Family Counseling Insights brought to you by Patricia McTague-Loft
Life is full of all kinds of “shoulds.” I should exercise more. I should call my friends more often. That list can be overwhelming at times. For parents, the list can be even more daunting. Fortunately for moms and dads with younger children, another perhaps more valuable way to think about should is to think about should nots. That list is more manageable and can be a path toward truly positive parenting.
Writing for Psychology Today, Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. talks about the value of self-respect in children — especially how it fosters an ability to meet future challenges — and how a parent’s behavior can negatively impact it. “As parents, we try our best to foster positive self-esteem in our children. Yet we sometimes make mistakes when it comes to what to say and how that impacts our children’s self-esteem. We are, after all, only human. We need to be mindful that those mistakes we make in how we relate to our children and teens don’t negatively affect them. As I wrote in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, to avoid these mistakes, we first need to know what they are.”
Bernstein then goes on to discuss four types of behavior that parents should avoid in order to help their children develop strong, well-rounded personalities. As a side note, one striking aspect of his advice is how well it applies to our behavior with our family and friends. It just goes to show valuable it is to treat everyone with respect — no matter how old they are.
Yelling and hitting. This behavior just may be the most striking example of how a person can let their emotions control their actions. Of course we all feel like shouting on occasion — but the point of shouting should not be to control another person. Letting off steam is fine — as long as you go out in the woods and shout to the heavens or go in the garage for a bout with your punching bag.
This is especially true with children. “While it may feel as if you have succeeded in getting them to stop their offensive behaviors,” writes Bernstein, “it’s a short-term fix, and you’ve really just succeeded in making them feel diminished. Yelling and hitting from parents interferes with your child being able to have a constructive conversation to problem-solve, work through conflicts, and build self-esteem.”
Dwelling on past conflicts. Boy, does this ever apply to relationships in general. If a past conflict is unresolved, you need to deal with it. Once it’s resolved, let it go — forever. With children, it’s a little more complicated because they are amazingly proficient at intuitively manipulating a parent. In a little twist on the old politician’s saying that any publicity is good publicity, this can show up in behavior that generates negative attention — any attention is good attention. “The more a child can be reinforced for their positive behaviors and choices going forward,” Bernstein says, “the better they will feel about themselves. And they will naturally be less likely to repeat poor past choices for negative attention.”
Injecting guilt. Giving “the gift that keeps on giving” is rarely a good way to relate to another. Typically, it’s just taking the easy way out, ignoring the real source of a problem. “It’s one thing to ask a child how they would feel if they were in your shoes or someone else’s in a given situation,” says Bernstein. “Too often, however, parents push this to the limit and try to make their children feel guilty because of their thoughts, feelings, or actions. Parents who use guilt to control their children run the risk of alienating them.”
Speaking with sarcasm. Sarcasm is a close cousin to shaming, and perfectly understandable responses to shaming — and sarcasm — include resentment and loss of trust.