My 16 year old son asked me this week whether he should go to his track practice after school because his throat hurt. I immediately thought to myself that he was just trying to get out of practice and he should push himself to go. I thought that he wasn't being tough or competitive enough if he didn't go to practice. I wanted to say, "Just go to practice!" But then I asked myself what message did I want to send him. Do I want him to ask me whenever he had a difficult decision to make? Did I want him to think I didn't have confidence in his judgement?
I was very glad that I thought before I answered (I don't always do that!). I ended up saying that it was up to him and that I think he could go with a sore throat but he would have to make the decision about what he wanted to do. In the end he decided to go to practice. I know that if I really pushed him to go he might have been a little resentful and angry about it. Instead, he learned that I trusted him to make decisions about himself and that he didn't have to fight against anyone - he could think independently about what he was going to do.
Everyday our children ask our advice and interact with us and it gives us an opportunity to teach them something. I'm not saying that you can never give your children advice. But at some point, they aren't going to be able to ask us for our advice. We want our children to have confidence in themselves. We want them to individuate, or develop their own sense of self. We want them to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. The best thing a parent can do is think before answering a child, "What do I want him to learn?"
I am quoted in an article in the 2016 Central Jersey Family Living. It's titled, "Making Time to Bond" and it outlines how mother-son and father-daughter time is important. You may not have seen it because it's at the back of the magazine but if you have it, take a look. The article describes how it's easier to spend time with the same sex child - fathers take their sons to ballgames and mothers take their daughters for manicures. This may be true in some cases. What it didn't go into was that each child and parent relationship is so unique that it's difficult to generalize. Some mothers are more connected to their sons and find it easier to spend time with them while some dads are more connected to their daughters. It's so dependent upon the personality of the child and parent that it's better to discuss how important it is to spend focused time with your child.
The child can feel so special by a parent doing something that the child really enjoys. It really does a lot for a child's self-esteem if the parent regularly listens to the child and spends quality time doing what the child likes to do. This doesn't have to be every day - once a week is enough. But taking an hour or two once a week gives the child a gift that will last a lifetime.
What do you do with your child to make them feel special?
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.