Sometimes it’s not about loving your children more, but loving them better.
Contributed by Carol Loi
Many parents believe that loving their children means providing for them and ensuring that they do well academically so that their potential can be met. They tend to focus on the outcome that they want for their children, without giving much thought to the learning process, which can be just as important, if not more important, than the outcome itself. In his recent trip to Singapore for a two-day seminar over the weekend of Mar. 3 to 4, renowned parenting figure and author Zhou Hong addressed about 1,200 parents on loving their children to bring out their best.
1. Setting the priority right
To really love their children, parents need to first love themselves, then their spouses. Only then will they have the capacity to really love their children. Parents who do not take care of their own needs tend to burn out, creating a stressful home environment for themselves, their spouses, and consequently their children.
Parents often see the faults or weaknesses of their children, and forget that the roots of such faults or weaknesses often started from the parents themselves. For example, when parents do not take care of their marriages, their home environments will not be a loving one. Children can sense this—and their perspectives of the world and relationships would be affected.
Zhou reminded mothers that when they love their children more than their husbands, the husbands may start to feel jealous or neglected, and may in turn spend less time at home or with the children, driving a widening gap between the marriage. This may adversely affect the home atmosphere and wreck the relationship between father and child.
2. Building up their self-esteem
“All parents love their children, but sometimes they don’t actually know how to love them. Children nowadays live in a different world as compared to that which their parents grew up in. “In the past, our parents worked hard to provide material things, ensuring that we have a roof over our heads, are able to attend school, and have food to eat every day.”
However, with the broadening of the middle class nowadays, these basic provisions are no longer critical. What the children of today’s generation need, more than material provision, is self-esteem. Children these days tend to be more sensitive, observed Zhou. Even though their basic necessities are provided for, they lack unconditional love, a love that is not dependent on their academic performance. In the process of helping their children to “fulfil their potential”, parents tend to stretch their children by picking on their faults. This causes the young ones to grow up in anxiety and hurt, which can be carried forward to the next generation.
The first step to unconditional love is for the parent to embrace his or her child’s weaknesses. “Remember how it was when your child started to walk and talk? No matter what they babbled, even if the sounds were incomprehensible, you would encourage them. Even if they fell on their bums while learning to walk, you did not scold them.”
Zhou explained, that was because parents had the mentality of a “flower bud”; like a bud, parents knew that the bud will one day turn into a flower. Similarly, if parents could see their children’s weakness as a bud, their perspectives would change. They will see their wobbly steps as the beginning of walking and running; their babbling the beginning of speech. When children have the peace to learn at their own pace, learning becomes easy.
4. Praise, not point fingers
“How do we give our children peace?” Parents need to use their thumbs to praise and encourage their children more than they use their fingers to point out their faults and weaknesses.
If parents persistently scold or nag their children, they will feel more anxiety instead of peace. Illustrating with the scenario of children not being able to wake up early for school—an example most parents can identify with, Zhou advised parents to encourage their children by setting small markers of achievement. Instead of nagging them for being late again, praise them for waking up one minute earlier than the day before, and challenge them to do even better the next day.
For a child who tends to lose his things, give him a pat on the back for remembering to keep his other belongings, instead of focusing on what was lost. Zhou then gave the parents a simple but profound reminder—children do want their parents’ approval.
In closing, Zhou reminded parents that their key role is to be their children’s cheerleader for life. “If they do well, we celebrate with them. If they don’t, we cheer them on to try again. Let’s be proud of our children first, then success will follow. Do not be proud of them only when they are successful.”
Zhou Hong’s daughter, Zhou Ting Ting, overcame congenital deafness to become China’s first hearing-impaired undergraduate who was accepted by both Columbia University and Boston University in the US as a PhD student. In 2002, she was named one of China’s top 10 women. Teaching from his own experiences and research, Zhou himself has become a well-respected speaker in China and many other countries, teaching parents to build stronger relationships with their children through the parental philosophy “Appreciation Education” which he pioneered.