Awww the joys of parenting! Don’t we all wish children came with manuals? Life would be so much easier. But they sure don’t, so what do we do? Well, most people don’t do anything. They simply raise their kids however they see fit, usually mirroring the way their parents raised them. Most people take more time researching the perfect car to purchase and don’t bother to research how to raise happy and healthy kids. There is TONS of research out there, but most prefer to play games on Facebook than take the time to educate themselves on perhaps the most significant job they will ever have: parenting.
We never stop learning. I have been taking child development classes since community college and through my Master’s program in Clinical Psychology. Despite that and the fact that my daughter is now 13 years old, I am still learning. By no means do I consider myself a perfect parent, there is no such thing since we are human and have our own issues. However, it is my goal to improve my parenting skills on a daily basis.
Every parent can relate when I say that it can be very stressful when a child misbehaves. Many respond by yelling, punishing, or even spanking. But how effective are these techniques? In his brilliant book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey candidly discusses the mistakes he makes as a parent, “I pull out my ammunition-my superior size, my position of authority- and I yell or intimidate or I threaten or punish. And I win. I stand there, victorious in the middle of the debris of a shattered relationship while my children are outwardly submissive and inwardly rebellious, suppressing feelings that will come out later in uglier ways.” We believe we have won, when in reality we have lost. We are damaging our children and our relationship with them. Dr. Covey continues by saying “It’s easy to take advantage to manipulate, to get what you want the way you want it-right now! You’re bigger, you’re smarter, and you’re right! So why not just tell them what to do? If necessary, yell at them, intimidate them, insist on your way.” According to one of my mentors, Dr. Sarah Larsen, how we act as adults depends on how much love we felt we received as children. We as adults learned our view of the world in those early years of childhood and development. If our needs were met, we learned to trust the world around us and grew from that stability into self-loving and confident individuals. Being yelled at, punished and hit does not promote love; it only promotes violence.
I observe parents on a daily basis. Throughout the years, I have noticed that most children get in trouble for things they cannot help or that is considered normal behavior for their age. One of the most common issues is “sharing”. Parents get very upset when their children refuse to share and usually punish or yank the object out of the child’s hand. Basic child development explains how being unwilling to share is normal behavior for kids; you simply cannot expect them to even understand the concept of sharing before the age of three. Forcing our children to share is definitely not the answer. As Dr. Covey explains, “It builds weakness in the person forced to acquiesce, stunting the development of independent reasoning, growth, and internal discipline. And finally, it builds weakness in the relationship. Fear replaces cooperation, and both people involved become more arbitrary and defensive.” Understanding where they are coming from goes a long way.
This does not mean that we should not discipline our children. Dr. Covey says that “to take the child alone, quietly, when the relationship is good and to discuss the teaching or the value seems to have much greater impact.” Explaining to children why certain behaviors are not appropriate is far more effective than getting angry and lashing out. We are our children’s role models. We must remember this at all times. If we become so upset at our children’s behavior that we punish them, hit them or stop talking to them we are teaching our children that we love them conditionally, or in other words, only if they behave the way we want them to. We must set boundaries and discipline our children and at the same time love them throughout the process. Dr. Covey explains “we counsel, we plead, we set limits and consequences. But we love, regardless.” The most important lesson I have learned as a parent has been that all that children really want is unconditional love; to feel heard and accepted for who they are. The more loving I am toward my daughter, the less issues we have. Dr. Covey says that “when we truly love others without condition, without strings, we help them feel secure and safe and validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity, and integrity. Their natural growth process is encouraged. We make it easier for them to live the laws of life- cooperation, contribution, self-discipline, integrity- and to discover and live true to the highest and best within them.”
According to Dr. Larsen, yelling may be an effective way to vent frustration, but most children see their parents as giants. Have your partner stand on a chair and yell at you so you can experience what it feels like for your child. When Dr. Larsen’s husband, Greg, (who is over six feet tall) stood on a chair at a louder than normal volume, it terrified her. Dr. Larsen says that as a parent she wants to stay connected to her child. If she yells frequently, she will raise children that are anxious or soon learn to tune out what she says. Instead, Dr. Larsen says that when she feels she might begin yelling, she takes a time out in the bathroom to wash her hands or her face. She then comes back and tries to connect with her child and feels what they are experiencing. She shares with them what she needs to in order to stay connected to them in a loving way. Dr. Covey explains the dangers of parents losing their temper: “They become upset, guided by the emotions of the moment, spontaneously reacting to the immediate concern rather than the long-term growth and development of the child. They may yell or scream. They may overreact and punish out of bad temper. They tend to love their children conditionally, making them emotionally dependent or counterdependent and rebellious.” Remember, everything you do to your child today, will affect them in one way or another in the future.
Dr. Larsen says that some other ways in which we disconnect from our children is demanding immediate compliance, nagging, lecturing, advising, shaming, belittling, imposing excessive guilt, physical punishment and coercion. Dr. Sarah Larsen says that ending all forms of violence against children will be the beginning of the end of violence in society. However we treat our child, the child will treat our world. Parents hitting their children has been accepted as discipline in our society and 80% of parents do it. In several decades’ worth of research, we found that it is impossible to discipline children by hitting them. Making children feel worse does not make them behave better. Dr. Daniel F. Whiteside, former Assistant Surgeon General, reported that, “Corporal punishment of children actually interferes with the process of learning and with their optimal development as socially responsible adults.”
