When we think back to the adults in our lives who had the biggest impact on us as children - what kind of people were they? If you can recall your student days (admittedly, some of mine are a bit of a blur!) which teachers did you like the best? Do you remember your favorite relative or family friend was growing up? For me, the people I remember the best were those who taught by example and were full of patience.
They modeled what needed to be done and never talked down to me. They did not harp on about my mistakes, but instead applauded my successes. They spent time on the positive and minimized the negatives. Instead of constantly correcting, they showed/modeled the correct way of doing the task.
It’s just like your adult friendships now. When you have a problem, or you feel like you mucked up or are struggling, how do they react? Do they make you feel worse? Do they pounce on your words and point out your mistakes and bombard you with unsolicited advice? Or do they offer you a sympathetic ear and take your side and make you feel better? Do they let you blow off steam and give you space to rant. Do they offer you warm hugs and some ice cream, knowing that’s what you need right now?
It’s the same with our kids, especially as they get older. This is probably one of the hardest things, as a parent, that we need to practice – knowing when to intervene/try to fix/offer advice, and knowing when to be a “friend” – take a step back, and just offer love and support. No judgement, no disappointment, no unwanted advice.
I struggle with this all the time – part of me wants to shout “WHAT???? WHY???” and the other part of me knows I need to bite my tongue, keep quiet and just listen (and be grateful that that my kids trust my response/reactions enough to confide in me). Sometimes what they need is for us to be a friend, and not a parent, even if just for a few minutes.
So next time your child is brave enough to tell you that they got told off at school or that they did something wrong, try these steps:
1. Take a deep breath
2. Check your reaction and emotions - what facial expressions are you exhibiting, what tone are you using, what vibe are you giving off?
3. Support them - if they don't understand why they got told off, help them understand the situation better by asking them questions e.g. why they think the teacher was upset with them or how do they think they made the other child feel when they said/did what they did. Help them see the situation from the other person's point of view (empathy) and draw their own conclusions as to how to act next time (instead of you feeding them the information). This will help them gain some perspective and train them to think introspectively
4. Offer a kind, listening ear but hold back on the advice unless asked. Sometimes a hug is the best answer
5. Thank them for sharing with you.
This doesn't mean that you can't reprimand them for their wrong-doing. Consequences are important. But try holding off on discussing the consequences until later, when you've had the chance to think about it and when they're less emotional. Maybe together, you can come up with an appropriate set of consequences, to help them learn cause and effect and self-responsibility.
As your child gets older, their problems will get bigger. They'll remember they can trust you enough to confide in you. They'll remember that even if they've screwed up, even though you may be disappointed in their behavior, you'll be the person they need you to be.