No parent wakes up in the morning asking, “What can I do today to make my child’s life hell?” However, some days we do wonder whether our children have woken up asking themselves, “What can I do today to make my parents’ life hell?” Sometimes it seems as though our children exist for no reason other than to make our lives uncomfortable.
In my book, What Your Child Needs From You, I describe how parenting and family life – if we let it – can become the greatest character education process we will ever experience. And it all comes down to one simple question:
Do I see my child as a person, or as a problem?
Here are five signs we have stopped seeing our children as people, and starting seeing them as problems.
1. We become endlessly critical
Do you find yourself constantly being annoyed at your child? Are you always into them about something (or everything)? Do you catch yourself saying things like, “I’m sick and tired of telling you this!”, or “Why don’t you ever…?”
Spending our time concentrating on all of the things that our children are NOT doing builds resentment, and reduces our children to being ‘things’ in our eyes, rather than people.
2. We become contemptuous
From time to time we hear other parents say things like, ”Listen here you little selfish brat!” ”You drive me insane! Get over here now you ungrateful piece of filth.” ”You stupid idiot.”
Treating someone with contempt means that we treat someone as though they are beneath us – not worthy of our consideration or kindness. When we treat our children with contempt, it is a sign that we are not seeing them as people. We see them as something below us, and we despise them. This kind of language and attitude suggests our relationship with them is unhealthy and headed for trouble.
3. We lack humility
If we are heavily critical of our children, or contemptuous toward them, chances are we lack a quality that is essential for being a great parent: humility. In a parenting context, humility means being willing to stop and understand how things are for our child. It means having a willingness to see the world through our children’s eyes. If we lack humility we stop considering how it is for our children. Instead, it’s all about us and our agenda. Lacking humility in a relationship is a sign that we have forgotten that they are people too. And our relationship with them will invariably suffer.
4. We make our love conditional
Surely no parent would tell their child “I’ll only love you if you do what I ask” would they? While few parents would say things so explicitly, many parents offer contingent positive regard unknowingly. I’ve actually heard some parents say, “I won’t love you anymore if you keep doing that.” Relationships that make positive regard contingent on behaviour tend to be less healthy than unconditional relationships.
5. We shut our children out
Some parents simply shut their children out. One mum taught her newborn she should sleep all night by not going to her when she cried in the night – from day one. Many parents I speak with send their toddlers to the ‘naughty chair’ when they behave in challenging ways.
Often parents of teens simply stop talking to them because they can be so hard to get along with. Such an approach to our relationships with our children suggests we do not have the maturity to manage these relationships effectively and our relationships with them may be in trouble.
Our children deserve so much better than this. They need us to be so much better.
When we see our children as problems, hassles, or inconveniences, we stop seeing them as people and start seeing them as a pain. An object. We forget that they are real people with real feelings, hopes, and desires.
What can we do instead?
I love the story in Between Parent and Child. Haim Ginott offers a simple comparison. A friend comes to your home and it is raining. When they leave, the rain has stopped and they inadvertently forget their umbrella.
Do you chase them outside, shouting about how forgetful they are, and shove the umbrella into their hands, annoyed at the ten seconds of inconvenience they’ve caused? Not usually. We are far more polite to our friends.
By avoiding criticism and contempt, showing humility, kindness, and unconditional positive regard, we make our relationships with our children healthy and positive, and we make our families happy.