Parenting | Avoiding the judgment trap

These days I am reading the book “Your Child’s Self-Esteem” by Dorothy Corkille Briggs.  I am still in the process of reading and plan to finish it by next week.   As a mom, I often got gusts of guilty feelings along reading since many of the inappropriate examples seem talking about me.  That proves this books is very worthy reading.  It pin-points the usual questions of each parent face and give step-by-step solutions to build your children’s self-esteem.  I plan to read this book in a way to read a school textbook and prepare school exams.  In this way, I’ll understand and absorb the content better, in hope to put the theories into my daily parenting practice. While reading along, I’ll exert some chapters or examples in this blog for self- examination, and also for sharing.

Avoiding the judgment trap

(Page 65)

Parents are constantly advised to spend more time with children.  Yet, it is the quality of time and not the quantity that affects the feeling of being loved.  Mr. H spends hours with his youngsters, working with them on projects and games. On the surface the time spent looks like proof of devotion.  But when you observe, you hear a flow of comments like these:

“Stop dawdling over your turn, Jimmy. Get going!”
“You’re not holding that saw right.  How many times have I told you to hold it this way?”
“Why can’t pitch that ball the way your brother does? When will you learn to throw from your shoulder?”
“You’ve messed up this paint job.  Here, let me do it. For Pete’s sake, this time watch me. If you’re going to do something, do it right!”
The hours with his youngsters are filled with criticisms, lack of respect, comparisons, and high demands.  The more time his children spend with him, the less adequate and lovable they feel.  Sheer time does not necessarily add up to love.

(Page 86-87)

To avoid judgments, tell your youngsters what is going on inside you without using labels.
The labeling words — adjectives and nouns that describe a person — are the ones that cause trouble. Words like “dawdler,” “messy,” “procrastinator,” “sloppy,” “rude,” “mean,” “selfish,” “naughty,” “nice,” “good,” “bad,” “shameful,” and so on are judgmental by nature.  Such labels have no place in the vocabulary of nurturing adults.
In general, using “You,” and following it by a noun  or adjective describing the child, sends a judgment.  Ordinarily, “I,” followed by what is going on inside you, sends a reaction toward behavior.  Let’s look again at some messages send first as judgments, and then as reactions.
 Judgement_reaction
Self-application
1) Stop nagging.  Kids are kids.  They develops according to their growth path.  It’s not fair to treat them as perfect figures, or as mature adults.  Honestly speaking, how mature an adult is?  I am in my late 30’s, but still in the process of self-improvement.  Be aware of any words coming out of a parent’s mouth.  Examine them before shooting them out of mouth.  If the words are not positive or productive, the parent and kids would be better off if the parent shuts up.  Sometimes, kids performs something improper in the parents’ eyes, they make funny noises or gestures in public, they go to scrutinize the flowers on the road side while you are rushing to somewhere, they refuses to cooperate to your request in face of your friends.  If they are not big issues, just live with them.  Only if you understand and tolerate their trivial childish words and actions, will you find the virtue of your kids, and will you enjoy every minutes spent with your kids.
2) Practice nonjudgment.  Use “I-reaction” — “I,” followed by what is going on inside you, sends a reaction toward behavior. Learning to suspend judgment is far from easy, because most of us have spent a lifetime being judged ourselves.  Below is one excise I did for my situation:-
“You are such a picky eater.” –>> “I am worried you don’t have enough energy to play ball later.”  “I really hope you can try this new food.”  “I feel so happy you like this pie.”
3) Treat the kids as friends.  Parents sometimes act as if kids don’t have feelings because they ignore their existence and discuss their kids’ shortcomings publicly in front of the kids.
In the book one page 90, the author wrote,
Ask yourself this question: “If I were to treat my friends as I treat my children, how many friends would I have left?”  Few of us would think of shaming or analyzing friends in front of others, jerking them up short with sarcasm, humiliating, embarrassing, hitting, or ordering them about like soldiers under our command.  Of course not.
A child is no less sensitive because of his size.  Disrespect always encrusts caring so that it can’t be felt.

Am I pretty?

According to the aesthetic standard of ordinary Chinese people, I am pretty, at least I was so when I was little.  One of the proofs is that, very often a random passer-by pointed at me out of a group of girls on the way to and fro school, and said, “Oh, look at that little girl.  She is so pretty.”

I never knew I am pretty though, although the above said proof.  One of the reasons was because my mom often scolded me by saying, “Don’t stare with your stupid big eyes.”  Due to my own character, I was very sensitive to my mom’s judgement.  I thus believed that I was very awkward; especially with my big eyes on my face, my expression might be very stupid.  When I grew up, whenever people admired my pretty, alert, penetrating, big eyes, I was very surprised and thought it was only their politeness.   I finally trusted their appraisal to be true when my dearest husband also liked my big eyes.

