Ten Things Every Parent Should Know
Written by Randi Fine
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
Raising children who will grow up to be self-sufficient, successful, and happy should be every parent’s ultimate goal. We are responsible for giving our children the skills they will need to thrive in a life that will certainly have many challenges.
Parents plant many seeds in their children and hope they will grow. It is difficult to know how we are doing as parents and what the end results will be because these seeds take many years to cultivate. We may feel like we are not getting through or making a difference, but have no doubt; we get out of our children exactly what we put into them, though we may not see the fruits of your labor until they leave the nest.
While raising children there are ten important areas that I believe parents should focus on. My daughter and son benefited from these philosophies. I hope your children will too.
- Think before you speak. Your children will absorb every word you say, whether it appears that they are listening or not. Choose your words carefully, especially around young children. Children are like sponges; they learn from what they hear and see. What parents say and do becomes imprinted on a child’s subconscious mind forever. Children believe everything you tell them. If you do not want your child using profanity, do not swear. Do not say hurtful or insulting things to your children in the heat of anger. You cannot take those hurtful words back, so think about how your child will interpret what you say before you say it. With all the potential our children have, we never want to pigeon hole them by name calling or negative labeling; it is never worth the risk of compromising their burgeoning self image. When a parent is hostile or angry toward his or her child, or someone the child loves, the child will absorb the negative emotions, whether or not those emotions are directed at him. Those angry words reverberate inside of a child’s impressionable young mind and create life-time scars. Whether it seems like it or not, if your children are within earshot, they are listening to your every word.
- Teach by example. Your children will do as you do. If you yell, they will yell. If you hit, they will hit. If you make unhealthy choices, they will do the same. The most important influence in a child’s life is her parents. Children idolize and trust their parents; they learn more from what their parents do than what they say. Children observe their parents’ behavior, their values, and priorities, and then mirror them. Those who parent with the motto, “do as I say, not as I do” are kidding themselves. Have no doubt–your children will do as you do. Everyone loses control now and then, but parents who always over react, yell, or scream teach their children that it is acceptable to behave in this manner when things do not go their way. If children observe unhealthy interactions between their parents, such as hurtful words and physical violence, they receive the message that love hurts. They will repeat those patterns in their own adult relationships. Model a healthy lifestyle for your children; do not abuse alcohol or drugs, smoke, or over-eat. Your children are watching. Always lead by example.
- Be clear and consistent in your expectations. Children feel safe and secure when they know and understand their limits. The three most important rules in child discipline are consistency, fairness, and conviction. Without these rules children never learn to think for themselves or take responsibility for what they do. Though all children will test the limits, they feel most loved and secure when they know that those limits are reinforced. Denying discipline means depriving children of the tools they will need to get along in life. Every household should have logical and clearly established consequences for misbehavior that are known and understood by the children. Some parents rashly act out in anger, using their power in an attempt to frighten their child into behaving, but then fail to follow through with the threat. Some parents punish randomly and inconsistently. And some parents make promises to their children in the moment just to pacify them and then renege or never bring those promises to fruition. These inconsistencies send mixed messages and are confusing to children. When parents do not follow through, children learn that they cannot trust and count on the word of their parents. That leads to behavioral problems inside and outside of the home, and later on in society. Parents are not perfect. We all lose our temper from time to time. When you unfairly lash out at your children, apologize for your behavior. Assure them that your anger was about you, not about them. Your children will learn that parents are human and make mistakes, and they will learn how to show respect for others. Our goal as parents is to create a bond of trust with our children so that they can feel safe in this world.
- Teach your child to develop clear emotional boundaries. Children should have a healthy sense of what is and what is not acceptable behavior to tolerate from others. Show them by example by demonstrating the boundaries that exist between the two of you. Do not mesh with your child. More often than not, parents with healthy boundaries will raise children with healthy boundaries. To teach children how to respect themselves and others, respect must be shown to them. Physical boundaries such as privacy in the bathroom, privacy when they dress, unwanted touching, and having their own bed in which to sleep are most easily taught by demonstration. When children are at an age where they can be alone for five or so minutes, teach them that when Mom or Dad goes to the bathroom they will close the door because they need their privacy. And when the child goes to the bathroom say, “I am going to close the door to give you your privacy. I will be right here if you need me.” Teach them to knock on closed doors before opening them by doing the same yourself. Every child should have a separate and unique identity within her family that she is loved, supported, and respected for. Let children make decisions by giving them choices. Allow them to decide how they will share their personal things with others. Teach them to communicate their thoughts and feelings about what makes them uncomfortable, such as being touched or having to kiss someone they do not feel affectionate towards. Never burden children with adult issues or discuss them when they are listening. If children are anywhere in the vicinity, assume that they are listening. And as children go through the stages of separation on their way to adulthood, encourage their growth–do not stunt them. Never make them feel guilty for pulling away from you. Do not take their withdrawal from you personally. Our ultimate goal is to teach our children to be independent adults.
- Be strong as steel for your children. Give them a secure, safe place to land when life hurts. Never let your children see you fall apart when they are the ones hurting. That is when they need you the most. When a child is hurting, physically or emotionally, it is about him or her; not about the parent. If parents fall apart every time their children are suffering, three things will happen: Children learn to bottle up their feelings so they will not hurt the parent, children learn to hide all of their pain from their parents, children learn to put the needs of their parent before their own. Children should never feel more concerned or responsible for their parents than their parents are for them. Do not be needy with your children. Let your children know, while showing them with your actions, that you will always be there to support them in whatever they go through–no matter what. Your home should be a peaceful sanctuary for your children; a place of love and trust, and a soft place to land in this harsh world. Children will feel secure when they know that their parents can weather any storm.
