I know I usually write this column for teens, but I’m going to take exception this time and answer this fabulous question from a parent. Parents: “For all you do, this one’s for you.” Pun definitely intended.
Children’s worldview – children of all ages – is vastly influenced by their parents’ worldview. Sometimes children decide to purposely approach their lives the opposite of the way their parents did, and sometimes children imitate their parents, and sometimes children interact with the world in a rebellious mode to spite their parents. But the fact remains that the anchor of a child’s worldview and action in the world is how his or her parents act in the world and view life. Either children will mimic their parents, rebel against their parents, or purposely decide to do differently than their parents did. But the common denominator in their decision-making process is “the actions and views of their parents.”
Most often, when children decide to imitate their parents, it’s either (1) imitating the bad traits of their parents because it’s easier than restraining themselves (like getting mad instead of controlling their temper) or (2) because the children feel a warm, cozy feeling about their parents and want to continue living their lives the same way it’s felt comfortable to live their lives until now. The way to have children experience that warm, cozy feeling about their parents is for parents to respect and love their kids – their kids of all ages. If a child feels cared for, loved, and respected, there will be an automatic bonding with the parent, and, often, a decision to do things the way his or her parents did them.
For a child to feel cared for, loved, and respected, he or she needs to feel heard. You, as a parent, can definitely say your opinion. You can even insist it be done your way. But if you want your child to feel cared for, loved, and respected, you have to make sure he or she feels heard first and foremost. Like I told a client this week: “When your son brings up his gender identity issues with you, tell him, ‘I love you and I want to hear your opinion.’ Then really listen to him. Then, because you disagree with him, you can tell him ‘I love you. This is hard for me because it’s not confluent with my values, but I love you and I want to be close to you.” Then explain your values. Then say “I love you” again.
Your kids will eventually go out and do whatever they want to do – either with your permission or without it. If you want your ideals and values to influence their decisions, make sure they feel your love, caring, and respect. And that happens by listening to their thoughts and opinions. Even if you end up saying “I hear you. Okay, so we have different opinions. I love you anyway!”
Children also often imitate their parents simply because they’ve seen their parents’ values in action over and over and over again. If children see their parents drinking moderately and responsibly, they very well might learn to approach alcohol moderately and responsibly. If they see their parents out of control in any area of the parents’ life, they may practice some out-of-control behaviors of their own, in any number of arenas, including with alcohol.
Sometimes children rebel against their parents when they feel too controlled. Teaching your children to either abstain from alcohol completely or to drink moderately and responsibly (whichever you’ve chosen to teach them) has to be done in a way that leaves the child feeling respected and capable of being an independent thinker. In my case, my father told me: “If you ever want to get drunk, come to me and you can get drunk at home so I can make sure you’re safe. Then you can decide if being drunk was something you liked or didn’t like, something you want to do again or never want to do again.” His saying that to me made me feel as though I were the one who had control over and choice regarding my own actions. There was nothing for me to rebel against.
Sometimes children decide to do the opposite of what their parents do because their parents don’t make good decisions. If you act in ways that cause your child to lose respect for you, he or she might very well decide to act not like you have. If you’ve broken promises or cheated in any way or lied or been abusive, don’t expect your child to respect your values and want to follow them. Also, if you’ve made your child miserable, he or she will probably want to approach life not like you have.
A very important point regarding your question: if your child is already drinking habitually and in a way that is interfering with his or her life, you must take your child to an addictions specialist. There are wonderful therapists and rehab centers that can help people get their addictions under control. A good addictions therapist can help you design an intervention plan to save your child from himself.
You can never convince anyone else to do anything. Pure and simple. What can you do to change your child’s behavior? You can be a wonderful role model. You can talk, rationally and calmly, about your approach to the topic at hand. You can even voice your preference that your child follow your opinion. And most of all, listen, hear, pay attention to your child. Respect the fact that he or she can have an opinion, even if it’s different than yours. They’re much more likely to want to follow your way if you’ve given them the message that their thoughts matter to you. Most of all, love them. Spend time with them. Do fun things with them. Make their life with you a happy, fun, comfortable, safe, lovely place to be. If you do all that, why wouldn’t they want to continue their lives that way?
Given all that as a foundation, you are welcome to make rules and impose logical consequences if those rules are not followed. But if you do all the things in the aforementioned paragraph, rules and consequences might be unnecessary, or only necessary for a short period of time.
The process of parenting, the process of shaping and molding children, is a vast topic. I’ve only written a tiny portion of it here. But if you read this article with an open mind, honestly thinking about which of the points apply to your relationship with your child, then earnestly working on making your contribution to your relationship better, you very well could see significant improvement. It might even be a good idea to read this article together with your child and ask him which of the points he thinks apply to your relationship – where he thinks you both could improve in order to make your relationship better. I always encourage my children to tell me honestly how they’re feeling. It’s part of respecting them.
As my friend once told me, “Raising good children is a public service.” So, as part of the public, I thank you for reading this article, because working on your parenting shows that you’re trying to be the best parent you can be.