My husband stood holding down my son as he screamed, “Mom! You’re hurting me!” We were both sweating and crying. He was squirming and probably thinking I was terrible, because (in his mind) I was the one causing him harm. Was I torturing my son? No. He had a splinter. Attacking a constantly moving hand with tweezers while your victim, I mean patient, struggles is horrible.
I needed to take out the splinter, causing a small amount of pain, to avoid him experiencing more lasting and damaging pain. As parents, we have to endure this phenomenon of being the “bad guy,” who is actually protecting them, very often. Causing your child pain is the worst part of parenting, whether it is for their health, consequences to teach appropriate behavior, or saying “no” when they demand you say “yes.” Remembering that sometimes their immediate discomfort, or sometimes pain, at our hand is an investment in their development as a kind, persevering member of society is important. Here are a few more thoughts.
CREATE EXPECTATIONS BEFORE EVENTS OCCUR
One boundary we will set with our children, as did my parents with me, is limited homes where sleepovers are allowed. It can make kids scream and cry and sometimes feel left out. However, with my husband’s, who is also a therapist, and my experiences with clients we are very intentional about our children being in vulnerable positions with people we do not know well.
We will not wait until the sleepover fever of elementary school days begin to share our boundary with our children. Whenever sleepovers are mentioned in books, life or movies, it is going to be a constant conversation. This way, it is seen as a known expectation and not as a punishment or “trying to ruin their life” as some teens dramatically insist of their parents.
As children get older, it can also be helpful to share the reasons behind the boundary. It needs to be age appropriate, but this can help avoid the recipe for defiance and dishonesty resulting from an authoritarian response of, “because I said so!” When children know there are boundaries and that those boundaries are intentional, it can be easier for them to accept them.
FIND YOUR VALUE OUTSIDE OF YOUR CHILDREN’S OPINION OF YOU
The more you parent, the more you will receive all types of resistance from your children. They will not like you at times throughout their childhood and teenage years. We love our kids and want everyday to be one where they know their needs are met and greet us every moment with hugs. However, more often we will be on the receiving end of an “I don’t like you” or “go away.” With toddlers, their dislike is sometimes communicated through the silent treatment or their preference for the other caregiver. Our emotional needs will NEVER be met by our children. I repeat, our emotional needs will NEVER be met by our children. If we look to them to be our comfort or validation, it will cause major problems.
Children know when someone’s expectations of them is too much. They cannot be our supports and it does harm them. They may sense our distress at times, and that is ok. We need to have other ways to receive comfort. Our children need to know that whether they are a jerk to us, or not, our relationship with them is unchanging.
When our kids do not meet our emotional or physical expectations, such as being unkind, disobedient, or uncooperative, it is important to treat them with continued care. There is no need for silent treatment or no passive aggressive comments. Do not withhold loving actions, be sure to speak to them with kindness, and give them consequences when they misbehave. These actions will be the greatest lesson they will learn. They are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions.
ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO EXPERIENCE CONSEQUENCES
The biggest indicator I have seen of a child’s future, is how their parents handle their failures. This can be failure to comply with parental rules, school expectations, or even laws. Parents want their children to have a happy life, free of pain and difficulty. If we intervene to rescue our kids, they will never take responsibility for themselves.
In these situations, the dialogue will become strenuous. It will become more difficult to persevere when they beg for “help.” However, if we begin the cycle of keeping them out of “trouble” when their actions are deserving of the “trouble,” they will begin to experience entitlement.
Did they forget to turn in an assignment? Allow them to receive the low mark. Did their tardiness become excessive and they miss out on a field trip? Do not talk the teacher into “letting it go.” When they have earned the punishment, it is our job to help them cope, not help them avoid.
Remind them of their actions and their knowledge of the consequence. Allow them to be frustrated, disappointed, devastated, or angry. They may insist you betrayed them, or they hate you, but their immediate discomfort will protect them from a pattern of dishonesty. Speak to them in a loving manner, do not withdraw your love due to their actions. Persevere.
Perseverance is the mantra of parenthood. There is nothing easy about loving and guiding children into adulthood. Frequently, our love will be their “enemy” and we will experience the backlash. However, it is re-breaking the bone so that it might heal well.
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