- Be your child’s greatest advocate. Put your own insecurities aside and stand up for your child’s best interests. There is a fine line between advocating and being overprotective. We should all encourage our children to handle their own issues when possible, but when their efforts are not effective we must step in before things spin out of control. Bullies abound in a child’s world. Bullies are masters of deception and can be very dangerous. The problem often escalates quickly; your child may be goaded into retaliating and getting into trouble. If the school administration will not help you, take action. Do whatever it takes to protect your child. It is every parent’s responsibility to advocate and speak up for his or her child whether comfortable with confrontation or not. The school system will not protect your children’s safety or insure their ability to learn in a non-hostile environment. There are many wonderful, encouraging teachers in the school system, but there are also teachers in every school who pick on students and are verbally abusive. These teachers may be sugar-sweet to your face and then turn around and verbally abuse your child in the classroom. Listen to what your children tell you about their day at school. Ask questions. Be focused and informed when it comes to the specific needs of your children. Speak up and be persistent in managing those needs.
- Encourage the development of your child’s inner beauty. Teach children to be kind, understanding, fair, and loving. These attributes are more admirable, durable and lasting than outer beauty. True beauty does not lie in appearance, it lies in character. It is essential for your children’s self-images that they do receive compliments for looking nice. Never deprive your children of hearing you say how beautiful or handsome they are. But just as importantly, never fail to acknowledge their beautiful inner qualities. Do not over focus on the child’s beauty, and never tell your children that they are perfect. In fact, you should send a clear message that nobody is perfect and nobody needs to be perfect. Catch your children doing good things; praise and reward children when they act out of kindness, show compassion towards others, and express love or forgiveness. Let them see you practicing what you preach. Show kindness, humility, and compassion inside and outside the home. Reward, but do not spoil. Teach your children gratitude; to appreciate what they have and how to be giving to others. Teach them to respect the fact that every person is unique and important; never to judge people by their outer appearance. Accept your children for who they are, whatever their strengths or weaknesses, and encourage them to accept, be kind to, and love themselves. Be a shining example of inner beauty yourself so you can model it for your child. Plant seeds of self-love and self-esteem in your child. If your children are not as successful as they can be in school, reinforce to them that they are smart, regardless. Every child excels in some way. Academics may not be their strength but something else is. Accentuate their strengths and potential for success. They will eventually incorporate these truths into their self-image and rise to those heights.
- Demonstrate faith and hope for your children. Give them a spiritual foundation, whether religious or not, that is relatable and that they can interpret on their own. This is an invaluable tool that they will rely on for the rest of their life, one that helps them develop inner strength. Allow them to experience some disappointments so that they develop the skills to deal with whatever challenges life may throw at them. Don’t be a helicopter parent who tries to maintain control of every situation by hovering. This type of parenting is selfish; it is based on fear and insecurity. And it is irresponsible because it results in the stunting of the development of children’s coping skills. Coping is a crucial skill that is learned and developed through the experiences of life’s hard knocks. If children do not experience small, managed doses of disappointment along the way, they will never learn to cope in life. Parents are responsible for teaching their children the importance of faith and hope in learning to accept life’s disappointments. Parents should use every opportunity to show their children how life has a way of working things out; that even though they may not always get what they want, what they end up with might even be better. It is our job as parents to open our children’s eyes to all the possibilities that life has in store for them. We want them to always have hope for a better tomorrow, especially when they reach their emotionally charged teenage years and cannot imagine how much their life will change in the future.
- Be open, available, and nonreactive. If your children fear the reaction they will face when they tell you the truth, they will learn to lie. When children lie they are in danger of making bad decisions and succumbing to negative outside influences. Expect that your children will do things wrong and make mistakes. We all do. It does not mean your child is bad, it just reinforces the fact that children have a lot to learn. When your child does something wrong, never tell her that she is bad. Never compare your child’s weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. Remember, children believe what you say. If you tell them they are bad they will be bad. If you tell them they are inferior they will feel inferior. Just say that you did not like what they did, how they acted, or the way they handled a situation, but always reinforce how much you love them. It is fine to tell them that you feel frustrated or angry. It is not okay to fly off the handle. Losing control teaches your child that it is okay to resolve issues that way. It is important for parents to always keep the lines of communication open, to know who their children are and what they are doing. To accomplish this, parents should make a conscious decision never to show a negative reaction or act like they are uncomfortable when their children share feelings, tell the truth, or come to them with a problem–no matter how shocking. Children, especially teenagers, will not talk to their parents if they have learned through previous experience that they will be subjected to anger, ridicule, lectures, or judgment when they do. The last thing we want them to do is repress their emotions or feel like they have to make difficult decisions on their own out of fear of what our reaction will be. As the primary figure of authority in our children’s lives we want to be respected and trusted, not feared. Never withdraw love. Your children need your support . Praise your children every time they tell you the truth. Talk openly and honestly about the reality of the issues they bring to you; use them as teaching tools to help your children learn right from wrong and problem solve. There is no better way to protect your children than through a constant stream of open dialogue.
- Show vulnerability to your children. Share some of the mistakes you have made past and present; discuss the negative consequences of your choices. Use examples that your children can accept, process, and understand at their level of maturity. If you share things that you did when you were younger, whether right or wrong, your children will relate to you better. They will find you more approachable. Knowing that their parents are not perfect takes the pressure off of them to be perfect. Sharing some of our mistakes is a great way to encourage our children to talk to us about what is going on in their lives and the lives of their friends. It makes it more comfortable for them to tell us about mistakes they have made but have never shared.
Randi Fine is the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.