PORTLAND, Maine — Being a parent is a lot of work, especially in a pandemic. Mistakes are made and lessons are learned, and each person has their own unique style of what works with their own children.
Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who offers up four pieces of advice for parents: ultimately, what NOT to do:
- Do not make your children your life. This may sound crazy because for most of us parents, we often feel like our children ARE our life, but here’s the problem. When we build our life around every aspect of our children—their desires, their hobbies, their opinions—several negative things tend to happen: a) we neglect our our own needs; b) we neglect our partner/relationship/marriage; c) we teach our children that the world revolves around them. Of course we want to prioritize quality time with our kids and carve out time in our schedules to support them in things that interest them, but please: also make them go to the grocery store, also keep up with your own interests/hobbies and also continue to spend quality time with your partner.
- Do not let them run the show. Kids are tough—they whine, throw tantrums, demand and incessantly ask for things. It is not easy to stand your ground and the temptation to just give in to whatever they are demanding/whining about about is HIGH. Don’t do it. Don’t give into your kids. Have high expectations for them. Provide lots of structure and rules and hold them accountable. Send the message that you can handle their distress (and the distress that it creates in you!). As we move away from “Helicopter Parenting,” and in response move toward “Free Range Parenting,” please ensure that “free range” doesn’t actually mean overly permissive parenting. Because fad parenting trends will come and go, but what research has forever been clear about is that a combination of very high expectations combined with lots of love, warmth, and nurturance creates healthy, adaptable, and resilient kids . . . and isn’t that what we all want?
- Do not dismiss their feelings. What therapists have always known and research is now catching up to is that Emotional Intelligence (EIQ) is one of THE most important factors that leads to mental health, success, and stability as an adult. We get SO concerned about our children excelling academically that we often neglect helping them excel socially and emotionally, even though this is far more important than intellectual intelligence. So talk to them about their feelings. Don’t just ask them about their day; Ask them if there was anything that made them happy? Sad? Scared? Mad? When they are upset, name the feeling and ask them if you guessed right about it. Then have a conversation trying to understand where they are coming from. Doesn’t mean you can’t say no in the end, but it doesn’t stop you from trying to understand. The more we talk to our kids about feelings and make room for ALL feelings—not just the pleasant ones—the happier and more successful they will be. Period.
- Do not hate yourself/beat yourself up over your mistakes. Parenting can be BRUTAL. Little human beings, especially when they are young (but kind of always), can be black holes of need. It is easily the most challenging thing someone can do. So give yourself a break Ok?? We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to yell. We’re going to misunderstand what our kid’s needs from time to time. We’re going to punish instead of teach. We’re going to say things we regret. It’s just how it is. So stop trying to be perfect and, instead, focus on how we make it better. If you screw up, say you’re sorry and then have a chat with your kid about it. And then take it as a sign that you might need a break . . . NOT that you’re a bad parent. When we’re all caught up in parent shame/guilt, we’re getting farther away from where we want to be. So go easy on yourself mama; The fact that you’re worrying about being a good parent, means that you’re doing just fine.