Your kids are watching you. Constantly. All the subtle messages from the way you live life are being absorbed by their active little minds, even if neither you nor your child are aware of it. During the summer months, there are more chances for together time, as well as opportunities for you to show your kids the kinds of values you hope they will embrace. How you do vacations is no exception. Family vacations can be memorable and deepen relationships with one another. They can also be a wonderful opportunity to teach principles that will help your kids grow in wisdom. Before you plan your summer trip consider being thoughtful about the messages you are sending your child regarding how you vacation.
What is the purpose of your vacation?
In our hectic society, it is easy to either skip vacations because we can’t carve out the time, or collapse in an over-priced luxurious spot just to have rest and ready-made entertainment. But…
“Oh, honey, come here. Let’s fix that.” Or, “Hey kiddo, let’s clean up that mess.”
Nearly every parent has repeated phrases like these, perhaps many times. With small kids, there’s probably no harm in using this phrase or approach to things from time to time. You see a smear of mustard on your child’s face and say, “Come here sweetie, let’s clean up your face.” The mustard is gone, your child goes her merry way, and you don’t have to worry about mustard stains on the couch. Or their room is a mess, and you say, “C’mon honey, let’s clean your room.” Then you do most of the cleaning because it’s more efficient.
What happens over time though, if this is a regular dynamic, is that kids hear the phrase, “Let’s do this,” and they learn to interpret it to mean, “Someone will do this for me.” As kids grow up accustomed to mom and dad doing things for them, they come to expect it. And not just from mom and dad, but from everyone.
One day, my wife and I looked at each other and noticed ourselves doing many things for our kids that they were fully capable of doing for themselves. We also noticed that our kids, to varying degrees, would plead ignorance or inadequacy in an effort to keep us in our enabling roles. We took a step back and asked, “Whose responsibility is this, anyway?” This started our journey toward achieving a more cooperative family.
One of our biggest parenting mistakes is to try to get kids to behave right for the wrong reasons.
It’s a good thing to want our kids to behave responsibly and to internalize the value of responsibility, but parents tend to turn this desire into a goal for a child’s behavior.
Here’s how it works: When kids fail to take responsibility the way parents want, these parents tend to engage. We nag. We remind. We may even yell, all with the goal of getting our kids to behave responsibly. The problem is, the most important goal of parenting is not to get our kids to behave right, but to believe right. And all this effort towards behavior communicates to our child the very opposite message we’d like them to believe.
Recently, on a weekend when all our kids were home, we dug out the family videos for a trip down memory lane (or, in the case of our daughter-in-law, a crash-course in Jackson family history).
Our kids’ childhood antics were rather hilarious – particularly their clumsy attempts to steal the spotlight when a younger sibling was in the picture. In one scene, little Noah is being coaxed to try his first steps across the living room floor. When he hesitates, Daniel and Bethany literally plow him over in their attempts to prove to both parents and camera that “I can walk too!”
In hindsight, attention-grabbing toddlers can be amusing. But in the moment, it can be frustrating for parents to deal with the annoyance of a child who demands constant attention.
So how can parents respond lovingly to their attention-guzzling children without “giving in” or creating spoiled children?
Michael Phelps is now the most decorated Olympian in history. Winning 19 Olympic medals has made him — according to many — “the greatest Olympian ever”.
So what is Phelps’ secret?
Well, it could be his high-altitude sleeping chamber. But we think it has a lot to do with Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, and a somewhat strange coaching philosophy.
Are you unknowingly too child-centered?
Not too long ago we wrote about the problem of entitlement among children — about how many well-meaning parents, without thinking about it much, have become too child-centered. The article struck a nerve. Some felt offended or were defensive, while most strongly agreed but asked for more ideas about how to keep their kids from feeling entitled.
Researchers have told us that American parents are too child-centered. Is making our kids happy eclipsing our determination to teach them responsibility? According to the cited study, “Parents intend to develop their children’s independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own.” (Wall Street Journal, 3/13/2012). As a result, kids generally are growing up less prepared to take care of themselves and others than ever before. We call this problem “entitlement,” meaning kids who do not feel inclined to be responsible and helpful as part of daily life. Lynne and I have encountered this issue time and again in our own work coaching families.
Not so long ago it was different. For all of human history, until the last 60 years or so, kids were expected at young ages to do what they could do to help their family survive. In other words, their contributions were necessary to keep others afloat. Faith and values were passed naturally through this process as children and parents shared in the responsibilities of day to day life. Every child was an asset because every child was another worker in the labor force of the family/clan. Kids felt significant not just because parents said ‘I love you’ at bedtime or sent notes in their lunchbox, but because they knew that if they didn’t do their part others would suffer.
This concept of being needed is absent in most American homes. Instead of growing up to believe they are here for others, kids grow up to believe that others are here for them. Add to the mix a child’s selfish, sinful nature, and we’ve got a real problem on our hands.