I began to identify in September’s post why it is important to enter into connection with our children. This is not only helpful for the relationship, but also to facilitate a safe emotional environment for learning. I want to expand a little further on the three points that were identified as suggestions for starting out with your children from a place of connection.
Not that long ago I was working on something in the kitchen and felt very rushed. In the midst of my hurry, I dropped something all over the floor that needed to be cleaned up. I sighed very loudly and was ready to become quite frustrated. Our 4-year-old was watching and quickly came up to me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. Accidents happen.” In that exact moment my own frustration was met with grace and understanding.
“And a little child shall lead them.”
Sometimes our children can be the very best examples of what we are trying to also teach them. I thought about that moment quite a bit that day, because I recognized that in the situation, had it been reversed, I might not always respond as kindly to her; and, that had I been scolded or met with criticism, it would have also changed my attitude and ability to feel loved and accepted. These daily interactions seem so small to many, but it is those tiny moments met with grace that open us up to training and guidance as we continue.
As we have been working on preschool skills at home, I am focusing a great deal of attention on simply being present, answering questions like, “Why does the moon go away?” and “How come the birds do that?” In the early phases of learning and schooling, it still feels like the most important thing I can do is be present to her questions and respond as best I can — if I don’t know the answer, telling her I will help her find out. I need a great deal of grace every day, and I’m grateful that she is able to give that to me, even on the days where I am struggling to give it to myself or in my interactions with her.
Sometimes when we sing about the wise man and the foolish man building their house on the rock, it reminds me of the Rock (Christ), but also the connection to the foundation that we as parents are trying to achieve. The goal ultimately for modeling grace is that it also continues to build the relationship and foundation for lifelong learning and love of Christ, and bringing that light into a world that desperately needs it.
In my professional work I encounter parents and children who are sad, frustrated, resentful, and feeling hopeless about a positive and fulfilling relationship with their child. “Parents are the bad guys” or “I’m not supposed to be my child’s friend” are often phrases I hear. When it comes to managing children’s behaviors, the focus is often on the compliance of the child, regardless of the emotional or relational cost.
It seems that parenting comes down to a battle of the wills: “You will do what I say.”
When I dig in my heels and refuse to collaborate with my child on desired expectations, we both lose. The child feels marginalized, unheard, and angry. The parents feel ineffective, frustrated, and like they are failing as a parent. Dr. Dan Siegel talks extensively about the research associated with the brain and development in his book, The Whole Brain Child. We as parents are the mirrors from which our children learn how to act appropriately. If their mistakes are met with criticism, anger, and blame, they will react with anger, mistrust, and defensiveness. The approach he recommends is the idea that children need us to help make meaning for them out of their daily activities.
When I think about how I approach the process of educating my child at home, I recognize that children cannot learn or retain information if they are living in chaotic environments, worried about their next meal, or dealing with other detrimental environmental factors. When I apply this to the home setting, it would seem that my child cannot engage in growing and learning if they do not feel accepted or cared for, or if they are worried about parental reactions/punishment. This doesn’t mean indulgence or lack of discipline, however; nor does it mean the parent isn’t in charge. It simply places the relationship in a position of cooperation vs. dominance. As a parent I am on a continual quest for balance between connection and correction. If my child feels connected and I am in tune with their needs, then they will naturally want to please me more than if I am acting or reacting with anger and punishments.
Here are three things I’ve found helpful in addressing my child’s behavior:
- Modeling grace: If I make a mistake I say so, I own it and say “uh oh,” and clean up the mess or apologize.
- Meeting anger with understanding: If my child is upset and emotional, I acknowledge that whatever they are feeling is valid and hard for them (even if its seems silly that they can’t find the right shoes).
- Redirect with whimsy instead of demands: Singing instead of talking, making a game out of the expectation, and assuming they will follow through by helping them start the task — all are positive encouragements.