Bringing Out the Best in Your Kids
by Rayna Lumbard, LMFT, MHT
Bringing up kids is akin to building a special project from scratch. Trusting your instincts and applying what you have learned from past experience is helpful in both cases. But in the process of raising kids, what happens when your special project does not come with a detailed instruction manual? Remember when you were a new parent? How long did it take for your patience to run out? How many times now do your positive intentions toward your children turn sour? How long are we going to keep blaming each other for the problems we face?
We all know that people learn to parent from their own parents. As children we grew up learning our family's values, rules, and roles, whether we liked them or not. We experienced growing pains and learned to cope by adapting and rebelling. As we passed the milestones of our development, we emerged with some sense of selfhood.
The challenge facing parents of the new millennium is how to break destructive patterns we learned from our own parents and others who cared for us. How well are you and your spouse or significant other working together to develop positive parenting skills?
The first step in the process of transforming any of your relationships is to be aware of specifically what isn't working for you and the other person involved. When you are responding or reacting to your child's (mis)behavior, it's best to be calm and centered while taking the necessary disciplinary actions to create a learning opportunity, instead of using punishment or shame. Remember, children want to feel good about themselves and their behavior. Even though they may be too young to have a discussion about their actions, they will understand "no" without you needing to yell or get physical. Unless we adults focus on creating win-win solutions, the same problems, issues, or situations will keep showing up again and again. "Acting out" by children is usually a cry for love and attention. Children who are misunderstood, neglected, abused or rejected over time tend to be more depressed, anxious, and rebellious as they get older, creating issues that may involve hurting themselves or others (you included), using drugs, getting in trouble with the law and/or sabotaging their success at school. It's not too late to start now in setting positive goals to meet both your needs and your children's. Commit to consciously taking charge of changing your own thoughts, feeling, and behavior first. Creating new habits that really work in your relationships depend on your willingness to approach life with compassion while learning new tools and skills that you as an involved and invested parent can practice consistently everyday. Parents and caretakers, not children, are ultimately responsible for initiating positive changes. Remember, you "signed up" to take on this very important mission, so deciding to make your parenting role a rewarding positive growth experience will not only strengthen your love connection with your child, but also give you a deeper sense of personal fulfillment and pride.
THE SEVEN KEYS TO BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN YOUR KIDS:
1. Create a safe and loving home environment. A nurturing and supportive atmosphere to live in helps all of us thrive, feel more secure and trusting. Then we feel more comfortable being part of a family group as well as taking necessary risks we need to in order to express ourselves, learn and grow.
2. Develop a positive attitude and model healthy behavior and communication skills. Kids learn through your example. A "do what I say, not as I do" attitude sends a confusing double message. Modeling positive, goal-directed behavior is the most powerful way a parent teaches children. This way of being is a natural result of feeling confident and good about yourself. Kids respond well to directives communicated with finesse. This transforms overly dependent relationships with your kids and others into mutually interdependent ones.
3. When challenging situations affect the whole family, discuss your concerns with your spouse first. Decide together how to share your true thoughts and feelings with your children in age appropriate ways. Holding back the truth to protect kids from life does nothing to solve problems or meet the challenges they face. Work through your own fears, anger, hurt, sadness or grief and get on with life!
4. Learn to empathize with your children even if you don't agree with what they are feeling or doing. There's a reason they are feeling and acting the way they are. It's our job to find out what's the underlying cause of their upset or acting out behavior. This takes some practice and knowing your child. Remember, you were once their age and went through similar if not identical problems. Putting yourself in their shoes and seeing life from their perspective will really help you both keep your loving connection strong.
5. Recognize and treat each child as an individual. Kids are not here to make you happy or to be extensions for what you did not achieve. Notice their unique talents and interests and encourage those activities they are most likely to enjoy and succeed in. Be aware not to compare your child with other children in your lives. Kids need to be acknowledged for who they are as much as adults do. Start now and score with your kids!
6. Be consistent, firm, and yet loving in your discipline efforts. A firm sounding voice and a simple explanation will be more helpful in letting your younger children know that you mean what you say. Your job is to keep kids safe from danger without restricting their natural spontaneity. Be sure to give them plenty of hugs and positive verbal reinforcement. An autocratic discipline style and lack of goodwill engenders unhealthy fear and a lower self-esteem in kids. Older children and teens need to be included in setting their own rules and in determining logical consequences for breaking the rules to learn self-discipline. If one parent is too strict and the other too lenient, it's important to work out your differences in parenting styles and present a united front in front of the kids. It's a good idea to hold a family meeting once a week to set the family team into action, evaluate what's working and what needs improving. Allow children to take turns being the facilitator of these meetings to encourage participation and democratic leadership.
7. Educate yourself about childhood development and the normal stages that parents and kids go through together. Each stage offers opportunities to learn how to maximize your children's potential. This process gets easier the more you resolve your own painful childhood issues that are triggered by your child, like your parents' divorce when you were nine, for example. Children learn the best from their own experiences, not from being lectured at about yours. Provide them with a safety net and soft place to fall when children make mistakes or go through disappointments. Be prepared to continually "let go" of your children both emotionally and physically, as you have done with your own parents over the years. Stay involved by looking for the positive in your kids, while looking out for behavior or other issues that may need special attention from you, the school, or other professionals before they become entrenched.
Finally, enjoy your kids and the time you have together. Life is too short and your kids grow up too fast to waste precious time overworking or being emotionally unavailable when you could be spending time having fun together. Trust that there is enough time and money to do all the things you want to and go for it!
Rayna Lumbard, LMFT is a gifted Marriage and Family Therapist, Master Hypnotherapist, Psychospiritual Energy and Sound Heale. She facilitates powerful transformations for individuals and couples in her therapy ~ healing practice, InnerSuccess Transformations. She is also the author of “Empowering Your Divine Life Purpose,” the lead chapter in the new book Authentic Alignment. Rayna has positively inspiring ways of actualizing your unique vision and life purpose into action to create the love, joy, bliss, and balance to accomplish your dream life.