Bad days are inevitable. You have them. And if they haven’t already, your kids will too.
Here’s what they’re going to need to hear from you.
1. “What happened?”
At some point your kid is going to need to process what went wrong. There’s no one better for him to do that processing with than you. This isn’t the time for you to give advice on how to throw a better curve ball. It isn’t the time for you to flip out over the grade on his math test. This is the part where you listen.
At the end of one of those days where it seems like everything went wrong, your kid is looking for more than an expert. He’s looking for someone who will listen. So if you must be an expert in something, be an expert in listening to your kid.
2. “I fail too.”
Have you ever noticed how rare it is for the children of highly successful people to be successful in the same field as their parent? Growing up in the shadow of greatness can be harder than it looks. If you’re any kind of a parent, your daughter is going to think that you’re great. Perfect, even. She’s going to think that you never blew it like she did today.
You need to tell her that she’s wrong. You need to tell her about that time when you got a 13 on your history test. Or the one where you struck out. In softball. Slow pitch church league softball.
Just don’t stop there. Tell her how you moved on. Any good fall down story ends with getting back up. Remind her that you still fall down. But be sure to tell her how you keep getting up. Encourage her to do the same.
3. “You don’t have to be the best but you better try your best.”
This is where parents get sidetracked. We think that our kid being the 12th best player on his team of 15 is somehow an indictment against us. So we push him harder. We demand that he be the best. But we forget something very important. Being the best at a young age is probably one of the worst things that can happen to a kid.
When he’s number 12 out of 15, he only has two options if he wants to keep up and not get run over. He can either work hard or he can give up. Since giving up isn’t an option, being around a dozen or so people who are better than him will force your kid to work harder. During all of that hard work, something is happening. He’s getting better.
Your son may never be the best kid on his team. But, if he keeps giving his best effort, he’ll be better than he was yesterday. And the benefits of that kind of growth will stay with him for the rest of his life.
4. “What do you think that you need to work on.”
This is the advice stage. This is the part where you find a tutor. It’s the part where you spend some time in the backyard working on that curve ball. And it’s the part where your child learns the value of hard work and the patience that comes with trying to master a skill. There is a lot of growth happening here. You’ll want to be around for it.
Just be careful.
Make sure that this skill development and hard work isn’t happening for your benefit. There’s nothing wrong with helping your kid get better at something. There’s a lot wrong with using your kid to help you look better. Never confuse the two.
5. “I’m proud of you.”
It’s possible for a parent to be lying when he says this. That’s because he’s really not proud of his daughter. He’s proud of what she’s accomplished. It may not seem like much but there is a big difference here.
If you truly are proud of your daughter, and not just some number on a page, you’ll be proud when she finishes the semester with an 84 in Chemistry. You’ll be proud, not because she was at the top of her class but because you saw how hard she worked to bring her grade up after a rough start to the semester. You saw her late nights spent studying. You saw her early morning tutorial sessions.
And when you see her, you may not see the best Chemistry student in the class but you do see a girl who tried her best.
And that makes you proud.
Be sure to let her know.
6. “I’ll have two cookies and cream milkshakes.”
Talk is good. Advice is too. But sometimes, at the end of a bad day, your son just needs to sit down with his dad and drink a milkshake. Maybe you talk about your favorite movies. Maybe you talk about places you’d like to travel to. Talk about anything. Anything but that missed shot, that bad grade and that broken relationship. Or, perhaps, you could even talk about nothing.
There’s a time for talk.
But, every now and then, there are those times when the only sound a kid needs to hear is that noise his dad makes when he’s trying to get the last drop of a cookies and cream milkshake through a straw.
Bad days are inevitable. You have them. Your kids will too.
But they should never have them alone.