She’s Not Me
This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you enjoy it and, as always, we look forward to future posts by Esther.
I watched as my 2-year-old daughter concentrated on building a tower of blocks. She paused for a moment and swiped her right hand from her eyebrow up above her hairline, brushing hair out of her eyes—except that she didn’t have any hair hanging in her eyes! No, she made that gesture because –since birth—she had seen me do it several times a day. That image has stuck with me as a powerful reminder of the unconscious impact we parents have on our children.
We certainly inherit many things from our parents—from genes to habits. We often find ourselves saying the things our parents said to us to our children, those “OMG I’m turning into my mother!” moments.
Sometimes we see behaviors in our children that we don’t like or that we think will cause problems for them. Sometimes this happens without us being aware that the child is simply imitating us. Usually, we are well aware that we are the source of the behavior. And well aware of the problems it can lead to. So we try to correct it in our children.
But that form of correction is not only ineffectual, I believe it is harmful. Why?
When I’m told not to do something that I am doing unconsciously it feels like an attack on me. And if I know of no way to stop doing it, then I feel stupid.
What can a parent do?
- Set a different example. If you want your child to do something—do it yourself. It won’t be easy—quite possibly you behave this way because that’s how your parents behaved. But change is possible. Share your struggle and your strategies with your child. You may want to ask your child to help by reminding you or praising your progress.
- Be aware of your child’s environment and their viewpoint. Be curious (in a non-threatening way). Share your observations—especially of positive things your child does. Ask questions: What do they want do about something? What do they think will happen if they do that? What do they think they can do about a problem.
- Use your knowledge of yourself when thinking about your child’s behavior. Try to put yourself into your child’s situation—how would you react? What’s different? What is the same?
It may be helpful to increase your knowledge of yourself. Some behaviors are learned from our parents, but others result from our temperament. Temperamental traits are not good or bad, they are characteristics present from birth—such as sensitivity, activity level, persistence and many others. A helpful way to think about these traits is to consider whether you are right or left-handed. Handedness is not learned and trying to change it can cause problems. But both right-handed and left-handed children can learn to write—they just need strategies that work for them. Often, particularly in the past, some traits were viewed as faults that needed correction. If that happened to you as a child, you probably found ways to cope but you still might see that trait as something that ought to be changed—and want to spare your child from the problems you encountered. A trait is NOT an excuse for bad behavior or for avoiding difficult situations, by the way. However, once we recognize a trait as the reason underlying a behavior, we have an easier time modifying our behavior and helping a child modify theirs. For example, a highly sensitive child can learn strategies that help them deal with the barrage of stimulation in school. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is an excellent source of information about temperament and strategies.
- Recognize that, despite the similarities, your child is a unique individual growing up under different circumstances. Behaviors and traits that caused problems for you, might not do the same for your child. The world is a different place from the world of your childhood. No matter how similar you and your child are they are NOT you.
Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.