Image Provided by Paul Smolen M.D.
Huntington Gardens, California
Knowing your own blind spots is an important aspect of being an effective parent. I have been watching my own family, as well as thousands of others for the past four decades, and I think I have identified some parenting missteps that might be helpful for you to recognize, as you try and give your children the best childhood possible. Take a few minutes and read or listen to this installment of Portable Practical Pediatrics to find out what I have noticed.
The Three Doc Smo Observations of Families
Observation #1: Parents and children believe what they want to believe. This is just human nature. For instance, it’s hard for most parents not to think that their children are uniquely and exceptionally talented because they want to believe this. Whether its sports, academics, or musical talent, it is exciting to watch your children grow in their abilities. Of course, all children are special, but super exceptional or world class talented? Probably not, compared to a larger stage of all children. This is hard for parents to accept because… they don’t want to believe that their children are not superstars. Conversely, children when very young, think that their parents know everything, possessing God like wisdom… until they become teens, and then most children think their parents know nothing. Obviously, these facts are not right and all of these thoughts are biased: whether it be parents thinking that their children are the most talented child on earth, or a young child thinking that their parents know everything, or a teenager’s refusal to believe that their parents have any wisdom at all- all are distortions of reality, altered by preconceived beliefs.
Observation #2: Everyone’s view of the world is determined by their experiences. Very similar to principle #1 but a little different. Both these principles involve a distortion or reality but this one is based on our prior experiences instead of projected feelings. As parents and children, we observe the world, through the lens of or life experiences. For instance, one thing I have noticed is that parents who had poor relationships with their own parents may find it difficult to set limits for their own children, making their effective parenting all the more contentious. Similarly, a child who has poor self-esteem that was caused by early childhood trauma, may start acting out, believing that they deserve the negative consequences that have started raining down on them from such behavior. Both parents and children can’t shake their pasts- today’s reality is an extension of their pasts.
Observation #3: It is easy to dislike people you don’t know. This one is rather straight forward but very, very true. In a world full of overt conflict and strife, this one is particularly important to keep in mind during your parenting journey. Familiarity breeds acceptance and unfamiliarity generates distrust and prejudice. The antidote to stereotypes and prejudices is exposure. I believe that it is vital to expose you and your children to a the most diverse range of people, cultures, and ethnicities possible. Your children will follow your lead and become more accepting of others and comfortable with a range of people. Heaven knows we need more of that in today’s world. Traveling with your children and experiencing other cultures can be invaluable in this regard but if this is too difficult, just opening yourself up to people in your own community that are different from you will do.
Missteps for Parents to Avoid
So, how does all this translate into some practical advice for your family? How do these observations cause parents to make parenting missteps? Let’s start with observation #1- We all believe what we want to believe. For the parent who spends all their energy trying to groom the next NFL superstar, realize that this is probably not going to happen and instead, make sure that your child gets the positives from sports participation without layering these unrealistic expectations on top of their fun. And when it comes to your teen who is convinced that you are an idiot and just fell off the back of a cabbage truck, some storytelling about your childhood, when you felt the same way about your parents, may go a long way to giving them some insight and understanding into these thoughts. Listening and trying to understand your teens feelings may also be helpful.
Onto Observation #2: Everyone’s view of the world is determined by their experiences. – Knowing this, parents need to be very aware and careful of the experiences that their children experience. For instance, this is where Hollywood, advertisers, and especially social media has had a profound effect on a child’s perception of reality, often in a very negative way. Imagine that your child was being bullied, belittled, excluded, or demeaned, with no one around to stop them. This would be devastating for them. Well, if your child has a smartphone or computer, this may be happening to them right now. Additionally, imagine that your child is sensitive to images they see in movies and fashion magazines, places that transmit the idea of beauty that are only possessed by a very limited number of body types, genders, and ethnicities-in this world, everyone else is not worth anything. Talk about warping your child’s world view! So much of their own sense of self-worth is being shaped by outside forces-from body image to self-esteem. Our culture tells children who are beautiful, who are smart, who should be popular, and which individuals are worthy. Think about your child being convinced that they should just don’t measure up due to qualities over which they have little control. In today’s world, it is very easy for a child to find themselves with a very negative sense of themselves. But you can fight all this negativity. In fact, a parent’s most powerful tool to repel this type of negative thinking is limiting their exposure to it, talking about feelings, listening and emotionally connecting with your child regularly, helping your child interpret what they are experiencing. Doc Smo pearl: An adult perspective can go a long way at righting the ship of childhood misperception and despair.
And finally, observation #3-It’s easy to dislike those that you don’t know. Here I think it is obvious how parents can make missteps. This observation is straightforward but extremely important to keep in mind when your children are under your care. Whether it comes from a comment at the dinner table about a neighbor or racial group, or a discussion about politics or current events, your attitude is likely to shape your children’s image of those that are different. I recommend that you try and be sensitive to this fact and not only avoid speaking poorly of others but go out of your way to provide diversity of friends and experiences for your children. Leading by example can also be powerful in this regard. This is so important since, as we have all seen, sowing the seeds of distrust and even hate are very easy to do with young children and can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
So, how do you and your children cope with your own unrealistic expectations of one another, deal with your own acquired distortions of yourselves and others, and reconcile your own natural skepticism of people who are different? Here’s where another Doc Smo pearl that might help: Honest and open communication is a family’s most powerful course correcting tool in their toolbox. Make sure to use it often.
If you enjoy the information and perspectives you get on Portable Practical Pediatrics, take a moment to rate our podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get podcasts. This will help others find our content. This is Dr Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E, hoping you have a strong hankering, for good parenting. Until next time.