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Spend More Time With Your Kids

If you’re just now joining us this week, find Part 1 of “Get Off the Crazy Train” here, and Part 2 is here. 

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 12. To honor and celebrate you, Mom, this week I’m posting about the tough—but oh, so rewarding— job of motherhood.

I’ll also be giving away five copies of my book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. Just leave me a comment on any of the blog posts this week (May 6-9), and you’ll be entered to win. Share the post via Facebook or Twitter and you can earn two more entries. Just come back to the blog post and leave a comment for each action.

Please note: Comments left on eligible posts by noon central time, May 10, will be entered into the book giveaway. Five winners will be chosen at random Friday afternoon and contacted via email.


Once we have identified our real motives for our behaviors, then, we are ready to make some serious changes. Fear of having our kids fall behind, of feeling like a failure as a parent, or of not helping our child meet his highest potential drives us to do ridiculous and harmful things to our kids. So we need to change our behaviors and commit to making decisions for our kids from a posture of strength, not fear.

When we consider the development of a child’s identity, we see that spending adequate time with parents is crucial.

Here’s why.

When a child is young, she scours her mother and father’s faces for clues about life and herself. She reads their body language, their mannerisms, their inflections, and she listens to their tone of voice in order to find out some very important things. She needs to know what they believe about her.

Even as young as a year old, your son watches you to see if you are in a good mood or a bad mood. If you are in a good mood, he can go play because life is good. If you are angry or upset, he is rattled and can’t settle easily. As he grows older, he watches you more fervently. He wonders, Do you like being with him? Do you think that he is stupid or smart? Is he good?  Does he matter? Do you like to hug and kiss him?

When he receives answers, then he begins to form a mental image of himself: he is a good, smart boy who is huggable, or he is a nuisance and is never worth being seen because no one pays attention.

Children shape an image of themselves by the messages we send them and then they internalize those messages. They become part of who they are. Over time, if they repeatedly learn that we are happy to see them, they feel higher value. If we ignore them and talk on our phones whenever they are in the room, they wonder whether or not they are worth being with. (As an aside, I once had a five-year-old patient tell me—while his mom was talking on her cell phone in the exam room—that the family calls her phone “the family killer.”)

In addition, children mimic our behaviors to see if they like them. If snarling makes people pay attention, they will try it. If saying “I’m sorry” makes Mom feel better, then the kids, too, will try it.

This process intensifies as the child reaches junior high and high school. They read us. They listen to hear what we say about them. If we hug them, they feel better about who they are. And the best way to boost a daughter’s self esteem? Contrary to what we might believe, it is not in helping her improve her dancing or get better grades.

Hispanic father and daughter

A daughter’s self-esteem rises when she receives physical affection from her father.

This begs the question: If healthy identity formation, self esteem, and happiness are derived from cues kids receive from their parents, why are we spending so little time with them?

Playing sports helps kids enjoy themselves and maybe get into college, but if a young man doesn’t know how his father really feels about him, does it matter? If pushing our kids to study harder and get better grades helps them get smarter and get into a better college, does it matter if she feels that her mother doesn’t really like to be with her?

These are questions that we must help our kids answer before they leave home. Every child needs to know that Mom loves her because she is alive. And every son needs to know that his dad respects and loves him simply because he is his son. We are teaching our kids that their value to us comes from their performance and this is dangerous.

Staying on the crazy train feeds our fanaticism and tells us that we must keep them busy, we must make them better than their peers, and we must help them get ahead. But this does nothing to build their inner selves, their character, or their identity.

My challenge for each of you is to amp up the time you spend with your children. We think that teens need less of us; this isn’t true. Teens need their parents more than grade school children because their needs are complex and broad. Don’t miss this.

You can’t hug if you aren’t with your kids. They can’t see the smile on your face when they walk into the room if you never do. And they can’t know that you enjoy their company if you are never together.

So do your kids a favor. Jump! Get off the train and spend more time with them.




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