There’s More to A Child Than Just Outside Behavior
By Gary M. Unruh MSW LCSW –
Asking children repeatedly to complete chores or homework seems like just one more roadblock to effective parenting. It is…and here’s why. Parents focus on behavior — their child’s outside part — and miss the child’s inside parts: feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and, most importantly, trust in one’s self-worth.
When a car will not start, do we keep turning the key, hoping the battery will miraculously function each time? No, we go right to the inside part. We pop the hood and charge the battery. Then we turn the key, and voila! We’re good to go. Inside part fixed; outside part works fine.
Knowing a child’s inside and outside parts will eliminate a lot of roadblocks, making your parenting journey a lot more pleasant.
Here’s a quick “parts” review.
Outside parts — performance and character.
Good performance and good character are two important cornerstones for building self-worth.
There’s nothing like an A as a reward for great effort. Most parents focus on the end goal — a clean room or completed homework assignment — and they don’t pay enough attention to the effort part. Teach your child to exert his or her best effort at all times and your child will be successful. Effort is a lot easier to control than results.
Positive character ensures enduring relationships — the most rewarding and healthy life success. Responsibility, perseverance, empathy, self-discipline, and honesty are the basic character traits that need to be taught daily.
These character traits have two big-time positive consequences:
- acceptance by adults and peers, and
We’re not born with these traits; they need to be learned. And you, the parent, are the best teacher.
Inside parts — thoughts, feelings, beliefs.
These are the inside mechanical parts of a human being, the power source for doing what we do. We all have about forty thoughts per minute going through our minds, each thought filled with feelings (happiness, sadness, anger), causing what we say and do. And beliefs give us our internal rules for right and wrong and are the cause of everything we do.
Feelings are the most powerful inside part, the energy source for determining your child’s outside behavior. When Amie’s mad, she’ll yell, argue, or hit. When James is happy, he’ll laugh and joke. Feelings are the x-ray picture of what’s going on within the heart of your child at any given moment. Respond to your child’s feelings first and your child will feel you meeting his or her life — essential need to be understood, especially during conflict.
Trust is an essential human need for our entire lives.
Developing trust in a child is in a parent’s job description: Instill trust and your child will become a trustworthy, successful adult.
During infancy trust is about being adequately nurtured with food and feeling emotionally comfortable when upset. Then throughout the adolescent years, it’s about physical and emotional safety and feeling understood and accepted, no matter what problems pop up.
And the result of instilled trust?
Children feel comfortable in their own skin, they learn to rely on themselves, and they’ll know when to trust others. Translated into a kid’s lingo: Since Mom and Dad trust and believe in me, I feel good enough about myself and know I can handle just about anything — including finding great people to love.
It can be, but the following three tips will make it a lot easier and you’ll get plenty of rewards along the way.
1. Support your child’s individuality. Trusting yourself comes from knowing and being comfortable with the way you’re built. Display eight-year-old Nate’s prized Lego piece on the dining room table. Ask tween Terry to read her creative essay at the next Friday family meeting.
What about the not so great stuff? Help Emma trim off the jagged edges of her daily drama while letting her know, “Your excitement about life is really fun to be around.” And deal with Ethan’s temper tantrums by saying, “I know it’s really hard to not blow up, but we’ll help you put words to your upset so you can be calmer.”
2. Set firm limits to instill good character. People trust kids who show good character-qualities like empathy and admitting mistakes. A child’s not born trustworthy, so that tendency to look out for number one needs to be harnessed. A great starting point is to teach consideration for others through social graces: thank you, please, sorry.
3. Start discipline with support to avoid shame. Shame doesn’t instill trust. Parents who balance support and correction avoid shame. Instead, you reach an important goal: your child feeling basically okay while wanting to correct a mistake. Becky didn’t study for a test and she got a one-legged A. After Mom gently asked why this happened, Becky and Mom worked out a mutually agreeable way to handle studying for tests. Correcting mistakes openly and easily is a sure sign of “I trust myself, I’m okay.”
Conclusion: Pay attention to the inside parts of your child and teach them to trust themselves and all kinds of good things will happen.
Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, is a child and family mental health counselor with nearly forty years of experience. He is the author of the award-winning book Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Joyful and Self-Confident Kids (www.unleashingparentallove.com).