Earlier this week I was in a class where we were talking about parenting. The teacher shared a story about how she had wanted to compliment her daughter on being a good leader. But before she said anything, she paused for a moment to think it through. Would her comments improve or change her daughter’s leadership skills? Would she say it only to feed her own ego (and maybe her daughters) to feel pride in her accomplishments? Her daughter had already shown that being a leader was part of her inherent personality, something that came naturally to her without guidance or instruction. My teacher chose not to say anything, allowing her daughter’s leadership instincts to develop naturally, without the added pressure the accolades might have made her feel.
This was a new concept for me. Don’t give accolades for a child’s strengths? The thought made me pause and stuck with me. Later, I was with a group of moms who all were a part of our school, though I had never met any of them before. After chatting with the group for a while, a woman I hadn’t spoken to asked about my child. When she heard my son’s name and that he was in fourth grade, she wondered aloud if it was the nice boy in the class she volunteered in. She went on to explain how nice this boy is and how polite he was every time she was in their classroom. She even told her daughter she should be friends with this boy. When I showed her a picture of him, she said “Yes, that’s him! I love it when he’s in my group.” I was beaming with pride to receive this unexpected compliment. As I drove home I thought about how the woman’s comments related to our class discussion. My son has always been a kind-hearted, empathetic boy. Did I teach him to be that way or is it part of his natural personality? Of course, you could argue I’ve taught him what behaviors are acceptable at school. But on the flip side, how could I have ever enforced his behavior at school when I’m not around? This leads me to agree this is his personality. He is empathetic and kind that is his natural state whether I try to influence it or not.
These stories are all positive and wonderful, but what do you do if you are getting negative feedback on your child’s behavior? What do you do if their behavior at home is not acceptable? I can tell you the kind-hearted boy described above can be just as cranky and unpleasant as the next kid when he is exhausted or hungry. It’s easy for parents to get caught up in how we think our children should act, what we think they should be interested in and how we think they should do things. However, though our intentions are good, we may be ignoring what feels right to them. If your child is acting out at home or shutting you out, they have lost touch with what they feel is natural or they feel like they cannot express themselves. There is a broken connection. You can start mending the connection by reopening the lines of communication and seeing things from your child’s point of view. Allow them to take the lead by choosing the activity or meal. Connect with them on the things that are important to them to reignite their natural instincts. (If you want to dive deeper and receive more tips on how to communicate with your child, I encourage you to check out my course on Communicating through Connection. You can find details here.)
Like the changing leaves of fall, sometimes it takes something drastic to happen for us to notice. The vivid colors of orange, red and yellow shout from the trees that we have been surrounded by this natural beauty all along. It is within all of us, even our kids, all the time. It cannot be ignored, it is part of who we are and though we don’t need anyone’s encouragement for it to grow, it certainly helps when you are surrounded by people who will encourage you to nurture it.