From all my years as a child therapist my job was to help children use their voice to tell their parents what they need to have a healthy, happy childhood. From children as young as 2 to as old as 17, here is some parenting advice that I have heard them wish they could say to their parents:
Dear Mom and Dad:
“I thrive on boundaries.”
Boundaries keep me safe both physically and emotionally. When you tell me what is ok to do, and what is not ok to do, it’s another form of you telling me ‘I love you’. I know you do it because you’re trying to keep me safe. It also helps me to learn how to respect myself by learning how to communicate my boundaries to others.
When you set boundaries consistently, and don’t let me break them, you’re helping me to build trust. This is necessary for me to have healthy relationships with friends, future partners and even my own children.
“Non-physical discipline puts me on the best trajectory.”
When you touch me against my will you are teaching me it’s ok to for me to touch people against their will. You are teaching me to learn by fearing you and distrusting you.
I am more likely to become aggressive toward my peers, my spouse, and my own children if I am spanked. I could also be more likely to let others like peers and future spouses to touch me in a harmful way. I also will have higher rates of anxiety and anger than my friends who don’t get spanked, and I am more likely to have bad grades at school.
Discipline that acknowledges my feelings in a non-physical way helps me feel understood, valued as a human being, improves my self-esteem, and helps me feel closer to you.
“The best way to invest in me is by giving me your time.”
When you spend time with me you’re telling me ‘I care about what’s going on in your world.’ As I grow up and my friends become more important in my life, you spending time with me now helps remind me I can turn to you for guidance.
Also, when you spend time with me it boosts my self-esteem because you’re telling me “You matter.” This helps me to feel good about myself so I can succeed as I grow and develop.
“The way you talk to me becomes my inner voice.”
From when I was a baby I learned from your tone of voice how to feel about myself.
When you yell at me and criticize and name call, it’s those words that guide my life and tell me “I can’t, I’m not good enough, and I’m too dumb.”
But when you talk to me like you love me, even when you are really mad, I learned that is was ok to make mistakes and that I should try again and that there was nothing I could do to lose your love.
Bottom line: Your child has a lot to say about how you parent. What would happen if you sat down with your child today and listened to the parenting advice s/he has for you? What value would that have for you, being able to hear from your child what was working for him or her and what wasn’t?
Most parents love the idea of their children sitting down and opening up with them about their life. Since you are such a big part of your child’s life…help your child to sit down with you and open up about how s/he feels about you and your relationship. What do you need to do in order to prepare for that?
What parenting advice did you have as a child for your parent? What are your kids telling you right now about how you are parenting them?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.