Why We Must Stop Fixing Our Children
From a distance, the lake and surrounding forests were an idyllic setting. Along the shore a father was teaching his young son to fish. This appeared to be a wonderful teaching moment. Yet as we approached it became clear that the father was frustrated and the child was unhappy.
"You've got to hold the rod straight and cast straight ahead."
"How many times do I have to show you?"
"I want to do it my way!"
"You're going to break it!"
"I don't care!"
What had begun as a father's well-intentioned effort to teach his child to fish, digressed into an angry, unfulfilling experience for both father and child. This pattern begins innocently enough when our children are two or three years old. It starts with just a few words uttered by every well-meaning parent.
"Let daddy show you how to do it."
"Let mommy fix it for you."
Unknowingly these words of assistance, guidance or education mark the entry into the parenting paradox. A paradox is a contradictory idea often at odds with common sense yet possibly true. The parenting paradox affects most families. We correct our children under the mistaken belief that if we tell, show or direct them they will listen, observe and improve. How else will they learn, we wonder, if not shown the errors of their ways - whether in school work, sports or table manners? We would like our children to learn life's lessons without mistake or blunder. These errors of youth we worry will hurt our children psychologically or physically. Listen to me we say. We're the parent, we've been there, done that, made mistakes. We can help you. Our motives are noble. They reflect the very reason we became parents, to guide a youngster into a happy, healthy life's journey. Young children's responses to our offers of guidance and assistance are as varied as their personalities. At one extreme some children watch and listen but then don't do, beginning a pattern of helplessness, passivity and low initiative. At the other extreme some young children respond with resistance, exhibiting a pattern of behavior that we quickly label stubborn or strong willed. This sets the stage for families destined for angry conflicts. Although the majority of young children tolerate our "helping behavior," our actions accomplish little towards our ultimate goal of developing resilient and healthy children.
But somewhere along this path we became stuck in the paradox - if I don't help you how will you ever learn? But on so many occasions when I correct, show or even offer to help - things get worse not better. Our noble message - I'm your parent let me help - over many years either becomes deluged in conflict or complacency on our children's parts. Seemingly beyond our control, helping from our perspective becomes synonymous with fixing while through the eyes of our children it is too frequently experienced as a lack of acceptance of their abilities.
Solving the Parenting Paradox
We offer four guidelines to solving the parenting paradox. These guidelines, begun when our children are young, will help us avoid falling into this paradox. We are not suggesting if these guidelines are first applied at a later age that they cannot be effective. However, if we begin to refine effective patterns of helping our children when they are young, they are more likely to be responsive and listen to us as they grow.
Let Empathy Be Your Guide.
Bite Your Tongue, Watch and Listen.
Understand Before You Respond.
Compliment and Be Patient.
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