During the school year our children get constantly evaluated and appraised in grades, successes, being (or not being) invited to parties; and at the end of the year, in a report card as well for all their assignments, homework essays and of course tests during that year.
This is a good opportunity to give ourselves, as parents, a report card, a certificate in which we notice whether we are satisfied with our parenting style, whether it matches our parental expectations, and our children’s expectations of us; What do we wish to preserve, and should we improve.
Parents’ Report Card
Written in collaboration with Yael Sharon
|Know your child||Not so much||Fairly well||Very good|
|Do you know your child’s hobbies?|
|Do you know what motivates your child?|
|Do you know your child’s strengths?|
|Do you know your child’s values?|
|Communication skills||Not so much||Fairly well||Very good|
|Do you conduct respectful and assertive dialogues?|
|Do you frequently talk to your child?|
|Do you respect your child’s views?|
|Do you respect your child’s feelings?|
|Independence||Not so much||Fairly well||Very good|
|Do what degree do you allow your child to be independent?|
|Do you let your child participate in household chores?|
|Self-control||Not so much||Fairly well||Very good|
|Are you a role model for self-control?|
|Do you help your child postpone gratification?|
|Acknowledgment||Not so much||Fairly well||Very good|
|How much do you respect your child’s abilities and inabilities?|
|How much you accept your child as a person in and of themselves and not as an extension of yourself?|
Parents’ Vision: Write down the words of appreciation your child would say at their, characterizing your parenting style. What would you like them to say about you:
My children’s hobbies
Our children’s hobbies are not always interesting to us. Occasionally we are lucky, and our child shows interest in sports, just like their father, or become nature enthusiasts like their mother. But in other cases, your child’s hobby may be too technological for us, or alternatively seems dull and stupid. For example, they may collect cartoon cards or play Angry Birds; or they may be fans of Justin Bieber or Christina Aguilera. On the one hand, your child’s hobby may serve as their own private world, a kind of closed club for them and their peers, in a good sense. But being clueless about their hobbies prevents you from understanding what does your child get from this area of interest or pastime, what need does this hobby tend to? When does it cross a line and takes up all your child’s resources at the expense of other interests in an unbalanced way? When, despite the, being intensively caught up in it, it is beneficial to support their hobby because it reinforces your child’s abilities and capabilities (for example, it enables them to have a positive social interaction they lack at school).
What motivates my child?
Do you know what motivates your child? What drives them to succeed or change?
Richard Lavoie lists six different ways to motivate children:
- Praise – some children are motivated by praise more than anything else. It is important that verbal reinforcement be compatible with the child’s and age expectations.
- Authority – some children need to be reinforced in class and at home by providing them with a way to exert authority correctly. For example: important roles and responsibility for something.
- Mission – some children are motivated by a desire to fulfill specific and measurable tasks. Such children should be given daily, weekly or monthly tasks.
- Rewards – some children are motivated by a desire to receive gifts, prizes and rewards. The prize should match the child’s age and stage, and it is also important to give interpersonal and not just material prizes (for example, a trip with a parent, a bonfire outdoors with friends, etc.).
- Personal closeness – for some children the very proximity to an adult, through personal conversation, motivates them.
- Prestige – for some children prestige is very important. Being valued and feeling important motivates them to succeed.
(Recommended book: The Motivation Breakthrough – Richard Lavoie)
My Child’s Strengths
We all have one domain in which we are especially good. The earlier we discover that domain and reinforce our capabilities in it, the stronger will our self-image be. It is therefore important to identify your child’s strengths, their tendencies (and not the ones you would like them to have), reinforce them and teach them to rely on them (recommended book – Seeds of Self Esteem, Robert Brooks).
We often confuse our values with what we would like to do “when we grow up”. A value is what really matters to us, without the impact of society or our environment. It is not something that can be gained, but it is the path in which we want to walk without aiming for anything. Examining our parenting values will help find the right for us to educate our children. The values we believe in are our compass, guiding us and our children on the right path for us. When our values as parents are clear to us, they are also clear to our children. They might not embrace all our values and follow the path we draw for them, but there is certainly a good chance that they will embrace at least some of our values.
It is important that you serve as role model. A parent who speaks of the value of health as an important value but smokes and does not engage in any physical activity is an example for thinking about values but not living according to these values.
