Have you ever known a child who has gone to a top school, went on great vacations, and had the latest gadgets–yet they end up having serious issues later on in life?
The parents seem like nice, honest people who genuinely care about their kid and seem to check all the boxes, doing all the things parents are supposed to do.
Yet when the children become teenagers, all hell breaks loose. Maybe there is an unplanned pregnancy or a brush with the law.
But it doesn’t have to be so extreme.
Perhaps they simply fall in with the wrong crowd, flunk out of school, or can’t ever seem to move out of the house.
Maybe they keep stumbling in relationships, unable to find a lifelong partner. Or they’re terribly irresponsible with money.
These people had every advantage as children, but they’ve been in therapy for what seems like ages, and things don’t seem to be shifting.
The parents are as perplexed as anyone: Why didn’t these kids from good homes “turn out right”?
As concerned parents, we want to know WHY certain kids turn into healthy, functioning, happy adults—while others seem to endure one struggle after another.
We want to know, because we want to spare our children any unnecessary pain and grief. We don’t want them to go through the same challenges we’ve dealt with ourselves.
And let’s face it, it’s incredibly painful for a parent to deal with problems in our children.
When they feel bad, we do too.
When they get into trouble, our whole world stops.
Having children who feel confident, happy, and secure makes life easier for EVERYONE.
So it’s no wonder we’d want to understand why certain kids turn out the way they do.
Did they have troubling families? A bad parental divorce? No oversight? Too little stimulation?
Well I’ve got a surprising answer for you. It’s none of those things. It’s something much, much more common.
See if you’ve ever thought or said any of these statements:
“His parents used to fight like cats and dogs all the time, so no wonder he can’t keep a relationship.”
“She was abused as a child. No wonder she keeps getting involved with men who don’t respect her.”
“His dad had a raging temper. That’s why he has anger issues.”
“She had a competitive older sister. Apparently she rebelled and became very controlling.”
Each of these statements are a result of incorrect conclusions. We think that adult problems and challenging personality traits are naturally the result of major trauma or a difficult upbringing. We think that family dysfunction creates adult angst.
We look for some major, obvious cause as the reason for persistent problems or negative personality traits.
But what we don’t realize is that there are other factors in childhood which are MUCH MORE LIKELY to predispose our children to lifelong issues.
You might think that poor self-esteem, lack of motivation, and constant self-sabotage stem from suboptimal childhoods like the ones described above.
But this is not so. In fact…
According to Shelly Lefkoe, author of Parenting the Lefkoe Way, creator of Parenting That Empowers and co-author of The Chicken Soup for the Soul Guide to Effective Parenting, These problems start in early childhood, when a child forms certain negative beliefs based on seemingly routine, everyday interactions.
In addition to being an expert in empowered parenting, Shelly is also the co-founder of the Lefkoe Institute, which has enabled over 150,000 people to stop a wide variety of undesirable emotional and behavioral patterns.
“In 30 years of practice, I’ve worked with people who procrastinate, don’t stand up for themselves, have relationship issues, have a fear of public speaking, walk around in self doubt and don’t go for their dreams.”
“Beliefs underlie all of those problems and beliefs get formed early in life.”
But HOW do these beliefs get formed?
“If a child wants affection, attention and acknowledgement,” says Shelly, “and they don’t get it, they ask, ‘Why?’
Why am I not getting affection? I guess I’m not lovable. Why am I not getting attention? Well, I guess I’m not important. Why am I not getting acknowledgement? Why am I getting criticized? Well, I guess I’m not good enough.”
Shelly explains that even a simple thing like a parent looking at their iPhone when their child is trying to get their attention or asking a question can lead them to conclude a negative belief about themselves.
And that belief is that they’re not important.
“Now what they’re really seeing is you on your iPhone. What they think they see is what I have to say is not important.” The belief is formed and then stays with the child because they can’t NOT believe something they think they saw out in the world, which is you looking at your iPhone when they wanted your attention.
That connection with what they they saw and the meaning they assigned to it solidifies the belief in their mind for years—even decades—to come.
Another example is when your child comes home and shows you that they got a “B” on a test or school project. Or perhaps they show you a drawing they’ve been working on.
Shelly says that a parent who is trying to be encouraging in that moment, or thinking they’re teaching their child to try harder and not get too complacent, is actually causing their child to form detrimental beliefs.
“You may say to your child, ‘You could do better.’ You think you’re saying, ‘I believe in you, you know, I think you could shoot the moon.’
But what they hear is I’m not good enough. Whatever I do is not good enough.”
However, your child did the best they could in that moment. If they could do better, they would. Therefore, they conclude that they’re not good enough.
A child that grows up believing they’re not important or not good enough may experience certain challenges, such as:
And these problems in adulthood don’t have to be caused by childhood trauma or dysfunctional family life, but rather because of hundreds of small, seemingly inconsequential interactions between you and your child as they were growing up.
Like when you tell your child, “Not now, I’m on the phone.”
Or you get that disappointed look on your face because they got a B, or didn’t score a point for the team, or spilled a little bit of milk on the counter when making themselves cereal for breakfast.
Fortunately, even if you recognize that you’ve been guilty of all of the above, there’s a way you can turn all that around right now and help your child start forming POSITIVE beliefs about their worth and capability.
After reading this article, you may be wondering what seemingly arbitrary things you do or say may be leading your child to conclude negative beliefs about themselves.
You know that you’d NEVER do anything to harm your child or sabotage their chances for a happy, rich, fulfilling life.
But as parents, sometimes we simply don’t know what we don’t know. We didn’t take those kinds of parenting classes in high school. Our parents didn’t teach us these skills. We do the best we can with what we know—and we’re always constantly learning.
That’s why we decided to turn to some of the world’s top experts and get their insights and advice on how to avoid the most common mistakes with parenting, and how to form healthier, more functional family structures.
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