This week’s series of posts (read Part 1 and Part 2) has been all about my five-year-old daughter and how she thinks another girl is pretty, and the many opportunities to help her (and myself) learn more about life that have come out of these feelings.
As I mentioned in Part 2, my daughter decorated a card for this girl and attached a pretty plastic ring to it. When she was done with the card she told me she was “scared” to give the card to the girl. I saw this as an opportunity for me to teach her about rejection.
I asked her what she was “scared” of. She said, “what if the girl doesn’t like it or is mean about it.” I gave her some things to think about, and put the situation into perspective:
1.) If it is kind words, you have no need to be scared. The best you can do is be kind to others, and saying nice things — being uplifting— is a good thing.
2.) If someone says “no” to you but remains respectful, we need to respect their choice. Consent is not just for boys. It works across all relationships—whether it be romantically or just a friendship. Everyone has the right to say “no”.
3.) If someone says “no” to you and are disrespectful/mean, you don’t need to worry about what those people think. They aren’t worth your time if they aren’t going to consider your feelings. If they are not going to be nice to you, then you don’t want to be their friend anyway. You deserve to be respected and treated fairly and kindly. Walk away from those situations where you are not treated with respect.
Rejection is hard. No one likes to feel rejected, but it is part of life. Children, just as adults, need to learn how to handle rejection in a healthy manner. They need to understand what is ok and what is not when it comes to how other people treat them, and how they treat others. As adults, it is our job to help them process these situations so they know (1) its ok to be sad, disappointed (2) it is not ok to be treated unkindly, or to treat others unkindly (3) it is ok to say “no”.
Do you remember the first time you felt rejection, how old were you? How did it make you feel? How have you helped your child through a moment of rejection?
The other day my five-year-old daughter confided in me that she thinks another girl is pretty— and not just pretty but “so pretty she wants to put a ring on it” pretty. Now at the age of five, I know that developmentally she doesn’t necessarily have a true concept of romantic love and attraction. But, it got me thinking.
My daughter has never been a big fan of being “girlie.” She insists on wearing “non-girl” clothes and her favorite shirt is a tuxedo t-shirt. She is her own person, and as her mother, I have no desire to try to change those parts of her. She deserves to be uplifted and encouraged to be her true self. Whoever she grows up to be, I am prepared to love her no matter what.
Parents love unconditionally
That doesn’t change the fact that I am still going to be a parent to her. She still has to “suffer” through my firm, authoritative parenting and embarrassing mom-jokes (she will think they are funny too, someday). But, selfish love is not part of it. She will be loved in the way she needs, not in the way I want. I am her mother. I did not bring her into this world to make it all about me. I will accept her exactly as she is. I will love her unconditionally, with my whole heart and make sure she knows it.
That is the meat of parenting—unconditional love. It is that thing that helps us to forgive quickly when mistakes are made. We want our kids to grow to be good, respectable, kind, caring adults who are contributing members of society, but we also want them to be comfortable in their own skin. We want our kids to know that no matter how hard life gets (as I am sure there will be many a bump in the road), and whatever comes there way, they can always count on our love. We brought them into this world to nurture and encourage them, while also teaching them how to be good people. While we may not always agree with some of the choices they make, we will still love them always, forever, with no strings attached.
What do you think? How should parents love their children?
I catch myself every once in a while telling my children to “not worry” when they are scared. It is almost instinctual. As a parent, of course, I wish my child would never have to worry about a thing, but that is not reality. When we tell our children to “not worry” it is like telling them they should not feel scared. We are telling them feeling scared is a bad thing.
‘It is ok to be scared’
Instead of telling our children “don’t worry” when they are scared or concerned about something, we can replace it with something more reaffirming like “it is ok to be scared.” Because it is OK to be scared. We all get scared sometimes and we want our children to learn how to deal with those feelings, rather than to think they are wrong to feel that way.
It is also important that our children know what to do when they feel worried, or concerned, about something. If it is an external concern, such as a suspicious person or animal then we want our children to recognize safety—whether that be going to mom or dad, a teacher, or moving to a different location. By talking to them about what they should be doing at times when they are struggling with feelings of worry they will build healthy coping skills, and learn how to better take care of themselves in situations where mom or dad aren’t present.
Feelings of worry or fear are part of our inner-being. They are important. It is our brain’s way of telling us to be careful, to tread lightly, to watch out. It is a protective mechanism. It is not something to ignore or shut off.
Sometimes that worry or fear is caused by anxiety over something we might not need to be worried about, but acknowledging those feelings and learning how to calm ourselves down is also a very helpful skill. If we can help our children to learn and utilize these skills at a young age, it will help them to be more successful at managing their feelings as an adult.
Social media is fun (and dangerous). All your friends are on there and you can easily get into discussions or debates. You can catch up with people you have not seen in years, and keep tabs on people’s ever-evolving lives. You can post an opinion, thought, or daily happening in a matter of seconds and send it out into the inter-web. It may feel harmless. I mean sure you are sharing with friends, who are they going to tell?
Nothing is really ‘private’ on the internet
Let’s not forget — this is the internet. Even though it is social media and your profile is set to private, nothing is really private once it has entered the realm of the web. A rule of thumb that I use with my clients is if you won’t say it in front of your kids, then don’t say it on social media. Saying the wrong thing could affect your career years later, and we all know our kids will probably find a way to view all of that stuff at some point.
Just look at the examples in the news:
1.) A university professor was fired for tweeting that Hurricane Harvey was karma for Texas, pointing out the GOP connection.
2.) A 19-year-old daycare worker was fired after snap-chatting a photo of her making an obscene gesture towards one of the children while on the job.
3.) A zoo employee was fired after tweeting a racist comment about patrons.
