stressed overscheduled kid - Couples Therapy Center of NJ

What is the One Crucial Skill You May Not be Teaching Your Children?

If you’re focused on your kids’ academics and sports, you may be missing the boat.  More than ever, society defines success for our children as good grades, how many activities/sports they participate in, and even how many friends they have. Beyond participation, we’re taught they need to excel in order to succeed in life.  Consequently, we invest tons of time, energy and money into these areas of our child’s development.  We bend over backwards to chauffeur them to activities, to study with them, hire tutors and send them to the best schools, or to hire private coaches and get them on the travel teams.  Of course, these are worthwhile and valuable aspects of life. But, if your relationship with their other parent is suffering in the meantime, you’re missing the boat on a crucial aspect of your child’s development.

There’s a meme on social media that states something like “Don’t worry about watching your children’s behavior.  Worry about your children watching yours.” Regardless of their age, our children ARE watching us: how we love their other parent, argue with their other parent, and how we handle our own emotions.  (They’re also observing how we manage other areas of our life (spiritual, health and fitness, involvement with extended family, career, financial et cetera).  If your relationship with their other parent is limping along or in conflict, that can have a huge impact on what a child learns about relationships and have repercussions well into their adulthood.  We may not be aware of the lessons we are teaching, but as their parents, we are unconsciously modeling for them how to act and react.  If we are easily annoyed with, or contemptuous of, our spouse, kids learn that’s how married couples view one another.  If we play the victim and feel sorry for ourselves, kids learn that’s how to handle feelings of hurt or loneliness.  If we turn to alcohol, overeating, or another compulsive behavior to numb our own emotions, kids learn that’s how to handle painful feelings.

While we may be busy raising children who are achieving academically, or who are involved in many activities, as parents we may be missing the opportunity to develop something much more important to a child’s development –their ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships.  Who cares if they become a prize winner, champion or professional success if their personal life is in shambles? Or if they’re lonely? Or in conflict with those closest to them?  I bet we all could think of at least one person in history who made a significant contribution to society but who left a wake of hurt in their personal relationships and/or was depressed, addicted, and even suicidal.  It is likely that these people did not have enough skills in interpersonal relationships and dealing with emotion, even though they were what society defines as “successful”.

Our children are watching and learning how we handle interpersonal interactions every day. Therefore, they need us to develop OUR ability to handle conflict well, to give and receive love, and to deal with our own emotions effectively.  Our schools have begun to teach these skills, but not nearly enough.  Do not underestimate the amount they are observing and concluding just from witnessing you.

Ask yourself how you rate on the following statements:

  • I am actively engaged in learning how to be a better spouse, parent and/or friend.
  • I take responsibility for all relationship conflicts when they arise.
  • I recognize when I need support and am continually seeking help.
  • I read/listen to something instructional or inspirational for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • I acknowledge my feelings, express them appropriately, and decide what’s the best course of action.

I’m suggesting you spend as much time and effort on yourself as you do on your children because BOTH of you benefit – you’ll have a better relationship with their other parent, your kids will be watching positive and healthy interactions, and you’ll feel calmer and better able to handle what life throws at you.  Success in sports and academics is not the be-all end-all for our children.  Success in relationships (intimate, familial, collegiate) will have a tremendous impact on your future adult-child’s happiness and success in life, for we are humans who live in community and need one another.

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Relationship Essentials

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