Last week I wrote an article about skills that children need in order to develop an inner compass to navigate life. So many of you wrote to me saying how much you loved that article and how “spot on” I was and asked what you as parents can do to support the development of those skills in your kids.
As a mom of two, I’m always trying to figure out the best approach to parenting. You can make yourself crazy with the millions of books and websites that are out there written by “parenting experts” on how to raise good kids. Honestly, none of them, and none of us, are “experts.” Not even my Doctoral degree in child psychology qualifies me to be a parenting “expert.” We are all just doing the very best that we can to raise healthy and well-adjusted kids.
I will say that as a Clinical Child Psychologist I do believe that we have an epidemic of spoiled, entitled, and inept kids, and this dynamic begins at home. I’m all about peaceful and respectful parenting, but somewhere along the way, we have confused respect and empathy with tiptoeing and walking on eggshells around our kids. This has created a generation of kids who have absolutely no boundaries, no regard for others including their own parents, an entitled “the-world-owes-me- something” attitude, no work ethic, no ability to tolerate frustration, no ability to delay gratification, and no resiliency or inner “grit”.
I’ve spent the last 20 years observing children and families, and what I share here is based upon those observations, my clinical skills, as well as my own trials and tribulations of being a mom of two young children in this modern world. As I said, we are just doing our very best. But sometimes we lose our way.
Here is a no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase list of what I consider to be the most important points of practice for parents in order to create the foundation upon which kids can develop that inner compass that I spoke of in my last writing. These seemingly small, yet profound actions will allow our children to become grateful, respectful, strong, and competent individuals with a solid work ethic who are prepared for life’s challenges. And the best part, they’ll be kids who people actually like and want to be around!
1. Just Say NO
Your child should not get a toy every time you go into a store. Your child should learn how to handle not getting what they want from a young age. But it’s not too late for an older child to learn the power of no. Respectfully say no, of course. But the answer is no. Not ‘maybe.’ Not ‘perhaps another time.’ Not ‘I’m so sorry to do this to you.’ Not ‘Oh, alright fine, here..’ after they’ve cried and whined.
It’s no. Period.
2. Trophies are for Winners
Nobody likes to see their child sad or upset especially after losing a game which they played well and hard. But it happens. They lose. You can respectfully empathize with your child and validate his feelings that losing feels bad, and understand how he wished they could have won, and how upsetting it is to lose after working so hard. Sounds like life to me. And in life, you don’t always earn the reward. Rewards aren’t given to everyone. Rewards are not handed out simply for participation.
Trophies are for the winners. Period.
3. Dinner is Now Served
I hear so many parents complain about their picky eaters and having to cook seven different meals to accommodate their children. Not only is this extra work for you that of course, you don’t need, but this is setting your child up to expect that he can demand and be given exactly what he wants in life. Real life just doesn’t work that way.
Dinner is now served and we are having meatloaf. Period.
4. Let Teachers be Teachers
If your child EARNS a poor grade on a test it’s your child’s fault. Not the teacher’s fault. Perhaps she didn’t study enough. Perhaps she didn’t study the right thing. Perhaps she needed more time. But it’s on her. Not her teachers. Parents shouldn’t storm into classrooms telling teachers how to do their jobs. Teachers want the best for our kids. Teachers make the rules in their classrooms and they have to be followed. Teachers are not to be blamed for our child’s behavior or academic performance. Advocacy is one thing. Meddling is another.
Stay out of the classroom and let the teacher do her job. Period.
5. Let Coaches be Coaches
If your child has a problem with the coach, give them an opportunity to work it out for themselves. And if your child doesn’t score 15 goals in one period, relax and don’t blame the coach. If your child is benched, it’s probably with good reason. Coaches control their teams. Coaches know how and what skills are needed out on the field.
Stay out of the locker rooms and let coaches do their jobs. Period.
Kids need to learn from a young age that it takes every member of the family to make the household function, and that includes them. Give your child responsibilities in your home, and not just cleaning his own room. Washing dishes, drying dishes, laundry, taking out the garbage, etc. Even small toddlers are capable of helping–give any toddler a small broom and they just love sweeping with mommy or daddy. And, these responsibilities should not come with a monetary reward. Kids shouldn’t get paid for things they have to do. Parents, do you get an allowance for every load of laundry you do?!
Time for your responsibilities kids! Period.
7. There’s No Excuse
Parents make excuses for their child’s behavior. “He’s so tired from the hours of soccer practice this week.” “These teachers made my kid upset so now he’s in a bad mood!” “She didn’t get enough sleep so that’s why she cursed at me.” I’ve heard all of these in my office and at my bus stop. And what follows is parents lamenting over how tired they are from doing all of their child’s responsibilities including homework. Or how upset they feel over how disrespectful their child was toward them. Or how exhausted they are from over-analyzing and trying to fix their child’s behavior. Stop cleaning your child’s room for them. Stop picking up their slack. Stop making excuses for their behavior or lack of behavior. Kids need to do their own responsibilities. You cannot cover for them. And kids need to be respectful of your rules and the rules set by those adults around them, regardless of the kind of day they experienced. Even for children who have experienced major adversity in their life (i.e. divorce, death of a loved one, etc.). Adversity teaches resiliency. They will be ok.
There’s no excuse for disrespect and lack of responsibility. Period.
8. Mind Your Manners
Hello. Goodbye. Please. May I. Thank you.
Kids need to be taught manners and be made to practice them. Period.
9. Kindness Counts
Parents are so sensitive to bullying and that word is thrown around a lot. But you’d be surprised how much bullying I hear every day–and it’s not from kids. Parents are often very quick to judge others. Whether it be the driver who cut you off or the PTA president who scheduled a mandatory meeting on your girl’s paint-night out, parents bash each other at the bus stop, stand outside of school and talk about other parents, and gather in gossip groups at the birthday parties. Parents even bash themselves openly. Judgments galore and kids see, hear, and take it all in. How can you expect your kid to respect others when what they observe is disrespect, and even hatred at times? And how can you expect your child to respect himself when you don’t treat yourself with respect or spend time in the company of others who respect you and others?
Show kindness to everyone you meet, help others, give back, be impeccable with your word, and expect the same of your kids. Period.
10. Let them Fall. Let them Fail.
Falling and failing are part of life. Regardless of how smart you believe your child to be, he will fail many times throughout his life. He will fail. He will fall. He will get hurt. He will learn.
Kids should not always be rescued. Period.
11. Attitude of Gratitude
Teach and model gratitude. Despite having a bad day there is always something to be grateful for. Although you failed a test or had an argument with a friend or had to go to piano lessons when you didn’t want to, there is still plenty to be grateful for. We all can find at least one thing in our day for which we can give thanks. Train your brain to see and focus on the good.
There’s always something to be grateful for. Period.
Sticking to these actions can help us as parents when we have lost our way. Remember that our values build family values, and family values build character.
Let’s keep this conversation going. Comment here or on the Facebook page or send me your emails!