Aug | 2012
If you want to deeply influence your child, you must do this…
The irony of parenting is that once you are good at it, you get fired! Your child goes off to college or into the “real world” by the time you have really learned some deeper truths about how best to parent your particular child.
As you face a devastatingly complex menu of parenting choices, by the end of this blog you will have a simple but core truth you can use to continually check on the healthiness of your parenting style.
There are a lot of well-meaning parents who operate under this core assumption: “if I work hard, provide for my family, and live a moral life, my kids will follow in this path.” Uh, excuse me, but even if your boss does all of these things, how much do people around him or her try and emulate him or her? Do you see my point? Influencing people is critically related to the quality of the relationship. There is loads of data on this point.
Nevertheless, if parenting to you is as simple as being a good model, you will one day have a rude awakening. And the purpose of my blog is to clarify why, as I have done as a counselor with hundreds of parents and children.
Let’s first start with what I consider to be a basic success formula for parents (there are other elements but let’s keep it simple for now):
providing material things + quality vacations + good education + helping child internalize value system + spending Quality Time with child(QT) = the best chance of a child who can become successful.
Now, I intentionally put these in the order of importance I think some families give them. That is, the most energy and time is spent (this is not a stated priority, but it happens to end up being that way) giving the child material things. Many of you may GASP and think, “What terrible parents these people must be!!!!”. Well, think on this: what percentage of the time you spend with your child is consumed by shopping or looking at material things? I bet more than you think, if you are honest.
I understand that in reality we must spend a lot of time doing these things, our children need things. But there is something they need that goes far beyond any material need. This brings me to what the order of importance I have taught to the hundreds of parents I have worked with as a counselor and developmental psychologist here in Tucson and around the country. What is my order of importance?
helping child internalize value system + spending Quality Time with child(QT) + good education + providing basic material things + quality vacations
The most important role you have is to help your child internalize a value system that will be their compass as they sail the rough seas of life. Here’s the kicker: if you do not spend enough Quality Time with your child, they WILL NOT internalize the value system you want them to, most likely. They may pick up a few of your good habits because they are genetically related to you, and science tells us that genetics do play a role in who you become. However, environment plays an even more critical role.
One of the most common and most damaging mistakes I see parents make is they do not spend enough Quality Time with their child(ren).
“Quality time” defined: we put away our electronics, our jobs, our egos, our own needs, and we spend one-on-one time with our child where we truly connect with them on a deeper level. We laiugh with them, we get passionate with them. We roll around the floor with them. We play doll house with them. We do what it takes to connect with them.
Of course, we do what they want to do…within reason. If our 5-year-old wants to rent a Ferrari and see what it can do on an open race course, we might want to choose another option. But we creatively tap into their interest, we are joyful and playful about our child’s passions. We share their exuberance. We might look up Ferrari’s on the internet, or go and see Ferrari’s at a car show, etc. Or, we might draw pictures of this car WITH them. The point is, we spend fun QT with them. To be great parents we must continually show interest in our child’s interests, and share their passions with them. And within this QT we share, we continue to be one of the most interesting people our child knows. And one of the most influential!!!! Do you now see where this is going?
We often internalize values from those with whom we feel the most deeply and intimately connected. By making your QT with your child rich, exciting, and fun, you will find they will be much more willing to listen to you and BE like you. They will come to you more often.
TOO MANY parents are blind to just how important the QT is before the teenage years. Warning! Once they are a teenager, they do not want to spend as much time with you. Yes, they will come to you, but more often for money and privileges. But also, you hope they will come to you for advice and when they are in pain, hurt, sad, or feeling lost. The probability that they will come to you during these stormy adolescent years is directly correlated to how much time you put in with them when they are younger. Your challenge is make an imprint that is deep enough when they are a child that no matter how much they hate you (during those stormy times) during their adolescent years, they still know you to fundamentally be a person they love, trust, and admire. And find interesting.
Yes, your child will not always love you, but they must always respect you. And the chance that they will always respect you is deeply tied to what degree they know you have taken an active interest in who they are.
One of the saddest things I see now is that parents are letting technology get in the way of their relationship with their child. I saw two adolescent boys using their Ipads at the table in a restaurant on Mother’s Day. This was depressing. And yet technology is seeping into and undermining the parent-child relationship. Yes, kids love their Ipads. But yes, if you are creative you can still provide experiences that are more satisfying to your child than the latest game they can download.
As a counselor who is a specialist with children, I hear parents complain that they are so tired when they get home from work, and I empathize with this. But our family life is structured AROUND the idea that relationships are more important than anything else: technology, Facebook, etc. etc. One rule we have in our house is if technology gets in the way of relationships, it goes away for an amount of time that provides a sting to the child and teaches them to keep their technology from becoming something they are too obsessive about.
Here are questions you can keep asking yourself to check on the health of your relationship with your child:
-If you asked your child what they would want to do if they could do anything for a day, to what degree would they say they would want you to be part of that day?
-If someone asked your child when was the last time they really had QT with you, where all outside distractions were eliminated (that includes texting), could they name something in the last week? Or in the last few days?
-Can you name your child’s top five interests/passions right now? To what degree have you shared in their interests and helped them cultivate those and strengthened the bond with them ?
-To what degree have you evaluated how you were parented, and taken stock of what good habits you want to carry on, versus what bad habits your parents had that you wish to terminate? Great parents have the psychological courage to honestly critique themselves, every day. If you find yourself being too defensive, find a person who can help you work through that, like a counselor or psychologist. Many professionals like myself work with high functioning parents or professionals who want to enhance and tweak their parenting skills. Only a meeting or two can provide adjustments that have a far-reaching impact!
-At how many points in a given day does your family have rituals (like mealtimes) where all technology goes away, and thus it is QT?
Carving out QT is often easier than it seems. A parent of a five-year old told me that one of her favorite times with her daughter is at night, when they read 3 books together, and then the mother strokes her child’s back until she falls asleep. This can sound trivial, but this is also QT. This loving mother is doing many things at once: helping the child learn to read, helping them learn to transition into the sleep cycle efficiently, and helping that child associate night time with security and love. And tuning out the world.
One of my favorite sayings is, if you want to have kids, you cannot be a kid. Part of not being a kid is learning that if you do not regularly carve out QT, when your child gets older, they will not carve out QT with you. As you get older you will get lonelier. You can take that one to the bank. And not even Facebook will give you the joy of feeling like your child is willing to take time out of their busy adult life to come and see you. Parent with the end in mind. Teach your child that one of the most important values is relating to someone else on a deep and intimate level. If you do that, so many problems they could have will be avoided. Because they will make better relationship choices, better friendship choices, better marital choices. They will know what it means to have a quality relationship with someone. They will know if someone really cares about them or not. Because you have given them a basic model of how it feels to relate to someone in a genuine and compassionate manner.
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