When my kids get annoyed by my “helpful” reminders and admonitions, I try to back off. If I’m not in the mood to “relax” (as my kids say), I try to lighten the mood by saying something like this:
- Look, you get all this great advice for free!
- I need to give you my input. That’s why they pay me the big parenting bucks.
If only we really did get paid for our parenting. If most of us got a dollar every time we say, “Be careful” or “Be good,” we’d be rich.
Actually, I grew up with parents who rarely offered parting advice. Why? My mom once told me that she didn’t say goodbye to me with words of counsel because she reasoned that I knew how to behave and I would be good. For the most part, she was right.
As a parent, I’ve found freedom in this practice. I teach my three kids specific things (how to shake hands, why not to leave messes, who is the boss), but I try not to spout advice to their backs as they walk out the door. Instead, I try to say positive things like, “I’m excited for you today” and “I can’t wait to hear all about it when you get home.”
What’s the difference? Bottom line, it’s about ANXIETY. We feel fear for our children so often that it becomes a part of the air we breathe. This can potentially harm our kids because our worry is contagious. We can’t stop passing down our anxiety if we either aren’t aware of it or we think it’s a necessary part of our parenting job.
I counseled Anna, a single mother with two preschoolers. She realized she was overly cautious with her kids and she wanted to change. One day, her son wanted to run down a steep hill. She stood aside and let him do it but she couldn’t resist calling after him, “BE CAREFUL!”
We talked about something more positive she could say to him the next time he asked to do something outside of her comfort zone. Here is what we came up with:
“It’s risky because this is a steep hill, but it’s up to you.”
“How did you like running down that big hill?”
“I love watching you play!”
Why This Works:
Anna has parked her parenting helicopter and she is enjoying more special moments with her son. Also, she is giving him the freedom that comes with the word “Yes.” Once he got her permission, he knew he didn’t need to hold back due to worry. He literally took her “Yes” and ran with it.
Before she knows it, Anna’s little boy will be taller than she is. He will be heading out the door with car keys in his pocket. Anna already fears the bigger consequences that will come with bigger privileges. Driving a car, navigating relationships, and moving out on his own are all risky situations that make parents anxious. Anna is taking small steps now that will help her let go when the stakes are much higher. Anna is learning to trust her son. In the process, he will learn to be confident and to trust himself.
What Doesn’t Work:
Saying “Yes” but meaning “No.” If your children have permission to explore the world, your enthusiasm will show that you are really OK with them leaving. Hugging them goodbye while pouring on a layer of anxious words is a mixed message. You must make sure you can manage your feelings before you say the word “Yes.”
Try this Activity:
- If you are prone to worrying, simply notice how often the words you speak are about your concerns.
- Bite your tongue when a worried phrase attempts to pass your lips.
- Replace negative phrases with upbeat words.
Thoughts: What do you remember your parents often saying to you as you walked out the door? How did their words make you feel?
Update: Congratulations to Michelle Z. She just won my monthly drawing for an Amazon gift card because she left a comment here on my blog. I’m going to keep this contest going. Good luck to everyone this month.