“Unfortunately, some parents give in to what is easier to do than standing their ground.” – This particular line at the Introduction of “How To Win Your Child’s Heart” really struck me. I am guilty of this. Often we do yield to our children and choose the more convenient option than what is right just so that we can keep the peaceful and harmonious environment. Who wants a tantrum-throwing kid anyway, right? Anything to hush them especially when in public.
However, we also know that in the long run, our constant giving in to our children does not exactly mean that we love them. We cannot always equate our love to the number of YES we say to them. In fact, it may even reveal the opposite. So how then do we make our children feel loved without having to sacrifice our authoritative position as parents? How do we assert our being parents without being harsh nor bossy? How do we set boundaries and still make sure our kids know we love them? How do we make them follow without pushing them around? How do we make our kids obey out of respect, and not fear?
My church has constantly taught us that parenting is a heart issue. And in my constant search to mold my daughter’s heart, I came across Dr. Ruth Chang’s book – How To Win Your Child’s Heart, where she provided simple guiding principles in rearing emotionally-healthy and self-confident children through an authoritative and loving parental approach. To make these principles easier to remember, she came up with an acrostic: P-Praise, A-Accept, R-Respect, E-Empathize, N-Nurture and T-Train.
P-PRAISE. “Praise is a necessary ingredient in the development of a healthy self-image.” Parents, especially of exceptionally smart and witty children often tend to forget that their kids are just kids that must be taught a few times before getting things done correctly. The smarter our children, the higher our expectations for them to understand our instructions and to easily pick up what we say. And when they don’t do things right we tend to become like policemen criticizing them for their mistakes. We think that the best way to correct wrong behavior or actions is through pointing out mistakes and criticzing them. Not. “Criticizing is not the best way to promote change.” Children respond more effectively to change through praise, encouragement, good modeling, positive reinforcement and hearing positive feedback from parents – the healthy reassurance that making mistakes is okay and that they are not loved less because of those.
Some parents are apprehensive about overly praising their children. Here are Dr. Chang’s suggestions on WHAT to praise our kids for:
1. Praise your kids for their effort. When they exert effort in doing something, even though the outcome is below your standards, you praise them for working on what they did.
2. Praise them for anything they are doing right. Highlight the good.
3. Praise them for improvements or strengthening in their weak areas. “Instead of criticizing weakness, find improvements to praise and eliminate criticism.”
4. Notice small improvements, not perfection. Humans tend to look for end results and often forget the process of getting there. Children’s efforts and improvements, no matter how small should be recognized and built on.
As to HOW we should praise them:
1. Be specific and concrete. Avoid general “good job” statements. State where they did a good job and how. Specify what in particular you liked. Be detailed.
2. Be sincere. Kids, just like adults, know when you give empty compliments.
3. Avoid “pressure compliments” or statements where future expectations come after praise. When you praise, just praise. Save the “you can do much better next time” next time; at a different time and context. Otherwise it will sound like yet another criticism to the child.
4. Avoid exaggerations. Just like insincere compliments, your child will know and feel if you are exaggerating.
5. Reward your children. It is nice to give your kids incentives for doing something good. These also affirm your verbal praises.
6. Verbalize and write down your praises through little love notes.
7. Surprise your child with praise when they least expect it. This makes the experience of doing a good job more memorable, not to mention more gratifying and rewarding for the child.
8. Show public affirmation to your child. It feels nice to be recognized in front of other people sometimes.
Parents should focus on praise-worthy things instead of catching trivial mistakes. Remember, we are parents, not policemen.
A- ACCEPT. “Acceptance is the means to show the child that he or she is loved unconditionally.” It is the parents’ duty to help their children feel comfortable and be secure for who and what they are. It is the parents’ job to provide their children with opportunities to help them grow in different areas. Generally, people who are secure and comfortable in who they are are more attractive and draw more people closer to them.
Dr. Chang enumerated barriers to accepting a child unconditionally.
1. Our own dreams and expectations. Sometimes we have unfulfilled dreams that we hope to happen in the lives of our kids. Or we want something badly for them that we tend to dictate their choices and control them as to what they should want because of what we want for them rather than let them course through life and search for what they really want.
2. Our own insecurities and lack of self-acceptance. Admit it or not, sometimes we see what we don’t like in ourselves in our children. And that sure pisses us off. This inevitably affects the way we relate to them. If we want to be good parents, advised Dr. Chang, we must have “an increased self-awareness and continuous personal growth.”
3. Social standards and stereotypes. Sometimes parents are pressured by the accomplishments of other children of the same age as their kids. Consequently pressuring and pushing the child too hard to excel. Let’s face the truth, sometimes we prioritize saving our own face and protecting our image over our children’s feelings and needs.
4. The uniqueness of our children. This applies to being blessed with special children. Parents must look at them the same way God sees them. Beautiful, unique and special in their own right. Despite their condition, parents must still love them unconditionally.
