There is a popular saying that ought to be at the top of every parent’s list of helpful advice: Kids don’t do what you SAY, they do what you DO. What’s so hard about understanding that? Why do so many parents want me to “fix” their kids but they won’t take a really good look at what kind of role models they have become for those kids?
Now I know that parenting is hard. It is even harder when you become a surrogate parent – a sister, aunt, grandmother or foster who is presented with a bunch of kids to raise who have been traumatized by neglect or abuse. I know they are angry, frustrated, exhausted and resentful. “Why should I have to clean up someone else’s mess?” they cry. Well, that’s just what parents do. (See: Diaper Duty.)
But good parents also teach those kids how to clean up after themselves. HELPFUL HINT: You don’t do this by yelling at them. Doesn’t work. Never will. You do this by teaching them how to do it and (the most important part!) by doing it yourself.
You can’t expect your kids treat you with respect if you don’t treat them with respect. You can’t punish them for cursing when you curse. You can’t expect them to be tidy and industrious when you get home, drop everything in the hallway and veg out in front of the tube all evening. In short, you can’t yell at them to not yell at you.
A while back I wrote a column on improving your relationship TODAY! Just add the words “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry” to your repertoire. This works in your relationship with your kids, too. Parents will object, telling me “I shouldn’t have to BEG them to do their chores.” Since when is saying “please” begging? I thought it was just being polite.
Recently I refereed an argument between a parent and child over the cell phone. Child thought everything on it was private and parent shouldn’t look at it. Parent stated (rightly) that phone belonged to said parent and that said parent had a right to look at it any time, anywhere. I agreed with the premise. I just didn’t agree with how it was presented – yelling, cursing, pounding on table.
When I got kid alone, I started my spiel with “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry that you’re too young to sign a cell phone contract for yourself and that you’ve got to go through your parent to get one. I’m sorry that texts are NOT private – for anyone! Just like emails. I explained that the written word has a way of showing up as evidence in court these days and don’t even get me started about pictures.
I asked kid to please be careful with what was texted or posted as it could come back to bite. I thanked the kid for listening and for calming down. Next week I’ll work on the parent.