“You Cannot Be Too Loving”
The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, by Laurence Steinberg, is a somewhat traditional “how-to” parenting book, based on most current research. I really liked this chapter and Dr. Steinberg’s opening words. His no-nonsense approach resonates with me:
“Can You Spoil Your Child with Love?”
“If parents would worry more about not paying enough attention to their children and less about spoiling them, the world would be a better place. I can think of plenty of children who have suffered because their parents were too busy, too selfish, or too preoccupied to attend to their needs. But I’ve never met a child who was worse off because his parents loved him too much. It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love.
What we often think of as the product of spoiling a child is never the result of showing a child too much love. It is usually the consequence of giving a child things in place of love—things like leniency, lowered expectations, or material possessions. Children are harmed when their parents don’t set limits for them, when parents lower their expectations for them as a way of being nice, or when toys or food or gifts are used to substitute for genuine affection or attention. When it comes to genuine expressions of warmth and affection, you cannot love your child too much.”
The author writes about the research that has proven again and again that the best-adjusted children report the highest levels of parental love. He maintains that the healthiest adults, ones who can express their love to others, are the ones who grew up feeling unconditionally loved, not those who had to scrape by on something less. He also maintains that the surest way to raise an emotionally needy child is to withhold love and affection.
The child psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, said that every child needs at least one adult who is “irrationally committed” to that child.
One way children feel loved is when parents recognize and acknowledge their accomplishments. Dr. Steinberg makes four points about the way parents and guardians can praise and encourage their children in an emotionally healthy way:
Parents should phrase reactions in ways that praise the specific accomplishment, rather than link the accomplishment to a parent’s affection for the child. Saying, “I really understood the reasons you liked the book you wrote about” is better than saying “I love it when you get A’s at school.” The first is praise for the book report, not a judgment about the child’s worth.
Focus the praise on the link between accomplishment and the effort your child exerted, rather than attributing the achievement to innate characteristics. Kids who are told their accomplishments are a result of fix
ed intelligence tend to become perfectionists who have to continually show how smart they are. They don’t believe that effort is needed if they are just naturally smart. These kids get derailed by mistakes. On the other hand, kids who are told that they get smarter every time they learn something have a “growth mindset.” They enjoy learning for its own sake, they learn that effort pays off as they work toward their own goals and they can cope with mistakes. (For more about this, checkout the research of Carol Dweck, presented in her book, Mindset.)
Tie praise to the quality of the accomplishment, not to the grade or rating it has received from someone else. Ask the child what he or she thinks of the accomplishment. Ask what the next goal will be and if there is a plan for meeting that goal. Encouraging kids as they blossom is better than imposing a parent’s expectations.
It’s better to compare a child’s performance to a previous level of accomplishment rather than to the accomplishments of others. “You’ve never hit the ball better” is a much better way to compliment a child’s tennis playing than “You hit the ball so much better than Billy.”
One last word about “false praise”—when a child has performed poorly, the author advises not to criticize and not to lie. Instead, he suggests that the parent empathize with the child and talk about how she might do better next time. “How did you feel about the exam?” “What’s your plan for the next one?”
Dr. Steinberg goes on to describe another way children feel loved—when parents consistently respond to the emotional needs of their children. This begins in infancy and continues through late adolescence. He believes it is a parent’s job to make the home a “safe haven” for children.
“Children need to feel that their home is a place where they can retreat from the tensions and pressures of everyday life (yes, even preschoolers feel pressure from the demands placed on them). Create the sort of atmosphere in your home that allows your child to really relax and escape from his problems. Your child needs to feel that no matter how bad things get, he always has a safe and secure place to come home to. Children need this peace of mind whether they’ve had a tough day at school, an awful experience on the playground, a day of heartless rejection at the hands of their friends, or a rotten argument with a boyfriend or girlfriend.”
Our kids are with us for such a short time. We have to make the most of every one of those precious moments with them. As Dr. Steinberg states, “When it comes to genuine expressions of warmth and affection, you cannot love your child too much.”
Source: The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, by Laurence Steinberg