Empowering children should always mean several things: the dignity of the child is respected, the situation is set as right as possible if a party or an object has been damaged, and your relationship with your child is preserved. For a small child it isn’t really that they will “learn for next time” because a child’s memory begins to develop around ages six or seven. Therefore, in many cases these scenarios that require empowerment will be re-played time and time again and as a parent one must be patient and guide.
A large part of this guiding and leading to empowerment is to be “ho hum” . “Ho hum” means different things to different parents but I think ideally it means holding the space, listening and observing and being present. Here is an article about what it means to “hold the space” from an adult perspective in palliative care; not all of it is applicable to parenting small children but it is helpful to read and to practice in your own life. http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/ The more you practice and are able to do this with adults, the better you will be at it with your children. This is the most important step toward preserving the relationship and connection you have with your child, and in preserving the child’s dignity.
I think one of the differences between holding the space with an adult and then doing this with a small child is that there may be a physical piece. This could be holding the child even if the child is screaming and falling apart so they can press into this boundary. Or, it may be as simple being present and humming whilst folding laundry while a child is under a table and not wanting to be touched and then making restitution after the child has calmed down. Only you can decide what is right then in the relationship with your child.
The action piece that occurs after the ho-hum and holding the space can be the oft-forgotten piece of empowering. It empowers children to make things right. This is probably the most important piece of guiding. Once children are calm, especially for children ages nine and under, I like “doing together” as restitution. We do things together to make the situation right, to bring restitution, we encourage. This is empowering to small children.
Another situation regarding empowerment came to my mind yesterday. Sometime just loving boundaries and words of encouragement are enough to empower a child that is not in a conflict situation but working through being capable as part of growing up. For example, yesterday my five year old wanted to get dressed and he had pants downstairs but he didn’t want to go upstairs to get his shirt and socks. He really wanted me to do it for him. I set a boundary that I would not do it for him as he was completely capable and I was in the middle of things in the kitchen. Sometimes children need to hear that too, and to follow through. This is also empowering and part of being capable as children grow. We can be kind and thoughtful, but doing everything for our children that they can do for themselves actually takes away their power in the long run of life.
Please share with me your favorite ways to hold the space, be ho-hum and empower your children.