My teenage daughter sometimes leaves me sweet notes on the whiteboard in my home office. She recently wrote, “Thank you for making time for me, even when you could be working.” It made my heart melt because I know she genuinely loves to spend time with me. I hope that doesn’t change as she gets older. The note was also heart-wrenching because it reminded me how she often gets disappointed when I have to work instead of spend time with her. I get disappointed, too. I took a picture of that message to remind myself that although my children are becoming increasingly independent, they still need me to be present in their lives.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at email@example.com.
My husband says our kids (5, 10, 12) are becoming spoiled because I give in to their demands and don’t make them help out around the house. He thinks I buy their love with presents and they take advantage of me. I just want my kids to know I love them and I feel guilty because I work long hours. When I’m home, I don’t want them to see me as “the enforcer.” We’ve been arguing about this a lot lately. Can you help us?
It’s hard when partners disagree about parenting issues. And it’s common for children to think their parents exist solely to provide them unlimited food, clothing, money, entertainment and transportation. While providing these things is an important part of parenting, it’s also important to teach children how to make respectful requests, accept limits and be kind, considerate and helpful family members. Here are some tips to try:
Show your love with your presence. It’s understandable that you feel guilty about working long hours and want to reassure your children you love them. Instead of buying presents or giving in to their demands, try spending brief and frequent quality time together. Even 30 seconds of your undivided attention given frequently throughout the day can make a big difference. Talking (and listening), reading together, playing games and giving affection are also powerful ways to show your children you care. These simple strategies strengthen relationships and build the foundation for kind, respectful communication.
Agree on realistic expectations. Talk with your husband about what is reasonable to expect of your children. If you have widely different opinions, aim for common ground. Define a few basic rules you can both support that will set the expectation of respectful communication, such as “Say please and thank you,” or “Ask before taking things.” Then discuss what each child can do to help out around the house (taking their ages and abilities into consideration). For instance, your 10- and 12-year-olds might be capable of vacuuming and dusting their own rooms, while putting toys away might be a more age-appropriate expectation for your 5-year-old.
Talk with your kids about the family rules and expectations. Once you’ve reached agreement with your husband, sit down with your kids to discuss the family rules and expectations. This provides an important opportunity for your kids to see you and your husband working as a team. Tell your kids you love them and they are important members of the family – which is why there are new family rules about being kind, considerate and helpful.
Be consistent and give descriptive praise. This is especially important in the beginning, when the rules and expectations are new. Your children might “test” you to see how far they can push the limits before you give in. Remember you can be both firm and loving when setting limits, and that teaching children to do things for themselves increases their confidence and self-esteem. Give descriptive praise when you notice them being kind, considerate and helpful, like “Thank you for setting the table. I appreciate your help.” This lets them know you notice their efforts and encourages them to keep it up.
Final thoughts: Children often behave in ways that seem difficult or “spoiled.” Many times, they’re just expressing their need for love, attention or affection. Parents can meet their children’s emotional needs while teaching valuable life skills by being a consistent, firm and loving presence in their children’s daily lives. It’s the gift that lasts a lifetime.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 13 and 16, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.