When it comes to building our child’s self-belief and esteem, telling and showing them that we love them as often as possible makes a big difference, no matter what age they are, he says. Even on difficult days or after a disagreement, when we might not feel particularly loving, it is most important to reconnect with our love for them and to express it.
Slow Down at the Grocery Store
If you decide to take your children to the grocery store, try to think of ways to apply Principle One (Relax) and Two (Slow Down).With babies between the ages of six months and three years, you must be willing to handle it when your child cries, fusses, grabs, wiggles, and wants. Our culture frowns on crying in general. If your baby cries in the supermarket, some people will be annoyed and glare at you as if you should control your child. But most are more sympathetic than you might imagine. Often they will take their cues from you.
If you smile, shrug, relax, and treat your child with love and kindness, that energy is contagious — others smile at you in sympathy, especially parents.
With older children, allow plenty of time so grocery shopping can be a teaching expedition and an adventure in making choices. Give each child an opportunity to choose between one style of beans and another, or show them how you read the labels and compare the prices and ingredients, or how to choose the freshest produce. Let them pick out some of their lunch items and treats for the week — again, using specific choices so that you are ultimately in control what gets chosen. I suggest you allow the occasional forbidden treat to de-emphasize its importance in your child’s mind. Later, I’ll talk about how to use these times to show the consequences of dietary choices in order to help your child choose foods that are nourishing.
Allow the child to pick out items for others the family, like presents. Above all, try to prevent grocery shopping from becoming associated, in the child’s mind, with pain, challenge, and power struggles. Don’t use treats as rewards, but save them to use as fun snacks for the movies or some other occasion. Listen to your children tell you what other kids have in their school lunches, and try to include some of these items, even if you don’t technically approve of them. Supporting their emotional needs is just as important as nourishing their bodies, and as long as they are getting the kinds of food you want them to have at home, a “no-no” here and there won’t do any harm. You don’t want your child to eat alone and be made fun of because she is the only one with a seaweed sandwich. On the other hand, you do want to slow down enough to take the time to educate your child about food.
Our family is vegetarian, and, while you may not agree with my choices, I think you can get an idea about the importance of teaching your child about food from the following example. I made sure my children knew from day one that they were vegetarians and most of their friends’ families were not. I let them know it was a matter of choice, and didn’t mean people were bad or weird because they chose differently. But I also wanted to make sure that well-intentioned friends and family would not feed my kids meat when I wasn’t around.
I simply told my children the truth, right from the start — the truth about what a hamburger, hot dog, bologna, “nuggets,” and so on really are: dead animals. Didn’t give them a lot of detailed explanations, though that came later as they began to ask more sophisticated questions. I used opportunities such as commercials advertising ham, steak, and “Buffalo wings” that showed dancing pigs or cows or chickens to point out the truth and ask the children what they thought. Did they think the pig, chicken, or cow really felt happy to be slaughtered and eaten? We would talk about it without forcing my opinions; supporting what the kids came up with and not inserting guilt or shame into the conversation. I let them know that, when they were old enough to live outside our home, they could make their own choices about this issue.
As the kids grew older, I encouraged them to use the opportunity of having to do speeches and school papers to find out more about these issues, so they felt educated about why we are vegetarians and could answer other kids’ questions. In addition, I wanted them to make their own choice about it when they were old enough, and I wanted that choice be an informed one.
Slow Down with Teens
When my daughter was in high school and editor of the school paper — and this was a rural midwestern, small town high school whose graduates were 60 percent farmers — she used the opportunity to have an editorial debate on vegetarianism with a meat-eating friend. It turned out to be a very positive experience that gained her respect at school. Kids came up to her and said, “Wow, I never knew that!” Of course, others took the opposite side and sometimes teased her about it, but her editorial was so well written that none of them could bring themselves to make much fun of her. She learned that sometimes knowledge truly is power.
