R. Brooks: The Power of Parenting
patient recalled that his father missed all but a couple of his birthdays between the ages of 5 and 12. “I know he had to travel for his business, but he knew when my birthday was. I think he could have scheduled his business trips to be there for my birthday.” Tears came to his eyes as he added, “You certainly don’t feel loved when your father misses your birthday. And to make matters worse, most of the time he forgot to call.”
Time alone with each child does not preclude family activities that also create a sense of belonging and love. Sharing evening meals and holidays, playing games, attending a community event as a family, or taking a walk together are all opportunities to convey love and help children feel special in the eyes and hearts of their parents.
5. Accepting Our Children for Who They Are and Helping Them to Establish Realistic Expectations and Goals. One of the most difficult but challenging parenting tasks is to accept our children for who they are and not what we want them to be. Before children are born parents have expectations for them that may be unrealistic given the unique temperament of each child. Chess and Thomas (1987), two of the pioneers in measuring temperamental differences in newborns, observed that some youngsters enter the world with so-called easy temperaments, others with cautious or shy temperaments, while still others with “difficult” temperaments.
When parents lack knowledge about these inborn temperaments, a powerful determinant of personality and behavior according to Harris (1998), they may say or do things that compromise satisfying relationships and interfere with the emergence of a resilient mindset. This dynamic certainly occurred in Mr. and Mrs. Carter’s initial approach to their daughter Sally’s shy demeanor. Basically, they exhorted her to make friends, feeling that her cautious, reserved nature could easily be overcome. They did not appreciate how desperately Sally wished to be more outgoing and have more friends, but it was difficult to do so given her temperament. It was only when her parents demonstrated empathy and communicated their wish to help, that Sally felt accepted.
Another example concerned ten-year-old Carl. He dawdled in the morning, often missing the school bus. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, found themselves obligated to drive him to school. A neighbor suggested they not drive Carl to school, that by doing so they were just “reinforcing his lateness.” They took this neighbor’s advice and told Carl if he was not ready when the school bus arrived, they would not drive him and he would miss school. Carl missed school, which upset him. However, much to the dismay of his parents, his upset did not prepare him to be ready for school the next day. They were confused about what to do next and became increasingly angry with their son for his irresponsibility. As a further motivation to be ready on time, they decided to restrict many of his pleasurable activities if he were late. Unfortunately, that failed to bring about the desired results.
Carl’s parents were unaware that his difficulty with lateness was not because he was irresponsible, but rather because he moved at a slow pace and was distractible, frequently becoming drawn into other activities. Instead of yelling and punishing, it would have been more effective to accept that this is their son’s style and to engage him in a discussion of what he thinks would help to get ready on time. As we shall see under the eighth guidepost discussed below, when given the opportunity even young children are capable of offering sound solutions to problems they encounter.
In addition, collaborating with Carl’s school to have a motivating “job” or responsibility waiting for him might have provided a positive incentive to assist him to consider ways to be ready on time even with his slower temperament. I frequently use such a strategy. A child with whom I worked who was tardy on a regular basis was