Parenting often feels like a fifty sided Rubik’s cube, deceivingly simple before you really get into it, but then seemingly impossible to figure out when you’re in the thick of things. Instead of contending with multi-colored cubes, parents find themselves sorting out variables such as their own upbringing, the expectations of others and navigating through the massive amount of online parenting information. Oh, and then there’s taking into account each child and their own needs and challenges.
While striving to place all of these complicated pieces of parenthood into their respective places isn’t easy, doing so is what makes an intentional and effective parent. I want to give you a few clues to jump start your parenting Rubik’s cube in 2017, by providing five different areas that will positively impact your parenting, and therefore you child’s behavior as well. These concepts are based on what we now know works best to raise emotionally healthy and well-adjusted children and are supported by some of the leading experts in the fields of parenting and behavioral science.
Connection is key
At the root of our humanness is connection. The need for intimate and meaningful relationships is present in our wiring at birth and through death. While the focus in parenting is often on tips and techniques to render our children into compliance, research seems to be telling us we’re overlooking our main source of influence, a strong connection with our child. Author Rebecca Eanes notes “The truth is children want to please parents they feel deeply connected to. They more readily listen, cooperate, and take advice from a connected, warm, and loving parent.”
This theory has roots in developmental psychology also, relating back to the vital importance of infants establishing a healthy attachment with their caregiver. Prominent developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld states, “When a child is in right relationship to the parent, not only is the child rendered receptive to parenting but the parent is empowered to do the job. The key therefore to effective parenting lies not in what we do but in who we are to our children.”
There are always other tasks to accomplish, but none as important or as effective for creating positive change in our family as taking the time to sit down, talk, play and connect with our children.
Be in tune with yourself
Most parents want to be responsive to their child as opposed to reactive. In order to do so, it is vital that we as parents are in tune with not only our children but with ourselves as well. Why? So that we aren’t entering into daily interactions with our child harboring thoughts and emotions that will be a hindrance as opposed to helpful. If we are feeling resentful and angry that we got four hours of sleep last night, we won’t be able to effectively respond to our pre-schoolers tantrum.
We can achieve this awareness by shifting our focus inward and learning to be present with our own thoughts and feelings states, as well as how they shape our behaviors with our child.Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a pioneer in the conscious parenting movement lays it out as follows “Awareness behind the behavior is key. You need to be aware of your behavior, your energy, your presence, and the more aware you become, the more you catch your discrepancies.” Basically, the more self-aware we are, the better able we’ll be to interact with our child in a way that contributes to the harmony and emotional health of our family.
Look at negative behaviors in a new light
There’s no doubt that for most of us our first tendency is to look at our child’s behavior for what it is, and not for what it’s telling us. This approach often leads to us personalizing and misinterpreting our children’s actions. However, if we can make the paradigm shift from focusing on surface behaviors to what our child’s behavior is communicating to us, it can be a parenting game changer.
Ariadne Brill of Positive Parenting Connection expands on this, “ Misbehavior isn’t always what is seems and so it doesn’t always require “discipline” as much as it requires a parent willing to decode or understand what is going on underneath it all. If a child is choosing to misbehave, it’s because they need guidance from someone that they can trust to find a better path.”
Thanks to neuroscience we now know the way the brain works is that our actions follow suit after our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, any behavior is an extension of what’s current going on ‘behind the curtain’ or an indication of the state of our child’s mind and heart. If we are in tune with our child’s underlying needs we can be exponentially more effective as parents, as we address the root cause of the issue and not just surface behaviors (saving parents a lot of headaches in the long run).
Listen to your child
Listening. Something so simple, but so amazingly powerful. While the recommendation to ‘listen to your child’ may not sound like any new earth shattering advice, it actually is. The power of being listened to and feeling heard, is remarkable for both children and adults, for that matter (relating back to our basic biological need for connection). Think about it. What’s the best relief from pent up frustration at the end of a busy day? Hands down, it is almost always a sympathetic ear.
When a parent takes the time to pause and really listen to their child, their actions convey many powerful messages. I care about you. You are an important human being. You are worthy of my time and full attention. I see you. Parents can be supportive listeners by giving their child full attention, reflecting back what they hear, and doing their best to resist jumping in. It is truly amazing how even a young child can work through their own challenges when given space to do so.
Dr. Laura Markham of Ahaparenting.com offers these wise words, “The sweet spot here is to empathize so your child knows you understand what’s she’s feeling, but to also communicate your wordless confidence that this too shall pass, and someday life will be good again.” Perfect.
Get to know your child better
Sometimes parents forget that their child is their own unique and amazing human being (as opposed to a whiny appendage following us around asking for fruit snacks). Your child has gifts, challenges, and things that drive them from the core of their being. As parents, we have the honor of helping our child discover that spark.
Getting to know our child means not only discovering who they are in their personality traits and strengths but also knowing where they are in their development at any given time. Children go through a myriad of developmental stages as they grow, and the way they learn and interact with the world around them will change in each.
If we’re aiming to be an effective parent and fully support our child, it makes sense that our parenting would need to be adjusted to meet our child’s current cognitive and emotional functioning, as parent coach Nicole Schwarz reminds us, “It would be nice if you could just pick a parenting strategy and be set until your kids turn 18. Unfortunately, as your kids grow, your parenting needs to grow too!”It may sound overwhelming but you’ll find lots of help here from counselor and teacher Debora MacNamara of the Neufeld Institute, as well as here from Karen Young at Hey Sigmund.
Feel good about yourself
If you are invested in working hard on the ever-changing puzzle that parenting is, feel good about it. It certainly comes a lot easier to let that Rubix cube sit on the bookshelf gathering dust, where our thoughts and ideas are safely unchallenged.
When parents strive for connection, self-awareness and a deeper understanding of their child, they’ll be on the way to attaining the title of parenting ‘speedcuber’ (yes that is actually a term people train for and label themselves as, in the Rubix cube circuit), and the benefits to both parent and child, as a result, will be immeasurable.
This article was also featured in the Huffington Post.
Angela Pruess, LMFT, is a Child and Family Therapist and special needs parent on a mission to support and empower parents of behaviorally challenging kids. She wants to make life easier for you by decoding your child’s maddening behaviors, as well as their developmental and emotional needs. When she’s not supporting parents, or seeing kids in her private practice, she is at home being challenged (a lot) by her own three kids (and sometimes husband). Come join the Parents with Confidence tribe on facebook. Get your FREE guide “Become A More Confident Parent in Five Minutes—The 5 Best Things A Parent Could Ever Do For Their Child” here.