Parental Responsibility for Children’s Behaviors

Apr 17, 2011

I read a quote this week that jumped from the page into my reality in such a way that I felt compelled to write an article about it. There are times when the written word read in the right way at the right time, can make you feel like it is meant specifically for you. This week, that quote for me was: “If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” — Carl Jung

I believe it to be in our human nature to explain away our negative qualities, excusing them or justifying them so that we are not responsible for them. It is easy to remove the responsibility from ourselves, and make it the result of someone or something else. When this tendency finds a home among our children’s behaviors, however, it is something that should be addressed.

I cannot tell you the number of times parents have come into my office asking me to “fix their child”. They give me a list of things that are “wrong” with the child and hope that I can produce major results in a short time frame. While there are some issues that are biologically or chemically rooted, most of the concerns that parents bring are confounded by their own actions.

To start, children are like sponges that absorb everything around them, for better or worse. When children witness parents behaving or acting in response to situations, they learn from those experiences. In the psychological world, it is called “modeling” when a child learns from observing others. Therefore, every action and behavior that you demonstrate teaches your child about how to function in the world.

Additionally, it seems as though the behaviors in children that most bother parents are those that reflect their own shortcomings. In other words, parents who complain about their kids having negative attitudes tend to struggle with negative attitudes themselves. High-strung parents who have anxious and stressed children whom they wish were more laid back often miss the effect that they are having on those very behaviors.

Finally, children are only products of their environments, experiences, and observations. We cannot possibly expect children to know to act differently than what they witness. It takes courage and humility to look at our children’s behaviors and question how it relates to our own. If we notice low self-esteem in our kids, do we acknowledge it in ourselves? Anger issues, aggressive behavior, shyness, mistrust, pushiness or bossiness – they are learning them from somewhere.

The influence we have as parents is monumental. It is easy to disregard our impact, or find someone else with whom our children spend time that is effecting them in a negative manner. However, the reality is that no one will ever have as great of an impact as we do on our children. Lessons learned will stay with them forever, the ones of which we are proud and the ones we wish we could do over again.

Although it can feel overwhelming to be the perfect parents, it is really just a matter of being aware of what behaviors we exhibit. Many of the things that our children witness from us teach them healthy, appropriate ways to handle situations. It takes a conscious act of the will to monitor what we choose to display to our children. However, the first step is recognizing what behaviors need to be modified within ourselves. Then, we must choose to accept responsibility for our influence in our children’s behaviors. And finally, we will need to admit that we cannot pathologize our kids when we have contributed to those concerns.

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