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Children give their perspective on how parents can best help them

How do parents choose the rules by which they raise their kids? Some follow the examples set by their own parents. Others don’t like the way their parents raised them and treat their children as differently as possible. Many read books, consult pediatricians and parenting experts, or take classes.

If these approaches have left you unsatisfied, try asking a kid. Children and adolescents have more insight into what is fair and helpful to them than we give them credit. The following parenting suggestions come directly from children ages 4-18 who have actively sought to improve their relationship with their parents:

Set limits with me

Help me maintain a high standard of behavior. Don’t let me get away with any action that may jeopardize my future if I make it a habit (lying, stealing, aggression, threatening, tantrums to get my way, truancy, school work refusal, running away, talking back, defiance, and non-compliance). Take a strong stand against these behaviors and give me appropriate consequences for them if I test the limits. I expect you to use your authority as the parent. If you don’t, I won’t take you seriously. Unfortunately, I can never again admit this to you. I have to save face, protest, and pretend to be mad, but I will be so much happier and appreciate you more when I’m older.

Any attention is better than none.

Pay attention to me

I need your attention unconditionally–sorry, can’t help it. I need you to show interest in me. I will try to do things that are pleasing to you to get your attention. If that doesn’t work, I won’t hesitate to be annoying, obnoxious, provocative, unlawful, destructive, sick, depressed, or self-destructive. I will get your attention one way or another.

Don’t try to control me

I’m willing to follow rules and work for my prizes and privileges, but if you try to force me to do something or be a certain way, it will backfire on you. I recommend against bribery. Don’t try to give me something for nothing, or I will resent it. If you badly want me to do something (go to college, stay drug-free, attend church), tell me how important it is to you, then listen to my perspective. If we hear each other, maybe we can reach a compromise. Even though I’m a kid, you still have to negotiate certain things with me.

3 reasons why it’s a bad idea to yell at me

This philosophy just doesn’t cut it anymore.

  1. I feel scared when you yell.
  2. I’m paying more attention to the volume of your voice than to the lesson that you’re trying to teach me, so I’m feeling bad and not really learning.
  3. If you do it often, I might start yelling, too.

Keep me out of your business

Even if we act interested in our parents’ lives, trust us, we’re not.

I expect you to fill me in on family matters that directly concern me and that are appropriate for me to know about. However, if I am to focus on being a kid, I can’t get wrapped up in adult matters. That includes finances, career difficulties, and especially your marriage. If I get nosy, tell me nicely that it’s not my concern.

Let me know when I’m doing something right

I don’t automatically know how to act. You may regularly give me instructions, but I never really know if I have performed to your liking unless you tell me–and the sooner, the better. Constructive feedback and praise from time to time make a huge difference, and if you give them to me, I will feel competent and won’t have to second-guess myself or seek others’ approval.

Expect great things from me

“Hey, how about a little encouragement? I’m a lot more capable than I’m coming across right now.”

If you don’t, how will I? Teach me to believe that if I keep striving for my goals, I will be successful. Inspire me with examples of people who repeatedly failed but with perseverance became hugely successful (Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey). Praise my efforts and don’t ever let me give up on my dreams.

by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL

jsackett@usc.edu

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