Be Careful with Your Children

Children are not meant to be tiny clones of us. I’ll say it again, because it’s critical that you get this. Your children are NOT meant to be tiny clones of you! Ouch. That realization can be a painful one at times. You, as parents, want to show your beloved children how to live in this world. You want to influence their decisions. You want to give them good advice. You want them to like the music you like. You want to influence them politically, spiritually, and socially. After all, you have been charged with their care and well-being. Shouldn’t they be formed in your image? These little people belong to us and it’s our job to make sure they turn out right. Not exactly. Your children don’t actually belong  to you. Possessions belong to us. Money belongs to us. Car keys belong to us. But not children.

In order to be a truly great parent, you must realize that your children have their own purpose in this world. Their individual life is sacred and must be supported and validated by you. So many parents get this wrong. They believe that, somehow, these little humans belong to them and that it is the their job to mold the child into what the parent wants the child to be. This could not be further from the truth. Discard this lie. It is, in fact, a lie. This is where so many of us, as parents, go wrong. When we view these small humans as “ours” and as little people who need to grow up to be just like us, we rob our children of the life they were intended to live. Think of your child’s life as a wild flower. You don’t really know what it’s going to look like or be like once it is grown, but you still water it and give it sunlight and love. You don’t try to make the wildflower be a rose or a tulip or a sunflower. You just let it be what it was meant to be. One of my favorite quotes is by poet Kahlil Gibran. Wiser words were never spoken:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and thought they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”

It is a sacred job to be a parent. Be careful with your children. Think of each person’s life as a sacred spiritual journey. Only the Universe knows what your child’s purpose is for this human experience. Your child’s life is a sacred instrument in the world. Your jobs are to keep them safe, allow them to experience the consequences of life, and to validate their feelings. One example of validation is when a young child comes to you and says, “Adam is being mean.”

Your initial response might be to say, “No, he isn’t. He’s just trying to let you know…” Be very, very careful when your children come to you and express their feelings. You are the person who can most validate their feelings. If you do not validate their feelings, they will grow up lacking strong self-esteem and a solid identity. When you say, “No, he isn’t…” what your child “learns” is that her perceptions and feelings are incorrect and that she cannot trust herself. She then begins to doubt her gut instincts.

A better course of action would be to respond with something like, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. What happened?” This allows your child to feel heard and to learn that you are a safe place to come when the world is hard. Letting her know that you care about her feelings will cause her to open up to you and share more of the painful experience. It’s really what adults do when they pay a therapist to listen and validate their feelings during a mid-life crisis, for example. By validating your child’s feelings, you are allowing your child to express the hurt. Most of the time, children (and adults) don’t need answers. We just need a friendly listener.

Once your child has expressed her emotions and has had the opportunity to explain the details of the painful situation, you may then try to steer them in a good direction or help them see the truth of the situation if the truth is different than what they experienced. In any event, it is crucial that you first are actively listening and validating them. You will not regret it.

 

Empty Praise

cropped-annajulie1.jpgWe’ve all heard people say, “I want to give my children all of the things I never had growing up.” While this is a normal feeling, it’s not always the best parenting behavior. My parents raised me with lavish praise at every opportunity. Their intention was noble, and I believe they did this because they felt a lack of praise in their childhood. Therefore, when they had the opportunity to raise a child, most likely they wanted to give me what they felt they did not have growing up.

Unfortunately, their endless praise of me backfired, and I wound up feeling extremely insecure in spite of all the positive strokes. This was always so very confusing to me. How could I feel insecure when my parents were so supportive of me? After many months working with a therapist, and my involvement with other personal growth programs, I became stronger. I learned to value myself for things I can control – like kindness, empathy, listening skills, hard work, etc. Before my recovery work, the insecurity I felt was perplexing. I soon began studying something called “empty praise.”

By praising a child for something they have no control over — such as appearance or natural ability — parents inadvertently create praise “junkies.” These children grow up with very little internal sense of their strength and abilities. Very often, these same children have been protected from failure and have not only been spared the experience of failure, but have also been spared the strength and self-reliance that comes from trying and failing and then trying again. Below is an excerpt from Amy McCready’s article on Huffington Post, “Mistakes Too Many Parents Make When They Praise Their Kids.” McCready eloquently articulates the “empty praise” scenario.

TURNING PRAISE INTO LABELS

Praise, like sugar, can be tricky — and sometimes it shows up even where we don’t intend. For instance, when we label or compare our kids, we’re praising them, or worse, belittling them, often without realizing it. By claiming an “athletic one” or our “funny one” or the “shy one,” we highlight abilities (or inabilities) through comparison, and package all of our children into neat little boxes. Even more subtle is the designation of a go-to kid. We all have one — it’s the child we trust to carry the full salad bowl to the table. He’s the one we “go-to” when we want something done quickly and without a fuss. Relying on the go-to kid is a type of praise that can be just as damaging as its overt counterpart — not only because kids pick up on everything (even the fact that Javier always gets the cool jobs), but also because with it, we unknowingly tell kids that they are their label and can’t control who they are or what they do. Ouch!

The antidote: Even if you know Molly could have a career in modeling, or Charlie would rather mail himself to Siberia than speak in front of an audience, resist the urge to label Molly as “the pretty one” and compare Charlie as “my shy kid.” While you’re handing out family tasks, divvy up age-appropriate jobs equally so everyone gets a chance to drop (or successfully transport) the salad bowl, using plastic if you’re truly concerned. And who knows? Maybe with encouragement Charlie will someday find himself on a stage addressing thousands, without even having to picture them all in their underwear.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-mccready/mistakes-too-many-parents-make-when-they-praise-their-kids_b_7971142.html