After I posted about the tweenager issues we’ve seen recently with our daughter, I got a message from a friend who had been through something similar.
She told me what had worked for her and wow, it was such a relief to hear that there was hope! She had a long list of advice, but here were the three most crucial tips:
1) Never ever criticize your child in front of anyone, even family.
2) Never scold or threaten them in any way.
3) Be a lot more physically affectionate. Try to give 10 hugs a day!
The focus on criticism reminded me of a book I’d heard about before in passing: The Highly Sensitive Child. I mentioned this in my last post, but my daughter can be quite sensitive. After I say something I think is quite tame, she will ignore what I said and lament, “Why do you have to be so mean??”
Because of that, my friend’s first tip really hit home: “Never ever criticize your child in front of anyone, even family.”
Sadly I was doing that all the time, since the four of us are all cooped up in our house due to COVID and there’s almost no privacy. For example, I might ask her to do the dishes after breakfast… and she will “forget.” Then when we have lunch, I might say, “You didn’t do the dishes after breakfast like you promised.”
But that never seemed to help, and I realized that basically I was nagging my daughter in front of the whole family. Nagging isn’t a great dynamic, and neither is doing it in front of others. So I dug in, and tried to be less critical and more loving.
Actually, that’s not entirely true: I tried to be COMPLETELY non-critical and to be OVERWHELMINGLY loving.
It was not easy, as I’m a worse parent than I had realized. When it came to bedtime, I asked the kids to shower and they immediately started arguing over who should shower first. This is one of my triggers, because you have to shower anyway – why put it off for 10 minutes?? ARGH, just shower and go to bed already!!
Anyway I was just about to say, “I’m so sick of hearing these nightly arguments, just get in the shower now!!”… when I caught myself. Apparently I scold and threaten my kids when under stress or triggered… sigh. I just have so little patience late at night, especially lately.
I decided to bite my tongue and said nothing. Instead, I went to them and said, “I love you both so much, can I get a hug before I leave the room?” Then I told them they could decide who would shower first and who would brush their teeth first, and they happily agreed. Can’t believe they fell for that! But notably, I didn’t scold or threaten and instead gave them both hugs. The impact on their behavior (especially hers) was almost instantaneous!
After the shower, my daughter gave me a big hug before bed. (Hug #2!) She actually hasn’t been hugging me as much lately, so it was really great to see her initiate a hug. Before she fell asleep, she told me, “I love you, Daddy.” She used to tell me that every night, but lately it’s been less. So it was nice to hear again and I thought, hmm… maybe we’re on the right track!
The next morning, I asked my son to take a walk with me. I explained what was going on, because he’s also an actor in this family drama. A lot of the times when I am upset with my daughter, I’m annoyed on his behalf. That’s because she hasn’t been doing her chores, so the rest of us get stuck with them. I don’t mind, but it feels so unfair to him! So that’s why I’ve been especially annoyed lately. Of course it’s a horrible cycle, where I get more annoyed and criticize/scold more…which causes her to shut down more and do less chores (is that possible??).
I told him that I would be working to never criticize or scold her, and asked him what he thought. He said he thought it might work, and agreed to give it a shot too. That was huge, because he has been picking up on my terrible parenting and criticizing her too.
Yesterday was like a dream. We had a wonderful day and I think my daughter could sense that things were different. I didn’t want to say anything at first, because I wanted her to just feel the kindness… but at the end of the day, I told her that I noticed that she has been saying I was being “mean” and that I had been making an extra effort to be “nice” to her. I didn’t mention criticism or sensitivity, because I didn’t want her to feel like I was judging her. I just said that I understood now what she meant, and that I would work to be kind every day.
That short speech went over really well, and she gave me a big hug and dropped another ILY on me… and immediately passed out. She’s been having trouble falling asleep lately, so maybe there’s a connection between my behavior and her sleep?? But today things are going well, and after she finished her schoolwork she came into my room and draped herself across my lap, and asked what I was up to. We had a nice chat and then she gave me a big hug and said she loved me. It’s only now that I realize that the hugs and love haven’t been there lately, but now… they are back!
Things have been going much better with my daughter! I forgot about our earlier issues and on a whim, I offered a dollar to both of my kids. I told them that they could take the dollar for free, but then they wouldn’t get any hugs or kisses for a week (saw this on Facebook).
Almost immediately, I noticed our bond weakening and behavior reverting. Within 2 days, things were almost back to where they were before. Then I realized what was going on, and increased the hugs/love again. Once again, a huge difference! I was so relieved, I let her keep the dollar.
Thanks again to everyone who messaged me their thoughts and wisdom… and especially to the person who shared the above tips! Much appreciated, and I think we’re on the path to a happier family!