Dear Dr. Yael,
I grew up in a home with parents who were so critical – though, to the rest of the world it seemed as if I had a wonderful life. My parents were very involved in our community and could not admit that there were problems in our home. Even when we went for family therapy – one sibling was on drugs and another had an alcohol problem – my parents couldn’t admit there were any issues.
Unfortunately, today I find myself being very critical of my own children and husband. And they are acting the same way – my children are critical of each other, and of me and their father. And that’s not all. Because I was hit as a child, I am very lenient and over-indulge them.
I know that there is a lot wrong with my parenting techniques. I try to be less critical, but I just fall into old patterns.
Let me add that my husband comes from a loving and positive home and is very good with our children.
A friend had once reached out to you with similar issues and you were very helpful to her. So, I am hoping you will be able to assist me with this challenge. I do plan to go for therapy, yet want to start working on my behavior as soon as possible.
I look forward to your response.
Children thrive with love, boundaries, expectations, and positive reinforcement. As you see from your childhood, criticism can be very harmful.
Baruch Hashem, you have already done 50% of the work: being aware of the problem and knowing that things have to change. Nevertheless, it’s important that you realize exactly how harmful being critical is. Children who are criticized generally grow up to see themselves as outsiders and underachievers. They don’t think of themselves as important and do not know how to celebrate their strengths. They often internalize their parents’ negative voices and use these voices against themselves for the rest of their lives unless they seek therapeutic treatment.
As you do not want to continue this cycle, it is imperative that you go for professional help to learn how to be nicer to yourself and stop that internal negative voice. Then you must learn how to replace it with a positive and complimentary voice. Until then, try to “catch your children being good.” Look for any opportunity to compliment them.
This does not mean that you cannot discipline or correct them; it means you simply correct their actions. For example, you can say, “I do not like the way you are behaving right now, please stop running around and making so much noise,” as opposed to saying, “You are the noisiest and most annoying kid, stop already!”
The first way helps your child realize that his/her behavior is unacceptable and upsetting you. The second way is just hurtful.
Regarding your lenient parenting, structure is important. Although kids sometimes rebel against schedules and routines, they actually thrive in this kind of environment. Limits give kids a sense of what is allowed and makes them feel safe. It helps prevent destructive or risky behaviors by helping kids learn good judgment. Lastly, boundaries help kids honor and respect the physical and emotional space between people. Finding the right balance will prepare your children for relationships, jobs, and living in the real world.
One thing we find very helpful is spending “cozy time” with each child. This means that each night you give each child one-to-one time. You can say, “I really want to spend time with you tonight, and following a set routine will make that easier for all of us.” If they can’t make it happen, your time with them will naturally be reduced. Spend your time giving lots of hugs and kisses and doing something enjoyable together (read a book, play a short game, or just talk about their day if that is what they want). Make sure to keep this time criticism-free and very positive.
Hatzlocha and please reach out if we can be of any assistance personally.