Instead of telling you what to add for the new year, I’m going to tell you what to avoid. I saw a Business Insider article about the 5 behaviors that may be killing your career. As I read them, I realized that the same holds true in parenting. These 5 behaviors may be making your parenting life way harder than it needs to be with little if any good results. I will translate them as we go.
1. Over-committing and under-delivering
In parenthood, fear and guilt tend to rule. Am I giving my children every opportunity there is? Do I spend enough time with them? Do I play with them enough or am I enabling their dependence? Should I start music lessons, soccer practice, tutoring? What’s the next big idea for my children’s birthdays? If we don’t have the money for all this, guilt takes us down and we fear our children will fail.
Who are we competing with? We over-commit our children in the hopes of giving them the advantage, being the best, excelling in everyway. But at what cost?
America’s teens “trail much of the world on measures of school achievement, but are among the world leaders in violence, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, abortion, binge drinking, marijuana use, obesity, and unhappiness,” according to adolescence scholar Larry Steinberg. Many of our twenty-somethings are so driven to be at the top that stress levels take physical and mental tolls. Perhaps we need to connect some dots.
2. Resisting change
We know so much more today about children’s brain development and what they need for whole and healthy development, yet parents don’t change their punitive ways. What gets instilled in one’s childhood is difficult to prevent on becoming a parent.
“At the heart of effective discipline is curiosity,” says psychotherapist Tina Bryson. She is one of a new group of scientists, doctors, and psychologists who aim to change the way we think about discipline and in so doing, change our culture. We need to reframe how we think about and interact with children, to save our children’s minds as well as our own.
No more timeouts, spanking or cry-it-out sleep routines. Bryson, Dr, Dan Siegel and others believe our children will mature and grow far better without these discipline tactics. If we are going to take seriously what science tells us about how we form relationships and how our minds develop, we will need new strategies requiring a whole new perspective on children and their behavior.
3. Always worrying about your next career move instead of focusing on the present
In this case, “career move” translates to anything other than what is going on with your child in the present moment. When parents worry about the future—if Johnny hits his sister over the head it means he’s mean and violent, destined for antisocial behaviors, no friends, school detentions if not expulsion, and requires serious discipline—fear takes over and the parent reacts in anger and aggression thereby teaching Johnny exactly what is intended to be shouted out of him.
Being in the moment with children is hard to do but essential in order to hear and learn what the problem is that needs to be addressed calmly and with empathy. A child’s language—what I call “childology”—takes practice to interpret. What children say is not always what they want you to know. Hanging out in the moment, breathing instead of reacting, waiting for windows of opportunity, all direct the parent toward helpful, effective communication.
4. Being a problem identifier versus a problem solver
Worrying about the future based on the past keeps a parent problem-focused. Traditionally, parents treat problems with punishment. Threats, isolation in time out, yelling aggressively, withholding something the child wants, crying it out are methods believed to make the child behave better—“civilizing” them with force.
But in fact science shows us that these tactics do the opposite and that this type of early emotional trauma—“toxic stress”— disrupts the developing brain. In fact for children to mature and grow, science tells us we need to focus on how relationships are formed and minds develop.
Parents need to construct different strategies to establish calmer and more understanding relationships with children, so they behave naturally (childishly) as opposed to reacting out of fear of what will happen if….
Problem solving—engaging the child and guiding her to think through the problem and come to her own conclusions without telling her what to do—develops conscience, empathy, learning the consequences of one’s actions, and interpersonal skills.
5. Being complacent—not growing as a person and a professional
As well as developing new strategies for raising children based on new science, parents need also to present their children with strong, responsible, kind, and respectful role models—in all areas of the parent’s life.
Whether working outside or inside the home, children need to learn who you are as a person; how you are with friends and strangers, how you deal with problems and crises. You are a whole person, not simply a parent. Address yourself as “I” instead of Mommy or Daddy—you are more than that.
Continue to learn new things and talk about them at the dinner table. Bring your children into discussions about life’s complications. Allow them to develop their own opinions and ideas so you grow together toward meaningful and rich adult relationships.
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