I don’t blame my mom.  Being a housewife from the small village of rural area in China, she didn’t take any school.  So the way she taught us was primitive, without any deliberate methods.  Actually most parents in our village taught their kids in this way.  That’s why most of the kids dropped out from elementary school or middle school.  Very few went to high school, not mentioning college.  So the case like my life path was very rare and exceptional considering my growth environment.  My parents have been very proud of me, because I jumped out of the rural area and went to big cities, and then went abroad.  My fellow villagers are  proud of me too because the world I saw was out of their imagination.  For them, some of the elders never went out of the rural area, and they even don’t know the earth is round.

I am lucky that I can explore the outer big world.  However, due to my primitive educational method, there have been lots and lots of inner struggles in my mind along the way when I was trying my best to adapter to the outer world. For example, my mom used to tell me that, “all our neighbors look down upon us, you have to study hard to be distinguished.” I followed her advice and studied hard and fulfilled my (or her) dream.  However, the success was based on distorted motivation.  I found myself end up caring too much about others’ opinions, and being very socially awkward.  Looking backward, I don’t even know what my mom’s theory “all our neighbors look down upon us” is based on.  Maybe she only wanted to motivate me.  My obedience to my mom helped my outward success, but also deteriorate my inner value.

Now that I am literate with one bachelor degree and three masters degrees under my belt, I should be responsible for myself, instead of complaining around.  I would like to cure every single wound inside.  I want to become a person with high self-esteem and lead a life with meaning.  Honestly speaking, I still don’t know how.  But at least, I have the courage to face up to my inner world, and write an article about it.   To me, this is a big step.

I am a mom of two lovely kids now.  I know the enormous influence of a mom upon their kids’ future lives, given myself as an example.  I understand the huge responsibility to educate my kids in the proper way.  Not a time I felt like treading on the thin ice,  and sometimes I got the feeling of helplessness.  I know myself well enough so when my kids perform short of my expectation, I would figure it out that, “even I myself is kinda messy inside, how can I impose high request on my kids?”  Secretly I am convicted that I shall elect example for my kids.

Self-improvement is a learning process.  Parenting can be learned too.  Thankfully, there are a lot of classic books on both subjects.   I am eager to devour them and apply them to my life.  Stay tuned!

Prepare kids for adolescence

The other day Richard and I had a talk about kids education.  We both thought that it is very important to prepare kids for a proper attitude towards the opposite sex when they reach adolescence.  We especially don’t want them to follow our old trap.  For most Chinese parents, sex is like a taboo and it is never a topic of conversation between parents and their teen kids.  So when I grew up to a teen, I was extremely shy and withdrawn, especially in front of the opposite sex.   I remembered that when my breast began to develop, I became so sub-conscious that I stooped all the time with a fear of being noticed.  For a very long time, I dared not to face up to a boy.  I struggled for years to adjust my attitude/character and learn to get along with the opposite sex after I attended the university.  So it was not surprising that I started to have a boyfriend at a very late age.

Both Richard and I suffered this process, so we realized the importance to prepare our kids for their adolescence, although they are very young now.  During the conversation, we didn’t get a conclusion about how-to though.  Today when I read the classic parenting book — the 5 love languages of children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, I kinda found part of the solution.  (I haven’t finish the book yet.  Once I finish reading the book, I may get more ideas on this topic to share.)  Here are some of the excerpt from the book:-

During your child’s grade school years, it is essential to remember that you are preparing him or her for the most difficult part of childhood–adolescence.

…While boys approaching adolescence may pull back from touch, fearing it’s too feminine, girls may find their fathers pulling back.  If you want to properly prepare your preadolescent daughter for the future, don’t hold back with the touches.  Here is why.

During the preadolescent stage, girls have a particular need for expressions of love from their fathers.  Unlike boys, the importance of being assured of unconditional love increases for girls and seems to reach a zenith around the age of eleven. One reason for this special need is that mothers generally provide more physical affection at this stage than fathers do.

If you could watch a group of sixth-grade girls at school, you would see the difference between those who are prepared for adolescence and those who are struggling.  As a girl nears this delicate stage in her life, she intuitively knows that she needs to feel good about herself.  She also unconsciously knows that she needs to have a good sexual identity in order to weather the years ahead.  It is crucial that she feel valuable as a female.

As you watch the girls, you will see that some have a difficult time relating to the opposite sex.  They are either shy or withdrawn around boys, or they may be flirtatious and even seductive.  While boys may enjoy the flirtations of an attractive girl, they do not hold her in high regard and usually ridicule her in private.  But the real agony for this girl is not just her reputation but her ongoing relationships with other girls.  They tend to resent her because of her behavior with boys. At this age, having normal and supportive friendships with other girls is far more important than getting along with boys.  These friendships also set a lifelong pattern.

