Has your child ever approached you for comfort, but your efforts to calm escalated the distress? When this occurs, you are probably displaying a near enemy of what you actually want to portray. Near enemies look like the emotion we are attempting to foster but make the situation worse instead. The near enemy of kindness is conditional love. An example of this would be when your child tries to tell you a story about his day, and you interrupt it to correct his behavior. The opportunity to connect becomes hijacked by his fear of disapproval or punishment. You are responsible for correcting your child’s behavior, but you do not need to do it in the middle of his story. Let’s look at three parenting goals and the near enemies that impede them.
The near enemy of compassion is pity. Pity says, “I am so sorry that happened to you.” Compassion says, “I am right here with you, let’s figure out a solution together.” Your children are brokenhearted and upset about things you know are ridiculous, but your pity is patronizing. Take the time to be compassionate. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and remember what it was like when your friend was rude to you or when the teacher ignored you. Your child believes her world is falling apart. A great way to show compassion is by sharing a story of a difficult time in your childhood or reminding her of how she overcame a prior negative experience. Compassion always says, “Me too.”
The near enemy of connection is control. There are so many times in parenting when you have to be in control; please do so when necessary. However, there are a lot of times when your desire to “fix” the situation prevents you from connecting with your child. If your child is younger than 9, and you ask him to do something that you know he will attempt to avoid, join him in the effort until he feels competent. This bypasses any possible conflict, encourages growth, and strengthens attachment. If your child is older, and begins complaining, always ask her to clarify what she needs. Does she want you to get involved, offer advice, or just listen? Most of the time, older children simply want you to listen.
Being silent and sitting with your children when they are in hard places teaches them to pause before reacting. It allows them to rant, hear how silly their thoughts and emotions can be, and it is often all they need to calm down and make a wise choice.
The near enemy of teachability is a person who already knows everything and has to prove it to everyone. Model to your children that you are growing and learning every day. Share your mistakes and how you rectified them as often as you can. If appropriate, ask your children how they would solve your problem. Whatever you do, make your home a place where mistakes and imperfections are embraced as learning experiences instead of failures.
Remember this, write it on a sticky note, and read it daily. Character is caught not taught, so when you model compassion, connection, and teachability, your children will learn how to show this to others inside and outside the home.