I read all your articles and I know I have a lot of fear, and it affects my behavior. I lose my temper, get defensive and argue with my family members quite often. Now, I am starting to see this same behavior in my kids and I know they learned this from me, along with being disrespectful and sometimes mean. I really want to be a better parent and fix this, but don’t know how. Can you help?
Unfortunately, the old saying is true … children learn more from what you do than what you say.
This means if you want them to grow into mature, healthy, respectful, well-behaved adults, you are going to have to model that behavior. In order to do that, you are going to have to escape your fears of failure and loss (which produce out-of-control, emotional, reactive parenting) and start responding to situations with wisdom and love.
But don't be overwhelmed by that, because even though you aren't a perfect parent, you are the perfect parent for your children — that is why the universe sent them to you. There are no accidents.
To help you get out of fear though, I want you to remember that your value is infinite and absolute. You can’t be “not good enough.” It’s not even possible, because life is a classroom, not a test. This means nothing anyone says or does can diminish you. You are bulletproof. I tell you this because your fear of failing causes most of the stress, which causes your unhealthy reactions and bad parenting behavior.
Remembering the truth about your value means never needing to get upset, angry or reactive, because nothing can hurt you. With this mindset, there is nothing to fear, hence, there is no need for bad behavior.
I realize this is slightly unrealistic though, because my life (and my seven kids) trigger my fears of failure and loss on a daily basis, and I sometimes react badly (just ask them), but it helps me a great deal if I can get a clear picture of the bad behaviors I am trying to avoid.
Here are eight specific behaviors we don’t want to teach our kids by example:
- Disrespect: Respect is a two-way street. If you want respectful kids, then you must treat them (and everyone else) with respect. If you speak to your children in a disrespectful way, yelling, berating, putting down, disregarding, ignoring or any other behavior you would never use with an adult you respect, you are also teaching your children to disrespect you. If you want respect you must give it. This means listening to what they think and taking their feelings into consideration. You don’t have to agree with them or give them their way, but you must honor and respect how they feel. If you do this, they will suddenly have more respect for how you feel, too.
- Blowing up in anger and saying things you regret: If you are out of control, slam doors, scream or say awful things in anger, don’t be surprised when your children do the same thing. You are setting the drama standard in your home. If you want kids who handle anger in a mature way, they must see you handling anger maturely and calmly. If you don’t have good conflict resolution skills, you may want to work with a counselor or coach to improve in this area. I wrote an article on anger you may want to read. Or there is another on saying what you mean without being mean. There are lots of resources out there for improving your communication.
- Refusing to talk or giving the silent treatment: The silent treatment is an immature form of punishment. If you do this, your children will lose respect for you. Mature adults communicate to resolve problems. Never refuse to talk, play the martyr, feign injury or sulk to get their attention. A simple mutually validating conversation can solve most problems. I wrote an article on communication skills that may help if this is your weakness.
- Using self-pity to excuse bad behavior: When someone gets mad at you for mistreating them, do you immediately focus on all the things wrong in your life (or your day) to play the victim or justify your bad behavior? This is one you will have to watch out for. You may not consciously recognize you’re doing it. When you make a mistake, just apologize with no excuses.
- Making everything about you: When you have a lot of fear you tend to see every situation in terms of how it affects you or means for you. Everything else is forgotten — including the other people involved. You must get out of your own head and be consciously aware of other people. You must stop taking things personally too, most of the time, it’s not about you.
- Beating yourself up with shame and guilt: If you spend time here, you are sending the message that you see yourself as unworthy or inadequate. The problem with this is, your children may pick up that sense of unworthiness from you and feel inadequate themselves. If you want confident children, you must show them that mistakes don’t affect your value. You must apologize, learn the lesson, and move on without letting your past define you. They will gain self-esteem from your example.
- Gossiping about other people: We all have a powerful subconscious tendency to talk about other people and see them as bad, so we can feel superior. If your children hear you do this, they will think it's okay to see other people as less than them. You will be teaching them to be unkind and intolerant, which is not the message you want to send. Make sure they hear you praise, honor and respect other people instead.
- Freaking out about all the bad things that could happen: If you worry about money, the economy, crime, politics or anything else, and you do it a lot, you could be teaching your children to be afraid of life. Teaching children that the universe is here to serve them, teach them things, and even facilitate their growth, will instill more confidence and strength. Make sure you point out all the miraculous, good, amazing things in the world, too.
Don't put any pressure on yourself to be a perfect parent, just invest in learning and becoming a better one all the time. It's not where you are that matters but the direction you are heading and the love you are choosing.
Hope that helps.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a life coach and speaker who seeks to help individuals, couples, companies and organizations reach their potential by eliminating fear.