From recognizing what hinders giving children unconditional love, here’s a rundown on HOW to show acceptance:
1. Give each child, one-on-one focused attention. When you have several kids, spending time with each one of them is recommended. More than your usual family get togethers, bonding activities, you will get to know your child more when you spend quality time with each of them.
2. Punish the negative behaviors but do not belittle the child nor threaten. We must learn to give appropriate consequences for their misbehavior without attacking the person, criticizing them or threatening them.
3. Give verbal reassurances of your availability and devotion. Children want to know you are always there for them, and that they have your attention when they need it. This could be shown in as simple as dropping what you’re doing to talk to and attend to them. Avoid saying “I’m busy” as well as the mindless listening when you’re really not. Kids know when you are just pretending to listen.
4. Give positive attention even when they fail you. Children need to be reassured that though they failed to do something , they are not loved less.
5. Acknowledge your child’s unique strengths. It is the parents’ responsibility to provide their kids with opportunities to hone their interests. Be observant. Find out where they are good at and continue building on it, rather than focusing on the weakness and pushing them to excel just because we want them to.
R – RESPECT. “Respect is a basic component of any relationship. Whoever said that respect is only for the elders? Even children need to be respected. And if we want (of course we do want) our children to be respectful individuals, we must be the ones to teach it to them – we must model respect to them.
More often, it is not what we say that children copy. It is what we do. It is how we act. Even if we try to filter our words, avoid bad words, it is HOW we say things that they pick up. It is our tone, mannerism, verbalization and expression of feelings that they imitate. Although it is important to be careful with what we say, we also have to be equally conscious of the things we don’t verbalize but evidently say through our actions.
The following are the ways to show respect to our kids:
1. By acknowledging their feelings, even if the expression is inappropriate. It is important for our children to know that we hear them out and that we accept how they feel. And of course the reassurance after that they are loved still. Remember, our children are starting to discover the different and wide range of emotions. Allow them to explore these on their own.
2. Avoid comparing your children to others. It is the parents’ responsibility to secure children that they are loved and accepted for the unique individuals that they are. Even if our intention is to teach them, comparing them to others is damaging to the child.
3. Solicit your children’s ideas. Nothing beats the feeling that your feelings, thoughts and suggestions are valued and considered. Give your children the opportunity to participate in family discussion and planning. This makes them feel important and respected despite their tender age. I personally, surprisingly learn and pick up new ideas from my four year-old.
4. Encourage your child’s ability to solve his/her problems. Respect is demonstrated in the way we allow people to make sense of things, solve problems and discern situations at their own pace. Parents tend to think that we always know better and can get things done faster. But it is not the point of child-rearing. YOU may be able to solve the problem but you failed to teach your child the value and skill of problem-solving and conflict management. We should make our children feel that we respect their ability to deal with different situations.
5. Discipline with respect. We are most tested in the most trying times. The same goes with showing respect. It is during difficult times such as those that require discipline that we can powerfully demonstrate how to be respectful. When we are tempted to shout or say hurtful words and yet we don’t.
6. Use courteous words in your daily reactions. The most basic way we teach respect to our children, especially in our culture is through the use of “po” and “opo,” saying their pleases and thank yous. We must say the words we want to hear from our kids.
7. Give them your full attention. Usually when a child does something they normally do not it is because they are seeking your attention. Instead of reacting negatively or showing irritation, why not give your child the attention he/she is yearning for? Take the time out to stop what you are doing if it can wait and turn your attention to your child. Otherwise explain to your child why you have to finish your task at hand. Constant ignoring or “I’m busy” lines may make your children feel unwanted. Respect your child’s need for your full attention
E – EMPATHIZE. “Empathy is the sensitivity and responsiveness to others.” It is “to feel for that person,” as if you know how they feel. Showing empathy to your child does not just show that you respect their feelings but more importantly that you hear them out, you understand what they feel and why they feel that way. It is important for children to feel that what they feel are important to you, even if you do not agree.
It is quite tricky to practice empathy. But basically, you simply listen and repeat what they say – this is how you acknowledge their feelings. Be careful though to listen without reprimanding or correcting. You just let them talk, let them rant or vent. There is no need yet for you to provide solutions to their small predicament. This is a challenge as parents tend to put on the policeman hat. Suspend your advice for later.
How do we show empathy? Listen attentively. Pay attention to what s/he is saying as well as what she doesn’t say. It is equally important to observe non-verbal cues. Even in this context, it is true that actions speak louder than words. Sometimes what they don’t say speak louder than what they do say.
Listening and really listening to our children and giving them our full attention already make them feel better, without even having to solve their problems. But as parents it is our role to put everything together AFTER our children have fully expressed how they feel. Because they are kids, they may not make perfect sense of what is happening to them. So as guardians it is our role to put the puzzle pieces together so our kids will understand why they feel what they feel.
N – NURTURE. The most basic role of every parent is to nurture the child in every area of their lives. This chapter covers the basics – feeding and teaching your child to eat right and exercise; teaching them how to communicate effectively, letting them play and be kids, exposing them to music and arts and showing them the world through traveling; teaching them basic time management – studying and taking breaks, enrolling them in extra-curricular activities and the list goes on.
