Instead of shaming him for having a different feeling than her, she says, “You really have your heart set on what you found at the garage sale. I get it. I’m not crazy about the idea of bringing more stuff into this house, but I did promise you that you could spend some of your birthday money when you found something you really wanted.” The mom reluctantly gives her blessing and he jumps on his bike and peddles off. When he returns, he proudly hands her a tattered and faded record album (her favorite band). The mom is so shocked and touched at the gift that she tears up and embraces him. She is suddenly very grateful she didn’t “shame her child into submission.” She validates his kind and thoughtful heart and tells him, “I love who you are.”
Another important difference between helping and enabling involves a parent’s handling of a child’s experience of disappointment. A parent desperately wants a child to succeed, not only because it’s important to the child’s future, but also because it may enhance a child’s self-esteem. Yet, it is easy to get caught up in a child’s successes.
For example, say a child is competing in her school’s science fair. She asks her parent for help deciding on a project idea. The parent is excited for the child and naturally wants the child to succeed. She is caught up in the moment and subtly and unintentionally takes over. The child eventually loses interest because the parent is ignoring her ideas. The child follows the parent’s instructions but takes a back seat with the project. Although the child wins first place, she feels little satisfaction and compensates by boasting to her friends just as her mom is bragging to her’s.
A better approach may be to value the effort the child puts forth rather than the outcome. Encouraging and empowering the child may be the best way to help. Partnering with the child when she asks for assistance is also important. “I can center the title, but you can place and glue the letters.” Starting the child off in a small way may be helpful but encourage her to take over and finish. Validating the child’s hard work and ideas is vital.
If the child is disappointed with the outcome, a parent has the opportunity to help by empathizing. “You are so disappointed. I get it. You thought you were going to be recognized. It’s disappointing, but you put forth a lot of effort. I am so proud of you. You’re a hard worker. I love that about you.” These statements honor how the child feels and validate who the child is.
If a parent is empathizing correctly, he or she is not rejecting how the child feels. Statements that negate a child’s emotional state are not always helpful, for example: “don’t be disappointed,” “don’t worry,” or “don’t be mad.” First, honor the child’s feelings, then correct, reassure, or problem-solve.
For example, “It is a big worry. I get it. I’ll be here for you if that worry happens. I’ll try and help. You won’t be alone with it.”
“You are mad. I would be too, but you cannot throw your backpack. Please go pick it up.”
“You are disappointed. You have every right to be. But, keep at it. You’ll get it.”
As a parent, the goal is to raise a child who is accountable, hardworking, and emotionally intelligent. A child’s achievements have little correlation with these characteristics. It’s not what happens to a child, it’s how a parent helps the child through it. Empathize, but uphold expectations. Value character over achievement and attempt and to keep the parental ego in check.
The acts of shaming and enabling children to make them understand the difference between right and wrong will only make them feel resentful towards you. Instead of resorting to shaming and enabling, try to understand why your child is behaving a certain way, and then work on solving the problem. When your child sees that you trust them, and respect them, they will understand what you are saying in a much better manner.