How High-Performing Parents Can Better Connect with Their Children

By Brenna Kehew Sculley & Patty Nodine

by ELYSIAN Magazine

Have you heard your child say this?

  • “Mom, you’re not listening, I shouldn’t have even told you this.”
  • “My mom stays on about me about my weight.”
  • “My mom is always on me about my grades. She is always telling me what to do.”

For Patty Nodine, a renown professional counselor in the Carolinas, these gripes are part of her daily routine as she works with many young people at Pathfinder Counseling & Consultancy, where she specializes in addiction medicine. 

Nodine says that often what children need to hear is empathy and validation. Parents can sometimes get confused because they think that validation is just agreement. But validation isn’t just that. It is acknowledging a child’s challenge, their pain, their emotions. 

High expectations can be seen as negative reinforcement instead of positive reinforcement because so often a parent doesn’t step in to manage an issue until something goes wrong. Parents, often dealing with the everyday and important issues of their personal and professional life, often do not find time for positive affirmations, and as a result can focus on the negative. 

We need to give space for their emotions, Nodine said. Small problems are easy to cast aside as being no big deal. But when you are 16, it is a big deal. And it is painful to have these issues dismissed.

For women juggling complex work schedules along with their children, it can be a challenge to work through problems with different strategies and give children the space they need to find their own way. 

Often, self-actualized women who have fought so hard to get to where they are, are trying to impart what they understand is needed to achieve success. But sometimes they push too hard, and they don’t recognize that their path, or the path they had in mind for their child, may not be the right route. 

High-performing parents often see high-performing children as a wonderful thing. It’s celebrated by parents sharing their sons’ and daughters’ accomplishments with friends, family and on social media. This can make other parents push their kids too hard, compare them to others, rush them through milestones, and miss out on “normal” experiences, Nodine said. Often these children are very anxious because they are not being kids, enjoying moments in the present, because they are focused on the future. They tend to graduate early, get accepted into a top-notch schools, and study abroad, perhaps for the positive reinforcement they seek and usually for the sake of future plans. This is not always negative, but without pacing themselves and placing focus on being present today, they miss out on experiences that are essential to having satisfaction in life later. 

There is a lot of pressure on them to succeed, by parents or self-imposed. 

These young people put extra pressure on themselves or they give up because of fear of failure. Kids who push themselves too hard are never satisfied with themselves. The narrative is, “I could have done better,” or worse, “I’m a failure.” 

Giving up shows up in rebellious behaviors rather than over-achieving behaviors, Nodine said. They quit, they deviate from the parents’ plans for their lives, or take the wrong path. 

Children learn by example. The old adage, “Do what I say and not what I do” has proven ineffective, Nodine said. When they see high-performing parents, they learn behaviors they aren’t mature enough to manage or process realistically for their ages. Their brains don’t connect the dots to all the years it takes to be successful, so they tend to feel like failures when their ideas don’t pan out as planned or their life doesn’t appear as they feel it should. These young people also have high and unrealistic expectations of others. A good thing to remember is that the adolescent brain lives on feelings, as the frontal lobe is not developed until 22 to 25 years old. 

As a working mother herself, Nodine deals with daily issues with her own teenagers through each season of life and knows that every child is different, and that everyone parents differently. This is not true for every woman CEO out there and her children, but there are certain trends that give us a better understanding of personal or generational divides that point us toward a better way forward. 

What can you do as a parent to connect? 

  • Be intentional and be present.
  • Don’t participate in the parent competitions.
  • Remind your children they are imperfect yet perfectly loved.
  • Encourage your kids to be kids.
  • Put your phones down when your children are around.
  • Give them plenty of positive affirmations.
  • Talk to them about their lives every day so you can help them process things in healthy ways.
  • Listen to them and validate their feelings. Their problem may not seem real, but their feelings are. The adolescent brain says so!

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