I doubt if there is a parent alive who is okay with a daughter being sexually compromised, unable to stop unwanted advances, or getting less pay than her male counterpart — or a son becoming a bully or sexual predator who objectifies women for his pleasure and who expects higher pay than his female counterpart. Surely, we want our children to grow strong in their voices and opinions, while respectful of all those they are in relationship with.
So how do you do it? How do you raise a strongly opinionated woman who can stop any unwanted influence if you get angry and impatient with her demands at age three, seven, ten, fourteen? What does she learn about herself when the grownups in her life shut down her strong emotions, even when they get physical, with put downs, blame, shame, and punishment?
What about your boys who may not be into sports but would rather keep close to home, or who cry and have meltdowns beyond the point at which you think they should? What do they learn when they witness their fathers making demands on their mothers or when their fathers are physically or emotionally abusive to them or expect them to “act like men” when they are still children?
We hold expectations of our children to be the people we want them to become even when they are children, even when we don’t model that behavior. Do you have knee-jerk reactions to your kids when they make you mad and then expect them to treat you and others with respect? Do you believe that if you yell at, threaten or punish behavior you don’t like that the unwanted behavior will disappear?
I grew up pretty close to invisible. My father believed children should be seen and not heard. I was approved of when I pleased him and disapproved of when I spoke my mind, which I only remember doing once. My father paid little attention to my life and didn’t even know my best friend’s name. That translated to me as “I’m not important.” My opinions were never solicited so I don’t remember having any.
Years of therapy and personal growth workshops helped me find my voice and speak it loudly. But when my daughter expressed hers naturally and with determination, I initially tried to put it down. It pushed my buttons. Fortunately, I learned to listen to that voice. It taught me a lot.
What the #MeToo movement has brought up for me is not memories of assault or rape, but memories of letting sexual advances be okay — not speaking up, unwillingness to say I don’t want this — the not having a voice piece. That was the shame in it for me.
If you want to raise strong, respectful, responsible citizens, start young.
- Model the qualities you want to see in your children. Heal yourself and take responsibility for your reactions. Own your problems and don’t dump them on your kids.
- See the best aspects of your child. It’s easy to focus on behaviors you disapprove of. You highlight them each time you blame or threaten your child. Instead focus less on negative behavior and more on the behaviors you want to grow in your child.
- Admire your child. Even if she is being annoying with her arguments or demands, let her know that you admire her determination, her persistence, her courage to fight her fight. Whatever she is good at, tell her you admire her ability.
- Empathize. Your child will have many obstacles to hurdle and detours to maneuver while growing up. Be his sounding board, be the person he feels safe to come to for advice and opinions, or for an understanding shoulder.
- Be respectful in all interactions with your children as well as others. You can be firm, hold strong boundaries, and set limits with nothing but respect. You do not ever “need” to blame, punish, take away privileges, or control your child to insure she will become a good person.
- Maintain a balance of power. If you feel entitled to dominance or autocratic authority because of age and size, you set the model for bullying.
- Learn about, understand and respect your child’s temperament. Set your expectations for the child you have, not the one you want.
- Hear your child’s arguments, demands, desires. Listen. Do not tell her to shut up because you are too tired to listen.
- Give them as many opportunities as possible to make decisions about their agendas, their lives. Give them ownership of their bodies. Don’t tell them when they should be hungry or full. Engage them in decisions you make about them.
- Give young children choices to help empower them.
- When they make decisions, they are bound to make some bad ones. Regret is a teacher. Allow them to experience it without smoothing their way. Let them know you’ve been there.
- Obviously children have to do many things they don’t want. Acknowledging their wishes doesn’t mean giving in to them. It means they feel heard.
- When your children ask for your approval or opinion it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have one of her own. Try first, “What do you think?”
- Never insist that your children think like you do. Share your opinions and encourage them to have their own. Never ram a value judgment down their throats.
- Don’t say, That didn’t hurt. There’s nothing to cry about. That’s just silly. You must be stupid to think that. You do so like her. He’s your brother, you must love him. Always honor their feelings first. Then talk about behavior.
You must allow your children to make their own choices and decisions young enough to learn from their mistakes and failures. It is the resilience they learn from this that gives them the strength to weather any storms.
The When Your Kids Push Your Buttons Audio Course
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did I DO that??”
Wish you knew what else to do?
- Understand your reactions and gain control of them
- Interpret your child’s behavior
- Set appropriate expectations
- Defuse your buttons