There are many many factors that affect the relationship we have with our children, and over many years. You will know what’s true for you right now.
Personally, I have found time (lack of it) and tiredness to be my major factors. When I have not made time for my children I have sometimes regretted it, thinking “If I had only spent 10 minutes listening properly, or noticing, I could perhaps have done something about that.” Or when I have snapped because I’m tired and something fairly minor has escalated into a full blown argument.
They’re regrettable but also completely normal. I don’t beat myself up about them and neither should you.
What I have learnt through parenting and also working with hundreds or children and parents is that there are some fundamentals to a great relationship with your child even when you don’t have time or you are tired. If you can try to apply what I call the 3 Keys, at least some of the time, I think both your children and you will benefit.
What are the 3 Keys?
- Listen To Them
- Understand Them
- Love and Accept Them
1. Listen to Them
One of our basic needs as a human is to be heard and I hear a lot from older children and teenagers that they get told a lot but not listened to. As adults we might feel that we are more experienced than the children in our life but we learn through experience much more than being told. Yes you are the expert as a parent but your child needs to learn his/her own lessons.
Listen and then explain what you think and tell them that you are doing it because you love them. Children are vulnerable emotionally because they can’t fully process the information around them, simply because their brain is still developing.
Build confidence and trust while you listen to them and acknowledge their point of view. Pushing them into something, or pushing them away, may make things worse for them and you.
Listening is a tricky skill, especially for those of us who are problem solvers and want to help in any way possible. You may want to say,”Just ignore that. It will all be fine,” or “Don’t be silly. Be brave.” Your experience will tell you that everything is ok but from your child’s point of view it probably isn’t. It’s important that they are able to express what’s going on for them. That may be talking, but it may not be. It may be easier for them to get into bed and tell their favourite teddy or draw a picture. What’s most important is that they are heard and acknowledged. Don’t try to intervene or problem solve. That’s not what’s important here. Say things like:
I can see how upset you are.
I can hear how important that is.
I can tell you’re bothered.
2. Understand Them
As your children get older you are likely to hear,” You just don’t understand?????” It’s a horrible situation for your teen and for you if you feel you have no way to start a conversation because you have no common ground.
How do you begin to understand another person?
Through the art of great conversation. And by starting right now with your little children. Most of us think that either we’ll never have a problem taking to our teens or that it’s an inevitable part of adolescence.
Neither are completely true!
As children get older they want more independence from you and sometimes the get stroppy because they’re trying to exert that independence. It comes out all wrong. They most definitely still need you. So if you can build a habit of great listening and understanding you’ll be somewhere in the middle.
Say things like:
I hear you. Can you tell me a bit more?
Try to explain that a bit more.
I want to really understand that. Let’s talk a bit more.
3. Love and Accept them
Another one of our most basic needs is to be loved and accepted. Acceptance is a survival need. Think of yourself a caveman. You are dependent on the rest of your tribe. If you’re not accepted you’re life is at risk. Part of our brain still works at this survival level, which means we are still driven to be accepted. Until your child is an independent adult you are the primary source of their feeling accepted and of course this is love.
It doesn’t mean you have to love everything they do, or accept poor behaviour. It just means love and accept them as a person separately from their behaviour. They are still the same child that you adored in the first hours of their life, the same 5 year old you applauded in the Nativity.
Don’t be passive, weak or wishy washy with them. Let them know what you think. Explain to them that what they have done is unacceptable and that you are telling them because you love them. Be their firm guidance.
In stressful times, let them know that you love them and that they are safe.