"They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
they may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had,
and add some extra just for you."
It is one of the most quoted poems around, and Philip Larkin's simple and shocking words resound in my head when my clients talk of unhappy childhoods and poor parenting models. Perhaps if their own parents had spent some time in a therapist's chair in those early, struggle-full days of childrearing, then it's possible my client wouldn't be sitting there in front of me now, trying to untangle the brain wiring that's responsible for the belief that they are unlovable, worthless, stupid. Of course, as Larkin goes on to say: "But they were fucked up in their turn," by their parents before them, and grandparents before them. With time travel sadly still in the realm of science-fiction, all we can do is stop the buck here with our own parenting. Here are five ways how to not screw up your kids.
Separate their identity from their behaviour
Tell your young daughter that she's a naughty girl enough times, and her unconscious will begin to believe it. The brain will then drive those behaviours that reinforce that belief. I'm a naughty girl - what do naughty girls do? Naughty things. Whereas, tell your child that she's a good girl who is doing something naughty, and she'll hear that there's nothing wrong with her 'self', but that it's her behaviour that is causing friction. Our faults do not exist permanently in ourselves and it's far easier to change our behaviours than to change who we think we are. Instead, reinforce her identity positively. Tell her, "You're a helpful girl", "You're a good girl" and "You're a kind girl." Show her that it's not her but her behaviour that's challenging. For instance, instead of saying: "You're an unkind child," try, "That was an unkind thing to do," or even, "Do you think that was a kind thing to do?"
Allow emotional expression
If you shut down anger, fear and sadness by telling a child to stop crying or to man up, it teaches him that it's not OK to feel what he's feeling. Emotions are a natural part of being human. Allow him to experience them without interruption. Support him, and you'll see how quickly those emotions disappear and his innate happiness returns. Just as our bodies heal cuts without our conscious involvement, our emotions return to a state of balance too. Allow your child to see that emotions and feelings come and go and that there's nothing wrong with any of them, and he will feel comfortable with his emotions as an adult. Children who are emotionally intelligent achieve more, form stronger relationships and make healthier life choices.
Love him unconditionally
If you love your child unconditionally, it means that you never put any conditions on that love. "I love you," means, "I love you no matter what." Withholding love at any time will shake the foundations upon which their sense of security is based. Loving unconditionally means accepting your child and their behaviours as they are. It means parenting the child you have not the child you want to have. Helping your child to understand on a deep, subconscious level, beyond doubt, that they are safe, good and loved no matter what, allows them be in touch with their own psychological wellness throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Listen deeply to her
Stop what you are doing, put your phone down, close your laptop over, give your child your full attention. Listen with nothing on your mind. Listen without judgement and without analysis. Hear what they say, without questioning or offering answers that haven't been asked for. This lets your child know that they can express themselves safely and that they will be heard fully and completely. Deep, connected relationships are built on trust, and listening deeply to your child in this way will teach them that they are valued, loved and respected. From here they will go on to connect deeply with others, and create healthy relationships as adults.
Forgive yourself for your mistakes
You know, it's OK to make mistakes. It's inevitable. Parents are only human after all, and we're all doing the best that we can with the resources we have available to us. We can't get it right all the time, so forgive yourself, apologise if you need to, and move on. Beating yourself up about mistakes you made in the past serves no-one - not you or your child. Allow your child to see you as fallible, vulnerable and they'll learn that it's OK not to get it right all the time too. Let your child see that you can forgive yourself and move on, and they'll do the same too.
Poem quoted is Philip Larkin, "This Be The Verse".
Victoria is a Cognitive Hypnotherapist and Coach at 1 Harley Street in London. Formerly a magazine editor in the city, she left that career to travel through South America, before settling on Easter Island to start a family. She's now back in the UK, writing, blogging and helping people to live the lives they'd love to live.
"I want people to have less fear, more fun, less frustration and more freedom. Change is always possible - in fact, it's inevitable!"