A parenting toolbox is something that we can draw upon to help us in our mission to raise our children successfully. In my case I am particularly interested in the emotional and psychological development of my children so I am filling my toolbox with skills that help me and them in that respect.
Some of the things I write about seem obvious, but I haven’t always found them to be so. I write about them because if that was the case for me then it may also be for others.
I am no expert, but my own history of a mental health breakdown and the subsequent counselling process I went through, plus the multitude of books and websites I have trawled through have provided knowledge that I wish to share. Without sounding like I am teaching sane adults how to suck eggs, I hope this is of some use, if only to validate you.
I have already written about the power and importance of a community to surround yourself with and now I write about knowing how to communicate with your children. When I hosted a twitter chat on #empa (empowered parenting) earlier this month, those were the two most important facets of the conversation.
To be able to understand our children, and to help our children understand us and themselves, we need good communication skills. To be able to then take that understanding out into the world we need good communication skills. There are two particular key elements to this; listening and talking. One without the other is not enough.
The skill of listening first of all means having your eyes open. Yes, really listening involves seeing too. I have my eyes open to the body language that might indicate that something is bothering my children. Facial expressions, tones of voice, behaviour; sometimes as obvious as foot stamping, but sometimes just fiddling or turning away. That little indicator that something is brewing.
And then you need to have you ears open to what they say, especially the little seemingly throwaway comments that a child can make. The language they use. I give them complete focus, and try to ensure a time each day for genuine conversation, for us this is typically teatime or bathtime.
And finally listening involves sensations. They haven’t yet learned to ‘hear’ their bodily perceptions and understand their emotions from these reactions, and they don’t understand why it happens. What does happiness feel like, what does sadness or anger or pride or jealousy or scared or confused feel like? What does it mean when they have a physical reaction in their body to an event?
We discuss emotions as a general conversation topic, and draw pictures of someone feeling a particular emotion, to help develop a better understanding of those emotions. Children really struggle to be able to interpret all these things and they need our experience as adults to help them uncover the meaning.
I try to use language that is appropriate to their vocabulary, not too simplistic or too complicated for them. This changes all the time, but as I talk to them I am always listening to see if the understand what I am saying. Tone is important, it conveys being open to listening, or not. I try to use a gentle voice. I use leading, open questions about things that have been good or bad for them that day.
Along with listening what we talk about is important. When they bring up an issue that has emotional implications, I reflect the emotions I can detect back to them. If it is positive emotion, I comment on it being so and celebrate that with them. If it is negative emotion, I show them that I can see how it is affecting them. Either way I try to explore the feelings with them.
We talk about why these things have raised emotion, if there was anything that could have been done differently, why they reacted as they did. We discuss how people are feeling when they see things on television, or when they see their friends affected by something. Talking allows them to develop understanding of themselves and others at a deeper level.
Lastly share with your children how you are feeling. Not burdening them with unnecessary worries about money or such things that might cause them fear for their stability. Help them understand you, share your emotions and why they have arisen. It might also help you rationalise those emotions.
Being able to identify how we feel and communicate on an emotional level will help us deal with tricky areas in a better way and facilitate resolution of issues. Communication is a valuable skill for us to deal with the ups and downs of parenting, and for us to pass on to our children for their futures.