Parenting Lesson 101: Behaviors to Avoid
As parents, we have all been in situations where we know we have the best intentions in our relationship with our children, but end up hurting their feelings with our actions. Some of our most well intentioned actions with our children can have a negative affect on them, and often we are left asking ourselves where we went wrong. Dr. John Gottman has laid out four specific behaviors which he calls the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" which we should try to avoid when caring for and guiding our children. We would like to shine a light on these behaviors in hopes that we can move towards a healthier, more peaceful relationship with our children.
Horseman #1: Criticism
Gottman makes the point that criticism, which we may try to use to motivate our children, can actually make them feel bad about themselves. Gottman sees that when children hear negative criticism from their parents, they begin to internalize the comments and believe these negative ideas about themselves. When a parent says, "Why can't you remember to make your bed?", the child hears "You're stupid", not "Please remember to make your bed." The best way to handle these situations is to use "I" statements instead of character judgments, such as "I would like you to make your bed please".
Horseman #2: Contempt
Contempt is just like criticism but it is derived from a place of superiority. Some examples of contemptuous actions would be name-calling, sneering, eye-rolling, sarcasm and mockery. Interestingly, studies have shown that children who experience contempt from their parents have more infectious diseases per year! When a parent says, "You selfish brat!" there is no way a child can feel respected. Instead, we should treat our children with the same respect we desire to receive.
Horseman #3: Defensiveness
All people can become defensive when they feel they need to protect themselves from a personal attack. In relationships with their children, parents may feel defensive when they realize they have done something wrong in a situation with their child or when the child points out their flaws. Parents who are defensive with their children will not admit to any wrong or fault of their own, but instead point the finger at their child. It is important for the parent to accept responsibility for any wrong they have done and listen to their child to understand their position in times of conflict. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, I lost my temper" will help the child feel respected instead of saying, "I wouldn't have lost my temper if you hadn't disobeyed me."
Horseman #4: Stonewalling
Stonewalling in the parent-child relationship is the action of leaving the conversation before both parent and child have resolved the conflict. Giving the cold shoulder or silent treatment would be an example of stonewalling. Parents may also stonewall by exiting the conversation without regarding the child's position such as, "We are done talking about this. I will not be changing my mind." According to Gottman, many times parents will stonewall their children in an attempt to get relief for the frustration and anger they feel in the situation. There are alternative ways to self-soothe which don't cause further conflict such as taking a break from the conversation and returning to it later.
We hope the explanation of these four behaviors to avoid in your relationship with your child can help you to build a more positive, peaceful bond between you and your child.
References: Eanes, Rebecca. "4 Parental Behaviors to Avoid." CreativeChild.com. Scooterbay Publishing. 24 August 2015. Web. 30 May 2016