Last year about this time I got a voicemail from someone who called me ‘William Richard,’ a dead giveaway that it was from my pre-1974 childhood, eastern North Carolina, double-name calling past. It turned out to be my little league buddy, Harold, who went by Coochie. He called around Father’s Day to reminisce and tell me he often thought about my dad. He remembered the time we did some pretty nominal yardwork, and Dad took us down to the Western Auto and bought us each a new glove.
I had always remembered that too. Little things like that can leave a lasting mark. I was lucky to have great parents, and to have been exposed to many friends and mentors who are great parents also. Here are some of the things they have in common.
They say ‘no’ rarely. About the only play in the playbook of the exasperated parent is the immediate ‘NO!’ Can I play with my friends – “No.” Can I go to the movies – “No.” Can I buy a new video game – “No.”
Well, why the heck not? It’s a lot more fun to answer “Yes!” Great parents show their child respect by pondering the question, and think about why they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they ask. More times than not, they decide, “Sure, that’s fine, have fun!” The more times they say yes, the more reasonable the requests become. The child is learning to think through the feasibility of their request before they ask.
Of course, parents can’t be like Jim Carey in ‘Yes Man’ and say yes to everything. But they can virtually never say ‘no.’ Almost every “Can I” question can be countered with a question. “What friends are you playing with and where?” “What’s on at the movies and who are you going with?” “Have you saved up for the video game? What game is it? If you spend your money on a video game, will you be bummed you don’t have money to go to the movies with your friends?”
Every child’s request is a potential conversation starter, as long as it’s answered with kindness, respect, curiosity and patience. Those conversations will lead them to understand the pro’s and con’s of decision-making and enhance their maturity.
When ‘no’ is the obvious and only answer, hemming and hawing is a great alternative. Let the child know gently why it might not be a good idea. Most times they’ll understand. If you must have the final word, tell them that it’s just not a good idea and that you’re sorry you can’t accommodate them.
On the other hand, to shut down conversation, build a wall and stunt their maturity, not-so-great parents just go with: “Because I say so.”
And finally, most automatic ‘no’s’ by parents soon turn into grudging ‘yes’s’ anyway. That just puts another brick in the wall between you and your child, and you’re a sap as well!
They seldom show anger. Addressing anyone with anger just teaches them to avoid you. Addressing your child with anger is much worse. It teaches him to use anger to deal with people. More important, it’s toxically inconsistent with unconditional love. Showing anger toward your child can have a major impact on their psychological make-up.
You won’t find a better definition of love than in Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind.” Anger is the opposite.
They play with their kids. Card games, board games, puzzles, teatime, dress-up, kicking a ball, shooting hoops, throwing the football, riding bikes, having a catch.
Play reveals a child’s personality. They open up and talk as their self-consciousness is distracted by play.
Competitive games can be a challenge. They might lose their cool – great parents keep theirs. They might argue with their siblings. Take a break and let it blow over.
There’s no better way to spend time with them and to teach them than through play.
They have their kids’ friends around frequently. I was chatting with a very nice lady at a conference, and we got to talking about children. She lamented that she wished her daughter would spend more time just with her, but she always had a friend along.
Whoa! Parents have plenty of time alone with their kids. When their friends are around, you get to see a completely different side of their personality. They also see a different side of you. They see an adult who treats their friends kindly and with respect, and who is curious about their friend’s interests.
If it’s either the parent or the friends, it is only a matter of time before friends win out. If their friends aren’t perfect (neither you nor your child are either), use the opportunity to model the kind of behavior toward others that you’d like your child to emulate. Their friend will likely emulate it too.
They speak to their kids like an adult but not about adult things. Parents that speak to their kids like adults explain things to them, put things in perspective and listen to what their child has to say. They treat them as equals, at least by showing the kind of respect they’d like to receive.
But don’t forget they’re not adults yet. They will be soon enough, and unfortunately they’ll be exposed to adult things long before they get there. They need to know where their mom or dad stands and where the line is drawn. They certainly don’t need a parent pushing them over the line. Meddling in adult matters too early can stunt maturation – doing it with a parent’s blessing or encouragement can warp it.
They are very reluctant to punish. Kids know when they screw up. They impose self-punishment knowing they have disappointed. Parents that punish too quickly and too frequently let their kids off the hook. Rather than examining their own behavior, kids who are punished too much just ‘rage against the man.’ They may try to avoid future punishment, but they don’t learn to be better. They just learn to work the system.
Punishment is sometimes unavoidable. Tennis great Bjorn Borg had his tennis racket taken away for six weeks by his father for unacceptable behavior during a match. He became an emotionless assassin on the tennis court. Save punishment for when it’s really needed – maybe it won’t be.
They show affection and tell their kids how much they love them. They wake them up in the morning with a back rub and kiss them on the head, even when they’re 15 and grumpy. They walk by their child sitting on the couch, watching TV, and give them a quick shoulder and neck massage, and tell them what a great kid they are. They give them a hug for any reasonable excuse – because they are going to a friend’s for a sleepover, or off to camp. They tell them they love them every day…
They let them speak for themselves. This is one spot where great parents really go the extra mile. Plenty of very good parents still can’t resist the temptation to speak for their child. They want to brag on them, they want to make sure to set the record straight.
If that’s you, the next time someone speaks to your child, take a step back, pretend you’re not there, muzzle yourself. You may be proud and impressed at what comes out of your child’s mouth. And if they don’t have the smoothest conversational and interpersonal skills, well then they could sure use the practice!
They understand their kids are separate human beings. This ought to be pretty obvious…. but not so fast!
When you were young, did you ever blow a test because you were just in a fog, just not with it that day? Did you ever forget your homework? Did you ever play very poorly in a game, or just not hustle because the energy was not there? Did you ever get an older kid to buy you beer because you were underage, or at least find yourself in a crowd that was up to something like that?
Or worse… were you actually the perfect child living the charmed life, with little or no working knowledge of the landmines kids face every day growing up?
Your child is not you, an extension of you, nor the idealized version of himself that you’d like him to be. Kids respond pretty well to the right expectations and encouragement. But you have to be able to step out of your perfect parent shoes and into their normal kid shoes. Then you won’t sweat the occasional slip-up, and the less you sweat stuff with your kids, the more self-assured and independent they will become.
They know their kids listen to everything they say. Have you ever said (if not, then you have certainly overheard): “My child just doesn’t listen to a thing I say!”
Newsflash – they hear every single thing you say, so you need to be very careful howyou say it.
My dad constantly preached that the tone of your voice was just as important as what you had to say. I’m sure he got that from his mother and one of her favorite poems, which begins like this…
It’s not so much what you say, as the manner in which you say it; It is not so much the language you use, as the tone with which you convey it…
For words always come from the mind, and grow by study and art; But tones leap up from the inner self, and reveal the state of the heart…
About the Author
William Stroud is President of Lawyers Insurance and has managed the NC Bar Association Health Benefit Trust since its inception in 2002.Contact William email@example.com 800-662-8843.