Recently the local radio topic was about a research article that claimed that parents only enjoy their children after they leave home. Okay so parenting is hard work and can be stressful at times – but do parents really believe that we only enjoy our children once we don’t have them in the home! Now here’s the angle they didn’t discuss:

parenting stress can damage child well-being!

Parenting Stress can damage child well-being! - blog post by Val Mullally

How many times do we caution our children about the fragile things in life. The things we see as precious. Things we value.  ‘Don’t touch. Be careful. It will break!’

But do we sometimes overlook the fragile precious beings our children are? Do we forget to handle with care the young people in our lives?

‘Of course I care for my kids!’ is our automatic reaction. But perhaps there are times when a careless action or word can dent the beautiful and precious self esteem of our children. We forget we are the custodians of their emotional well-being. It’s not helpful to stress ourselves about being stressed  – but what are some of the ‘handle with care’ cautions we need to remind ourselves?

3 Ways We Damage the Beauty of Our Children 

#1 Giving the message that parenting is exhausting and a pain

Okay, parenting isn’t always easy. But how much do the stresses of the rest of our lives overflow into the home – and it’s the children that take the brunt of it. Whether we yell at them, scold, roll our eyes, nag, or talk about how hard it is to be a parent, children sense our attitude. Think about how some of the favourite comedians, like Michael McIntyre often play the “parenting is a pain” line. The audiences love it because they identify with it!

But imagine if you regularly overheard your life partner  talking about what  a pain it is to have you in their life. And you notice how the listener agrees or nods knowingly.

What would that do for your self esteem?

Do you really think that relationship would last?

Or if you did stay in that relationship can you imagine how it would undermine your confidence and sense of worth?

Some parents are stuck in “Oh, it’s so hard /draining/ depressing to be a parent!” This message may be directly spoken or not-so-subtly conveyed but the thing is, children don’t have anywhere else to go! If you had a life partner who thought so little of you, you’d probably move out. But children have to live with it and they get to believe this is the truth about them:

“I’m the kind of person it’s draining to be around,”
I’m a pain to live with.”
“I’m troublesome.”
“It’s not fun to be with me.”
“I’m annoying and aggravating.”
“I don’t have anything to contribute.”

And when children believe they are a pain they are likely to behave that way. We create a self perpetuating downward spiral, unless we consciously choose a different route. If we want to nurture our children’s well-being the best place to start is with our own attitude and actions.

#2 Calling children names

Some labels we hurl at our kids are outright unkind and can dent a child’s self-esteem  – ‘stupid’, ‘selfish’, ‘brat’. When we refer to our children as ‘princess’, ‘madam’, ‘his lordship’ it may seem to make light of challenging behaviours, but perhaps that’s like casually mishandling a precious Ming vase.

Putting labels on our children is like mishandling a precious Ming vase - blog post by Val Mullally

What part of our child’s innate value is shattered when we carelessly knock them? And seemingly innocuous titles can damage our perspective of the child we are here to raise. These insults distort our vision so that we see stupidity or entitlement instead of our children’s vulnerability and their human struggle. It’s not always easy to be a child. And it can be even harder to be a teen. It’s a time when their sense of self can be very fragile and needs to be handled with sensitivity. Careless words hurt our children, and they hurt us too. They hurt us by causing us to expect negativity and resistance; by focusing our attention on the slight scratch or imperfection on who our child is, so that we forget the innate value and beauty of who they truly are. Careless words can cement a negative mindset within us, so that we treat our relationships as something cheap and shoddy, instead of the  precious gift they are.  If we mishandle interactions and toss words around that can damage relationships, similar cutting words and attitudes may boomerang back at us.  It’s time to rethink our attitude because it will be reflected in our actions.

#3 Being impatient

‘Hurry up. We’ re going to be late! Pick that up – now!’ We give a message that objects are more important than people; that our agenda is the only one that matters. How often do we rush carelessly in relationships. Today stop and assess whether you are giving the urgent priority over the important. What really matters?

A More Helpful Way Forward

So I ask you, what does a mindset of “Parenting  is draining” do to our children and our families?

Do you sometimes see parenting as exhausting or a pain?

How is this impacting your own perception of life?

How does the impact your interaction?
How might your attitude and behaviour dent your relationship with your child?
How might your attitude and behaviour dent your child?

I love browsing in antique shops, seeking some beautiful treasure others may have overlooked. My husband often cautions me to be careful with my handbag – concerned that I could bump some delicate object and cause damage. He reminds me to be mindful. The same holds true in relationship.

Here are some thoughts from that analogy that can help us shift our mindset and way of being with our children.

antique shop - handle with care

  • hold in awareness that there are things in close proximity that are fragile
  • be present to whatever is before you in this moment
  •  avoid unnecessary speed; take time to notice
  • be aware how you hold yourself in that space, physically and emotionally
  • be conscious of how you interact and move
  • be aware of where you are focusing your attention
  • look for the beauty – it may be  hidden by clutter, tarnish or dust

Life is Fragile

These days that we have with our children are precious and irreplaceable. Let’s handle with care. Child well-being is impacted by how they perceive themselves being perceived by others. Let’s not forget parenting stress can undermine child well-being! What underlying message do our children read from the way we communicate with them and about them?