I tell these stories to give you some examples of how you can educate your kids about your family choices. I had to slow down enough to make this issue important and help my children do their research. Another added benefit was that I could show my kids how to research their questions, find facts, statistics, and anecdotes to back up their theories and opinions, find out why the “other side” thought the way they did, and expose false information as fraudulent. Teenagers love that! If you want your kids to embrace certain values, you must slow down enough to teach as well as parent, and to back it up with more than just your opinion or experience.
Controlling Parenting Impacts Teenagers’ Future Relationships
Study Tracks Adolescents Through Nine Years
A study conducted by members of the psychology department at the University of Virginia found that parents who exercised manipulative psychological control of their teenagers hinder their child’s ability to develop close relationships later on in adulthood. The study, published in the journal Child Development, was titled “The Cascading Development of Autonomy and Relatedness from Adolescence to Adulthood.”
“Adolescents who have parents who do this learn that in close relationships it is bad to assert your opinion and you’ll hurt other people,” said Elenda Hessel, one of the doctoral candidates who worked in the research group conducting the study. “They think that this is what happens at home and so this is what must happen elsewhere.”
Throughout a nine-year time period, researchers tracked 184 teenagers from a public middle school in Virginia. The study began when the participants were 13-years-old and continued until they were 21. The group assessed the adolescents’ relationships with their parents to determine its relationship to the development of autonomy and relatedness with their friends and romantic partners.
The parents’ use of guilt, shame, withdrawing love or cultivating anxiety — all examples of psychological control — set the adolescents on a long-term trajectory toward badly functioning relationships in the future.
“We have no evidence that provides why exactly these parents do this,” Hessel said. “However, it may be possible some parents had the same relationship with their parents or that some of them are scared and anxious and don’t have good ideas so they resort to these methods.”
During each assessment period at ages 13, 18 and 21, researchers asked the participants about their psychological health, their values, their parents’ conduct and their relationships with their friends. As the participants matured, the researchers began adding more questioning pertaining to their romantic partners.
Regarding their parents’ behavior, the participants were asked to assess the degree to which their mothers and fathers used guilt, anxiety, love withdrawal and other manipulative methods.
The idea was to look at how adolescents talk about things when they disagree with one another,” said Hessel. “We think it’s a good skill to have to express yourself without damaging the relationship, and being able to say, ‘I disagree with you but I still value you.'”
Once the participants were 21, they discussed real-life issues in their relationships, such as money or budgetary problems, jealousy and communication issues. Researchers used a coding system that indicated expressions of reasoning and confidence — a sign of autonomy — and warmth and collaborativeness, a sign of relatedness.
As predicted, the researchers found that manipulative parental psychological control ultimately undermines the youth’s ability to properly express autonomy and relatedness when in disagreement with close friends and later on, romantic partners. This shows the importance of the transitional period from early adolescence to adulthood.
“The transition period from early adolescence to early adulthood is the time when the peer group matters more and determines how they are able to navigate those relationships and the expectations going into new relationships,” Hessel said.
Researchers emphasized that without the right parental guidance, adolescents will be ill-prepared to manage their relationships. “Guilt tripping your kids won’t be good for them in the long run. You can still have an influence over your kids at this age and let it be a good one.” They suggested that parents often fall into the trap of psychological control when they don’t slow down (and relax) enough to warmly engage with their kids.
We rarely have grandparents — as many indigenous cultures do — who can do this educational part for us while we go out there to make a living. It does require some sacrifice to relax and slow down enough to seriously engage with your kids. But it is a short-term sacrifice, because children are not children for long. And believe me, the time spent is well worth it when you look back on it after they are grown. The children not only have the benefit of being educated about what you want them to know, but they understand, in their very bones, that you love them enough to give your time and energy to the process, over and over again. What you get is a great feeling of pride in yourself for being the best parent you can be, leaving a positive legacy that will last for generations, and learning a great deal in the process.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
In addition to clear, open communication with their parents, children also require attention and affection – in a word, love – from their parents if they are to develop healthy self-esteem. Parents need to celebrate their children, pay attention to them and actually demonstrate their love in concrete ways.