#1: Don’t criticize. It’s hard. Most of us who are old enough to have adult children were raised with plenty of it. It’s our default modus operandi.
Here’s the motivation to make an effort to break the habit:
–Think of times when you were able to shift a less than stellar behavior; what caused the shift? a caring friend? AA? a book? a class? a good teacher? Mostly, if not 100%, it wasn’t from even accurate criticism. Our parents and less exemplary teachers’ habits of attack are not the treasured traditions we should feel compelled to follow.
And here’s some suggestions on how to break the habit:
–I’ve got a friend who writes down every critical thought that comes to mind and then burns it.
–When I first started practicing this when my children were young, a wise parent educator told us to cry when we wanted to yell at our children. It’s a good idea for several reasons. Our crying doesn’t undermine our children’s self-esteem (as long as we’re careful to let them know it has nothing to do with them) and it unloads the actual feelings that pull us to attack.
–call a friend who will not confuse your critical feelings with the defect of the young people and will just listen.
I’m calling myself an expert here as three of my four adult children chose to live very close to me and their father with their families and the fourth WISHES she did. There may have been a few other factors but I am convinced this one is the deal breaker.
The short answer is to ensure that every child’s needs are filled. And THAT means supporting the families they’re nurtured in. Here’s why. There is nothing wrong with anyone’s brain. Our brains are a result of millions of years of evolution. No one is hardwired to “need” drugs, alcohol [or psychiatric meds for that matter; that’s another article]. What human children need is physical closeness at birth and on, good food, relaxed and loving families and good education. Its lack pulls people toward chemical fixes. If we do the following we’ll come a long way towards ending the endless, fruitless war on drugs.
- Make sure every family has a minimum income that can sustain a life of dignity. People have written about this for centuries [Abu Bakr in the years shortly after Mohammed’s life, instituted a minimum income to all families under his reign]. Several countries are taking stabs at it right now. There’s plenty of substantiating evidence connecting poverty to bad outcomes for children.
- Make sure every child has access to a great school. Finland is a good model of a country whose priority in education is equity; the U.S. is not. The public schools in NYC, one of the richest cities on earth, has a school system that middle class families don’t use. A huge outpouring of resource is needed to fix that problem but probably not as much as currently required to support, imprison, and heal the adults who grow up without that strong education.
We’ve easily got the resource. A small portion of our military spending [https://ourworldindata.org/military-spending/] or a slight adjustment to the unequal distribution of wealth could provide it. Of course ending racism and the unholy devotion to accumulating wealth our economic system encourages might be a prerequisite. This is not a complex problem; it just requires some human solutions.
which is that there is no bad or at least meaningless behavior. Every annoying, uncooperative, rebellious, mean thing a child does is done for a purpose. Nothing a child does deserves our blame. And we parents are not to blame either for our confusion, exhaustion and exasperation when we have to handle the behavior.
I think there are two principles at work. One is the right of a child to dislike what we want them to do.
I remember expecting my children to like my rules. Understandable considering. But wrong. Not only do they have the right to not like them, [second principle coming up] they have the right to SHOW that they don’t like them. That’s the part I regret the most: not allowing my children to show their feelings. It doesn’t mean we need to change the rule or limit if it’s reasonable [as a matter of fact, it’s usually important NOT to change when the child has feelings], it only requires us to listen respectfully.
Now listening effectively means different things for different children at different ages. For small children, it’s to allow and accompany them as they tantrum or cry. For some children, it means preventing them from hurting stuff, you, or themselves. Whatever is required, it means not blaming them. And not distracting them. Both methods prevent young people from unloading the disappointment, fear, rage the limit brought up.
And furthermore, it’s so much easier not to have to force children to feel different from the way they feel. An impossible task anyway. Give it a try if you haven’t already.