For any parent, getting a child through their formative years with a healthy outlook on life is a formidable task. So, it’s a good thing that there’s a simple three-point rule of thumb for raising children that is almost fool proof.
Children need three things from their parents: honesty, honesty, and more honesty.
This simple, three-point strategy can be fine-tuned, however, as it is not always as easy as it sounds.
So, let’s look at why honesty by itself can be so difficult.
Age appropriate honesty
There’s a wonderful scene in the book “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee in which the wise and steady father, Atticus Finch, explains to his young daughter, Scout, what rape is. He says, and I quote, that rape was “carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.”
Simple. Easy. But did it go over his young daughter’s head? In fact, it is very apparent when reading the book, that the daughter did not understand the answer. But at least he gave her a straight answer that would not have to be retracted or changed in the future.
Later, when she is ready for clarification, she will ask, because she felt her first question was treated respectfully. Atticus, in this sense, is establishing trust, which will pay of big-time down the road.
Children are sensitive
Young adults, say the professional staff at alcohol rehab Newport Beach in California, require a different approach than adults, including with substance abuse recovery. Part of the reason is that children, like everyone else, require two very contrary validations in their lives. First, they need to feel they are part of a group. Second, they also need to feel like they are valued as a unique individual.
How you go about teaching a child they are both individuals and part of a group is less confusing than it sounds. Groups are made up of unique individuals. Being part of a team, but in a specific role, such as the goalie or the left wing or the center makes someone part of a group, but playing a unique role in that group.
Children are very susceptible to feelings that can be unnerving. Like anyone else, they don’t like to feel they are being studied, even when that comes with the territory.
Teachers study their students and grade them on it. Parents are constantly studying their children directly or indirectly. Friends of the family, even strangers, constantly pass judgment on children, remarking on their looks, their height, their personalities. Almost the way a pregnant woman feels like they are being constantly study, touched and probed, children feel pestered by the studied invasions of society at large.
You need to teach children how to respond to judgments that matter. The best compliment people can bestow on each other is they choose to spend time with you. (As such, spend time with your child. You may only be watching from the sidelines, but children feel the support of parents giving up their time to be there for their kids.)
The next level of compliments people bestow upon each other is eye contact, smiles, and intellectual and emotional engagement. Obviously, this means talking to your children and respond to their emotional reality. But it also means to teach them how to respond to cues given them by others. Ask them “what did your teammates think of you trying so hard to make the team?”
Contrary to popular belief, praising a child is much more troublesome than it appears. In the first place, you need to be very careful you are not training your child to do things simply to make you happy. If children constantly seek your approval, they are not trying to make themselves happy, but they are connecting their self worth to your approval.
If you sense this is true, replace your praise with questions. “How do you think you did in the school play?” Now the kid says, “Well, I think I did OK, but I dropped a line by mistake.” Now, instead of giving empty praise, you are playing the role of someone on their side. You are in their corner. At some point, you can say, “Well, I thought you were great!” But not now. Instead, say, “OK, you dropped a line. What are you going to do about that? Is there anything I can do to help, like go over your lines?”
Honesty requires self-reflection.
I know young adults who are engaging, active, popular and completely drug and alcohol free – and have never considered even touching a cigarette – and yet they come from families that are peppered with drug use and alcoholism.
Is this shocking? It shouldn’t be. Parents have their own problems, but they still need to be totally honest with their children about that and to take responsibility for themselves. Life isn’t perfect, but being a role model doesn’t mean being perfect, either.