I recommend that you sit together with your children and think about their values, whether they follow their values, and even write down each day one thing they did that’s coherent with a value they believe in, such as sharing, friendship, health, etc. Studies show that happy people, whose lives are meaningful, are people whose values are interwoven in their daily lives.
Respectful communication is about with our ability to set boundaries clearly and properly, to clarify ourselves and direct our child without shouting or humiliating and at the same time not to relinquish boundaries and house rules.
Respectful communication gives room for your child’s feelings without judgment. Judgmental communication belittles your child and ruins the child parent relationship. Your children don’t have to follow your path; of course, there is a certain way and guidelines you wish them to follow, but at the same time each child is different, and you must respect their individual way.
Frequency of communication
The technological means at our disposal, together with the demands of today’s careers, has it so that a large portion of family communication is done through texting and chatting. “Quality time” is a good and beautiful concept, but there is a critical mass of face-to-face interpersonal communication, without which your parental ability to truly be there simply deteriorates.
Listen to your child’s opinions
Our children have a range of opinions, desires and preferences. On the one hand, it is of course important that we recognize their opinions even if they are contrary to ours. On the other hand, it is important to remember that a family is not a democracy, our own views have – and should have – more significance, at least in some cases. Although there are many issues in which you should allow your child to have their own opinions and act upon them, it is important to remember that as children, their judgment is not yet mature enough. You must find the fine balance between cases in which you let your child act as they see fit, despite the losses that may be inherent in your opinion, and the cases in which your child may not act upon their worldview, when it is unacceptable to you.
In such cases, it is important to set clear boundaries out of respect – to explain your stance, not to mock or belittle your child’s opinion- and yet, to set a clear boundaries. A certain friend may not be invited again (since last time he hit your little brother or broke something). They may not watch some television shows because they are inappropriate for their age.
Sometimes it is very easy for us to relate to our child’s feelings. But sometimes their emotional reactions cause us distress, anger or rejection. In such cases it is more difficult to provide them with emotional validation – that is, to reflect their feelings for them out of respect, and to help them understand how the situation evoked these emotions.
For example, when your child is angry at a friend, it is easier for you to say: “I understand, it’s very upsetting when you don’t get invited”. But when they are angry at you, it may be hard for you to say something similar (you are angry because I didn’t let you do this), and you often get carried away into struggle – what are you angry about?! You have nothing to be angry about! Did you think I’ll let you do that? You should thank me for keeping you safe and not letting you do something so dangerous.
When our children react differently from us, we may also find it hard to accept. for example: when they cry or get hurt easily instead of standing up for themselves, as we would like them to do; when they get angry and throw a fit rather than understand the situation maturely; when they are not sad enough in a situation that “calls for it” (like when we’re leaving for a week), and so on. In all of these cases, we may be tempted to criticize our child’s emotional reaction, or to contradict it (for example, to tell them that they are sad and miss us when they don’t).
The result is that your child grows up without being able to recognize what they feel and to act accordingly. They expect people around them not to respect their feelings, and they learn to hide them and be ashamed of them. Often they are confused, don’t know what they feel and if it’s okay to feel that way, and develop anxiety about exposing their true feelings and emotions. Alternatively, they become “rebellious” and develop emotional overreaction to make sure that people around them cannot ignore what they feel.
Therefore, it is very important that you validate your child’s emotions even when you do not approve of them. You may criticize your child’s behavior – even if they are angry, they can’t hit their siblings, for example – but you may show understanding as to the reason for which why they are angry. Emotional validation will enable them to have good emotional communication with their surroundings and with themselves in the future.
(Recommended book: How to talk so kids will listen – Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish)
Research shows that the most important parental mission is our ability to let our children be independent. Independent children realize their abilities better than children who are not independent, and tend to be happier and more self-confident.
It is important that you allow your children to gain experience with tasks that suit their capabilities and not give them tasks that are too difficult for them to achieve. At the same time, you cannot prevent them from making mistakes. Children need to experience failures and errors and not to avoid them. Parents who try to prevent their children from failing will cause them to become dependent on their parents as adults, with a low self-image and a sense of incapacity. Such an approach evokes subconscious thoughts in children, such as “Mom and Dad think that I’ll break down if I don’t succeed in this task. I am probably too frail, and this endeavor is too dangerous for me emotionally”.
