Parenting is hard work, but sometimes I think we make it even harder on ourselves. This can lead to unhappy parents, stressed out families and you being unable to enjoy your children's great moments. Here are a few areas that I've observed in which parents are making life much more difficult for themselves and their children and some suggestions on how to make minor changes for big results.
- Trying to make your child into someone or something that they aren't. Is your child naturally introverted yet you really want an extroverted, social child? Does your child like to read more than they like athletics but you are insisting on having a travel player in the house? Does your child like to do their homework later in the day versus right after school yet you insist that they sit at the table for hours until they get their work done? If any of these (or versions of them) are true, you are probably making life harder than it has to be. Parenting is always easier when we follow our children's cues instead of forcing them to follow agendas. This doesn't mean we don't set limits, but it does mean we watch for the natural inclinations of our child, use those to build positive skills and interactions and then help them stretch into areas that are less comfortable for them. Try this for a week or two and watch the peace level in your house rise. We are only are children's guides, not the owners of their destinies. Sit back, relax a bit and let your child lead you on the journey.
- Over-parenting your child by hovering over their every move. Do you constantly comment on most aspects of your child's life? Do you sound something like this, "Are you really wearing that? It doesn't match, you look like a bag person, what's wrong with you?" Or "How come you aren't getting good grades like Suzy? I got good grades in school, what's wrong with you?" Or "How come all of your friends are losers? How come you don't have better friends or more friends?" If you recognize any version of these diatribes, you are over-parenting your children with your nagging and probably making your family miserable because of it. Lectures and criticism DO NOT work! Listening, asking non-judgmental questions, offering kind and compassionate advice works if you do it consistently and without a bad attitude. Your child picks up on your disappointment and they are likely to feel how disappointed you are until you start recognizing their strengths and helping them to grow into those strong qualities. Next time you are about to say something negative to your child, stop and ask yourself if your words will be beneficial to them in any way. If not, don't say them. Also ask yourself how you would feel if someone was saying those same words to you. Most of us don't like to be nagged at or criticized at work so why would your children respond well to that at home?
- Under-parenting your child by not following through or not setting firm limits. Children are very wise to their parent's weaknesses and if you tell them that they will lose screen privileges if they don't clean their room and then you don't follow through on that, you've just taught them not to believe you. Don't set a lot of rules in your home, but set a few important ones and make those non-negotiable. A few examples might be following curfew times, not being mean to siblings or feeding the dog. When you allow your children to not follow the rules, you are teaching them that you aren't to be listened to or respected. If they don't respect you, it is likely that you will be very angry and frustrated and then resort to over-parenting as explained above. Following through initially is the key to not having to give more consequences in the future. If your children know you mean business, they will stop doing the behavior that you disapprove of.
Why make parenting any more difficult than it needs to be? Accept your children for who they are and work with them from that point. Don't involve yourself in too many of the details of their lives, particularly as they get older. Be available but not intrusive and finally, set firm limits on crucial behaviors and expectations and follow through on them so that your child learns to both trust and respect you. You only get a limited time with your children in your home, don't you want to make that time as enjoyable and hassle free as possible?
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