Learning to Share – 4 Things to Think About: Part 2
Posted on August 2, 2018
My last post focused on two important topics that we rarely share with our children—money and time. Our conditioning around these subjects is poor at best. I hope you thought about the negative impact that the lack of discussion on these topics can have on your kids. I also hope that your own perspective on talks about money and time has shifted.
Here are two more important themes that every parent needs to discuss:
- EMOTIONAL HONESTY: Emotional Intelligence, or EI, is making waves in the parenting industry. We are living in a society where our basic living needs are being met better than for any previous generation. We no longer hunt for food, use weapons to protect our family from invaders, or live in difficult conditions in a jungle. So where do we turn the spotlight? Yes, inward. With basic survival no longer a concern, we are free to explore our inner world. What underscores this fact is that self-help is now a $9.9 billion industry, and emotions are taking center stage.
With science-supported data, we are encouraging our kids to express their emotions and learning to validate those feelings. In my award-winning book, The Perfect Parent, I’ve simplified Dr. Daniel Goleman’s EI steps with an easy tool that I call Dealing with the Feeling. This tool has been received with rave reviews. Nevertheless, there is one problem: Our generation was not raised to express emotions. So while we encourage our kids to express their emotions, we are hardly being emotionally intelligent ourselves.
We all know that kids learn best by example. They will follow what we actually do, not our advice. Unless an expression of emotions is second nature to us, it will not be second nature to our kids. How often do we say when we are upset, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.” Or “I’m not mad at you. It’s something else.” Or “You’re a kid. You won’t understand.” Or simply—as our parents said—“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Kids know when we are upset. They can sense it in our behavior, our tone of voice, our body language, and facial expressions. So what I’m advocating is emotional honesty. Be honest about what you are feeling. Name the feeling, though remember to use discretion if you feel the cause of your emotions is not child-appropriate. I remember when my kids were younger, my 12-year-old son kept pestering me to “tell the truth” when I looked upset. My responses that “I’m not mad” and “why do you think I’m mad” were not working for him. Suddenly, my 15-year-old daughter chimed in, “Go ahead, Mom. Spill your feelings. It will help you feel better. You always tell us that.”
She was right. I needed to practice what I preached. So I told them that I was upset at their dad. Naturally, they asked, “Why?” “Well,” I responded, “he told someone something that I had asked him to keep private.” Of course, they wanted to know what he said and to whom. At this point, my discretion kicked in, and I said that the details were not important. I simply felt that he had betrayed my trust.
My daughter immediately jumped in: “Well, talk to him about it. He might have a reason.” Truly I had been so buried with negative emotions of betrayal that I had not even considered that. “You always say that we should always give the other person a chance to explain their side,” my daughter went on. “That is what communication is about,” added my son. My kids clearly reflected what I had advocated to them. I was grateful for their wisdom, insight, and timing. It was one of the best lessons I ever learned from them. And it made me feel much better. When my husband got home from work, we had a civil discussion about the issue.
We cannot and should not underestimate our children. If we teach them emotional honesty by example, it will become a habit for them!
- DISCLOSURES OF WEAKNESS: In this era of positive reinforcement, we are always reminding our kids how good they are at something and appreciating their strengths. When it comes to their weaknesses, however, we may dance around those so we don’t hurt their feelings, or we are unkindly harsh. On the one hand, we might say, “What do you think about tutoring for math, honey.” On the other, we might lash out with, “You got a C in math again? That’s it! You’re starting with a tutor next week.”
As parents, it is important for us to point out our children’s weaknesses in a neutral matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental way. You could say to your sophomore in high school, “You have a C in math again. Is it not your strong subject or are you not interested?” Parents must have the strength to point out an area of growth by first seeing it “as it is.” When we do this, we open up the door to effective communication and come up with new strategies to tackle the issue. After all, there is no way we can be all be good at everything. The first step should be finding out if your child is okay with the C, for example, and is simply not interested. If so, be okay with it. Let him or her know that that they should put in enough effort to at least pass the class. If they expect to go to a high-achieving college, they should understand that this might affect their chances.
Your job is to make them aware of the facts. If they say that they actually want to do better, then ask how they plan to do that. If they want a tutor, offer your support. If they say they do not know what to do, you could suggest a tutor. The key is to address the weakness, not hide it.
Take opportunities like these to let your kids know what your own weaknesses are—which ones you have let go of and which you are striving to improve. Disclosing your personal weaknesses is the best way to guide your children through theirs. It will help them bypass the destructive inner dialogue that says, “I’m a failure,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t care.” Such self-deprecating statements add to a lack of self-confidence, self-esteem, self-respect, and self-love —which will eventually affect other areas of their lives. An open, honest disclosure of weakness will help children see that this is part of human nature. We need to either accept our weaknesses as they are—without hiding them and without ignoring them—or put into place constructive steps to strengthen them.
There is no magic bullet to raising children. The only formula to raising kids who are well rounded is open and effective communication, not just about sex, drugs, boyfriends, and girlfriends but also about rarely discussed topics like money, time, emotional honesty, and weaknesses. These subjects should be priorities on every parents’ discussion list. However, instilling healthy habits and attitudes on these topics will only happen if you step out of your own comfort zone and commit to them yourself.
In the words of Stephen Covey, “What you do has a far greater impact than what you say.”