teach your kids

5 Ways to Teach Your Kids They Don’t Matter

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A few nights ago, as our nine-year-old foster child read to me, I received a text. I was waiting to hear about something important, so I quickly snuck out my phone to check it. This led me down a technological rabbit hole. Rather than listening to our son as he read, I got caught up scrolling. When he closed the book and looked up at me, I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was embarrassed and ashamed.

We want our kids to know they matter to us, but if we aren’t careful, we inadvertently can send the exact opposite signals. Here are 5 ways to teach your kids they don’t matter to you.

1. Be busy.

Often what fills up our lives is everything we do for our children. But work, house projects, and this little thing called life send unexpected things our way daily. Busy seasons are inevitable. But life is about priorities. If we wait for time to magically appear, we’ll be waiting forever. We prioritize what matters. If you never have time to have an extended conversation or to play a game or watch a show with your child, you teach your kids where they fall on the priority list.

2. Don’t listen.

Listening communicates value. You give your attention to what matters.

Sometimes kids come up with some bad ideas. Did I say sometimes? I meant often. Let’s face it, they’re kids. They don’t quite get how things work yet. Of course most of the time you know better. But even so, listening communicates value. You give your attention to what matters. To take the time to listen to your kids—and I mean really listen (asking questions, inviting them to explain), even if they’re talking about a bad idea or something that doesn’t interest or make sense to you—says they matter to you.

3. Dismiss their ideas.

This is related to the above point, but it’s a little different. You can listen to your kids, but if you constantly dismiss their ideas as silly, they learn quickly that they don’t really matter. You can teach your kids that they matter by taking what they say seriously. That doesn’t mean they get to make all the decisions—of course not. It doesn’t mean you don’t tell them bad ideas are bad. But from time to time, they should have the opportunity to see one of their good ideas play out. Maybe it’s as simple as a dinner suggestion or an activity for the weekend. Allowing your kids not just to have ideas but to implement them from time to time teaches them that they have some “skin in the game” in your family.

4. Refuse to discipline.

I hate disciplining our kids. Many of us do. We want our kids to like us. Or maybe we just don’t have the energy to fight with them. Whatever the reason, we often allow our kids to do things we don’t want them to do or to behave in ways that make us dislike them because we refuse to discipline. But by allowing your kids to get their way even when it’s bad for them, you actually teach your kids that they don’t matter. To discipline your children is to teach them that they are capable of growth—and that their growth matters to you because they matter to you.

5. Ignore your own needs.

We often think the key to communicating that someone matters to us is by sacrificing for them. This is true to an extent. To be a parent is to sacrifice for your kids. However, if you completely ignore your own needs, you actually teach your kids that in order to truly love someone, they need to ignore their own needs. In trying to communicate to your kids that they matter, you may inadvertently be teaching them the opposite. By consistently choosing to do things that bring you life and energy, you teach your kids that paying attention to their own needs is part of a healthy adult life.

Sound off: What other things do parents do that inadvertently teach our kids they don’t matter to us?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How do I show you that you matter to me?”