September 2011: Eight Steps to Help You (and Your Children)September 1, 2011
We almost always mean well.
But too often, parents unconsciously serve their own needs for love and approval by impeding their child’s (or young adult’s) growth. For example:
• Constantly barraging kids with special treats and gifts
• Giving them “good-tasting crap” to eat
• Trying to cure their boredom by over-organizing their social and academic lives
• Over-reacting by mistaking a child’s discomfort for suffering
• Doing thinking and work that they should be doing
• Making kids the center of the parents’ universe, if not the entire universe
• Lecturing instead of connecting
Deluged by horror stories about child maltreatment, nervous parents have over-corrected en masse. Coddling and invasive protectiveness have become the new forms of abuse.
A chronic focus on the child conveniently keeps parents from facing themselves.
Here are eight steps you can take to reclaim reasonable parental functioning and help your child’s growth and development.
1. Ignore more of what they do
Being able to tell the difference between when to ignore and when not to ignore is the Holy Grail of parenting. If you are, in general, an attentive or worrisome parent, it’s probably best to ignore more often. As kids get older, supply few suggestions, and fewer answers. “Nonchalantly tune in” to what they are up to, without direct involvement. Let them wander, putter and be bored. Trust that they’ll figure out how to fill their own time without your direction. The older they get, the more value they receive from you ignoring them.
2. Regulate the faucet on treats and gifts
Support delayed gratification and de-emphasize material rewards. Tie rewards to performance. Push back on the idea that your child has to have the best and latest fashion or gadget. Align your own spending/saving beliefs with your spending/saving behaviors. If your children have to earn what they spend – instead of having it handed to them – they will probably figure out the value of money. Allow your children the freedom to experience giving to others with no material return for themselves.
3. Feed your own physical, intellectual and emotional health
View your well-being as a big advantage to your children and grandchildren. Start or continue a regular exercise routine to regulate your weight, sleep better and keep your brain endorphins firing. Learn how to calm down and enjoy your life. Take up something meaningful and joy-producing. Keep learning, questioning and expanding your knowledge. Worry less about your kids’ safety, and consider your own well-being.
4. Develop one or two solid friendships
Create outlets in your life for important conversations. Develop a personal connection circle outside your nuclear family. Peer interactions that push beyond superficial chat can help off-load anxiety, challenge your delusions and stimulate new thinking. Reap the emotional benefits of solid connection without over-involvement. Besides helping you, this sends a message to your kids about the advantages of good friendships.
5. Get out of your box
Consider your own isolation and staleness. What have you become too accustomed to? What cultures, races, religions, activities, settings, etc. have you been least exposed to? In what areas does your cutting edge need sharpening? Cultivate a spirit of adventure by trying something out-of-the-ordinary. By expanding your own world view, show your children that life is not to be feared. If your habit has been constant motion, try meditation. If you’re a couch potato, inject an outdoor routine.
6. Connect with your spouse
Challenge the societal norm of the child-focused family. Give your kids a break from you by developing one-on-one activities with your spouse. Exploit shared interests and take one-on-one trips or join other couples. Stop fantasizing that your children will suffer if you leave them for awhile. Better yet, notice how your kids thrive when you are not around.
7. Connect with your parents and siblings
Continually get to know your own parents and siblings. Calm down your reactivity to extended family members and try to learn more about them. Instead of narrowing your family experience to a few individuals, constantly seek to expand your contact with living relatives.
Growing solid connections with family members improves the emotional climate of the entire system and communicates to your children: “Family is important.”
8. Connect with each child, individually
Develop one-on-one connection strategies with each of your children. Get to know them as distinct individuals. Think through what settings and activities would appeal to each child and extend an exclusive invitation. Take opportunities when you can get them instead of forcing it. Make connection moves simple, and non-invasive. Focus on better understanding your children (no matter what their ages) and enjoying yourself in their presence.
For a stimulating, full-day flow of ideas on healthy parenting, attend our Annual Leaders Retreat with Dr. Peter Stearns. Read about the event and register at 2012 Annual Retreat – Special Session..
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