I don’t yet have kids, but here’s one of my scariest parenting nightmares: By age eight, my kid will be a perpetually disorganized worrywart who freezes up at the sight of a division question on a standardised test.
That is to say, I fear that my poor hypothetical child will get stuck with all my worst qualities and I won’t be able to do anything about it.
I recently asked Carl Pickhardt — a psychologist who’s published multiple books about parenting, including, most recently, “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence” — about this potential scenario and he said, yes, parents have come to him with this complaint about their kids.
But when they do, he tries immediately to reframe the situation — to steer the focus away from the kid and their frustrating behaviours to the parent and how they are with the kid.
For example: Does the kid get upset easily, just like you do? Stop stressing about fixing the kid’s crying jags and take a look at your emotional outbursts when your kid is around. The key here, Pickhardt told me, is that you’re focusing on the area you can control: your behaviour.
Experiment with changing your example as a parent, Pickhardt said, and see if that makes a difference in your kid’s attitude: “Is it possible that if you change some of your own behaviour, you might encourage a different kind of response in your child?”
This sounds like simple advice, but Pickhardt said it can be hard for parents to implement — mainly because it’s challenging for them to understand that they can’t control their kid per se. Parenting gets easier once you understand that your time and energy is better spent trying to regulate your own behaviour.
Pickhardt gave another practical tip: Draw direct attention to the similarities between you and your kid. He shared a script for doing just that:
“I am not saying that you and I are the same person … but I see in you some behaviours that I see in me, for example that both of us can be frustrated very easily. And just to let you know, I have wrestled with that issue all my life. And these are some of the strategies that I have developed to manage myself around frustration, when I don’t get what I want right away.”
“Sharing can be very helpful for the kid,” Pickhardt said. “Kids are very grateful for that.”
All this to say: Your kid might, or might not, wind up struggling with the same issues you do. It’s the way life works. But you can help them take a different path — if not by directly manipulating their behaviour, then by offering them a better example.
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