As adults, it is our responsibility to provide positive experiences to our kids so they can thrive. This is true for any vital role: a parent, caretaker, or teacher. When we interact with our children we need to be mindful about how we are communicating with them, and what messages they are receiving from us.
Children are special and cannot be treated as little adults. They have their own identity, traits and interests. Their brain is developing at a faster rate than adults. We all say that children are like sponges but don't realize how true that is. They are really absorbing everything. As a parent or a teacher, you are the child's role model. They are watching you, listening to you, and trying to copy you. So we need to be mindful about what we say and how we act towards them and towards each other.
In their book The Whole Brain Child, Dr. Dan Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson explain how experiences mold the brain. Your child's brain is rewired constantly and the experiences you provide are a key factor. According to Dr. Siegel, parents who talk to their kids about their own feelings help develop emotional intelligence in kids.
Open communication is a great channel to develop and maintain a trusting relationship. Here are a few strategies that can help you build positive communication channels and trusting relationships with your kids:
The most important thing is being completely focused when you are talking to your child. When a child says, “Mom/dad I want to tell you something”, turn the TV off or put aside your chore for 2 minutes. Talk mindfully and listen actively. If you need to get back to your chores or work, set up a time later that day when you can talk in detail and follow through.
As adults, we want people to acknowledge our feelings. Children want the same. When a child complains about having a lot of homework, you can say, “Seems like it, you have been working hard.” When she gets angry because the play-date got cancelled, try “Looks like you are disappointed.” Or, “It's hard sometimes”. Provide words for them to express their feelings. Young kids act out because do not have the vocabulary to express themselves. By acknowledging their feelings you open up the dialogue about what is bothering them and what can be done.
Listen without judging or criticizing
This can be a hard thing to do. We are habituated to judge or make a comment in a way that shuts down communication. When your older child is upset because you don’t have time to play with him due to caring for a little baby, instead of dismissing his complaint you can say, “you think it's not fair that I spend more time with your baby sister.” Use reflective listening. Tell them what you have understood.
Ask for clarification
Make sure you understand what they are saying or feeling. Don't assume. Ask them to repeat it or ask,”I think what you are saying is ……. Is that right?” This is very helpful when your teenager gets into an argument. It builds empathy.
Give them responsibility
By giving responsibility to your children, you are giving them some of the control over decision making. Instead of dictating, you can ask them, “How can we solve this problem now? Do you have any ideas?”. Giving children some power means they are more willing to listen and engage in a dialogue.
Give them choice
Sometimes as a parent, we have to make the decision. But we can still provide options. Sibling rivalry is very common. When your kids are fighting over a toy give them an option: “Looks like you two would like to play with the same car. We have two choices; either you can share and take turns or I am going to put the car away.” As another example, if your daughter is crying at the mall because she wants an outfit right now; you can say, “ You have 2 choices; you can stop crying right now and we can think about buying the outfit next time or we can go home now.” Giving choices makes children think about their options and they are more likely to make a decision. It integrates their logical and emotional brain. Of course there are incidences when you have to put the boundaries and be firm. Then do that. Do not apologize for putting in structure or rules. It is also important to explain why you are doing it in age appropriate language when things calm down.
Give them time to think
Time out seems like a punishment to the kids. It has its place and time but use it wisely. When it is a minor issue, ask your child to take 5 minutes to think about what he would like to do. Praise them when they make a right choice.
Use specific praise
Instead of saying “good job”, be specific about what your child did for example, “I like the way you are sharing.” Or “You are very good at building.” Children thrive on our positive attention, love, and care. We need to invest time and effort rather than money.
We get busy with our lives and forget the promises we have made. Keep your promise. Give your child that extra sticker for listening to you, go to the park for following directions if that’s what you agreed on. Noticing/rewarding children's positive behavior works better than punishing for the negative behavior. Just make sure the rewards are not always material and disproportionate.
As adults, we hesitate to say sorry to our kids. We are all humans and we make mistakes. Admitting your mistake and apologizing creates trust. There are incidences when we make wrong assumptions. Admit it and say, “I am sorry, I did not know you are working on your school project. I assumed you had not started yet.” This builds honest relationship. When children see us apologizing they are more likely to do the same. You are going to to harvest what you sow. Educate yourself, learn from experiences, do your research, read a book. There are multiple ways to gain knowledge. If it feels like you are doing a Ph.D. well…. you are! And you will get your reward.
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