People must be so sick of other people nattering on about the challenges and joys of parenthood. I know I am. But sometimes a thought gets in your head and you need to share it. Especially when you’ve been bad about posting on your own blog in recent weeks.
Anyway, here I am working on a revised edition of Overcoming Autism, which brings up a lot of thoughts about what we did and didn’t do right with our own kids in the past, and of course I’m still raising or at least dealing with them in the present, and something’s come up a lot lately that I realize is sort of the kernel of parenting conundrums:
When do you point out your child’s mistakes or weaknesses in order to help him improve them, and when do you back off, knowing that a parent’s criticism is far more painful than anyone else’s?
There’s no simple answer to this. If any parent told me, “It’s not a problem for me,” then I would not trust that person, because good parenting is about self-examination and thoughtfulness, not knee-jerk assumptions that what you do is right.
We all want our children to succeed, and not just in the obvious (financial, power-acquiring) kinds of ways. Success can simply mean acquiring the ability to navigate through life’s pitfalls and disappointments to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. (Actually, that IS the definition of success if you ask me.) And sometimes we see things about our children that worry us. Okay, a lot of times we see things about our kids that worry us. Maybe they’re not motivated in school. Maybe they don’t have good manners. Maybe they present themselves in ways that might be offputting to others. Maybe they drive us crazy every single moment of every single day. Maybe they have diagnosable special needs.
There are a lot of reasons to be worried. So how do we “fix” our kids?
Okay, that was a trick question. We’re not really going to try to fix our kids, because they’re not broken. But we do want to teach them. The thing to remember is that you don’t teach by tearing down, you teach by building up. And nothing wounds more than a parent’s disapproval. If you kid does something he hopes will make you proud–finishes an assignment, acts in a play, plays on a team–be proud. Let him know you think he’s great. Don’t start pointing out everything he did wrong or could have done better. There are teachers and coaches and directors and other people who are there to give notes and suggest improvements.