Lately, I’ve talked to some parents who are disappointed with the way their kids seemed to have turned out. One friend has a son who’s on the brink of divorce from his pregnant wife. Another acquaintance has a son who was just thrown in jail for DUI.
My first thought is, judge your child, if you must, on the adult she is at thirty, not twenty. I was a hot mess at twenty. I was bouncing between jobs, smoking cigarettes and not following through on anything in my life that needed attention. Now, at thirty-three, I’ve got a stable job, a happy home life and I don’t procrastinate, having learned the hard way that procrastination and debt are sure paths to misery.
My second thought is, “Oh dear, how can I keep Nora out of trouble such as this?” I know there are no guarantees, but I’m going to do my darndest to give Nora the tools she needs to become a happy, well adjusted adult, whatever that may look like for her.
One of the best books I’ve found to aid me in this quest is the classic, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Chapter I is called, “Helping Children Deal with their Feelings.” I’ve noticed too much parenting advice that is focused on helping parents cope, rather than children, so this is an approach from a refreshing direction. Practical tips and examples are offered to help your child deal with negative feelings without resorting to negative actions. Solutions often involve less parental input, not more, which is rather a wake-up call. Telling your child what she should be feeling is not helpful, it teaches her that she’s not entitled to her feelings.
Other chapters focus on engaging cooperation, alternatives to punishment, encouraging autonomy, using praise effectively, and freeing children from playing roles. The approach in every case is grounded in maintaining a respectful and loving family dynamic that supports the child’s growth and development. No name calling, no lecturing, no guilt trips. I especially appreciate the cartoons that illustrate common, yet unhelpful, approaches to talking to children and then the recommended techniques on the facing page.
This is a fast read, and one you’ll want to pick up again and again. Most of the techniques in the book can work well for any relationship, not just for parents and children. I found the tips in the “Engaging Cooperation” chapter particularly useful in my marriage. Don’t nag, use one of five techniques. The book uses an example of a wet towel on left on a bed. Here’s an excerpt:
1. Describe what you see or describe the problem: “There’s a wet towel on the bed.”
2. Give Information: “The towel is getting my blanket wet.”
3. Say it with a word: “The towel!”
4. Describe how you feel: “I don’t like sleeping in a wet bed!”
5. Write a note: (above the towel rack): “Please put us back so we can dry. Thanks! Your Towel”
The best part is, if you use the techniques in this books diligently and thoughtfully, you’ll continue building your relationship with your child, rather than watching it deteriorate. Ideally, your child blossom into a happy adult who harbors little parental resentment. Hooray!