Getting stressed about stressing our children is obviously only going to add fuel to the fire. I believe we can find a better way forward. 

I’d love your feedback. Where have we as a society gained messages that undermine the joy of parenting? What can we do to reclaim the joy?

Do you want to shift your parenting to be a positive experience for you and your child? I can help: 

Sign up for your online coaching session with me (Accredited Coach – Association for Coaching)

Click the link if you would like to know how coaching can help you create a calmer happier home

For practical support on how to be the parent you’d love to join me on an online Parenting course:

Stop the Yelling – 9 steps to Calmer Happier Parenting – live, interactive bootcamp

How To Discipline – creating a calm, cooperative and happy home  – self paced, start-anytime course

Book me as your Motivational Speaker at your next event.

Check out my parenting books:

Invite me to join you via internet at your bookclub to discuss one of my books.

(My gift to you if there are six or more participants who will have committed to read the book ahead of the session). 

Contact me if you’d like my support to create a calmer, happier home.

Last edited August 30th 2019

It seems to me that being a parent (or carer of children) is rather like the job of a sound engineer. Most of the time nobody even notices the job that you are doing when everything Is going smoothly. But the moment that there’s some flaw or hiccup in the production, everyone becomes conscious that the sound engineer isn’t ‘doing the job properly’. We’ve all experienced those moments when the microphone feedback sends piercing shrieks through the auditorium, or the speaker’s voice is reduced to an inaudible whisper. That’s when we notice the sound engineer.

Likewise, it’s in the moments when something goes wrong with our children that we can feel like all eyes are upon us. And it makes sense that as parents we want to avoid that negative limelight. I’m speaking from experience. My son broke his leg when he was young, and it wasn’t only his pain that upset me, but the disapproving look and not-so-subtle comments from a family member, who gave the message that I hadn’t ‘done my job’. Keeping our children safe is certainly high on the priority  list of parents but, as a society, have we become so safety conscious that we deny our children the opportunity to thrive? Are we so focused on keeping our children ‘safe’ that their health and well being has moved to second place?

I’m thinking, for example, of the time when I was about eight years old when  I broke my collar-bone climbing a tree in our back garden. I am so glad that my mother did not stop me from climbing trees after that incident! I don’t even remember her telling me to ‘be careful’ once I was able to swing myself back up into my leafy haven. Kids falling out of trees was something that happened from time to time. I doubt if my mother worried that someone would think she was a ‘bad parent’ for letting me climb a tree unsupervised. Climbing trees was seen as something kids do.   When I was at the top of the tree in a strong wind, I was a ship captain sailing the wild seas. On calmer days I’d stay still in my overhead lair and watch and listen to the comings and goings of the neighbourhood beneath me. The tree tops were my refuge on days when I felt glum. They were the place where my imagination took flight. They were, without me even realising it, where I developed my sense of balance and spatial awareness. The tree tops were also the place where it was most challenging to keep up with my older sister. I can remember inching along high limbs, quaking with fear, but determined to climb as high as my big sister climbed. This is where I developed tenacity; where I tested my staying powers and my limits. Where I learnt what my body could and couldn’t do.

So my question is, in what ways is our over-safety mindset depriving our children? How is it affecting our children’s health and well-being when we are so focused on safety that we ignore their need to explore, to observe, to adventure, to test their own abilities? We need to think about the message we give to children when we jump in too quickly to ‘keep them safe’.

Perhaps in our well-meaning safety consciousness we are giving messages like:

Keeping your child ‘too safe’

Don’t ever listen to your body wisdom.                  

You don’t know how to make decisions.

Let other people to determine what you can’t do.

The world is a dangerous, unsafe place.

In contrast, through my experiences in the tree tops  I discovered:

My body knows what it can and can’t do.

I can make decisions. I won’t always get it right but then I’ll know how to do it differently next time.

I know how to keep myself safe.

The world is an amazing place.

Life is an exciting adventure to be lived.

I invite you to think back to your childhood experiences of free play. What are some of your favourite memories? Where did you play? By yourself or with others? Write down at least 5 of the messages you received about life without even realising it. What messages about life and about themselves might your children be absorbing, thorough their play experiences? What messages do you really want them to absorb? So what’s working and what might you choose to do differently? When we are tuned in to our own inner wisdom, we’ll sense when we need to intervene to protect our children, and when to quieten our own anxiety and leave them free to be. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about children’s need for free play. Watch out for my next blog in a couple of days, because I’ll be chatting about how focusing on being a ‘good’ parent can get in the way of achieving what you really want.

Last edited April 29th 2014