|Why develop emotional intelligence
How you can help raise your child's EQ - brief summary
On Rules, Punishment, Consequences
Book review of EI work book for Children and Teens by de Klerk and le Roux
Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish How to talk so kids will listen and listen so...
|To Build Self-Esteem and Bonding:
Mirroring, Feelings & Self-Esteem (Alice Miller)
Article on Feelings and Behavior, by Sidney Craig
Excerpts from interview with Penelope Leach
Article on unconditional love by Linda Silverman
Notes on a section on honesty from a book about emotional literacy by Claude Steiner (My comments are shown with xx's)
The Washing Up - Helping a child feel understood. (under construction)
Scrabble - Reflections on rules, creativity etc.
Other-esteem vs. self-esteem (Casey and the skateboard)
Sucesseful Modeling - Laura and the silverware
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A Brief Review of Parenting Literature
In my review of the parenting literature I find very little mention of feelings. The emphasis is generally on behavior. But as psychologist John Gottman says, we are attempting to control the children's behavior without looking at the emotions which underly that behavior. (Links to the authors I mention are found at the bottom of this section)
I believe if we focus our efforts on trying to create the right kinds of feelings in children, the behavior will take care of itself. It is not only the feelings of the child which I believe we need to look at, but the parents' feelings as well. This is an area which is even more neglected than the child's feelings. Few psychologists or writers of parents literature ever mention the feelings of the parents. Thomas Gordon is the notable exception which comes to mind.
Gordon talks about the "window of acceptance." He says when the parent is feeling good, more things are acceptable. The more negative their overall mood, the fewer things are acceptable. Gordon also tells parents, "It is essential that you learn what you are feeling." In effect, Gordon recommends that parents "own" their feelings by using "I messsages." His work supports my recommendation that belief parents take responsibility for their own feelings, rather raising children to feel responsible for the moods and happiness of their parents. While my views are similar to Gordon's in many ways, I go into more detail about the importance of respect, and describe how it is earned and how it is often confused with fear and obedience.
Haim Ginott is one of my favorite authors of parenting books. He wrote long before emotional intelligence was studied by Mayer and Salovey. Ginott influenced Fabel/Mazlish, who wrote a very practical book, and John Gottman who is a professor at the University of Washington. Gottman, in fact, dedicates his book to Ginott.
Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk
John Gottman - The Heart of Parenting
Why Develop Emotional Intelligence
Our emotions help us gather, organize, prioritize, recall and process information which is essential to both health and happiness. Since the goal of parenting is to raise healthy, satisfied children, then it makes sense to develop your child's emotional intelligence. Emotionally healthy people are also responsible and "good" citizens of the world.
Here are a few specific ways the development of EI can enhance your child's life.
Dealing with threatening situations
Consider a three year old child who nearly becomes kidnapped. Though he has never been instructed what to do in such a situation, he reacts instinctively. First, on an emotional level, he senses something is wrong. He refuses to cooperate and obey the kidnapper. The kidnapper then starts to use force to try to get the child into a car. The child senses he is in even more danger so he bites the kidnapper, pulls away, runs and screams for help. The child quickly gathered, organized, prioritized and processed information which helped him take self-protective action. Though the emotional intelligence tests have not yet attempted to measure differences in people's speed of such emotional processing, it seems reasonable that the more emotionally intelligent child would recognize and act upon a dangerous situation more quickly. It also seems reasonable to assume that the more sensitive a child is, the more likely they are able to sense that something is wrong.
Likewise, the better emotional memory and recall the child has, the more likely they will be able to quickly spot a similar danger in the future by processing the many cues they are receiving on an emotional level.
Emotional sensitivity and emotional intelligence is also needed when one child senses that something is wrong with another child. The more sensitive and aware child will be the first to notice. With a high level innate of emotional intelligence and a healthy emotional environment at home and school, the same child who was the most aware of the other's need will also be most likely to take helpful action.
Conscience and Moral Autonomy
I would also suspect that what has traditionally been called conscience is actually very closely related to emotional intelligence. I would also predict that when one begins life with a higher level of emotional intelligence and it is developed in healthy ways, then one's conscience will be strong without being excessive (for example, undeserved guilt.) With a healthy conscience one can make decisions for oneself without needing rules or external authority figures.
Sometimes one must go against the crowd. Institutions and groups, including governments, political parties, religions, and cult-like organizations can be quite effective in "thought control." Developing your child's EI can help protect them from propaganda, brain-washing, slogans, etc. by strengthening their sense of self and by giving them their own standards by which to judge what they are being told. In my experience, it is always those who have weak sense of self, who have been over-controlled by others and who lack confidence in their own feelings, who are most likely to join mind-control types of groups.
