Parenting – The Ultimate Emotional Challenge

One of the cornerstones of effective Self-Management is the ability to consciously manage our emotions.

This critical skill is so important that it features prominently in many of our client workshops, where we focus on Emotional Maturity and the journey to become aware of how we are currently managing our emotions.

It’s no surprise that during the workshops, a lot of parents start to make connections between emotional Self-Management and the relationships they have with their children.

Specifically they make connections about how their Belief System affects their emotions, triggering unconscious and often unwanted behaviors towards their kids.  (Your Belief System is defined as the sum of your cumulative memories and experiences from birth)

These experiential connections are often shocking, humbling, exciting, and challenging. Many participants have told us that it has been “life changing” for them.

As a result, we’ve had a lot of requests for blogs about the parenting insights that are consistently generated during the workshops. Sort of a “top 10”.

Until now, we haven’t posted these insights because it is not a simple subject and a blog post is not the ideal vehicle to address it.

However, it’s time.

So, we will post parenting insights in a series of blogs over the next few weeks. Based on our experience, here are the first few!

Be warned that these points may challenge your existing Belief System around parenting (if you are one) in the same way they challenged our participants.

Interestingly, after much discussion, almost to a person (with rare exceptions), they all ultimately agree that these points are valid and that, even though initially challenging, they are all true.

So in no particular order here are some of the most powerful (as noted by those who have experienced the Emotional Maturity section of our workshops over the past 30 years):

1. You Earn Your Child’s Respect. You can’t demand it. Children do not have to respect you just because you are their parents. Respect is earned, mostly based on the way you behave towards your children. You cannot demand it based on Social standing in a family. And, if you don’t consistently treat your children with unconditional respect, don’t be surprised if your kids act the same way towards you.

2. You Can’t Motivate Your Children. Motivating them is a clinical impossibility. Only they can motivate themselves. What you can do is create an environment that makes it easy or difficult for them to motivate themselves (this truth applies irrespective of the child’s age).

3. Chores Don’t Teach Real Responsibility.  This is a tough one for a lot of parents because it’s often part of a Belief System passed down from their parents without a great deal of conscious consideration.

If you demand that your children do chores (tidying up their bedrooms, setting the table, stacking the dishwasher, taking out the garbage etc.) and then rationalize and justify that this will teach them to be responsible later in life and give them heightened skills of self discipline and self control, it’s simply not true.

All they have done is learned to do what they are told, specifically around trivial tasks that are not really useful skills for a child to get.

As soon as it becomes important in their adult lives to get these skills, they will get them very quickly. They are not difficult skills to learn.

4. If You Want Your Child’s Behavior to Change and You Focus on Their Behavior – Nothing Will Change. This is because by the time the child has behaved “everything has already happened”. In other words, a cause has triggered the behavior. So to influence the child to actually change their behavior, one needs to focus on the cause of why they are choosing the behavior in the first place.

On this point, an example might help: Johnny pushes over his little sister and she starts crying. The parent demands that Johnny not push over his little sister. But he has already pushed her over and she is already crying. The behavior has happened! To help Johnny, it’s necessary to focus on the cause.

In order for the parent to get him to stop pushing over his little sister, they have to quietly and caringly sit down with Johnny and ask what is happening to him in that moment. Is he tired, frustrated, hungry, not getting what he wants, etc.? The next step is to appropriately demonstrate that pushing over his little sister will not address any of the things he is actually going through.

The added complication is that depending on his age Johnny may not know what is happening to him in that moment – he is just being a child!

In that case, it helps to simply change the child’s focus. Sometimes, it’s as simple as picking them up and moving them to another room or re-directing their attention to something else.

5. It Doesn’t Help to Have An “Adult Conversation” with A Child. Children don’t have an adult point of view. They are kids (this often applies well into their teens).

That’s why the challenge that most parents have when trying to communicate with their children is that they have an adult conversation, from an adult perspective, with an adult level of social and emotional maturity, coming from adult assumptions and expectations, delivered from a fully mature adult physicality – to a child.

And, then they wonder why the child does not get it, understand, or listen.

6. What Do You Want Your Children to Remember About Their Childhood? At one point in the complicated parenting journey you are going to have to decide what you want your children to remember about their childhood.

Did you nag them to death over trivial chores or were you there for them when it really counted?

And, did you consciously, lovingly, and willingly spend your energy truly listening to them while supporting them on subjects, issues, and events that were important to them?

7. Let Your Children Be Children. Their job is to be as “irresponsible” and dependent as long as possible because, in one blink-of-an-eye, childhood will be over and they will have to be independent and responsible for the rest of their lives. Untethered childhood full of play, joy, and abandon is such a rare gift and over so very, very quickly.

8. Decide To Be The Adult. If your child gets upset and then you get upset, what’s actually happening? First, you are both demonstrating a lack of emotional control. Understanding the child’s response is simple – they have not yet gained the emotional control. As the parent, you are expected to use your “learned” emotional control not to get upset.

Most important, if you get upset, you are modeling that the way to deal with people’s upset is with upset. In situations like this, you have to decide who is going to be the adult. And, it’s clearly not the child.

9. Modeling Works. The very best way to influence your children (for life) is to model the behavior you want. Research study after research study shows conclusively that this is the stuff (the lessons, the messages, the morals, the behaviors etc.) that lasts forever. Don’t demand a behavior you expect. Just model it!

10. Unconditional Love. You cannot love or care for a child too much. Never tie love to their behavior.

11. Lighten Up. You might want to consider a powerful parenting mantra from one of the most respected parenting experts, Barbara Colorosa (See “Kids Are Worth It!” ). It goes like this:

“If it is not illegal, immoral or life threatening – let them do it!”

It might be tough on you as a parent because it focuses on the child’s overall behavior, allowing the child to be a child.

We have so much power over our children – we need to use it wisely and be gentle with it. They are our babies, they are our joy, and they are our future!