When my daughter was little she went on an all-day field trip. The buses picked the children up from school at 7:00 a.m. that morning and dropped them off promptly at 5:45 p.m.
About 5:30 that evening parents started arriving at the parking lot awaiting the buses. As the first bus rolled in there were smiles and shouts of “Here they come!”
I don’t think there was a parent in the parking lot who didn’t feel a little relieved at the sight of the buses and a bit of a glow at seeing their little one jump off a bus.
As I was driving my daughter home I kept looking at her and thinking how much I loved her. Some hours later when she kept getting out of bed, long after her scheduled bedtime, I didn’t feel quite so in love.
As all parents have experienced, feelings for a child change, and change, and change. Sometimes love and tender feelings get replaced by feelings of frustration and disappointment. And then it’s back to the tender feelings again.
Sometimes, however, parents get caught up in negative feelings toward a particular child. And no matter what the child does, the parent has trouble seeing anything good or feeling anything positive.
I spoke with one father who confessed to having difficulty liking his son. Clearly his son was rebellious and had some behaviors that most parents would find offensive.
The son rarely did what he had promised. He sluffed off chores. He had trouble backing down and he thought he never made a mistake.
At the same time when I pushed the father to tell me something he liked about his son, he reluctantly admitted that the boy was a pretty good student, didn’t get in trouble at school, had a great sense of humor and a cute smile.
The trick was to get the father to focus on his son’s attributes at least some of the time. This would allow the father to feel good about his son as opposed to always feeling negative.
The first thing I did was to ask the father to bring me a list of fifty things he liked about his son even if he had to go back in history and remember some of the neat things his son did as a little boy.
Although the father dutifully made his list he also couldn’t wait to tell me how his son had messed up that week.
His next assignment was to only comment on the positive things his son did. The idea was to get the father to change his focus from looking at the negative to looking at the positive. This assignment did not work either.
I then came up with the idea that every time the son messed up the father would say in his head, “At least he’s alive.” When I told the father this he said, “You do have a point.”
The following week when I saw this man he said that the assignment had worked. For the first time in almost three years he felt some genuine closeness toward his son. He no longer saw his son as an incompetent.
What he saw was a boy struggling, sometimes inappropriately, for his own identity. As this father left my office that day, he grinned a little and said, “You know, I really do love that kid”
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: http://www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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