For example, if your child says she is scared to go to school for the first time, rather than telling her she’s not scared or that she’s being silly, acknowledge your child’s feelings and then work from there. Say something along the lines of, “I know you’re scared, but I’m going to come with you. We’ll meet your new teachers and your classmates together, and I’ll stay with you until you’re not scared anymore. Sometimes excitement feels a lot like being scared. Do you think you are also excited?” The next time you’re tempted to tell a little lie or otherwise bend the truth, consider another way: It is an opportunity to grow. Embrace the truth and help your child work through the confusing feelings. It will be much better for her health over the long term.
3. IGNORE YOUR OWN BAD BEHAVIOR
Parents may live by the old mantra Do as I say, not as I do, but there’s a lot of good research to show why this does not work for a number of reasons. Kids learn by example, plain and simple. Children absorb everything around them, and they are exceptionally sponge-like in their capacity to learn and mirror both good and bad behaviors from the time they are very young.
For this reason, as the child-development expert and author Dr. David Elkind, a professor emeritus at Tufts University, tells The Doctor, modeling the behavior we want is one of the best things we as parents can do. What you do matters a lot more than what you say your child should do.
For example, the children of smokers are twice as likely to smoke as the kids of nonsmoking parents, and overweight parents are significantly more likely to have overweight children than non-overweight parents. Even slightly more enigmatic behaviors, like how you treat family members and interact with strangers, animals, and the environment, are absorbed and repeated by your children. The best way to get your kids to eat their broccoli? Eat it enthusiastically yourself, and make it delicious (with a little grated cheese perhaps) for your kids. Children detect falseness a mile away, so believing in what you’re doing is an integral part of leading by example.
So if you want your child to be respectful and kind, be sure you exhibit those behaviors yourself, even when you are angry or in a disagreement. You, the parent, are the No. 1 role model in your child’s life. Showing—rather than telling—them how to behave and navigate the world around them is the most effective method.
4. ASSUME THAT WHAT WORKED FOR YOUR FIRST—OR FOR YOU—WILL WORK FOR YOUR SECOND
One of the biggest problems with parenting advice is that one size does not fit all. As Elkind points out, “the same boiling water that hardens the egg softens the carrot … The same parental behavior can have different effects depending on the personality of the child.”
If you have more than one child, you have probably noticed that not only do their personalities vary greatly, but other variables like sleep habits, attention spans, learning styles, and responses to discipline can also be extraordinarily different between children. Your first child may look to you constantly for comfort or encouragement, while your second may need nothing of the sort, preferring to forge ahead on his own. Some children respond better to firm boundaries while others need less definition. Therefore, it is important to remember that what worked for one does not necessarily work for the other.