How Parents Transfer Negativity to Kids and How to Avoid that with Parenting Expert, Noha Abu Sitta
Too often we get preoccupied with what is missing in our and our kids’ lives, and we stress ourselves trying to fill that gap to achieve perfection. We seek what could have happened instead of noticing what is actually happening. Consequently, our sentiments are manifested in negative remarks that we might be constantly conveying heedlessly. In doing so, we are subliminally discouraging ourselves and our kids: “No matter how hard I work to do this, it will never be good enough; so better leave it altogether and do nothing about it since I will probably be criticized for it anyway.”
Fixating on the negative
We usually focus on what our kids DON’T do, instead of what they actually DO, which discourages them from even trying to do anything else. When our kids say things like, “I’ve tidied up my room,” we come in and check and say, “but you didn’t put the toys back in their boxes,” or “you’ve messed up the cupboard instead.” Same goes with their school homework when they announce they’ve finished working on their English homework, we declare, “but you still have your spelling, Arabic and science left.” This “BUT” destroys the value of the achievement they’ve made and thus discourages them from making any more effort.
The main reason behind this is the very high expectations we set for our children, ignoring their own individual character make-up and capabilities. These expectations should be encouraging, yet instead they are typically destructive, intimidating or discouraging. It is healthy to have high expectations for our kids, but we need to be wary of how we convey these expectations. In the end, how we express these expectations is what essentially matters, regardless of whether these expectations are fulfilled or not.
Conditional love is no love at all
Expectations shouldn’t turn into standards or criteria for accepting our kids. Words like, “I’ll love you if you eat this,” or “you’ll make me happy if you brush your teeth,” and the like, gives a false message to our kids that they are ONLY loved and accepted by us parents if they perform certain activities. The long-term ramifications of conditional love are rebelliousness, stubbornness and/or passive-aggressive behavior. This causes a lot of anger, resentment and implants within our kids feelings of inadequacy. Children often express these feelings by not doing what is asked/expected of them, a type of behavior heightened during their teen years when the parental fear factor is no longer as impactful as it was in their childhood.
It is wise not to expect too much, too soon. It really helps when we read about what each age is capable of doing at that particular stage of development. It is absolutely unwise to under or over set expectations for our kids because both will have the same effect. We often forget that kids are born as a blank sheet that needs to be filled by us. We take things for granted and expect them to act perfectly and maturely while we are imperfect and often act immaturely. For example, we think every child should respect his/her parents, siblings and everyone in the world while we haven’t taken enough time to teach him what respect is through leading by example, and how to go about doing it! Do we ourselves show our kids respect by how we treat them? Or are we guilty of condescension and preaching?
How to love through recognition and appreciation
Patience is the key. We set a goal, then divide it into smaller goals and celebrate each step towards our big goal. Celebration in parenting means recognition and appreciation. If your goal is for your child to eat healthy, spot a healthy choice he has made this day and celebrate it instead of criticizing all his unhealthy choices and ignoring the healthy one.
If your goal is for your child to tidy up his toy room, aid him by:
1- Providing his room with suitable boxes, cabinet or storage space that will help him sort out the toys.
2- Don’t buy too many toys that will clutter his room, which will turn any cleanup time — including yours– into a nightmare.
3- Coach him on how to tidy up his toys through giving simple steps such as, “How about when we finish playing with a toy we put it back in its place before we take the other one out so we don’t clutter and make it harder for ourselves to clean up?”.
With older kids, if the room is a mess, instead of giving them intimidating orders try these tactics:
1- Ask them nicely, “I’d really appreciate your help with cleaning up your toys while I make your bed”.
2- Or we give them choices like, “Would you like to make your bed and I do the toys or vice versa?”. If they refuse, you can ask non-intimidating and loving questions like, “Why do you think it is hard for you to tidy up the toys? What can we do about that to make it easier for you to do it?”.
They might tell you they are too many or there is no room for all of them so you can brainstorm about whether you should give away the ones he doesn’t need any more to charity or buy more storage options.
With younger kids we can frame cleanup time in the context of playtime. We can sing together Barney’s Cleanup song while we are tidying up or we can come-up with a sorting game, “ Who will clean up the teddies and who will clean up the blocks?” or “who will clean up the most red items?” and so on.
The space to learn and grow
Our kids need coaching, but more importantly, they need to feel that we see them as adequate. If we keep rescuing them and doing what they should do ourselves while criticizing them for not doing it, we are limiting our kids’ abilities while incapacitating them by placing high expectations on them at the same time.
Accept that your child might have his/her own way of interacting with the world; they don’t have to do everything exactly as you want it when you want it. Allow them to achieve the goals you have lovingly and compassionately set for them through their own set of skills. Children are so responsive to encouragement and appreciation. When we celebrate any tiny step they achieve towards the big goal, they feel encouraged to do more and we see more results.
Do not forget to celebrate yourself each step your child takes towards the goal because his success is also yours so give yourself a tap on the back too.
Noha Abu Sitta is a certified Health Coach for children up to 12 years old, by the Dr. William Sears Wellness Center. She is also a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator by Dr. Jane Nelson and Dr. Lynn Lott. Noha regularly conducts parenting, health and nutrition courses covering a variety of topics. She also makes regular appearances on TV programs to dispense her expert advice. Noha is available at City Clinic in Nada Compound, Sheikh Zayed for health and parenting coaching.