Nineteenth-century philosopher-psychologist Williams James remarked that “the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” This is great advice for parents, although it seems counterintuitive.
Our job is to supervise and respond to our children’s behaviors. However, there are many times when wise parents should not be so attentive to what their kids are doing.
1. Certain inappropriate behaviors
Many people, but particularly young kids, are driven by almost an insatiable desire for attention. A powerful discipline technique is to give children lots of praise and recognition when they are behaving well and ignore bad behaviors. This approach works best when you tell your child beforehand what you are doing. Kids respond well to this approach when they know not only what they shouldn’t be doing, but also what’s the right way to get your attention.
2. Peer interactions
It’s disturbing to transport a group of kids and hear the way they talk with each other. They interact as if you can’t hear a word they say. It’s hard to overlook these comments, which can sound cruel and insensitive. The wise parent knows that when it comes to correcting kids, timing is everything. It’s best to ignore such interactions when they are occurring but talk later with your child about your concerns.
3. Some teens’ behaviors
The journey to adulthood can be turbulent for our kids. They say and do things that are outrageous, seemingly attempting to evoke a strong response from us. The wise parent overlooks many things their teen says and does. It’s sometimes best not to get into endless arguments about rules and expectations, or concerns about your teen’s attire. Set and enforce what you think is right, and ignore your teen’s protests.
4. Your children
Wise parents sometimes ignore their children for the sake of doing something for themselves or their spouse. The best way to become a great parent is to take good care of yourself, and nurture your relationships with your partner and others. Stop feeling guilty about this. Your kids will not only be fine, but this will help them learn that they are not the center of the universe.
5. Hurtful comments
Kids sometimes say things without a full understanding of the incredible pain their words inflict. It’s often best to overlook such language and maintain a broader perspective on your relationship with your child. Our lives are movies, not snapshots. Don’t allow an occasional unpleasant event to diminish the many positive experiences we have with our family. Learning to overlook some of life’s unpleasant times may allow you to notice all of the love that surrounds us.
Dr. Gregory Ramey is executive director of Dayton (Ohio) Children Hospital’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources.