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Helping children overcome disappointments crucial for parents

Published on -4/23/2012, 8:30 AM

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This is the final in a series of articles about positive parenting strategies for raising children.

Q: What are additional positive parenting strategies that address some of the most important areas of behaviors in children?

A: In her book "The Big Book of Parenting Solutions," Michele Borba outlines strategies to help children bounce back from failures and disappointments instead of giving up. These principles are effective when children make mistakes and are discouraged. First, parents need to offer support when needed but resist the temptation to do the tasks for children. Children need to develop confidence in their own abilities to figure out problems. Taking over and doing things for children lowers their self-esteem because such parental behavior conveys to children the parents do not have faith in their abilities to solve problems on their own.

Teaching children mistakes are opportunities to learn is another positive strategy to help children accept their mistakes and move on. Parents have to be willing to spend the time necessary to help children process mistakes and discuss how to benefit from them. Remaining non-judgmental while talking with children about what they were trying to achieve is fundamental. Criticizing children for the choices they made that led to failures or mistakes demoralizes children and does not lead them toward trying again.

Conveying beliefs you know children can succeed helps build their self-confidence. Perseverance is a necessary trait for success in adults and helping children learn to "hang in there" is an important task for parents. Resisting the temptation to tell children you knew their plans would not work is important. Children are sensitive about their mistakes or failures, the same as adults.

Making fun of or ridiculing children for their mistakes never is acceptable, under any circumstances. Shaming or judging children also is destructive. No one wants to make mistakes and certainly does not want to be humiliated. So kindness and nurturing are recommended when children are discouraged and feel like giving up.

Parents can help children learn positive self-talk that will encourage them to keep trying. Helpful phrases such as "making mistakes is OK" or "things do not have to be perfect" are positive thoughts that encourage children not to give up. Setting goals and failing to reach them is a good teaching situation for parents. Children need to learn what they can do and cannot do and how to set realistic goals. Parents also can help children understand and accept circumstances outside their control sometimes might cause disappointments or failures.

Borba's final advice is to stay calm and not to overreact to children's mistakes. Parental nonverbal responses might convey to children their own disappointments. Children do not like to disappoint their parents, and parents can demoralize children by reacting too intensely.

One of the most frequent conversations among parents is how spoiled someone else's children are. The consequences of being spoiled are far reaching and long-lasting. Such children might not learn any work ethic. Some learn manipulation and how to use people as major coping skills. Without a doubt, spoiled children become selfish adults.

Experts agree on positive strategies to get spoiled children back on track. First, loving children does not spoil them. Indulging them and failing to discipline them does.

The recommendations to reverse spoiling essentially are the same general principles parents should use in raising healthy children.

First is setting consistent limits, making exceptions only for special occasions. Firm and consistent limits are good only when accompanied by consequences that are appropriate for broken rules. Such consequences have to make sense in lieu of the infractions. For example, violating curfew would mean grounding for a specified time. Talking on the phone at 2 a.m. would mean no phone privileges for a specified time.

Incentives for desired behavior work well. The kinds of incentive depend on the ages and interests of the children. Elementary schools use this technique frequently by having individual children and classes earn parties, pizza, lunch with the principal, prizes, movies or other rewards.

Experts also recommend teaching children giving is as important as receiving. Volunteer activities are good ways to learn. Involving children in activities that help less fortunate children would be participating in Backpacks for Children, distributing food baskets at Christmas and volunteering for organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. Children also can do positive things for people in their own families.

One of the expected fallouts to reversing spoiling would be temper tantrums. Teaching children "no means no" is much easier if that lesson does not follow years of spoiling. So in reversing spoiling, parents can expect a lot of resistance.

Parents who model respect and consideration usually have children who behave accordingly. However, again, the process of modeling positive traits will go more slowly when working on spoiled children.

Final tips on effective parenting to parents come from teenagers themselves. Listen more than you talk. Respect your teen's autonomy. Explain rules and the reasoning behind them. Share your values but allow adolescents to sort out their own values. Educate teens about potential consequences and clarify them before conflicts and discipline problems arise.

Successful parenting requires love, patience, skill, knowledge, perseverance, optimism and luck.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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