As a marriage and family therapist, I am frequently asked questions about parenting, families and children. These questions come at all kinds of unusual times and places. They come from friends around a barbecue, from acquaintances on Facebook, and even when I'm standing in line at the grocery store making chit chat.
Of all the stories and questions, one of the most common questions that I get is about how they can help one of their children who is going through a hard time. But this is one of the hardest things for me to answer. I have a hard time answering as a therapist. After all, that's the information they're looking for. But the most important information that I have learned in parenting children doesn't come from my schooling at all. It comes from my own experience as a parent. Below are the three most valuable insights that I have learned as a marriage and family therapist about being a parent.
Three important insights on parenting from a marriage and family therapist (and a parent.)
1) First, show love. Then, show anger
As parents, when we see one of our children do something wrong, one of our first inclinations is to ground him or otherwise punish him. We want him to know he did wrong, and we want him to learn not to do it, again. In school, I was taught that negative consequences extinguish bad behaviors. But as a parent, I've learned that an ounce of love is worth a pound of punishment. If you can show your child love first when she makes a mistake, she'll remember that a lot more than what a "jerk" you are for grounding her. And she'll be more likely to accept the punishment you give her afterwards, as well.
2) Play with your children more
Children love to play. They love to run, climb fences, swing on swings, etc. And nothing is more to them than when you play with them. As a grown up, they know you're busy. So when you play with them, it shows them how much you love them. Even as teenagers, they like to play with you. They may not want you to swing them on a swing anymore, but you'd be surprised what a kick they get out of watching you trying to play the Xbox with them.
In school, I was taught that children learn through play. They learn spatial reasoning by running and jumping. They learn social skills by negotiating with others who they're playing with, etc. But as a parent, I've learned that nothing draws me closer to my children than when I play with them. They're some of the best memories that I have, and I'm surprised at the memories they remember about simple times when we played together, too. Here are some tips on how to be a dad, not just a father.
No success outside the home will ever compensate for failure inside the home." - David O. McKay, public speaker, educator. As a marriage and family therapist, I love what I do. I've appeared on TV, several radio shows and I am regularly asked to write articles all over the Web. I leap at these opportunities because I am passionate about what I do. But when I get too passionate, I am reminded by my children to focus more on my home life.
In school, I learned that children who have parents that are less available feel anxiety and even exhibit behavioral problems, as a result. As a parent, I've learned that when I get too busy with my work, my children are unhappier and crankier. And, so am I. Even though I love helping others through my work, I am no happier than when I am spending ample time with my family — and neither are they.
Even though I am a therapist, the most valuable lessons I have learned about family didn't come through textbooks or seeing clients, they have come within the walls of my own home. These three lessons are some of the most important ones I've learned as a therapist and as a parent.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.