Never underestimate the power of words. Especially with children, who respond to unspoken subtexts in conversations far more intuitively than we give them credit for. Starting your children off on the Heart-Love journey requires some parental preparation to make sure that the kids are not receiving mixed signals even as they’re learning to build their own guidance systems. To help you do that, we have curated a manifesto of do’s and don’ts that will assist you in navigating the complexities of child-parent interaction in the most beneficial ways.
# 1: Don’t Confront Children When They Are Agitated
• The phrase “calm down” is one of the most improperly-used phrases in child management dictionary. When children are in a state of high emotional agitation, they are not as cognizant as adults about propriety, temperance and repercussions. They’re just very, very upset. Trying to talk `sense’ into them at this time or asking them to `calm down’ has – if anything, a negative impact. Wait until their emotions have dialed back on their own, and then attempt to broach the subject. You will find that they are much more open and receptive to the conversation you need to have.
# 2: Separate Behavior From The Child
• When a child behaves badly, we sometimes blame the child and not the behavior itself in our anger and frustration. But blaming and shaming the child only makes him/her more resistant to change. Even worse, those blames and shames propagate a self-image of unworthiness that hinders they journey towards self-awareness and self-growth.
# 3: Allow Children To Vent
• If a child has come to you with a complaint or wants to share a strong, negative experience, do not interrupt or intervene to correct any flaws in their reasoning. Like adults, children too need to vent sometimes – express their full feelings in the safe and secure presence of a parent. Let them have that, before discussing possible solutions together as a team.
# 4: Use Their Name Often
• Confident, well-adjusted children love to hear their name being said. Kids with low esteem cringe and want to disappear when their name is uttered in any attention-grabbing way. Get children used to hearing their name – uttered with love, encouragement and other positive emotions – at all times. Don’t use their name when scolding or punishing. Let them always take pride in who they are.
# 5: Don’t Establish Rules For Rule’s Sake
• Parents know better than anyone else what’s good for their children. But before you lay down a hard-and-fast rule, question yourself about the validity of it. Is it really necessary? Does it really matter, if the children are making their beds before or after breakfast? As long as the beds are getting made, is it absolutely vital to challenge their reluctance to do it first thing in the morning? Can they not do it second thing in the morning if that really helps them start their day in a more positive frame of mind?
# 6: Always Explain The “Why”
• As a parent, it is usually our expectation that children will do as they are told. We don’t stop to measure the resistance and negativity that is born in a child’s mind from not understanding why they have to do it. If you take the time to patiently explain the reasons, there will be less friction, less bad feelings and more follow-through. For example, if a child doesn’t want to go visit Grandma on weekends when his/her friends are all playing together, you can explain how much Grandma loves and misses you all, how old and lonely she is, and how much happiness the child brings in Grandma’s life just by visiting her. Once the child fully understands the whys, he/she will be less likely to resent the loss of playtime, and be more open to love, compassion and values of familial ties.
# 7: Take Their Feelings Seriously
• A disagreement over a toy with a sibling may not seem like a big deal to adults, but in the children’s world it is a very big deal indeed. If your child is genuinely upset about something inconsequential by your reckoning, don’t dismiss the feeling or tell the child to be good or behave better. Help the child understand it. The very fact that you’re concerned and interested in how the child is feeling makes the emotion valid. Once that premise has been established, the child can work towards resolution without shame or self-judgement about feeling that way.
# 8: Avoid Leading Questions
• Dressing an order as a question does not make it any less of an order. For example, the question: “Do you want to apologize to your brother now?” No matter how unresolved the child is feeling about the issue, he/she will have to apologize because you ordered it. Lip-service will be paid to an apology but the sentiment will not be felt. Avoid leading questions like this because they only teach children that it is okay to be inauthentic and untruthful.
# 9: Ask Real Questions
• A general question like “How was school?” will usually evoke a general answer like “Umm…okay”. Ask a more specific question instead that requires a better-thought-out response, and you will find that you’re being able to the help the child in more meaningful ways.
# 10: Preface The Negative With The Positive
• Criticism, discipline and punishment should always be constructive. One way of making sure that children try to fix a problem is by not shaming the problem-maker. For example, if a child has just broken a glass, you could preface the conversation with something like: “I know you were trying to help set the table and that was very thoughtful, but …”
# 11: Reward Good Behavior
• Reward doesn’t necessarily mean material goods. In this case, reward comes in the form of vocal or physical demonstration of appreciation and love. Children feel special when their small positive actions are acknowledged and rewarded. The practice also helps them be more aware of small positive actions – like small kindnesses and small generosities – and want to do more of them.
# 12: Avoid Lectures
• Don’t let a minute or two of discipline time turn into a protracted, 20-minute lecture. Your child will learn to tune you out quite early in life, and a lot of important lessons will remain unlearnt because children rarely listen or respond to a lecture.
# 13: Some Asks Need Many Askings
• Children will not remember to take their shoes off before walking on the new rug, the first time you ask them to. They won’t remember the second time and maybe not the third time either. Instead of making this a matter of disobedience, know that some asks just need a lot of asking. Once they finally process it, taking their shoes off will become a habit and that will be that.
# 14: Respect Independence
• Encourage children to be independent in their thoughts. Step back and watch them self-regulate as long as it is practical and safe to do so. The journey towards a heart-brain led life requires a lot of internal processing, and children will not think for themselves or consider their thoughts valid if they are always looking to you or other elders for directions.