05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Loving Our Children Is Not Enough

What parents do and don't do, say and don't say, provide their children with the experiences that their children interpret into beliefs. Those beliefs--such as I'm not good enough, Life is difficult, I'll never get what I want--then determine their behavior and emotions and, ultimately, their lives for better or for worse.

Most parents at this point respond: "I've never thought about my children's beliefs before. Isn't our job as parents to love our children and to get them to do the right thing, to teach them, and to make them happy?"

At What Cost?

The question I suggest you ask yourself is: At what cost? If you succeed in achieving what you wanted at the moment, as a result your child may form negative self-esteem beliefs such as, I'm not good enough or I'm not worthwhile. They may form negative beliefs about life such as, 'What I want doesn't matter or I'll never get what I want.'

Was your behavior really "successful"? In other words, is what you achieved short term with your child worth the long-term cost?

I am not saying that our children's behavior on a daily basis, the information they acquire from us, and their happiness are not important. Of course they are. What I'm saying is that the single factor that has the greatest impact on whether or not your children achieve true happiness and satisfaction in life is a healthy self-esteem and a positive sense of life. Nothing we do, learn or feel when we're young will have as much influence on our adult life as the fundamental beliefs we form and take into adulthood.

To make this real, let's assume that your children have one of the two following sets of beliefs: I'm not good enough; There's something wrong with me; I'm not deserving; I'm not lovable; I don't matter. Or: I am good enough; I'm worthwhile just because I am, not for any reason; I'm lovable; I matter.

Which set of beliefs would most likely lead to anxiety and depression? To substance abuse? To teenage pregnancy? To eating disorders? To satisfying relationships? To a
productive career? To a truly satisfying life?

Given the critical importance of beliefs, what should be the primary role of parents? Should it be influencing behavior? Teaching information? Making their children happy? Or assisting their children to form positive beliefs about themselves and life?

I Am Responsible For My Child's Behavior

The following anecdote involves an interaction I had with one of my children. It illustrates some of the consequences of choosing something other than facilitating the creation of positive beliefs as the goal of parenting.

I noticed one day after my then 10-year-old daughter Blake took a friend's hat that I immediately told her to give it back. Why, I asked myself a few minutes after my interaction with her, did I tell her what to do? If the friend got angry and didn't speak to Blake for a day or two, that would be a good lesson for her on respecting other people's property. Having one friend not talk to her for a couple of days wouldn't be a catastrophe. If, on the other hand, the friend didn't get angry, then it was just a game and Blake would give it back on her own when the game was over. There were a half dozen other possible outcomes. Regardless of what happened, however, why had I felt that I had to make sure she gave it right back?

I discovered after a little exploration that I believed "I am responsible for my children's behavior toward others." And, "if I am responsible, then I have to make sure she always does what I think is appropriate and never does what I think is not appropriate." Can you see how these beliefs led to me telling her to give the hat back?

The question is not whether this is a "good" parenting belief. The important question to consider is: What conclusions would Blake eventually come to if I continued this type of behavior long enough? There's something wrong with me (because dad is always telling me what to do and not to do). Or I can't count on myself to do the right thing. Or, I need someone else to make sure I do the right thing. With these beliefs, what would happen when someone tells her that "everyone" is trying drugs, or having sex, etc.? If she can't count on her own judgment, she would have to listen to what everyone else is saying.

Remember to keep asking yourself as you interact with your child: What conclusion is my child reaching? Asking that question and making sure that the conclusions are positive will make more of a difference in his or her life than you can possibly imagine.

If you haven't yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process, go to where you can eliminate one limiting belief free.

Copyright 2010 Morty Lefkoe