“The best antidote to U.S. teenagers’ major health problems – bad habits such as drinking, smoking, promiscuity – turns out to be a close connection with caring parents.” – The Journal of the Medical Association
This is a great quote I think, and it reminds all of us when we lose the forest for the trees why we try to do what we do. Parenting and being in the trenches is exhausting! The cajoling to reach normal things in the day for littles – going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, washing hair leads into juggling homework, dealing with friends for older children and into navigating high school, driving, employment, romantic relationships and more for teenagers. How can we do it?
I think the answer is in the title of this chapter, Chapter Two: “The Decision to Connect.” If we perceive the child as an obstacle to getting something done, something accomplished – then we may be sorely disappointed. If our goal is to connect with our child in the process of life and in doing all the life things along the way, then we have a much better chance of success.
Chapter Two starts off with a great observation from children jumping rope. The author writes, ” When we’re in those tugs of war with our kids, it’s much easier to see those struggles as opportunity once we realize we have the same options the kids across the street did. We always have control of our end of the rope! We can decide that this is the time to hang on tight, stand firm, and insist, “In our family this is the rule!” Other times we may decide to step in and work with our child, enjoying together what we couldn’t do alone. And then there are occasions when we realize it is time to let go of our end of the rope, to hand the whole thing over to our child, and say, “You’re ready. Take it. You can make this decision. You can handle it on your own.”
How do we know which of these tactics to use? I think some of it has to do with the size of decisions to be made, and the age of the child. and what our vision is for their adult life. How are we making them functional adults? The author talks about Stephen Covey’s adage of “Begin with the end in mind.” She gives the example of sitting with a three year old at bedtime, and people say don’t start that! However, do you want your teens to see you as someone who makes time for them, who can answer their questions, who can be trusted and help them? Think about the significant adults in your life who helped you (and those who didn’t) – what were their characteristics?
This does NOT mean we don’t have limits. When I was a young parent, I think I had a picture of doing all the things so my children would feel close and connected. I now think what children need to know is family is a partnership of respect, trust and communication between all parties. Emotional coaching and teaching our children is about meeting their needs – of course! It is about being responsive and senstive to them! But it is also is about teaching them through being supportive and encouraging to meet the things that must happen, that need to happen. How do we emotionally coach a child versus intimidating them? Building relationships, and building a emotional coach type of parenting style is a process. You will mess it up along the way! You may go back to less desirable behaviors. Keep moving forward.
One way to keep moving forward is to keep track of the developmental phase your child is in- what common things come up? What has come up for your child? What are potential strategies you could use to guide this while still connecting? Who is YOUR support team? I find many American mothers at least are functioning with NO support team. No family really, if they have a partner they are gone for long hours, no neighbors per say. You need a web of support. Who can be in your pocket? Who can you call when you are ready to melt down?
Can you identify what your child is feeling and why? They may not be able to articulate it. Most feelings have a need behind them. What’s the need and what’s the best way, including the health of you and the rest of the family, to address it? This is partly why I am such a big proponent of rhythm for children – having the same rhythm really decreased the amount of decision making and stress. If the bedtime order is always the same, there is less protesting and fighting.
Start with the little things– there is a list on page 34, but here are my favorites from that list:
- Don’t invalidate. Even if it doesn’t make sense, it can be important to your child, especially littles. They don’t always make sense; they are little.
- Take time to listen.
- Assist but don’t take over
- State things calmly.
There are great tips in this chapter! I hope you all are enjoying this book. When I first read this book, a long time ago, it seemed so much to take in but 18 years into parenting it seems pretty logical – so I think I am proof that we can grow and internalize these behaviors. You can do it! If you need help, and want to talk, I have some coaching sessions available by phone if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lots of love,