What parents believe they are trying to do for their kids and how kids understand what their parents are trying to do for them are often two very different things. For instance, a parent could take his child to a baseball game to spend time with the child while the child thinks she is being taken to the game because dad likes baseball and decided to drag her along. Often, the effort we make as parents is totally wasted because our children misunderstand or discount our true intentions.
A study in the Journal of Family Issues highlights the importance of one simple strategy for becoming a more effective parent–especially for dads. Namely, ask you kids if you’re being the parent they need.
Dads may be surprised by the “filters” their children use to interpret their behavior, making it important for fathers to regularly ask about the relationship. “Fathers should ask, ‘am I more or less than you need me to be?’,” Cookston said, “and children — particularly adolescents — should be able to say, ‘I need you to change course.'”
Show your emotional support. Dads provide everything from discipline to role modeling, but Cookston said it is the fathers who emphasize their emotional relationships with their children who have kids that are less likely to behave in aggressive and delinquent ways.
Don’t be afraid to switch up your style. If you weren’t always a warm and accepting father, it’s not too late to become one, according to Cookston. “Parents can change, and kids can accept that. Parents need to be constantly adapting their parenting to the development and individual needs of the child.”
Asking your kids if you’re being the parent they need isn’t the same as giving away your authority. We’re not talking about begging them to be their friend. What this strategy asks you to do is to simply step back and take some time to ask your kids how they are understanding the efforts that you’re making. Are they getting what you’re trying to say with your words and actions? If not, how could you change things up so that you can more effectively communicate the message you want them to receive. There is a saying in counseling. “The meaning of the message is the response you get.” We can think we’re wonderful parents, but if we don’t stop and check our kids’ perception of our efforts from time to time, we won’t really know if we’re reaching their hearts he way we want to.
It takes a little humility to do this, but ironically, parents who take this approach find that their authority grows in the fertile soil of this humility. Believe it or not, our kids know we’re not perfect. They appreciate our willingness to admit this all-too-obvious reality. Being willing to both acknowledge that and take the time that’s necessary to check their perceptions enables them to more willingly submit to our authority, learn what we have to teach them, and turn their hearts toward us.
For more information on how to claim your child’s heart, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.