Therefore, if your child homework or an assignment to do, don’t help them. It is their full responsibility. If they don’t do it, they will probably get scolded by their teacher. You may support your child and provide them a sense of security, but you cannot do everything with them.
If we compare for a moment independence to a cake that may be shared in the family, the more cake we take for ourselves, the less will our child have (and we all know that cake is something you should have moderately). So too with responsibility – the more responsibility we take to ourselves, the less responsibility will our children have independence and ability to cope. On the other hand, if don’t take any responsibility and give the “entire cake” to our children, we may commit parental neglect.
Partaking in household chores
A generation or two ago, it was quite obvious that children partake in housework. These days, in modern families, this matter has become increasingly rare. Despite the advantages inherent in this for all family members – yes, for children as well.
The benefits for children are not in the sense of having fun, but in the sense of belonging, partnership and respect. Thus the child assumes responsibility and knows that they matter, and that without them that particular task will not be done. In this sense, your child earns an important role at home. Your role as parents is to give your child a good feeling when they do their job, not to take it for granted and not to turn the task into an arena of criticism and struggle.
It is important to choose a task that suits the child’s ability and age, and, to the extent possible, to his or her tendencies. Some children like working in the garden, others will like the attention to details required when folding laundry, or the creativity in preparing food.
Self-control is the ability to react not out of our automatic system, but in a controlled manner that’s appropriate to the situation, efficiently and not destructively. If you serve as role models for control, your children will learn how to control their behavior.
Postponement of gratification
A parent who serves as a role model of self-control provides their children with tools to cope with frustrating situations.
Good parents train their children to postpone gratification. Especially today, with the “everything fast” generation, it is important to develop this ability. It is a “muscle” that may be trained by stretching it – the more we stretch it, the more we can postpone gratification and cope with frustrating situations as adults.
In the 1960s, a study was conducted at Stanford University in which a group of four-year-olds was tested. Each child was given a marshmallow and was promised that they would receive more marshmallows if they waited about 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some of the children managed to wait and some did not. The researchers followed the children up to adolescence, and found that the children who were successful in the task were more responsible, adapted better and were more successful in their studies.
One of the things we deal with most, in part because of Buddhism’s introduction into Western society, is the ability to accept reality as it is, without the need for control, interpretation, or labeling.
It would be best if we distinguished between the child we want and our child as they are, with their strengths, weaknesses and desires. We as parents should be aware of how judgmental we are, and be careful not to act out of this. We must accept our child just as they are, love them as they are, and yet help them to advance and evolve in accordance with their values and abilities. And we’ll be able to do this only if we adopt an accepting and nonjudgmental approach.
More often than not, we judge our child when we recognize our own weaknesses, which we despise and with which we are all too familiar, or the weaknesses of our spouse (and especially our ex-spouse), also despised and too familiar. The ability to adopt an accepting approach for both our partner and ourselves is a key point in our ability to accept our child – who has surprisingly inherited or acquired our flaws.
Our child’s separateness
It is quite pleasant to be with your child when everything is easy and harmonious, meeting our expectations and desires. But what about when they object to us, argue and decide against our opinion? Most parents won’t feel as happy and happier in such situations.
Although, in some cases it is truly impossible to accept your child’s decision or behavior, and we as parents must do everything we can to stop it. However, it is important that we distinguish between these situations and situations in which our child develops their separate identity by struggling with us, which is not always logical, pleasant or good for the child in the short term. In the long term, on the other hand, it is important for the child to feel a fundamental respect for their opinions, and that no one attempts to control them like some puppet. A rebellious child will fight these attempts of control in a way that will become increasingly worse, while a docile child will give up developing an independent personality and will not develop the ability to stand up for themselves and have their own preferences and desires (“I don’t care, we’ll do what you want”).
It is important that we as parents accept our child’s separateness, the fact that their taste is different than ours, his abilities are different, their pace is different. As they grow older, they will create their own territory, and will not share everything with us. Although it is our duty to protect them, we must find the fine balance between such guardianship and the acceptance of the fact that they are beginning to navigate their course of his life outside of ours, and gradually withdraw from us as they grow older. Do not worry! When a good relationship has been established with the parents, this distance will only allow the relationship to change according to age, rather than to grow into detachment and distance, but on the contrary, into a mature relationship out of respect and sharing by choice.