As per nurturing the child’s emotional needs, Dr. Chang pointed out 3Ts: Time, Touch & Talk.
TIME – Spend time. Give time. Make time. Be with your kids. They say LOVE for kids is spelled as T-I-M-E. Show your love by giving them time. Be involved in their lives. Invest time in bonding with them.
TOUCH – Physical touch is very important in any relationship. “Appropriate hugging, kissing and touching are necessary for children to mature emotionally.” These gestures make our children feel wanted and loved. Regardless of our child’s age, it is important to “physicalize” our love for them.
TALK – Words build up and bring life. Take the time to talk to your children. Tell them stories of your childhood, tell them about your day, your dreams and plans. Talk to them. Share things with them. More than narrations, pray with them. “Bless your children through words. Convey to them that they are a blessing to you, that they bring a lot of joy to your life.”
Parents also need not forget to nurture the spiritual needs and life of their kids. By being a good example to them. What you do today, your children will become tomorrow. Introduce the Bible to them. The earlier you utilize the Bible as a source of God’s truth, the earlier we can start planting God in their lives.
Parents must also encourage prayer and worship. Singing is one of the ways we make God happy. Introducing this to your child is one way of letting them know that in their own little way, as young as they are they can already please the Lord. Finally, we can develop and deepen the spiritual lives of our children through doing acts of service such as serving in ministry with them or doing charity together to show them the value of sharing, or simply doing immersion activities. It is good to expose our children to the lives and situation of the disadvantaged in order for them to appreciate what they have.
T – TRAIN. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6” The biggest question of parents: How do we train a child? Dr. Chang points out 3 areas: Instruction, Correction and Modeling.
A. Instruction. “Instruction is an ongoing process of helping a child do what is right.” Parents, being the primary authority in the lives of children, must teach them how to behave, how to act, what to do, when to do what. Parents must also set boundaries – the negotiables and non-negotiables; what is accepted and unaccepted behavior. Reminders in instructing children: our instructions must be age-appropriate and clear – they must be given using words that our children, at their age, will understand so they can easily follow. Finally, parents must get children to develop good habits. Proper eating and study habits, proper hygiene; how they carry themselves, rituals before sleeping. Brushing teeth and praying. “Establishing routines and rituals when the children are young can make our lives simpler as they get older.”
B. Correction. “Correction is the means to change a child’s wrong or inappropriate attitude and behavior.” Correction or discipline need not always be in the form of punishment as there are several ways to correct a child’s misbehavior such as:
1. Ignoring wrong behavior and rewarding appropriate behaviour. I have personally tried this. When I ignore my daughter’s wrong behavior, I notice that she discontinues doing it. I was never a believer of giving in to what she wants just to appease her and stop the tantrums. So when she wails to get what she wants, I ignore her. I walk away and don’t look back. She quickly picked up that her misbehaviour has no effect on me and she should therefore stop doing it. In the same way, when I praise and reward her for behaving properly, the good behavior multiplies. Reward comes in the form of praises or tangible gifts or tokens.
2. Using consequences. Pre-determined consequences must be explained clearly to the child. What happens if they do this and that? There must be clear rules and consequences for misbehaviors. Time-outs or face the wall are common consequences.
3. Giving punishment. Although spanking is the first thing that comes to mind, I personally do not agree nor practice this. I do utilize taking away privileges, activities and food (sweets, especially). Dr. Chang though warns about using the same thing for reward and punishment. Let’s say you use desserts as a reward for good behavior, do not use taking it away as punishment. Because the child will be discouraged to do good deeds. They could be working for that reward only to know that it may also be taken away from them.
How do we effectively use correction? Know what will work best with your child. If you are to take away a privilege, make sure it is something that is important to him/her. Make sure also that the punishment fits the behavior. Discern what is a fair enough punishment for the misbehavior. Control your emotions. You will not be an effective disciplinarian if you are overwhelmed with anger. Be calm before dealing with an emotional child.
Most important point to remember when correcting your child is to reassure after punishment. Explaining why you had to correct their behavior and reassuring them of your love despite their misbehaviour let your children experience unconditional love.
C. Modeling. Whether we like it or not, our children copy what we do. My church’s Senior Pastor, Ptr. Peter Tan-Chi once said “Your children will become who you are today. Whether you like it or not, they don’t do what you say, they do what you do.” Question is: HOW do we become good examples to our kids?
1. Admit our mistakes. To model humility and forgiveness, we must admit when we are wrong. Even though we are the authority, and should most of the time be the RIGHT ones, we can still fall at times. We must be willing to admit our mistakes when we commit them. We also earn our children’s respect by modelling humility.
2. Impart our values by consistently living by them. It is easy to teach through words. But living them out is in truth more powerful and more successful in teaching the behavior to our kids. What you want them to learn, you must demonstrate and do. What you want them to become, you first be.
To be a parent is to accept your children as unique individuals with unique gifts from God. Our role is to provide them with the environment to realize the persons they are made to be, with the right guidance and wisdom from God.