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Monday, October 09, 2006

How we treat our children

There was an article in Sunday's edition of the Holland Sentinel. In the Life and Style section, there is a piece written by Dan Seaborn. It concerns what happens when a teenager asks the question: Do I do anything right?
In this article, Dan discusses what happens when children are constantly shown the flaws in their character. In an environment where that is the norm, it is easy to see how a child can get to the point where they think all they can ever be is a failure.
The most important job of a parent is to be their children's chearleaders. Children need to be reminded of their strengths and that their parents believe in them and trust them to succeed. It is important not to over-criticize our children.
Cheering for the 92

The flashback was what turned things around for me. Unexpectedly in the midst of an average day as "Dad," I was thrown back to a memory from my childhood, and it made me completely change the tone of my parenting.
I had been talking with one of my children -- I guess you could say I had been talking at him -- for a while, pointing out several problem areas I'd noticed in his behavior.
I'd griped about his slow starts in the morning, accusing him of constantly making the rest of the family late. I'd criticized how he was handling a squabble with one of his siblings, and then I'd shown disapproval for how he had managed an issue at school.

Then I mentioned some other things that I wasn't too thrilled about, continuing on and on with my rant. For a while my son took it all in, but then, just as I was making a point about mediocre schoolwork, he broke.
His teenager shoulders slumped, his bottom lip started quivering, and he looked at me with an expression of total dejection. "Dad," he said through tears, "do I ever do anything right?"
That was the phrase --Do I ever do anything right? In an instant, it launched me straight back to my own teen years, to a father who was never satisfied, to a home where I was often criticized but rarely praised, to an environment I had been happy to leave and had vowed not to replicate.

When you're a kid whose parents continually point out flaws in your life, it's easy to reach a place where you wonder if you'll ever be anything but a failure. It's hard to believe in yourself when even your own parents don't seem to, to feel loved when you keep hearing about all the ways you don't measure up.

Do I ever do anything right? Until my son's question caught me off guard, I had forgotten how awful a question it was to face. I'd also forgotten how important it is for parents to keep that question from having its place in the home.

One of the most important roles a mom or dad can play is the role of their kid's cheerleader. Children and teens need to be reminded on a persistent basis that their parents believe in them and that we see good things in them.

Their identity is wrapped up in the words we speak, the tones we take and the moves we make. Their self-esteem depends largely on our encouragement and applause. But still, many parents spend far more time cutting down their children than building them up.

We focus on the negatives. We make it very clear when we're disappointed. We chastise endlessly and we over-critique, but how often do we over-compliment? Or praise to the point that it's almost embarrassing?

Moms and dads, think about it. When your child brings home a quiz with a "92" at the top, what's your response? Do you cheer for the answers that were correct, or do you ask about what happened with the other eight percent?

After your child's team competes, do you comment about the points they scored and the plays they made, or do you mention first the missed goals, the poor technique, and the fumbles? Do you let a mistake slide sometimes, noticing instead something that your child did really well?

Does your son or daughter ever do anything right? Do you call attention to it when they do? If they're anything like my kids -- and if they're anything like you and I used to be -- then a lack of such praise is enough to break them.

Sure, there will always be mistakes, missed points and those few wrong answers on the quiz, but when was the last time you focused on the positives? Isn't that 92 pretty great?
Parents have to remember that they too are teachers. In fact, a parent has a magnitude more impact on a child's life than any teacher ever will. Sometimes we tend to forget this and blame the school and the environment for our child's poor self esteem. Belive it or not, kids do listen.


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