We are happiest when our needs are met, or are making progress towards meeting them. But to meet our needs we must accurately identify them. Our emotions are gauges of our psychological needs. They tell us whether we are getting the right amount of something, not enough or too much. For example, when we have a certain level of solitude we feel good. When we get too much we feel lonely. When we have too little we feel crowded. As with all psychological and emotional needs, there is no "rational" way to judge how much time alone another person needs. We each must decide for ourselves. And the way to do that is through awareness of our feelings.
We help children find their own personal happiness in life by encouraging them to not only think for themselves, but to feel for themselves-- in other words to listen to to their feelings and follow them rather than doing what everyone else thinks they should do. As I see it, developing a child's emotional intelligence helps teach that happiness is a personal thing.
When we develop a child's emotional intelligence, we are teaching that feelings and emotions are important, that they have value for making decisions about what to do and what not to do. In my own life I have noticed that the more I listen to my feelings, or my "inner voice," the happier I am and the less regrets I have over my choices.
Mutual respect, cooperation, empathy
Developing a child's EI also teaches that not everyone is the same or feels the same. Children become more understanding that we all are different; that we each have different needs, desires and preferences. This understanding leads to greater compassion and helps teach children to respect each other's feelings and individuality. Through the development of a child's natural empathy, EI development reinforces the natural fact that we are social animals, and that the survival of the species is programmed within us. In more simple terms, it teaches that we get more accomplished when we cooperate and that we feel better when we help others.
When developed in a healthy manner, our natural emotional intelligence can help us raise responsible children in two ways. First, we can teach children to be more responsible for their own happiness, rather than believing that someone else is controls them like a puppet and "makes" them feel the way they do. We can teach them they always have options when they have negative feelings. For example, the options include taking action, making changes, expressing themselves orally or in writing, learning, growing and taking different perspectives. None of us have complete control over our environments, and children have less control than adults, but we always have control over our own thoughts, and with that our feelings. Over time, we can teach children and teens to use their thoughts to generate more positive emotions even from what seem to be totally negative situations. When we have control over something we have the ability to respond to it. This is the essence of resonsibility. Control over our thoughts and feelings is to me the hightest form of personal responsibility. We can always take personal responsibilty by asking "What can I do?," "How did I contribute to this situation?" and "What can I learn from this?"
These questions involove thinking, but also feeling because when I can remember to ask myself these questions instead of blaming others or relying on someone else to change I immediately begin to feel better because I feel more in control, less victimized, and less resentful. As I have written elsewhere: Accepting responsibility releases resentment.
Second, we can teach them to use their feelings to act in socially responsible ways. I have found that a good guideline for making decisions is to ask these questions:
1. How will I feel?
2) How will others feel?
I believe nature has given us the ability to make socially responsibile decisions using input from our feelings. In other words, when our emotional development has not been damaged through an unhealthy environment, we naturally feel bad when we hurt someone, treat them unjustly, etc. But in order for this internal guidance system to work, we need to develop a child's innate emotional intelligence as I suggest in the following sections.
Note to self - add section (raising responsible kids) on how we want children to feel responsible, rather than try to hold them responsible, liable through punishment, court etc. Feeling responsible, combined with healthy self-esteem, leads to taking responsibility, and this makes one stronger. Feeling responsible combined with low self-esteem leads to feelings of guilt. This makes one weaker.
Also, section on selfishness - how it is normal to think of our own needs first. Babies are not selfish. When someone uses the word selfish it tells me they do not understand emotional needs, nature and survival. Without such understanding there can be little or no compassion.
A child's emotional needs
The brain is constantly creating different chemicals which go with our various emotions. For us to be healthy and happy we need a certain mixture of these chemicals. When we feel unhappy or upset about something, certain chemicals are being created and others are not being produced in the right amount.
These chemicals and our negative feelings are indications that something is wrong. They tell us that everything is not in balance for our health and happiness. In this way they are like gauges telling us if we have enough, too much or too little of something.
When we feel lonely, for example, we are not getting enough human connection. But when we feel crowded we are getting too much. Each feeling can be thought of as a gauge of a particular emotional need. And each emotional need can be thought of as similar to a nutritional need. We all know that children need certain vitamins and nutrients to be physically healthy. We have learned that vitamin C helps protect a child from scurvy, for example. We know that calcium helps strengthen the bones and teeth. We also know that our health requires just the right balance of all these nutrients and vitamins. Even though calcium and Vitamin C are needed, it is possible to get too much of them.
