Tales from the Parent Zone
How do you measure success? Mr. B.G. Mouth has money, a big house, three luxury cars, and a staff of 40 catering to his every whim. His wife, Lauda Mouth, has political power and fame. Yet the three Mouth kids are miserable, socially inept, and in trouble. Let's get a little more internal, and consider success on an interpersonal and personal level. The best thing a parent can do is to teach a child the tools for creating her own successes.
Your child will become a well-behaved child when she knows deep down in her bones that you are there for her as her ally. An ally is somebody who is on your side, who assumes that you mean well, and who trusts and believes in you. You need to be your child's ally. The world out there is mean and cruel! “Of course I'm on my child's side!” you might exclaim. But think about it for a minute. Are you?
Some parents automatically side with other grown-ups, roll their eyes at their own child's behavior, and believe it instantly when another adult criticizes or accuses their child. “Your Billy hit my Angela.” “Billy! Get over here right this moment!” (smack!). That's not right. Your child needs to know that there is at least one person in the world who believes in him, no matter what happens. That's you. If you're in a situation where you must leap to assumptions, assume your child is right. Two things will happen:
- You'll realize that it's true, at least 50% of the time.
- As your child realizes how much you trust her, she'll take care to do things to get your approval—and she'll take time to actually be right.
Words to Parent By
An ally is somebody who is on your side, who looks out for you, and who you can trust to be there when the chips are down.
An Ally Is Unconditional
Be your child's ally in good times and bad. Your child really needs to rely on you not to laugh at her, insult her, or love her less when she has done something wrong, or when she is angry, frightened, or confused. If she fears you're only “on her side” when she acts like a good kid, she'll hide, she'll pull away, and lie to you. Stay open to all aspects of your child. You are her champion for better or for worse! If you're truly her ally, she'll remain open to you.
An Ally Doesn't Always Approve
Yes, indeed, you can be somebody's ally and disapprove, be furious, or be hurt by their actions. As a matter of fact, it's part of your responsibility as an ally to help the person take responsibility for his actions (especially when you are both an ally and a parent).
The Ally's Goal: Mutual Respect
Respect, respecting, and self-respect—it's all intertwined. In order for a child to be successful, she needs to be respected and to have a sense of self-respect. In order for a child to respect you, she needs to first feel your respect. Self-respect is key to success. It's your job to help build your child's self-respect by standing up for her.
You communicate respect for your child's body and personal space, temperament, privacy, needs, and opinions by observing her carefully, listening well, and taking her seriously.
Respect is a two-way street. If you travel the road toward your child, he'll travel the road toward you. Here are three common but disrespectful parental phrases that interfere with traffic on Respect Boulevard: “Because I say so, that's why,” “Do as I say, not as I do,” and, “Shut up.” Don't cause a traffic jam!
Kids respond when they feel respected. It's like the story of the first grader who kept talking about her new friend on the school bus—the bus driver. For days her imaginary play was filled with busses and drivers, and she looked forward to going to school and coming home on the bus every day. What was the big draw, her parents wondered. Finally they asked her what was so special about this new friend. “I like him,” the little girl said, “because he treats me like a people.”
Kids today when asked why they got into a fight often respond, “He dis'ed me,” meaning “He disrespected me.” Though kids may not themselves have a fully formed notion of just what respect means (for example, it's a two-way street, among other things), they demand respect and resent its absence. This should be a signal to parents.
Treat your kid like a “people,” and he'll return the favor.