Most of us wouldn’t dream of telling our children “you aren’t capable” or “don’t trust your feelings.” However, since children are sensitive, impressionable and profoundly influenced by their interactions with us, they sometimes hear hidden messages like these in our most well-meaning words and actions.
The majority of our underlying messages will undoubtedly be positive: “Look how patient mommy is when I accidentally spill milk; she must love me no matter what I do.”
Others, though equally well-intentioned, can be less confidence-building: “Mom can make so many things out of Playdoh. I can’t make those things, so I’ll just let her do it.”
Here are some of the most common undesired messages children pick up from us.
You Aren’t Capable
Fixing things for our children is easier for most of us than allowing them to struggle or falter. But whether we’re handing the baby a ball she’s rolled under the chair, or giving our fifth-grade son the answers to his math problems, the message we send is clear: “You can’t do this yourself.”
The reboot? Observe, wait, acknowledge the child’s struggles and feelings, and if those feelings escalate, provide the most minimal help possible. For example, move the chair a little so that the baby can retrieve the ball, or ask your son questions that help guide him through the process of computing the answers.
Don’t Trust Your Feelings
The instinct many of us have when our children stumble and cry, react fearfully to something that we know is safe, or just seem inexplicably out of sorts, is to reassure them by saying, “It’s okay. You’re alright. That was nothing. Shhhh.” Or even, “That’s enough,” or “Brush it off!”
Yet, in those moments our child does not feel okay. He hurts. He’s upset. And the powerful person he counts on to guide him — his mom — is telling him not to feel what he feels. This is confusing and invalidating.
A child’s tears or anger can make us very uncomfortable, but the healthiest message we can send is that feelings are just feelings. We don’t control them, and they are all acceptable and perfectly valid. To foster healthy emotional development and sense of self, we must try to take a deep breath, acknowledge our child’s truth, and allow feelings to run their course.
You Aren’t “Enough”
This one can be insidious. Children are sensitive to receiving this message whenever we urge (or even subtly nudge) their development forward. This sometimes begins when we “help” our infants sit up, stand or walk, rather than being perfectly content with what they are doing autonomously (which may just be lying around). We might believe from the beginning that our job is to push — just a little. The good news is that we can relax, because that is not our role in our child’s life.
One of the big challenges we face as parents is wholeheartedly accepting and enjoying where our child is right now. We might as well, because at the rate our children grow and evolve, they’ll be doing new things tomorrow — or maybe in a few minutes.
Photo Credits: Getty Images