What Kind of Parent Are You?
Source: David Benzel
Parenting behaviors communicate so many important messages to children. Many of those messages answer crucial questions for a child about his or her identity. As your children wonder "Who am I?" they will interpret the answer from the messages you send via the demeanor of your actions and selection of your words.
It could be said that parents come in four flavors, depending on what they value most.
The most common and significant difference exists between those parents who value and demonstrate a concern for a child's performance, and those who value and demonstrate a concern for a child's self-esteem. These preferences exist on a continuum from low to high and there are the four possibilities. What kind are you?
Parents who are primarily concerned with performance (high grades, sport victories, music recital placements, drama reviews, etc.) behave in a way that sends the message: "You are how you perform." A heavy emphasis on what you do and how well you do it signals a child that you're more valuable on the days you perform well than on the days you don't. Parents who champion this approach - Tiger Parents - have subtle and not so subtle ways of showing their joy and pride with A's and home runs. Conversely, B's and strike outs are met with frowns, a rolling of the eyes or criticism and judgment disguised as "coaching". A child in this environment assumes that love is received in direct proportion to performance achieved.
Parents who are primarily concerned with self-esteem (a judgment of self-worth and worthiness) behave in ways that send the message: "You are what others say you are." These children receive a heavy bombardment of praise and adoration disconnected from performance and regardless of effort or improvement. A child in this environment becomes dependent on the good opinion of others and learns to manipulate behaviors in an effort to receive more praise, even if it's empty praise. The Helicopter parent typically wants to protect their child from any kind of emotional pain that comes from a harsh or negative assessment. The by product can be an inflated sense of self worth and therefore expected entitlement of opportunities and rewards.
Parents help children define themselves with the messages they send.
Believe it or not, some parents are not as concerned about their child's self-esteem or their performance. These parents are more self-absorbed and view parenting as an assignment that has more to do with supplying the basic needs of food, shelter, and educational opportunities so the child can go do his thing. The message is "You are a circumstance for me to manage." The Supplier Parent will use sports and other activities as a baby sitting service but will not get very involved emotionally or intellectually. Children are viewed as a situation or an inconvenience to be managed effectively until they reach the age when they can become self-sufficient and move out. A child in this environment is generally starving for meaningful attention.
The final option is a unique intersection of a parent's concern about performance and an equal concern about self-esteem. However the fundamental assumption about a child comes from a different core value: "You are a wonderful creation and therefore valuable." The Hero Parent views performance as an outcome of competency, which will come naturally when a child chooses to work hard (effort). High levels of self-esteem are a by-product of appropriate praise earned from making great efforts! The underlying message in this environment is in the form of a statement followed by a question. Statement: "You are valuable and blessed with many gifts." Question: "Where will you use your gifts and how good do you want to be at that?" A child's competence and true sense of self-worth is discovered at this intersection, and the energy for the journey comes from the unconditional love of parents who are supportive regardless of performance or what others are saying.
What parents value dictates their strategies.
In her book, The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine reminds us of the three primary goals of good parenting.
- Equip our children to lead independent lives;
- Teach them how to maintain loving relationships;
- Show them how to enjoy a sense of competence;
Unfortunately, due to our performance driven culture, many parents invest so much time, energy, and resources into trying to produce champions (#3) that life lessons about relationships (#2) and personal responsibility for self-management (#1) are sacrificed or just neglected. In the end children are more susceptible to being dependent, alienated, and plagued with a kind of empty self-esteem. Is it any wonder that we have more teenage depression than ever before and an abundance of kids who win at sports but lose at life?
The Hero Parent stands out through a purposeful blending of teaching the value of hard work without controlling it, and praising effort/improvement rather than a child's talent or gifts.
The emotional connection that grows between parent and child is the outcome of total acceptance and four specific behaviors.
- Choices given within age appropriate boundaries;
- Challenges offered that stimulate stretching and growing;
- Collaboration used for decision making;
- Constant support for a child's vision and progress toward a goal.
When coupled with unconditional love and a living testimony from parents, our children are pre-wired to experience both success and a love for themselves that makes them a blessing to the next generation as well.
David Benzel is the Founder of Growing Champions for Life, a non profit organization dedicated to providing parents and coaches with positive strategies for helping kids win at life and at sports. Go to Growing Champions for Life to learn more.