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I used to have a sign on my door that read "101 ways to praise your child." Listed were such things as "super" and "way to go." When I see parents in my office (and couples too), I often ask them, "When was the last time you told your child (or partner) that you love them?" I am often saddened by the answers.
I'd love to hear "daily," but "weekly" would even be acceptable compared to the blank stare I often get in return. If a parent has to search for an answer, then it has been too long and something is wrong. I also get, "He knows I love him," which implies "so I don't have to tell him."
I also know that all parents sometimes don't really like their children very much. They can be mean, lazy, nasty and downright impossible. They keep their rooms messy, stay out after curfew, talk back and let us down in all kinds of ways. Just like us, they have the virtue of being human and thus not perfect, or not as perfect as we'd like them to be.
On good days, we sometimes try to separate the behavior from the child. "It's not you I don't like, it is your behavior." Sometimes we get into the negatives, and it feels like all we do is punish or point out what our kids don't do or should do or do wrong. It isn't easy to overlook these things and focus on their "creative ability" if they marked up the walls, their "beautiful smile and ear-to-ear grin" that covers up the mischievous act, or their ability to "stick to" something and "be persistent" when we perceive it to be incessant nagging. Nonetheless, most of us really do love our children.
Now is the time to catch your children "doing good" and even if you missed my last parent's report card, you can still get in on the action as long as you are willing to take a serious look at your parenting behavior. Here are 10 questions. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 where five is doing a great job, three is okay and one means you definitely need a refresher to help you rethink some of your parenting strategies. Remember, no one is looking over your shoulder, so be honest with yourself.
1. Do I catch my child "doing good" and tell my child so at least a few times a day? Do I praise, compliment and encourage her in all that she does? Do I tell my child I love her?
2. Do I put her down? Do I put her down in front of anyone else? Do I attack her or her behavior?
3. Do I make comparisons to her brothers, sisters, classmates or take sides with them against her?
4. Do I say I am sorry if I have done something wrong? Do I hear my child's story from his perspective?
5. Do I listen to my child? Do I hear what he has to say? Do I interrupt, cut him off or end a conversation prematurely?
6. Are my expectations unrealistic? Do I expect too much given my child's age and stage of development?
7. Do I hurt my child by my words or actions? Do I yell, hit, scream or attack my child's self esteem? Am I physically, sexually or emotionally abusive?
8. Do I accept my child for who he is, nurture his personality and appreciate his wonderful traits even if they cause me grief? Do I look for the positive?
9. Do I try and live vicariously through my child, wanting him to be just like me or just how I'd like to be?
10. Do I make the time for regular one-on-one "dates" where my child has input into what it is that we do?
Once you finish the quiz you may discover that there really are more than 10 questions. That is okay. Take your score, multiply it by two and you'll have a sense as to how you rate.
Now, here comes the tough part. Take the list of questions and if you are up to the challenge and can cope with some low numbers (kids can be really cruel), ask your children to rate your behavior. Make sure you let them know that you appreciate their honesty and try not to act defensively.
Start off by asking them to expand on what they said and why they gave you the mark they did by saying, "Tell me more" or "What else can you suggest I do to make it better?" Make sure you are calm or as I used to say to my children, "Put on your listening ears," as they need to know they can speak freely and without interruption. While you may have reasons to justify your behavior, your goal should not be for them to see it your way. You are looking for their feedback and their point of view.
Now your job is to make improvements in yourself, because you want to be the best parent you can be. Good luck. You can do it!
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org