Right now there is much less information available on the child's specific emotional needs and how much of each one is required, but there are definitely certain feelings which are needed for health and happiness. As just one example, a child needs to feel accepted by the parents. This much we do know. What we don't know yet is how to measure how much of a feeling is needed or what happens when there has not been enough over the years of childhood and adolescence.
Just as scientists have identified which vitamins a child needs for healthy development, I believe we need to try to figure out which emotional needs a child has. Then the job is to try to help create the chemicals which satisfy the child's emotional or psychological needs. Or if you want, you can think of it as saying the child's brain needs certain nutrients just as his body does. Because our feelings are gauges of our emotional needs, we can monitor a child's feelings to estimate whether he is getting the right amount of something like attention or challenge or trust. When he gets old enough we can also ask him directly and rely on his innate emotional intelligence to provide a reasonably accurate answer.
As I see it, one of the roles of parents is to help a child become increasingly independent. So at the start of a child's life, the parent is responsible for meeting more of the child's needs. At the same time the parent is steadily equipping the child to meet more and more of his own needs. These include the emotional needs which every child and every human has.
If we think of emotions as chemical reactions in the brain, we can see the parents' job as helping their children learn to manage these chemical processes. If the parents do this job well, the child will be less likely to turn to external sources of chemicals such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.
In my experience, kids only turn to these things when their emotional needs have not been met at home. We all know that it is not material things which keep a kid off of drugs, since we find drug addicts among the richest families. And I don't accept the argument that kids use drugs because their friends use drugs. There are plenty of kids who have a strong enough sense of themselves to not give in to peer pressure. Creating this healthy self-confidence is another of the parents' jobs. Doing this job well also depends on developing certain underlying feelings in the child.
So what can parents do exactly to raise a self-confident child who is able to manage his own brain chemicals? There are lots of different ideas on how to do this. I just offer a few of my own suggestions for you to consider.
First, think about what the emotional needs of a child are, and try to keep these in mind day to day. Here is a short list which I have come up with. See if you agree or if you can think of others.
In various degrees, according to our own unique nature, each of us need to feel:
I once talked to a teenager who had gone through a drug treatment program. There they told her that every child needs to feel two main things: safe and significant. I have thought about those two words often since then.
I started trying to organize my own list of emotional needs under those two main categories and this is what I came up with:
Safe -- accepted, secure
Under accepted I include: acknowledged, respected, admired, approved of, included
Under secure I would add not feeling judged, criticized, interrogated, laughed at, mocked, negated, or invalidated
Significant -- important - appreciated, worthwhile, heard, respected, helpful, useful, needed, valued, trusted, worthy, loved
Under loved I include cared about, nurtured, admired, supported, understood, reassured
This still left certain feelings from my list unaccounted for. So I wondered if once the emotional foundation has been set by establishing the feelings listed above, a child might then be ready to move towards filling his higher emotional needs which might be thought of as the need to feel free and fulfilled, as detailed below:
Free --independent, in control, private
(The feeling of privacy doesn't seem to fit perfectly under the feeling of freedom, but there I leave it there because I believe it is an important emotional need at times, and a child needs to feel free to have his own private thoughts and free to go to a private place when he needs to be alone.)
Fulfilled - challenged, creative, motivated, responsible, productive, accomplished, successful
By studying this list parents can come up with their own ways for helping a child meet these various emotional needs on a day to day basis. Just being aware that these needs are all important to children for their emotional health is probably a good start. In the next section I offer a few ideas to help this process along.
Questions for Parents
How do you want your children to feel? How do you create those feelings?
What if you could not hit, hurt, threaten or punish your children or teenagers?
What if they had the power to put you in jail, evict you from your homes?
What if they were legally free to leave
home at 12 and they had safe places they could go?
What if you could not do anything to them that you could not do to a police officer? Such as threaten, bribe, use force...
How you can help raise your child's EQ
Very young children
A. Help them learn the words for their feelings. Here are three ways:
1. Express your own feelings with feeling words.
- I am feeling impatient. I am feeling discouraged. I am feeling motivated, inspired.
2. Put the labels on their feelings
- Looks like you are feeling really frustrated. (That's frustrating! That looks frustrating. You must be feeling pretty frustrated.)
3. Label feelings in other people. (on the street, on TV, in movies, in literature)
- The woman in the TV show is really feeling jealous. Daddy is feeling a little unappreciated at work.
B. Create an emotionally safe and supportive environment
Validate feelings. Discuss feelings openly. Avoid invalidation, shouting, violent words or actions.
Encourage emotional honesty through acceptance and unconditional love.
