Children look up to their parents. How could they not?
When the power goes out, Kids are often at a loss of what to do. Parents, on the other hand, manage to get flashlights and make sandwiches for dinner...
Parents make boo-boos feel better with just a kiss.
Parents perform the equivalent of ‘miracles’ in kid’s eyes each day. Kids are often so enamored with how amazing parents are, they spend a lot of time trying to be just like their ‘idols’.
And when wee ones give it all their might but can’t do it like their parent, kids are often consumed with frustration.
You’ve seen the child tantrum when she can’t unscrew the top of the water bottle by herself or burst into tears when he missed the bus again. And even when they blame everyone but themselves for their short-comings, much of their emotion has this frustration in the mix. When they feel frustrated for failing at being like the people they most admire, it’s like fuel that intensifies the associated emotions of disappointment, anger, overwhelm and hurt.
The adult version of themselves is inside their young form. Despite our frustration at their frustration, we parents will get more fruit for our labor when our kids feel supported by us for their lofty goals.
Children tend to do what psychologists refer to as ‘internalize’ their parents. Like mirrors, parents have a way of showing children how they’re progressing based on the types of support they give. When children feel supported by parents for the child’s version of being like Mom and Dad (i.e. capable, independent, powerful… even ‘miraculous’), children are less likely to feel that overwhelming level of frustration related to how much farther they still need to go.
Children need their parent’s support to hang in there and keep at it. Growing up is a process with mini-achievements along the way.
Here are the five phrases to support your child:
“I believe in you”
Kids need it said clearly and repeatedly. For instance, if Mom says “no need to get fussy, honey, I’ll open the bottle”, his frustration may not be released because his urge to be like Mom (i.e. capable, independent, powerful) is still unfulfilled. However, if Mom says ‘I believe in you, but that bottle seems tight huh?’, then it’s more likely his frustration may be released because the person he’s trying to be like has recognized his potential to be like her.
“I appreciate your efforts”
When children are appreciated for their efforts, they are more likely to feel their power. And who do they think of as powerful? The ones they want to be most like… their parents. For example, when Dad says “you can’t carry my briefcase, buddy… it’s got all my work papers in it’, his son may be left feeling incapable (and frustrated… possibly fueled to prove Dad wrong by insisting he can carry it). However, if Dad instead said “I appreciate you trying to carry my briefcase, buddy, but it would really help if you’d help untie my shoes instead”, his son is more likely to feel that his capabilities are seen and welcomed.
“We have a lot of the same ideas”
Children are idea-machines. One way to support children is to declare when you share the same ideas. For example, if your child has an idea and there’s any part of that idea that is similar to yours, be sure to point that out. For example, if her 9 year-old daughter says “I want to redecorate my room”, her daughter’s frustration about the adult-oriented details involved with that (and why it’s likely to not be an immediate yes) may be at least somewhat reduced when her Mom says “we have a lot of the same ideas, so when do you think is a good time to discuss it given we’re just about to walk into soccer practice?”
“I made a mistake, so I’m going to try better next time”
Given that children prefer to be like their parents, we can support them by not only pointing out our mistakes, but that what comes with power is the responsibility to try to do better. And given that as parents, we DO have the power to do better, children feel supported when we take responsibility for that. For instance, if a father addressed a work email at the last minute, contributing to his daughter arriving late to school (even if she too contributed to her tardiness), he might say “I’m going to try better with my morning choices tomorrow. I made a mistake addressing that email which added to our tardiness in getting you to school.”
“Crying is just the right thing to do.”
Crying is a healthy part of maneuvering the growing pains of being young. Parents are supportive by helping their children learn to accept vulnerability as a part of being strong and capable. For example, when you see your child about to cry, or during crying or after a good cry, be sure to point out with that “Crying is just the right thing to do”. With these 5 phrases to support your child, you’re helping him/her feel their progress in their personal goal to grow-up. Whether or not you’re child may admit that he/she is trying to be like you, all children deserve to be supported for their growing up process without being overburdened by too much frustration along the way. While we parents are naturally a source of frustration, we are also one of the most powerful sources of support.
Dr. Julie Hartman is a licensed clinical psychologist and Founder of the Mindful Resource Center (MRC): www.mindfulresourcecenter.com. She is a professional writer and speaker as well as leading and supporting programs that enhance brains and communities on topics such as Parenting Today, Holding Stillness for Each Other™, Quieting the Stressed-out Mind and Raising Digitally-wise Kids.
(c) June 2013 Julie Hartman, PhD. All rights reserved.