Say No To Perfect Parenting
As a culture, we’re always looking for perfection. We want the perfect body. The perfect job. The perfect kids.
Sure, it would be nice if your children were always well-behaved. If they picked up after themselves. Asked and answered with a respectful “please” and “thank you.” Did their homework without being told. But perfect kids? Would you really want them if you could have them?
“When we expect perfection from our children, we rob them of important experiences and the chance to learn and grow along the way,” said Dr. Craig Pierce, president and CEO of the Southwest Family Guidance Center and Institute and author of Parenting Without Distraction: The Attunetion® Approach. “In the process, they often end up missing out when it comes to developing independence, trust and self-esteem—in other words, some of the very traits that are necessary for an emotionally healthy life.”
Nonetheless, many people believe in the myth that if you do everything “right” as a parent, you’ll raise perfect children. In truth, there’s no such person as the perfect parent, or the perfect kid. But here’s the good news: according to Dr. Pierce, you don’t need to be a perfect parent to raise healthy, well-adjusted and resilient children; you just have to be an attuned one.
“Children whose parents pay attention and tune in to their needs sense that they matter,” said Dr. Pierce. “As a result, they tend to have higher self-esteem, get along better with their peers, and adjust more easily to school than children who are not given the same level of healthy attention.”
So how do you let go of perfect parenting and tune in to what’s best for your kids? Dr. Pierce has five tips.
- Be a positive mirror. Much of a child’s self-image comes from how others perceive him or her. This is especially true of preschoolers, who learn about themselves from their parents’ reactions. “When you give your child positive reflections about strengths, skills, and talents, he or she learns to think well of him- or herself,” commented Dr. Pierce.
- Cheer on your child. Every child needs encouragement to believe in him- or herself and to take risks and grow. Give your child opportunities to demonstrate special skills. It may be drawing or singing, doing a summersault, or making breakfast. Whatever the skill, give your child a chance to shine.
- Make a play date with your child. Playing with your child sends a clear message: “You are worth my time. You are a valuable person.” Play can help you learn about your child—his or her temperament and capabilities at each stage of development. “And the more interest you show in doing things with your child early on, the more interest your child is likely to have in doing things with you while growing up,” said Dr. Pierce.
- Show trust. One of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is to let your child know you believe in his or her abilities. “For example, when Bella offers to brush the dog, let her. But instead of micromanaging how she does it, say, ‘I trust you to do a great job,’” explained Pierce. “This small gesture sends a power message to your child, a vote of confidence that says, ‘You can do it’ and ‘You are capable.’”
- Build healthy self-esteem. One of the most important gifts you can give your children is the confidence they need to handle their own lives. Fostering this sense of independence can be achieved in small steps. Some that Dr. Pierce suggests include encouraging your kids to entertain themselves—without electronics. “Let them learn to play by themselves. Doing so will teach them self-reliance, foster creativity, and give them time for solo pursuits.” Similarly, Dr. Pierce urges parents to let their kids take care of homework on their own. “Check for completion, but don’t correct mistakes. Teachers get better information when children do their own work, and children learn valuable lessons about maintaining focus and taking pride in their work.”
Another suggestion: Assign chores that are meaningful. “Teach your children to clean up after themselves, starting with their toys and their clothes. Show them how to organize and manage their belongings. This will help them appreciate the value of their possessions and foster a sense of personal responsibility and respect,” said Dr. Pierce. “You’ll also help them to recognize that the success of their family depends on everyone’s contribution.”
Forget this notion of perfect parenting. The more you can accept yourself and recognize that there will be good days and bad days as a parent, the more accepting and attuned you can be of your children and their needs. As Dr. Pierce reminds us, having a positive, loving approach to yourself and your children is the key to raising healthy, confident kids in a not-so-perfect world.