Q: I have read some things that suggest it's all right for my kids to correct me, to say, "Mom, you're getting too angry," "You're hurting my feelings," and things like that. It seemslike thatundermines my authority. What do you think?
A: You're right to sense that it is a tricky balance between being open to feedback from our children and maintaining authority over them. The key however, is respect and good boundaries. These don't always come naturally to people, so you'll need to do some assessment of your parent/child relationship to figure out how best to strike this balance.
Think through how you'd like your children to approach you. You'll want to make sure they are respectful in their corrections or comments. Invite them to hold you accountable for behaviors they are working on in their own lives. For example, if your child has trouble with angry outbursts, tell him you'd like to help him work on that behavior by naming it when you see it and helping him think of better ways to deal with his feelings. At the same time, give him permission to respectfully point out any anger he sees in you.
Think about the areas in which you are open to feedback from your children. For example, it is quite inappropriate for children to dictate how much money you spend on gifts, cars, or meals, but you may welcome their feedback about how best to spend the money you've budgeted for their birthday gifts. If your child offers feedback on areas that are not his concern say, "I appreciate that you want to give me some ideas about that area, but that's an adult topic and I don't need feedback from you on that one."
At the heart of all of this are basic communication skills your child will need all the way through life. So think about the big picture character formation you want to see in your children. Teach them respectful language for sharing their feelings about your behavior, such as using "I" language, as in "I feel hurt when you shout at me." If you're working on patience, choose a time when you're calm to tell your child, "Mom is working on being more patient, so when I say X or do Y, I want you to say, 'Mom, I just want to say that this is one of those times you asked me to remind you to be patient.'"
I often refer my clients to Henry Cloud and John Townsend's book Boundaries with Children (Zondervan). You'll find this a valuable resource as you work to create respectful communication and appropriate boundaries with your kids.
Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones (W).
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