents never said that they were angry with each other when there was a conflict or an unresolved problem. Their body language and strident voices told the real story. When I asked, “What are you angry about?” I remember that their answer was confusing. “There’s no anger here.” What should I have trusted: their words or my feelings?” I have learned to trust my feelings and that has served me well in the communication process with my children, my clients and my students. I have also learned that feelings are neither good or bad. Feelings are to be accepted and not judged, especially my own. A very important awareness in the communication process is that feelings do not necessarily transition into behaviors. If I feel angry and say, “ I am angry”, that doesn’t mean I’ll act out in an angry manner. This understanding has opened the door for me to express all of my feelings. A good starting point to share emotions may be a nonverbal shared activity with your child. Board games, bowling, skating, community activities and simply taking a walk or a drive can open the door to emotional expressions. Frequently, it is not necessary to have a full response or a lecture but simply, “ I hear that you are feeling__.” Early childhood and middle school years can offer a variety of connections before powerful peers come into play. Here is where you, the patent can create a platform for verbal communication that will build a scaffold for future communication between your preteen and adolescence.
Model behavior that projects your values. Show your child that you are committed to doing the ‘right’ thing when possible. As an example, your child can be a witness to your truth telling. To keep it simple: Aunt Bess calls to get together this weekend. You could have said you are busy. You chose the truth and you say: “I am not in a good mood this weekend. How about a raincheck?” Your child is in the room and you narrate this scenario: “I could have said that I was busy but we have an honest relationship so I told her the truth. You and I have an honest relationship and I do not lie to you. I hope we can keep this forever and you don’t lie to me. I love you.” These experiences are part of your child’s memories and may serve as guidelines for future relationships. Serving as a role model is not easy; but it is real. And that’s the best parent you can be: real, trustworthy, but not perfect. One visual has served me well throughout my children’s experiences is the awareness that I am not their only role model. There are teachers, relatives, community leaders, celebrities, friends and social media that have influence and at times, greater than mine. I am unable to control the direction or influences in their life journey; neither do I have the power to shape my children’s choices. At the end of the day, the best I can hope for is to share their journey.