Why Your Kids Are Awesome
Most of us who become parents have a vision of how our life will be. Pre-kids we imagine perfect lives with clean and happy children playing quietly at our feet while we sip our morning coffee, uninterrupted.
And then you actually have those kids.
And it's nothing like you imagined. It's messy and hectic and stressful. You're pulled in more directions than you can even count. And that perfect child that you imagined isn't really perfect after all. They aren't quiet. They are messy and they seem to have ideas of their own about the way things should be.
And it is this very scenario that seems to set up the tug-of-war between parents and children, one that can often have devastating effects for both parent and child.
Your Relationship With Your Child Changes How They Interact With The World
According to Laurence Steinberg, how you interact with your child directly affects who they are, their behavior, their positive or negative reactions to the world, and even how they respond to you.
If they see you as someone who always says "no," and someone who does not trust them, they will act out in ways that often cause even more conflict.
Steinberg also points out that it is important to really get to know your child and understand who they are. After all, they are people, and their unique personalities and temperaments mean that different interactions will work better with different children.
In other words, the best way to get your child to change, to behave and to be more loving is for the parent to change.
Laurence Steinberg's Well-Researched Book on Parenting
Examining the evidence and looking at my own relationship with my kids, I realized that making the changes in me, that stepping back and looking at the big picture, and that resolving to celebrate who my children are and not who I thought they would be made for a better and stronger relationship.
I have heard many parents say that they are having trouble with their children, that their relationship is bad or that they are not even sure they like their children.
Usually when this comes up, Steinberg points out that it's time to look at what you as a parent are doing and work to change yourself.
Here are some ways that I interact with my own teen and tween and how we have built a stronger, more loving and lasting relationship.
1. They Have Interesting and Unique Viewpoints. Listen To Them.
One of the joys of having older kids is that you get to learn about them, about who they are and about their personalities. But even very young children can begin to show those unique personality traits.
They've spent a lot of time watching and learning and now they want to share their ideas and viewpoints.
It's important to remember that these viewpoints are still developing and changing. But even as you remember that, give them validity. Listen to what they are saying fully without cutting them off or telling them they are wrong.
Don't make them feel like you are being condescending or humoring them. Let them know that their thoughts and opinions are important and valid, even if they don't exactly match yours.
2. Their Passions And Interests Are Important To Them. Be Interested.
With that said you must also allow your child to have passions and interests outside the scope of yours, maybe even the opposite of yours.
Not only is it important to allow those to develop, it's also important for you to show interest. To learn about their interest and explore it. Show them that it is valid and worthy.
Here's an example: From a young age, one of my kids showed a true interest in motor sports. He would find them on TV and watch them. Monster Trucks, NASCAR, Drag Racing. This was not a sport that I ever had any interest in, but I watched it. Then I visited a NASCAR Track (to take him). Then I went to a race.
And you know what, I discovered, because of my six year old's passion, that NASCAR was much more than racing in a circle. I found out that I liked it.
Now we attend a race near us every year and watch them on TV or listen on the radio. Even though it wasn't my passion or interest, I treated it as valid and discovered along the way that I was expanding my own interests by letting my children pursue theirs.
3. Their New Ways Of Doing Things Aren't All Bad. Learn About It.
Billy Joel once opined in his popular song, "Keeping the Faith" that "...the good ol' days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."
This is important for all of us to remember because times are changing fast. In just a few short years computers and smart phones became an essential part of modern life for most people.
And, not surprisingly, kids have embraced it. And it's not all bad. They may interact with their friends in different ways and they may play electronic games rather than card games, but they all have merit. Just because it is new or different doesn't mean it is bad.
For example, according to research presented by Mark Griffiths in a November 2014 Washington Post article, gaming can actually improve "perception, attention, cognition." ("Playing Video Games Is Good For Your Brain", November 2014).
This doesn't mean that playing outside is bad or exercise is a thing of the past. But they may get at least some of this exercise by playing "Just Dance" on the XBox or "Wii Sports" on the Wii.
This also goes back to honoring who they are. People who like the outdoors will naturally seek it out. I know grown adults who much prefer to be inside and ones who stay outside as much as possible.
Embracing technology, embracing new games, styles, or trends can be all a part of a better relationship with your kid. Don't always be ready with a "back in my day" story. Instead acknowledge that many of the new ways of doing things are interesting and fun.
4. They Still Look To You For Acceptance And Guidance. Be Kind. Be Gentle
No matter what they say, or how many times they roll their eyes or sigh a "whatever" under their breath, they still look to you to love them and reassure them.
As I noted at the beginning of this article, your child's relationship with you affects everything about how they act and how they interact with the world. A parent-child relationship, if it is strong and good, can be beneficial for everyone.
When something goes wrong, when your child needs to understand that something they've said or done needs to be reevaluated, approach it with kindness and love.
Here the Golden Rule can be applied: treat them the way you would want to be treated.
If they feel cornered, threatened, or humiliated they are likely to lash out or shut down. And they are less likely to feel like coming to you the next time they are in trouble or need help. They need to know that you are their biggest fan and that you are in their corner.
You truly can't love them enough. You can't be too gentle. You can't be too kind.
5. They Are More Like You Than Either Of You Like To Admit. Laugh About It.
Genetics. The more we learn about them, the more we begin to understand that they are very much intertwined in the very part of us that makes us unique individuals. According to a July 2013 article by Dr. Michael W. Kraus, while the nature vs. nurture debate is not fully settled, it is evident that genes do affect our personalities. (Psychology Today, "Do Genes Influence Personality").
And since that mini-me you've produced has at least half of your genes, you can also be assured that they have some of your personality traits.
Are you normally a bit scaterbrained and spend several minutes every morning searching for your keys? That same trait may be evident in your child as well when she forgets to do her homework or take the garbage out.
Do you have a bit of a temper? Then it should not be surprising that your son has a short fuse as well and may get irrationally mad sometimes.
It's hard to look in a mirror at our own shortcomings sometimes and when we have kids, it bring those shortcomings into sharp focus.
This is why it is important to take a step back and ask yourself if you are just reacting negatively because your child's stubborn temperament matches yours.
Once you realize that you have just as many, if not more, shortcomings as your child, you can both laugh. Learning to recognize yourself in your child and vice versa is the first step.