The Number One Secret of Great Parents

It's not about giving advice, gifts, connections — it's far subtler

It’s been said that girls start out easy as children and become difficult teens, and boys start out as difficult children and are a breeze when they hit the double-digits.

There’s some general truth to this axiom, yet it doesn’t address the one big secret every parent should know when it comes to parenting any child — a secret that renders said axiom inert.

Related: Be a Good Parent — Say No

Not only is this secret true of parenting children, it is true of every single relationship in life. Ready? Here it comes.

The one thing that children and adults want more than anything else is to be seen — and heard, but we’ll count this as one thing.

We all want to feel valued and appreciated. Nobody likes to be dismissed, or to have their feelings tossed aside. The more children are listened to when they are young, the more self-esteem they will have growing up — and the more they will advocate for their own feelings in interpersonal relationships.

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The big mistake that most parents make is driven out of a natural desire to protect our offspring. We want to fix things. We want to solve their problems. We want to tell the parents of that crabby kid who is teasing our child to get their own kid under control. Yet in solving a child’s problem, we may inadvertently make things worse — both emotionally and experientially.

Children who are having difficulties and come to rely on parents to solve their problems may never learn to solve problems themselves.

Children, especially tween and teens, desperately need loving parents to whom they can express anything. Sometimes the things are very real problems or issues that arise in everyday life, but sometimes the child just needs to sound off, to find someplace to put the emotions that they are feeling — they have not yet reached a developmental level where they can handle them on their own. Regardless, the most effective thing you can do is to just sit and listen. That’s it. Let the child talk, or cry, or scream, or whatever they need to do.

Many times, as the emotions are vocalized in relation to a tangible problem, the child will find the solution on their own. They will come to terms with whatever it is they are feeling, and then be able to act authentically to articulate whatever their goal may be, and how to achieve it.

If your child has ever gone off on something, and you immediately try to fix it or suggest solutions, you may have been greeted by this: “Dad! That’s not what I meant!” or some equivalent. The child is telling you that he or she just needs to be heard.

Related: Poor, Pampered Kids with Hyper Parents

If you feel awkward just sitting there, one effective tool is to “echo” the child. If they are angry, it’s okay to say, “You sound very angry about that. I understand. I would feel angry, too.” This acknowledges the child’s feeling, sends a message that to feel this way is acceptable, and provides empathy so the child does not feel alone.

Another tactic that may or may not work, depending on the child, is to listen to what he’s going through, echo it, and add that you experienced the same thing around the same time in your life.

“I know how you feel. I remember when I was just about your age, and the same thing happened to me.”

Just be sure you have some story to share to evidence it.

Experientially, children who are having difficulties and come to rely on parents to solve the problem may never learn to solve problems themselves. They are less likely to become proactive adults, and more likely to look to the government to provide redress. It also can affect the child’s adult relationships. If you’ve ever experienced moments with your spouse or partner in which you are trying to express your feelings, and your partner just wants to fix the problem — well, you know what happens. An argument often ensues, beginning with, “You never listen to me!”

On the flip side, both boys and girls who experience an actively listening adult of the opposite gender are more likely to seek out a romantic partner in their adult life that shares that trait — which is more likely to lead to an emotionally fulfilling relationship where each partner listens to the other.

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