By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
The following list will explore the top 10 things parents worry about, and why it’s okay to let go of those fears.
Please bear in mind that the following principles represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill them perfectly. Therefore, have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.
1. Don’t fear you’re spoiling a child by picking him up too much when he asks. He needs it. Try to do it when you can, provided you’re not exhausted. If you are too tired or if your hands are full, distract the child with a treat or activity and try to get more help from your partner, family members or friends. Don’t fear that he will never learn to walk on his own. The sense of security he gets from being picked up will give him the confidence needed to walk on his own later.
2. Don’t fear that acts of kindness toward a child will led him to be selfish and greedy, because the opposite is true. Endless acts of kindness fills a child up to overflowing, and in the future, this will spill out towards his family members and others. The example you set with him will inspire him to be generous. Children are born basically empty, and they need to be filled up by receiving acts of kindness first to become givers as adults. Don’t force him to become a giver too early. Be kind to him, and it will come in good time.
3. Don’t fear that a pleasant happy childhood will lead children to be coddled and unprepared for the hard knocks of life. Many parents think that experiencing adversity and failure now is good for character development, but the opposite is often true. Adversity during development wears the child down and creates emotional disorders. A pleasant, happy childhood is the best preparation for future adversities, as it creates a foundation of emotional strength with which your child can weather possible crises in the future. Therefore, never fear that you are protecting children too much. They need it.
4. Don’t fear that your child is too dependent. Letting him depend on you when he’s young will make him more independent when he’s older. Children need strong parental involvement. However, there’s a fine line to be drawn here. Don’t confuse over-controlling your child with helping him. A child needs healthy autonomy but strong support when necessary. The rule is to let him have more independence when he wants it and support him when he is unsure of himself, is in danger or is experiencing a lack of self-confidence.
5. Don’t fear your child will be spoiled. That fear assumes that the child will take advantage of your kindness and choose to be selfish and develop poor character traits. Children are busy with the important business of creating their very selves, and a bit of self-centeredness is healthy and normal for them. They never maliciously try to be selfish. We have to trust that our children will have good intentions and be good-hearted, which frees us up to be boundlessly generous with them. Most of the time, generosity only benefits children. For a detailed discussion of the issue, click here.
6. Don’t fear that disrespectful talk will lead to worse disrespect and therefore needs to be responded to with harshness and punishment (see my report on punishment). Being disrespectful hurts a child more than it hurts you, since he is utterly dependent on his parents and terrified by conflict. It is only deep anguish that drives a child to be disrespectful, and therefore the only solution is to find out what’s bothering him and to fix it. Harshness, insult and punishment do not address the problem. Instead you may express your feelings and values firmly but respectfully. For example, you might say “In our house we don’t speak that way!”; “It makes me furious when you speak to me that way”; or “If you’re upset, I expect you to communicate to me what’s bothering you with respect!” When a child is acting disrespectfully, he is probably hurting very much inside, and it is precisely then that he needs our warmth and support. Paradoxically, overlooking the behavior and kindly and generously addressing the child’s needs can greatly increase his respect for you. For further discussion of this topic, click here.
7. Don't fear that people will see your children being exuberant in public, look down their noses at you and think, “What horrible, spoiled misbehaving kids. What kind of parents are they?” This fear causes us to want to respond to our children with harshness, punishment and impatience. Ironically when people see you keeping your cool and responding to your children with patience and respect, it increases their respect for you. They think, “Wow that parent is in control of himself. He is so wise and deliberate.” Remember, instead of saying, “Don't do that,” or “Stop running around,” distract children with a meaningful activities such as, “Who can get me a bag full of six oranges?” and “Why don't you to play Simon Says.” The most important thing is to fulfill the children's emotional needs by being kind, gentle and patient. Your children's needs are more important than what strangers think.
8. Don't fear that if your child isn't motivated to read that much on his own, he won't end up being educated. The joy of reading needs to be introduced to children gradually and gently. Never pressure or force a child to read. It creates a negative association between the unpleasantness of the pressure and the reading itself, which can make him learn to hate and avoid reading. Rather, start off by reading him stories as much as you can, even if you think he should be reading by himself, and don't worry if he's not reading yet. Reading to him sets a tremendous example, and he can pick up words by looking over your shoulder. Little by little, encourage him to read by picking amazing books with lots of pictures that will capture his heart. Do not be afraid to buy comic books or things that appear below his level. They are wonderful. The main thing is to create a positive association with reading. We do this by making it a pleasant experience for him. That's the most important thing. For a deeper discussion of this topic, click here.
9. Don't fear that if a child doesn't want to share his favorite toy that he will learn to be selfish and impolite. The rule is that if, at the current moment, the child is extremely engaged in playing with a particular toy, do not ask him to share it. The love for his toy at that moment is too great to ask him to give it up. Say, “He'll share when he's ready.” However, if he is not playing with the toy at the moment but just gets jealous when he sees another child wants it, that is an opportunity to teach about sharing. Explain to him that he wasn't playing with it and he needs to let someone else have a turn. You can try distracting him with an alternate toy or activity. It goes without saying that if a child just got a brand-new toy, never ask him to share it right away. Let him enjoy the honeymoon stage for a while. Remember to be generous with your children and give them the toys that they need. This creates a fantastic bond with the parents. Reliably fulfilling your child's needs will make him much more generous toward others in the future.
10. Don't fear that if your child is a little overweight that he's heading toward a life of obesity and health problems, which means you should impose a very strict diet, depriving him of sweets and snacks completely. This can lead him to become obsessed with “forbidden foods,” eat too much of them later in life and develop poor eating habits. Even an overweight child should be allowed a small to moderate amount of sweets. He needs a certain amount of this kind of pleasure. You can provide sugar-free, fat-free, organic items and offer them right before teeth brushing time. Instead of cutting out sweets, reduce high calorie meals and of course, give diet drinks instead of sugary juices and sodas. When children have sweets regularly, they get used to them and begin to think that it's not such a big deal, and this makes it easier for them to choose healthy foods. But depriving them of sweets makes them obsessed with them and makes them hate healthy snacks. Everything in moderation.
So the top 10 things that parents worry about it need not be worrisome at all! With gentleness, patience, tolerance, kindness and sweetness, your children can grow up healthy, happy and equipped for a successful future.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my informative blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my interesting free reports. If you’re experiencing challenges with your child and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!