As parents, we all want to do the best for our children, right? And parenting can be challenging, especially when we watch our kids floundering as they deal with academic pressures, low self-esteem, perfectionism, peer stressors, etc. We may be concerned about inattention, lack of cooperation, sibling conflict or disrespectful behavior. If there are additional emotional, social, sensory, learning or behavioral difficulties, this can add to the struggle.
Our desire to “make it better” for our kids can lead us to research the next best parenting strategy, ask a close friend for advice or, in some cases, seek the help of a professional so that we can help our child resolve his or her issues. We do this because we truly love our children and want them to be happy and healthy.
But when we continuously try to change or fix what is “wrong” with our kids, we often end up with temporary results. Many of us are stuck—doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different outcome. Einstein defined insanity this way. Does this mean that we are all insane? I feel that way at times, and many of my clients have expressed this as well. We know what we are doing is not working, but what do we do???
Let’s take a look at three big strategies that we often overlook when trying to help our kids.
1. Bring awareness to your own thoughts and feelings—I can see that my child is feeling angry, but how am I feeling in the moment?
Bringing objective, non-judgmental awareness to our own thoughts and feelings offers a new perspective. Pay attention to what feelings come up for you when your child argues, brings home a negative behavior report from school, or engages in disrespectful behavior.
The simple act of observing our own thoughts and feelings brings heightened mindfulness (or alertness) and can prevent us from repeating an old pattern in which we do or say something that we really don’t want to. While observing our own thoughts and emotions, we simultaneously become more present with our children.
2. Take responsibility for what is ours—Do I have a part in this conflict? If so, what can I do about it?
If we’re really honest with ourselves, we can see that our children often mirror our own behaviors, negative patterns and limiting beliefs. The problem is, most of us aren’t consciously aware of these patterns because they are running on continuous replay in our unconscious mind.
Start to recognize your own choices when you are experiencing family chaos. In other words, once you’ve observed your own thoughts and feelings during an upsetting event, retrace your own decisions for the day. Could you have made a different choice that would have favorably influenced the outcome?
A recent personal example comes to mind. As we were rushing out of the house late one morning, my daughter started crying because she forgot something that was important to her. I became aware of my feelings of frustration. Couldn’t my daughter see that this item was not as important as being on time? That was, of course, my opinion. I recalled that I had started breakfast later than usual after deciding to get a few extra emails out. Had I made a different choice, we would have been on schedule, and my daughter’s retrieval of a special object at the last minute wouldn’t have been an issue. I empathized with myself and with her and my frustration dissipated, knowing I could make new decisions about my own morning routine.
Taking responsibility for our own patterns and choices helps us to see how we contribute to family dynamics.
3. Learn to love and forgive ourselves—We teach best by our example.
We all regularly make mistakes in our personal and professional lives. These mistakes do not define who we are. They are simply choices that we have made. We can always make different choices in the future. Rather than feeling guilty and burrowing into the blame and shame rabbit hole, what would happen if we decided to love and accept ourselves anyway?
Create an unspoken environment of love and acceptance in your home by practicing self-love and self-forgiveness. You’ll likely discover, as I did, that something profound occurs with your children—they start to do the same. A child that can accept her/himself despite mistakes can more easily navigate life, as she/he will not be weighed down by overwhelming burdens of perfectionism and regret. When a child experiences unconditional love, it opens doors of possibility beyond what we can imagine.
Whether we like it our not, our own patterns and behaviors, as well as our home environment in general, are the biggest influences in the lives of our children. By living what we are teaching, we create an environment of unconditional love. It must start with us!