Picture this, you overslept because you stayed up binge watching Netflix. You skip breakfast so you can make it to work on time but get stuck in traffic. Your boss scolded you in front of co-workers for missing a meeting, and you spilled coffee on your shirt before a presentation with no time to change (not that it would mater because you forget your extra shirt at home anyway). You just want to change into your PJs and crawl into bed when you get home. But you’re a parent, and you have responsibilities, and it’s your turn to make dinner tonight.
You get home and start venting about your horrible day to your significant other.
The response you get?
“I told you not to stay up late”
Not at all. You feel worse, and on top of that, you are now mad at them.
What you wanted to hear?
“I hate when that happens. It’s frustrating when you’re trying so hard to be on time and you get stuck behind a school bus stopping at every house.”
“No way! Your boss is a total jerk for embarrassing you like that, and I know how important that presentation was for you.”
The point here is this, nothing they can say is going to change what happened, and you already know that you need to do better next time. In this moment, their empathy and connection with you is more important. It’s what gives you the confidence and validation to try again. As opposed to a response that fills you with anger and even more disappointment in yourself.
So, why am I going on and on?
Because we, knowingly or not, do this to children all the time. Not because we are mean and nagging parents that want kids to feel horrible, but simply because we love our children and want them to be successful. After all, if they fail that homework assignment because they waited until the morning it was due to complete it and then forgot to put it in their folder when we told them to, they will never learn the benefit of being organized and prepared, they will fail 5th grade, and they will never get into college or get a job. Right?
I challenge you to look at it in a different way. To ask yourself, “Is possible to have empathy while also holding my child accountable?”
It’s true that your child may fail that homework assignment. But that doesn’t mean they are forever doomed. We all need to learn from our choices, and making mistakes is how we learn as human beings. Some of us learn quickly and others need more reinforcement from natural consequences before it sinks in.
So instead of this:
“I can’t believe you failed that homework assignment. If you listened to me this would have never happened.”
“Ouch. It hurts when we don’t get the grades we want. What can you do different next time?”
I am not saying, let your child repeatedly skip on homework assignments. If schoolwork is becoming a problem a meeting with your child’s teacher may be in order. Better yet, depending on your child’s age, you can kill three birds with one stone and help your child have their own a meeting with their teacher to brainstorm solutions. In turn, teaching responsibility, communication skills, and problem solving.
If your child repeatedly forgets to pack their sports equipment, and you find yourself rushing from work to bring it to them. Ask yourself, what would happen if they just showed up to practice without their equipment?
“Oh no! I am so sorry you forgot your lacrosse stick. That is beyond frustrating! I am at work right now and I won’t be able to bring it to you. Your coach probably won’t be happy. I am here for you to vent about it when you get home. And if you’d like my help to brainstorm ways to get more organized we can do that too.”
Your child will probably then whine or yell at you. Or maybe not.
The coach will probably make them run laps for forgetting important equipment to teach them about being a responsible member of the team.
And in the end, they will have learned an important lesson about bring prepared.
As parents, we have a major responsibility to make sure our children grow up to be responsible human beings. And I agree that some of this is on us. But it is also on them. Children do need our guidance and support as they are learning to navigate this world. But they also need the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. And it is possible for this to be done while having the support of the people closest to them.
Was this helpful? Email me your thoughts and experiences trying this technique at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you feeling like the daily struggle is just too much? Are you worried your child may have needs that extend beyond what you are currently able to offer them? Do you live in Central New York? If you are interested in learning more about psychotherapy and play therapy for your child I can be reached at 315-737-3094 or email@example.com
Jennie Mazza Jones, LCSW, CCPT has a private practice located in Clinton NY, where she specializes in providing psychotherapy to children and their caregivers utilizing Play Therapy. Jennie helps kids who long to feel accepted, want to do well, and wish they could control their worries, anger, and behaviors, but struggle because they communicate in a way that many adults don’t understand. She also helps parents/caregivers who want to help the important children in their lives reach their truest potential, but are afraid to make the wrong move, fear the worst, or are just unsure of what to do next. Jennie can be reached 315-737-3094, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.jenniemazzajones.com