Are you secretly afraid your child is jail material in the making? When my children were growing up, my fears were not that secret. As a matter of fact, here is a litany of things parents say:
You will go to jail for that kind of thing when you get older. You are acting like a criminal. Stealing is a crime. Jail is in your future if you keep this up. People are behind bars for doing what you just did. Are you trying to go to juvenile hall? This is criminal behavior. You are behaving like a thief in our home. This will get you in jail. Keep this up and I will call the police on you. I am calling the police on you. You can’t get away with this forever. Eventually, you will go to jail.
I’m pretty sure I said much of this over the 20 years I spent raising my children. I wish I had realized how afraid for them I was and how my fear expressed this way was not helpful to my goal: supporting my children to feel loved and become the best they could be in life. Ouch, being that off base is painful.
The Things Kids Tell Thier Therapist
And I was so off base. You know how I learned about the impact of my fearful comments on my children? I learned by listening to other parents’ children talk about their parents in therapy. Children would tell me how terrible they felt that their parents didn’t believe in them, and how they thought they would never amount to anything. Other children told me they were going to jail anyway, so nothing mattered. Still, others shared that their parents had been telling them they were going to jail for as long as they could remember. They said they were afraid they were going to jail because they could not stop some of the behavior their parents told them was criminal. My heart has broken a hundred times for my own children while sitting in the room with other parents’ children.
Every parent I meet is me in different clothing, and every child I meet is mine. That is why I do what I do. I learned a lot from my mistakes. I really want you to learn from them, too. Otherwise, my learning will end with me. My kids are grown. If yours are still hovering around your living room, you have a chance to make a course correction.
Fear Is A Cancer
If you have heard sentences come from your own mouth like the ones above, identify the fear behind your words. Admit just how much your child’s behavior scares you. Soothe yourself. Fear lives in the darkness and grows like a cancer. Bust your fear out of the secret space and into the light. Tell yourself the truth. Your children have been harmed by their circumstances. Their brains are different. They need your encouragement, your belief in them, your faith, your love. They need you to champion the good instincts inside them. They need you to grow their inner light. They need light shined on them in positive, healing ways to find the path to their higher brains and higher roads.
Oh the Places You Will Go
Take the high road with your children. See them as though they are in need of comfort, safety, soothing and guidance. They need training and compassion rather than your fears and admonitions. They will become what you tell them they are. It makes sense then to tell them they are on the path to becoming honest, thoughtful, compassionate, trustworthy, successful, and loving. Tell them what you want them to become and they have a much higher chance of grabbing that brass ring.