We are all a product of our raising and we tend to make decisions involving our own children based on how our parents did it, or the complete opposite of how our parents did it. We will also mix in tidbits we’ve picked up from books, movies, blogs, and friends we’ve observed (or even stragers). In short, most of us are just winging it at the parenting thing. It’s rare to meet a parent who has thought long and hard about the messages they’re sending to their children and its even more rare to think about the messages SOCIETY is sending to our children. Often, we just roll with it cause that’s how its always been. Well, I think it’s time to challenge some of the messages we send children without even realizing it.
Here are some of the most common messages even GOOD parents send their kids that are HARMFUL .
You can be anything you want to be.
Whoops! Not true. Unfortunately this is a message sent to our kids via parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and TV, but it’s one of the biggest lies. No, your child cannot be anything they want to be. My stepson wanted to be an astronaut when he was a little boy. He loooooved space! We took him to NASA Space Center, bought the galaxy stars for is room, and read countless books about space to him; however, we were always honest with him when he talked about wanting to be an astronaut. We told him, “I know you’d really like to be an astronaut, but you were born to two tall parents. Doctor think you will be nearly 7 ft tall and rocketships aren’t built for someone your height and weight”. We then would discuss what other space related careers would be available to him and even invited him to be an engineer and try to design ships for tall space travelers. We’re not doing our kids any favors when we let them think they can be ANYTHING they want to be. We can allow them to pretend and use those active imaginations, but also inject reality and forward thinking to avoid setting them up for failure.
I have had a rule for working with young children nearly two decades now. I do NOT make promises to kids and I don’t allow them to make promises to me. A promise implies we, as parents, have control when we don’t. When you promise a child, they believe you can do it and nothing can get in your way. Unless you’re the almighty, all powerful, omnipotent being, this is a harmful message to send a child. “I promise I’ll make your play”, or “I promise we’ll go to Doughnut Haven on Sunday” and then you come down with the flu the night of the play or Doughnut Haven is closed for construction. The child then feels lied to. Never make a promise to a child, instead try, “I’ll try my hardest because this is important. I hope nothing gets in our way”, or something similar to remind your child that we are not in control of the universe, nor are they the center of it.
Everyone is created equal.
This is one of the biggest, and in my opinion most detrimental lies we send to children and people. No one was created equal. We were all made to be different and we’re limiting our children’s potential when we tell them we’re all equal, or when we allow everyone a trophy because we all “worked hard”. Let’s be honest, not everyone on the team worked hard. Some never made a single game and sat on their asses during practice watching the grass grow. This kid shouldn’t get a trophy! Some people are weak, dumb, slow, cruel, lazy just like some are strong, gifted, fast, kind, and hardworking. Some people are whole, while others missing limbs or eyes or ears. If we teach our children that everyone is created equal, we’re not encouraging them to look at people and evaluate them based on character, actions, strengths and weaknesses. I want my child to notice the peer who’s missing their arms and offer to read stories with them or paint a picture for them. I want them to know that if they practice and work hard, they can win at something because it’s possible to be the best. Competition should be encouraged to bring the highest potential out of each child and it can be encouraged in a healthy way.
Happily Ever After
If you read original excerpts of fairy tales from Grimm’s books, most don’t end with “happily ever after”. In fact, this is one of the cornerstones of The Danish Way, a parenting book that encourages authenticity. The Danish, voted happiest people in the world over forty years, don’t teach happily ever after. They teach fear, sadness, frustration, disappointment, nd even death. This authentic view of the world is accredited for much of their happiness. The children are not shielded from life’s realties, but instead are groomed to cope with it and more importantly, to expect it. Parents, we’re not doing our kids any favors when we teach them life is one big happy ending. It’s not! It’s ups and downs, let downs, disappointments, failures, and hurt. But, by allowing our children to experience these things and providing empathy and love, we can allow them opportunities to learn decision making skills, coping skills, problem solving and logical thinking. We’re raising stronger happier people in the end!
This is one of the hardest to recognize you struggle with and the hardest to change! Think of how often we reward, or celebrate, with things. When you go to the doctor’s office, your child a dumdum. After a haircut they’re given a sticker. At the grocery store they’re given “buddy bucks”. Teachers and parents are now using elaborate sticker charts and treasure chests to award children for chores, grades, and behavior, all things that children should be doing because they’re the right thing to do, not because they get a prize. What’s happening is we’re shifting the focus from what feels good (intrinsic motivators) to “what do I get (extrinsic motivators). We’re raising our children to be reward seekers, but we’re also sending the message that joy can be found in “things” rather than within the self.
Even he focus of holidays has shifted towards materialism. Christmas, Valentines, Easter, birthdays and even Halloween for some is celebrated with things, gifts, candies. If we remove the material items from the holiday, we’re left with a focus on family, togetherness, and experiences to enjoy. Imagine Christmas morning after everyone opens A gift, the family makes breakfast together, plays outside, reads a story, and sings songs or has a dance party by the tree. Imagine a birthday celebrated with a silly string fight before school and then telling your child their birth story and all the wonderful things you enjoy learning about them each year. What if we stripped the holidays down and rediscovered the reason for each season? Would we find opportunities for learning and character building?
Our job as parents is not to entertain our children, always keep them happy, or prevent them from learning about the world. This is a very serious undertaking and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It’s important we take a step back and really think through the messages we send our children and make decisions based on what’s best for them LONG-TERM, and not allow society to influence our parenting choices. Being a good parent in today’s world means being counter-cultural; not being afraid to do things differently.
“If they stare, let them stare. You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out” -Wonder