Some of those girls you observe do not resort to awkward behavior with boys.  They can simply be themselves because of their healthy self-esteem and sexual identity.  Their behavioral patterns are consistent and stable, whether they are interacting with the star quarterback or a shy, hesitant boy.  You also notice that the boys hold them in high esteem.  But best of all, they have close, supportive, meaningful relationships with other girls.

Girls with strong and healthy self-esteem and sexual identity can better stand against negative peer pressure.  They are more able to hold on to the moral standards they were taught at home, and are better equipped to think for themselves.

What makes the difference in these girls? Some have such problems with their peer relationships and others are doing beautifully.  You guessed it — the emotional love tank.  Most of those who are doing well have fathers who take their part in keeping the emotional tank full.  But if a girl does not have a father present in the home, all is not lost. She may find a good father substitute in a grandfather or uncle.  Many fatherless girls grow to be healthy women in every way.

Drawing

Eric loves drawing.  Whenever he gets a chance, he’ll draw his favorite trains and tracks.

Since Eric has so much interest in drawing, we would like to cultivate his potential on this aspect more.  So we registered him for a drawing class in the local community college.  I also bought several books for him.  However, ever since he attended the class, he didn’t show any enthusiasm over the class and the books.  I was slightly disappointed and wondered why.

Yesterday evening I pulled out one of the books and suggested Eric to draw together.  He was excited.  We sat down together, brought out two sheets of paper, one for Eric and one for me, we chose our favorite crayon colors, and then we started drawing.  For each picture, first, we had a little discussion; second, we decided who took the lead to give drawing instructions step by step; third, we discuss more during drawing; fourth, after drawing, we compare our drawings to look for space of improvement, and if we thought the outcome was not as expected, we would make remarks for one more time drawing in the future.  Anyway, we worked as a wonderful team.

We drew one picture after another.  When we finished 10 pictures, I felt very tired, and I believed Eric was very tired too.  So I asked if we could call it a day.  Eric replied that he was not tired and he wanted to draw some more.  So we drew for another half an hour.  During the period I proposed several times for a break, and Eric was just reluctant to do so.  Until I promised to draw with him again the next day, Eric finally agreed to wrap up. By then, it was about 9 pm already.

I felt both happy and guilty.  I was happy because Eric indeed has a passion for drawing.  I was guilty because I didn’t do my best to cultivate his skill before yet I complained that he didn’t work hard.  I determined to accompany Eric for his drawing, reading, and activities as much as possible.

Birthday party fun

Jesse, Eric’s friend from the Church, turned four on the weekend. We went to Jesse’s birthday party on Sunday afternoon.

The party theme is Spiderman. Jesse was dressed in Spiderman costume.  The cupcakes and goodies bags are all decorated with Spiderman icon.  Very cute.
Several activities were also arranged for the kids, including pizza dinner, swing, climbing tree (only interested Eric :-)), and blow bubbles.  Super fun.  Eric had a blast.  When it’s time to get home, Eric was so reluctant to go that he shouted, “I am not tired.” 🙂

Eric has been longing for climbing trees for a long time. At the friend’s backyard there is a small tree which is perfect for Eric to horn his climbing skills.  Eric didn’t miss the chance and he played with the tree for a long time 🙂

Parenting: OK, let’s play

The other day, during a casual talk, I told Eric that when daddy was at his age, daddy could read books all day long, and was very interested in math. Secretly, I had two purposes to say this: 1. to motivate Eric to ; 2. to set up the Husband’s brilliant image in Eric’s mind.

Eric’s response was totally beyond my expectation. He asked,”did he know how to play?” For a moment, I didn’t know how to answer.  To be honest, I was deeply impressed by a four-year-old’s pointed remarks. It hits the nail on the head.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This is a familiar saying.  I am Chinese.  But I am not a tiger mother by any means.  However, sometimes I become very pressured and tend to be kind of pushy, especially when I knew several friends’ three-year-old kids have already begun piano and swimming classes.  I definitely need a clear reminder (like the one from Eric’s reply) to make me recognize that play is still preschoolers’ main job.

Eric is climbing up a tree 🙂

We plan to give Eric more time to play, at least for the time before he attends elementary school.  After all, play is the path that young children take to learn. Learn though play will be more fun.

Meet Daisy

Daisy is an almost-three-months-old little darling.
This little one’s main daily tasks now are eating and sleeping.  However, she has a clear craving for communication.

 She loves to talk…with her own coo language. If I respond her back with the same coo coo sound, she will be very happy, always paying me a sweet smile, a smile that can easily melt my heart.

 When I speak to her, she stares at my mouth intensively.  It is obvious that she wants to observe how my mouth moves and curves so she can imitate to let out the same sound.

She is very curious.  Sometimes during her cry, if I turn on a light or walk to another room, she will forget about crying and rove her eyes around trying to find out what’s going on.

Dear Daisy, I love you!