When we bring a tiny life into this world as first time parents, we try to do everything right and perfect. Oftentimes we even project this perfection onto our children by expecting them to fit into a perfect little mold. Some of it is our own expectations we had of what our future children (prior to becoming parents) would be like, some is outside pressure, and some of it is “inherited” – ideas and sayings that have been passed down to us from our own parents. Think “if you swallow gum, it will stay in your stomach for seven years.” Will it really do that? No, and we know this yet we still pass these silly notions on to our kids generation after generation.
The same idea can be applied to certain “rules” we communicate to our children. A wise family counselor told me that we parents often enforce rules (sometimes nonverbally) upon our children without even conscientiously being aware of it or even having to explicitly state them out loud. In fact, most of these rules we don’t even mean to convey in the first place. And if we were to see them on paper we would think them to be ridiculous. But somehow our actions speak louder than intentions.
The 8 Unspoken Rules:
- We tell our children that they can’t make mistakes. Well, maybe not out loud but certainly in our actions. For example, when our toddler spills something on the floor time and time again, do we get frustrated and upset at him? He doesn’t mean to spill it, and he really is trying as hard as his fat little sausage fingers can, but he still lacks the coordination and skill to not be “all thumbs.” We should help him with his mistake, perhaps even laugh it off. Let him know that it’s not only okay to make mistakes but that mistakes will happen. Have him help clean up the mess and lovingly show him how to properly hold his cup, spoon or whatever it may be. We need to give our children the life skills to cope with their mistakes. Otherwise when a mistake does happen (and it will), their world may come crashing in around them and they will not be equipped to deal with it.
- You should learn from me and not from life experiences. In trying to help our childen not feel any pain, we try to pass on our own life experiences to them. Yes, we should tell them our mistakes and hope for the best, but they will also need to make their own mistakes. Let them experience natural consequences – don’t always swoop in and save the day or you’ll be doing a disservice to them as an adult.
- Never try things on your own, because you’ll just mess it up. We want to help our children to be successful and perfect adults, so we help them by doing things for them. The message we are conveying here is that they can’t do anything by themselves so why even bother trying.
- You can avoid consequences in life by being perfect. Now, wouldn’t that be nice? Life’s not fair, and even in doing everything right and so-called perfect, life will throw some curve balls at you. Children need to know this, so they don’t end up sorely disappointed later in life.
- You are supposed to know as much as I do. I often catch myself talking to and reasoning with our 4 year old like he is an adult. Obviously he’s not a mini adult, but in my words and actions it seems as if I expect him to be, and I can’t believe that he acts so foolishly and childish at times. (Go figure a 4 year old acting childish!) I get upset that he can’t understand adult concepts, but I forget that he’s only 4. Even a teenager acts foolishly.
- You should never fight with others. Disagreements will happen – with parents, siblings, friends, roommates, spouses, coworkers, you name it. Your children need modeled examples of how to fight fairly and sensitively. How they learn to fight with their siblings now can quite possibly affect how they fight with their spouses in marriage.
- I can be angry but you can’t. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay, however, to act upon that anger with outrage. Children just have to realize how to properly direct, deal with and control their anger in healthy ways. And they need us to help them and model it for them. When we tell them they can’t be angry or sad, we are telling them that how they feel doesn’t matter. Kids are just like us. They have real feelings just like you do. And chances are your kids are exactly like you in temperament. So be compassionate rather than judgmental and dismissive.
- Adults are always right. Well, let’s face it, most of the time this is true. But on a few rare occasions, my 4 year old is right and I am sorely in the wrong. They need to know that we parents make mistakes, too, and can apologize to our children.
These unspoken rules speak volumes to our children, and can leave our children feeling inadequate and unloved. Our children should be unconditionally nurtured and loved, and should know and feel our love for them at all times – even when we are our angriest and through all of their mistakes, big and small.
Verbal affirmations are not enough to show your unconditional love, as different children feel loved in different ways (but we will talk about that in another post). They should be constantly reassured through our words and our actions towards them.
Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18
When we tell them we are proud of them and/or show our love and appreciation only when they accomplish or perfect something and meet our expectations, what are we telling them? They should never feel as if they need to earn our love, especially by being perfect.
And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.“ Mark 1:11
Tell them you love them even when you are upset and frustrated. Hug them fiercely out of the blue – when they are just sitting there doing nothing at all. As you witness a good deed (such as sharing, cleaning up without being told or being compassionate), praise them. [But beware of performance-based love (rewards for behaviors or performance), as this can be construed as conditional love.]
What we model for our children will most likely be carried through their parenting of our grandchildren and so forth. Like an abusive parent whose children become abusive parents or tend to marry an abusive spouse, it keeps being carried through to subsequent generations further and further down the line. Somehow we need to break the cycle of these unspoken rules. Not only will we make an impact on our own family now, but for generations to come. In essence, we are fortifying our homes, the homes of our children, and the homes of our children’s children. Think of it as an investment in your family to come.
What do your children need to hear from you today?