“Parenting.” The word alone is enough to make even the bravest among us shake a little in our Uggs. It’s a job that can and does intimidate every single person who ever took it on. It’s a roller coaster ride with no seat belts and sometimes we feel like we’re just one surprise turn away from being tossed out altogether.
Sometimes, when things are humming along, we feel absolutely sure of ourselves and walk around with the smug smile of self-satisfaction. On those glorious days we might even get pumped up enough to think we deserve an award for the great job we’re doing, or at least a talk show offer.
Then there are those other, horrible days when we’re down-in-the-dumps questioning whether we even deserve to be called a mom. That’s when we hear that nasty, self-sabotaging voice taunting us: “You’re not cut out for this! You suck! Why don’t you know what you’re doing?”
Most of us probably see-saw back and forth between both of those experiences, depending on the day, and the particular child involved. The goal, as impossible as it might sound, is to establish a certain balance in how we take it all in so we don’t feel like our sanity and sense of self hinges on whether our so-called parenting skills are working that day or not.
There is definitely an art involved in this crazy job that develops with time and experience. But parenting smarts can be learned and practiced, too. Unfortunately though, it’s pretty much on-the-job training for most of us and we all trip into some bad habits from time to time.
But I know you’re trying hard to get it right. So I’m going to let you in on a few of the things that make every child and family therapist cringe so you can avoid them at all costs. Many parents don’t know how inappropriate or even damaging these behaviors are. And most would stop them immediately, if they did.
So here is your heads-up. Cut out these no-no’s and you’ll be much closer to being the kind of parent you want to be.
1. Talking about your child’s problems or making hurtful remarks about him while he’s standing right there: “He’s so annoying.” “He’s the laziest kid I’ve ever met.” “She’s not too bright.” “I can’t believe how scared he was. He’s such a baby!”
Some parents don’t seem to realize that their children can see the snickers on their faces and hear the less-than-flattering comments that come out of their mouths. And those words, and looks, go straight to their hearts and can leave lasting scars. Your words and what you think about them are very, very important and will influence how they view themselves — not just today, but for the rest of their lives. So if you want them to be happy and successful, watch your mouth!
A twist on this scenario is when a parent insults the other parent and the child in the same sentence: “He’s just like his father — no self-control.” This one impacts his view of himself and makes him ashamed of his father, too. It also models for him how to treat his own spouse one day.
2. Discussing frightening events in front of a child:
“I was totally freaked out, so I called the police and told them that there was a suspicious car parked out in front and I was afraid it might be a kidnapper because a child in the next town was approached by someone in a similar car on his way home from school. My kids are not going outside at all until they find that weirdo.”
When a scary thing happens to you or your children, it’s important to talk to them about it while being very mindful of your role as comforter. The things that you say should be directed very purposefully towards reducing their fears and helping them to move on feeling strong and reassured. You do not want to scare them, especially about things that are completely out of their control.
But some parents discuss the details of the troubling event openly with other adults while their kids are around and end up further traumatizing them. Following the events of 911 in New York I saw this happen over and over again. Parents (and store clerks, teachers, bus drivers etc.) talked about the disaster, the terrorist threat, and all their fears very dramatically while the children stared up at them wide-eyed and terrified. NOT COOL!
Remember that your job is to protect your kids (and all kids) from physical and emotional harm. Process your concerns out of ear shot of your children (or any children) with another adult. Do not ever assume that they are not listening because they are busy doing their homework or playing on the floor with their toys. If your voice sounds at all stressed, they will be all ears.
3. Using any kind of physical violence, from a yank to a slap to a swat to control behavior.
Seeing parents engage in these behaviors always makes me crazy. This also goes for name calling. It is never appropriate and if you find that you rely on physical force, humiliation or verbal abuse to get your child to behave, find a parenting class fast — you’re headed for disaster. There’s no shame in asking for help, you simply need some new strategies that will work without hurting your child or damaging your relationship with her. We tend to repeat what was done to us and you can be the hero who breaks the dysfunctional patterns in your family. How amazing would that be??
4. Ignoring a child’s pleas for attention and then suddenly yelling at her.
I realize that you are trying to have a life and that being a parent is a 24/7 job that often feels like a 25/7 job. Still, it’s a big part of your job description to work on being patient and responding to your child when she talks to you. I’m not talking about a child who is in a whiny mood and won’t stop even though you have answered her several times.
This is about those other times when you are preoccupied (iphone? computer? T.V.?) or talking to someone else and your child needs but cannot seem to get your attention. “Mommy?” “Mommy?” “Mommy?” “Mommy?” No response until you suddenly decide you’ve had it and lash out at her verbally (or physically): “STOP IT! I’M TALKING!”
A child should not have to work so hard to get a parent to listen. And a reasonable person cannot simply ignore her and then suddenly pounce. It’s just not fair.
5. Answering for her or correcting her in mid-sentence:
“Hey Danny! How’s first grade? How do you like your teacher?” I asked this capable young man.
“Oh, he loves her! She’s great and we’re so lucky we got her” said Danny’s mom as he looked away.
This one is somewhat more benign than the others and I (and everyone I know) have to admit to occasionally stumbling into it myself. But it’s important to catch yourself when you do it and stop! Our child needs to be given the opportunity to learn how to express himself and answer questions about his life without prompting or help (unless of course he really needs it). It is one of the most important ways that he works to become independent and self-assured.
As parents we tend to rush in to fill the awkward gaps in our children’s conversations with others but we don’t need to. When she is asked a question, even if she’s three, give her a chance to come up with an answer. Take a break and let her figure it out. No one’s really expecting a brilliant answer here. Plus, she may be smarter than you think.
And always tread carefully when it comes to correcting him while he’s talking. Be gentle and sensitive as to how you go about this. He is learning to feel comfortable about sharing his thoughts and ideas. Sometimes that feels scary. And if he is afraid that you will interrupt him to let everyone know that he has made a mistake it will be even scarier.
He’s also learning how to correct others by watching and listening to how you do it, and nobody likes a know-it-all or a buttinski do they? Help us all out by doing your best not to create another one.
So, go ahead mamas and see if you can avoid or eliminate these “deadly five” from your parenting skill set. Your relationships with your kids will improve, they will gain self confidence and self respect and you will feel much calmer, too. Funny how it works that way.