Parents, rein in your anger and disappointment when trying to discipline your child. It may be the reason why they are so hard on themselves and have poor self-esteem. Read more to find out why.
They say parenting has its seasons. Some just want the sleepless newborn phase to be over, not knowing that the toddler years will be very challenging in different ways.
As for me, I'll take the sleepless nights and the toddler tantrums over heartbreaking episodes of clashing with my pre-teen.
Gone are the days when parents just turn a blind eye to their children's misbehabour. Our parents' generation may be okay with it, but we millennial parents are not.
We are very much into intentional parenting. We try to make everything a "teachable moment" and want to instil life lessons in our children as much as we can.
Hence comes my dilemma. When I'm trying to talk some sense into my 10-year-old daughter, I am often met with a blank stare. This leads me to become a little more assertive and aggressive.
"Are you getting what I'm trying to say? Are you even listening?"
There are times that I don't stop talking until I get an appropriate response.
When our children meet our anger with a blank stare
When our child's response to us is silence or a blank face, our tendency is to drill them until we get the reaction that we want. However, a licensed marriage and family therapist advises parents to resist the urge to do so.
David Schwartz has facilitated well over a thousand group therapy sessions with at-risk teens in the state of California. And according to him, our children get what we are telling them more than we think, and they internalise negative messages more than they should.
"My experience is that they get it. They know when they've messed up. They know when their parents are unhappy with their actions. They may not show it, but they can internalise the criticism and anger in ways that cause them to feel bad about themselves," wrote Schwartz in an article in Psychology Today.
While we are inclined to think that our children do not seem to be affected by what they hear, the truth is that all the negative talk and criticism gets to them and leads them to question their self-worth.
And for young children, they may even question our love for them.
"They may start to feel like they're a bad person or that they don't have value. This can also cause them to carry shame and guilt with them daily," wrote Schwartz.
The dangers of internalising guilt and shame
While our child may try to put on a brave face (this happens to me all the time, until I notice tears forming in my daughter's eyes), the truth is that our disapproval can crush them and lead to them having poor self-esteem.
When a child feels shame and guilt on a regular basis, it takes a toll on their self-esteem, which can manifest in destructive behaviours such as substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and even suicidal ideation.
Losing their sense of security
Thus, according to Schwartz, we need to be very careful in how we approach our children when we want to discipline them.
Coming on too strong may do more harm than good, especially in little children who are still forming their sense of security.
"When we are displeased with their behaviour, it can be overwhelming to a small child. We are often seen as their source of survival. If we are displeased, it can throw their whole sense of safety into disarray and be terrifying for a small child," said the expert.
Becoming too critical of themselves
Meanwhile, our teenagers may seem like they are unaffected by our nagging and constantly drilling them with our words, but the truth is that it can lead them to internalise these beliefs and dampen their self-esteem.
This results in unwanted and self-destructive behaviours like rebellion, acting out and making poor decisions.
"Many teenagers I've talked with are more self-critical than any adult could ever be. They sometimes hate themselves or think they are worthless and have no value," said Schwartz.
Handle with care
So what is the best way to go about it? We cannot just ignore our child's misbehaviour because we're afraid of hurting their feelings, right?
Permissive parenting is bad too. But how do we go about it in a way that is not destructive to our child's ego and self-esteem?
In his article, Schwartz shared two things that parents should remember when approaching discipline.
Don't let your emotions take over the conversation
While it can be tempting to let our children know how their actions or behaviour made us so angry, we must remember that nothing good will come out of losing our temper and lashing out at them.
"An escalated adult cannot de-escalate an escalated child," said parenting experts Big Little Feelings on Instagram.
"The goal is for adults not to let their emotions overwhelm the child. It also helps if adults wait until their own emotions die down before talking with their child," wrote Schwartz.
So it would be more beneficial to leave the situation (get out of the room if you need to), and regulate your own emotions first before sitting down to talk with your child.
Hate the behaviour, love the child
"When a child misbehaves, the adult must make clear that the child's behaviour is being criticised, not the child as a person," he said.
While our anger may pit us against each other, remember that the whole point is to correct the unwanted behaviour and not to put the blame on our child.
Every time I have a heart-to-heart talk with my daughter, I make a point to tell her this: "Nothing you do can ever change the fact that I love you." That reassures her that she can be secure in my love even when she makes mistakes.
As the old saying goes, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
So it is up to us, as parents, to make sure we raise strong individuals who know how to value themselves.
This article was first published in theAsianparent.