Child Psychotherapist, Jorge Gomez, MA says that his number one advice to parents is to never take their child’s behavior personal. Most parents get very upset and feel as if their children are doing something deliberately to upset them. If we can reframe that and simply see that this is the way our children are communicating their needs to us. It is up to us to teach them how to appropriately communicate with us how they are feeling. Teach them, in a loving way, to use their words “I am upset” or “I am hurt”. The more you teach them as kids how to appropriately communicate their feelings, the more they will know how to appropriately communicate their feelings as adults.
It is no coincidence that the parents that I admire the most are extremely loving parents who never yell, punish or hit their children. In turn, the children are extremely confident, happy, independent, well-behaved and extremely loving children. Dr. Sarah Larsen’s children, for example, are beyond extraordinary and have the sweetest souls. This goes to show that she knows what she is talking about. On the other hand, the angriest and most bitter people I know are frightening as parents. They are always defending their motives as to why it’s necessary to hit, punish and yell. But I see right through that. They are simply unhappy people and unconsciously punishing their children for it.
We want our children to come to us when they need us. We wonder why our teens do not talk to us, but how did we treat them as kids? Did they feel 100% safe with us? Or did we criticize and shame them? Let us be that loving force that guides our kids. As Dr. Covey says, “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem…Rebellion is a knot of the heart, not of the mind.” The best thing you can do for your kids is to work on yourself. Many parents carry a lot of personal anger and they take it out on their children. They claim that they hit their kids to teach them how to behave, when in reality it is simply to let out their frustration. If you find yourself screaming often or getting enraged by your children’s behavior ask yourself this question “is this truly about my kid, or could it be about something else?” Most people lead very stressful lives, but it’s time we stop punishing our children for it. Read books on personal development, attend a Spiritual seminar, get a massage, retreat into nature, get help. Our children need us to be stable, happy and healthy adults. Let’s love them unconditionally, that’s all they really want from us.
Are you ready to truly love?
Stephen Covey Affirmation: “It is deeply satisfying that I respond with wisdom, love, firmness, and self-control when my children misbehave.”
Tips for Extraordinary Parenting: by Connie Costa & Dr. Sarah Larsen
-When your children talk to you, make eye contact. Don’t keep your eyes on the TV or your phone. Make them feel that they are more important than anything else. This is crucial for their self-esteem.
-Put aside a minimum of 20 minutes a day and give your child your undivided attention. Do something they like such as color or play with crafts. Make sure that time is sacred and just for your child. No TV and no phone.
-Limit T.V, video games, etc. Go to the park, play with arts and crafts or board games.
-Do not address your children as a bad boy/girl when they misbehave.
-Avoid taking your young children to boring activities such as shopping, appointments, etc. Young children are full of energy and have a short attention span. They will most likely become fussy and might throw tantrums. THIS IS NORMAL and not their fault.
-Your older children are NOT the parents of their younger siblings. Do not give them that responsibility for it is not theirs. They are your kids. Let your kids be kids and not have to have that responsibility until they have kids of their own.
-Stop the rumor about the terrible two’s or the terrible teenage years. It is not necessarily true. Be positive and give your child the benefit of the doubt.
-When disciplining them, do it privately. Never do it in front of others, especially in front of their friends.
- Remember that every time your child acts in a way you don’t like, it means they have some need they are trying to communicate to you.
- Get curious and try to understand their need. This will help them experience care and trust that they matter, and help both of you find ways to attend to both your needs.
-Make it your goal to have dinner with your child on a daily basis. Turn off the T.V during dinner and encourage your family to have meaningful conversations.
-Tell your child what you want, instead of what you don’t want. Be as specific as possible.
- If they say “No”, try to find out what they need instead of using consequences or rewards. There is always a need that is in the way when a human being says “no”.
-Tell your children you love them everyday. Shower them with love and affection. Point out all of their wonderful qualities every single day.
- Look for a way to meet both your needs, instead of focusing on getting your child to do what you want.
- “Spend time with your children now, one on one. Listen to them; understand them. Look at your home, at school life, at the challenges and the problems they’re facing, through their eyes.” – Dr. Stephen Covey
-MOST IMPORTANTLY: Your children do not learn by what you say, but by what you do. Remember the saying “monkey see, monkey do”. Lead by example.
I love what Dr. Stephen Covey’s wished for his own funeral:
“Now if I were sitting at that funeral…and one of my children was about to speak, I would want his life to represent the victory of teaching, training, and disciplining with love over a period of years rather than the battle scars of quick fix skirmishes. I would want his heart and mind to be filled with the pleasant memories of deep, meaningful times together. I would want him to remember me as a loving father who shared the fun and the pain of growing up. I would want him to remember the times he came to me with his problems and concerns. I would want to have listened and loved and helped. I would want him to know I wasn’t perfect, but I had tried with everything I had. And that perhaps more than anybody in the world, I loved him. The reason I would want those things is because, deep down, I value my children. I love them, I want to help them. I value my role as their father.”
Sending you lots of love and positive energy,
Connie Costa is a Writer, Inspirational Speaker & Life-Coach
She leads transformational events and retreats in Beverly Hills, Ojai & Italy