Then you have the stories where people didn’t just post obscene, racist, or offensive comments but rather photos. I have heard stories of people not getting their dream job because the employer found photos of them doing drugs or binge drinking on the internet. Similar stories have also been told with people who have posted risqué photos.
It might seem harmless, but once it is posted it is always there. It never leaves. You can never fully delete it. So, here is a rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t want your child to hear it, see it, or repeat it then do not post it on social media. It could haunt you years later.
We have heard it our whole lives and now we are saying it to our children: “practice makes perfect.” In our minds we are encouraging our children to keep trying. We are telling them they will get better at a task the more they give it a shot. We are teaching them to not give up. But our children are hearing they need to be perfect, they should be perfect, there is no room for failure.
I started thinking about this when my own daughter, at the young age of five, starting showing signs of being a perfectionist. She wanted to do everything perfectly and was highly frustrated when things failed. She saw herself as a failure. As a parent that was hard to witness. I knew she was just learning and through practice she would get better, but as with all things in life there was bound to be some failure along the way.
A Hard Road
The life of a perfectionist is not an easy one. It is a hard road full of feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The reality is that nothing is perfect so to task ourselves with such lofty expectations is exhausting.
So rather than continuing to tell our children that “practice makes perfect,” perhaps we may want to change it to “practice makes easy.” I mean that is really what we are trying to say anyway, right?
If you have a child who is showing signs of being a perfectionist there are some things you can do to help:
- Provide your child with unconditional care and respect.
- Try to keep their environment calm and structured.
- Give lots of praise.
- Avoid comparing your child to others.
- Stay away from words like genius, brilliant, or perfect.
- Help them to understand everything cannot be perfect.
- Listen to them, talk to them.
- Help them set realistic standards.
- Let them know they are loved.
- Provide them with opportunities to succeed and improve self-confidence.
- Explain to them that failure is an opportunity for growth.
The best thing you can do for your child is to let them know you are proud of them for trying their best, that is really the only thing we have control over, right?
Using artificial means of conception, including artificial insemination and use of an egg donor, has become more commonplace now that technology has made it more readily available to couples. The question inevitability comes up with all parents who use these means of conception—what do we tell our children? How do I tell my child? Understandably so this is a difficult topic to approach.
In the past, it was thought best that parents keep to themselves. That this is a personal decision and they didn’t need to tell anyone about it, including the child. However, research has shown just the opposite. Parents who fail to tell their child about this significant piece of genetic history faced grown children who were inevitably angry and hurt at the decision of their parents to not share such details. There are a host of reasons why parents may want to be honest with their children from a young age about their conception.
Why you may want to tell your child?
First and foremost is medical history. When that child grows into an adult they will want to know more about their medical history, they will ask, and it would be helpful for them to know of any risks. Another big issue is identity. What if that child has a talent, or a body part that is unique to the rest of the family, they may start to feel lost or like an outcast to the family. Children who know their history are less likely to feel this way because they know the truth. And, the bottom line is it is hard to keep secrets and this is a big one. As the child’s parent it will eventually come out. The child will find out this piece of their history and it is nothing to be ashamed about. By keeping it from them you are making it seem like they should be ashamed when in real honesty it is a reason to celebrate. This child that you love dearly was possible because of technology, yes, but you still love him/her the same as any other child. Possibly you even appreciate having the ability to raise a child a little more because you understand the struggle. This was your dream, and you did what you could to make it happen for your family.
How do you tell your child?
Before you dive right into telling your child his/her conception story and what you may or may not know about the donor, test the field. What do I mean by this? Show the child a video or read a book, do something that presents the topic to him or her impersonally. This will help them to understand that these things do happen, and it will also help you to gauge whether he/she is ready to have a conversation about it. When you feel the child is ready, start the conversation out by saying that you have loved them from the very beginning, before they even existed, you have loved them since they were a thought in your head. All of this will help the child to process the information without feeling disconnected from the family.
If you are having trouble talking to your child it may be helpful to seek out a licensed counselor who can help you set up a plan of action. And, know, while these concerns are normal, your child just wants to be loved and included in your family and if you make that clear from the beginning you have nothing to worry about.
The other day I came across a blog post on the popular parenting website Scary Mommy. The post titled “Why I no longer tell my child to be inclusive and kind” is written by a mom who taught her child to always be inclusive especially to the child that was disruptive, had problems at home and was the child no one else wanted to include. The mother instructed the child to be “compassionate” because you don’t know what other people might be going through. In the end, the mother got a call from the school counselor who informed her that same child that her daughter was trying to have compassion for was now stalking her. The mother, as any mother would be, was upset by this news and decided to no longer tell her child to be all-inclusive.
As a counselor, this post stopped me in my tracks. It raised some good questions and presented a topic I feel needs to be discussed. Rather than instructing our children to stay away or avoid compassion and empathy for others because of fear that the person might be a danger, or might not be a good person to associate with, we need to practice healthy compassion.
There is a difference between practicing discernment and boundaries with compassion. Being kind and having compassion for another does not mean letting that person do whatever they want. It does not mean condoning the bad or uncomfortable behavior. There is what we call blind compassion, which establishes no boundaries, and healthy compassion with boundaries. It is important that we teach our children to have an open mind about others and practice compassion because as the mom wrote: “we don’t know what other people are going through.” However, we need to make sure our children learn how to establish healthy boundaries with others.
Being kind to others does not give them a free pass to walk all over us, or to treat us in ways that make us feel wrong or bad in some way. We can be kind but also let that person know that they can’t treat us that way. Teach your children it is ok to say “no,” and walk away or to tell an adult if an uncomfortable situation is present. Teach your children rules go both ways, it is not ok for them to hit or push or for them to be hit or pushed. These are important life lessons for all.