The one thing all parents can agree on is that raising children is not easy. There is no manual to help us get it right despite all the advice from our elders, psychologists and the Internet… and irrespective of how many children we may have.
What might work in our favour is acknowledging that we make mistakes (just like the kids do) and that there is plenty of room for improvement. With the new school term around the corner, here are five resolutions we can make (and hopefully follow through) to help our offspring have a more productive and fulfilling year.
Listen more, talk less! Effective listening should not be reserved just for the workplace or a friend who is in trouble. Our kids need to be heard as well. Too often I have caught myself questioning, correcting and advising my sons as they talked about events or relationships. In most cases it was unnecessary and being critical could have discouraged them from sharing altogether. Moreover, just listening can reveal much more than a barrage of questions they don’t care to answer. It is a critical first step in relationship building as well as problem resolution.
Acknowledge the good! While we remind our kids to adopt a positive approach, it is important to show them how by recognizing the good in them. We are too focused on pointing out and correcting all the negatives. Praising positive actions, on the other hand, is more likely to encourage them to repeat such behaviour. But don’t just say “good job” as we are all inclined to. It doesn’t mean much as it lacks specificity. Praise is more effective when you acknowledge a specific action and children can see the benefits of what they did. However, remember that overdoing praise negates its value and promotes laziness.
Admit when you are wrong! Yes, it feels awkward (and wrong) to apologize to our kids. Perhaps because we believe they will think less of us or that it will undermine our authority. The opposite is true. Owning up to our mistakes and taking corrective action is a powerful lesson to teach our kids. Psychologists also point out that there is a right way to do it. While describing what happened one should resist the temptation to blame the child. Two wrongs don’t make it right! Acknowledging the wrongful behavior or action, apologizing for it and explaining what one is doing to remedy the situation as well as avoid repeating it is a more productive approach. It removes the shame from apologies and shows them how to take responsibility for their actions.
Find new ways to engage them! This often means stepping out of your comfort zone and into their world. Whether it is playing a new video game they have just acquired or listening to some torturous rap music in the car, these are great ways to bond. Having fun together is also likely to prompt them to be open about what is going on in their lives. Furthermore, social media tools like Snapchat and Instagram are popular means of communication with teens and young adults. We can use these bridges to reach out and stay in touch with them without being too intrusive.
Avoid the helicopter approach! It’s hard to accept that the constant hovering and micromanaging can make them anxious, insecure and depressed. Worse still, over time it can increase their dependence or instill a sense of entitlement. Anecdotal data shows that university and college-going children whose parents were overly involved in their academic and social lives are likely to perform poorly. From our own experience we know that kids must struggle to grow and learn. Steering them clear of negative consequences robs them of important life experiences and lessons.
A parent’s work is never done whether your child is 4, 14 or 40. It is not only the most important job but also the most demanding and challenging. It is something that one constantly must work at to get better—just like any other job. Over the years I have realized that there are no perfect parents, children or families. And no magic formula. Just perseverance, flexibility and plenty of corrective action. Now that I have figured it out, hopefully I can get it right!