As the child grows...
Continue all of the above, but begin to explain emotions.
Study the section on emotions so you can help explain things like
Help them learn to generate options to feel better.
Emotionally healthy children:
(Based on research presented in Goleman's book)
On Punishment, Power, Fear -
Parents who use punishment, threats, force, anger, disapproval, judgement and control create feelings of:
fear, resentment, powerlessness, anger, defensiveness, insecurity
Restitution rebuilds self-esteem; punishment pulverizes self-esteem.
Fear kills learning and creates dependency.
Label feelings not children.
Labels stick. Labels blind us. Labels lock us into stereotypes. Labels limit our potential.
Avoid labeling your child as:
Antagonistic, Arrogant, Born loser, Bossy, Brat, Clumsy, Klutz, Crabby, Cranky, Crybaby, Defiant, Dodo, Drama Queen, Dramatic, Dunce, Egotistical, Finicky, Fool, Good-for-nothing, Greedy, Grouchy, Grumpy, Hellion, Holly Terror, Hot-tempered, Hothead, Idiot, Immature, Ingrate, Lame-brain, Lazy, Lazy-bones, Loser, Mean, Melodramatic, Moody, Monster, Moron, Nitwit, Obnoxious, Ornery, Pain, Pain-in-the neck, Pest, Picky, Pushy, Prude, Rebellious, Rude, Sassy, Sinner, Sissy, Scatter-brain, Self-centered, Selfish, Slob, Sloppy, Smart-aleck, Sore-loser, Spoiled , Stubborn, Too sensitive, Terror, "Too" anything, Troublemaker, Wallflower, Whiner, Worry-wart
Avoid expressions like:
Threw a fit, threw a tantrum, fell apart, made a scene, lost his temper, blew up
Many people will agree that children often do not respect their parents any more. People disagree, though, on the cause of this decline. I personally do not believe we can blame the children, or even "society." When I ask people, whether it is children, teenagers or adults, why they do not resepect someone else, the answer I almost always get is "Because they don't respect me." This is especially true when they are referring to someone who has power or authority over them, such as parents, teachers or bosses.
To put it simply, I believe respect must be earned. In my section on respect I discuss the concept of respect further, but here I will summarize how I believe respect is earned and how I believe it is often confused with fear or obedience.
How to earn respect
In all my reading of literature for parents I can not recall a single case where parents were given guidance on earning the respect of their children. I suspect that this is one of those things that we all just assume we know. Or often it is assumed (or explicitly stated) that by the simple fact that the mother and father had sex which resulted in a child, they are now entitled to respect from that child. Traditional western religion going back to the Hebrew teaching instructed their followers to "honor the parents," without giving any justification for this commandment. Nor was there any provision for what to do if one's parents are abusive.
I am in complete agreement with the idea that things work better when children respect their parents. Where I differ from the traditional view is in my definition of what respect is and where it comes from.
As I implied above, I do not believe it is something which comes automatically with the act of reproduction. Nor I define respect as obedience. Obedience we can get by carrying a gun. Respect though, must be earned.
When a child is born, it has no concept of respect and it has no way of showing respect. What I believe happens in healthy homes is that the parents first show respect to their children for a period of the first few years. Then the child begins to natuarally return that respect.
The next obvious question then, is how does a parent show respect to an infant?
In general , one way to define respecting someone is in terms of helping it meet its needs. For an infant, we can do this by feeding it, holding it, providing a safe ennvironment, etc. In other words, by attending to its needs and not neglecting or ignoring them.
As a child gets older we can start to actually ask him or her how they feel. For example, I suggest we ask children how much they feel: (using scale of 0-10)
Afraid (of you)
Then I suggest we ask how we can improve & take their answers seriously. If we work to improve our "rating" without getting defensive I believe we will find the child or teen's respect for us increasing.
Here is my full page on respect
On Wanting the Best for Your Child
Every parent wants the best for their child. In my experience, however, parents typically believe they know what is best for their child, before they get to know their child.
For someone to help us, they must first know us. They must know what our preferences and desires are, what our beliefs and values are and what our dreams and fears are. Imposing their preferences, their beliefs, their fears, their values on us does not help us-- it insults and offends us.
You can not get to know your children by ordering them around, judging, punishing, threatening and interrogating them. In other, words, by imposing yourself on them. When we are imposed upon, sooner or later, we reject this imposition. The more independent we are, according to unique genetic code, the more completely we reject such imposition, and chose instead to find our own way.
To find out who your children are, you must listen to them, lay all the options before them, expose them to the world's abundant possibilities. Then stand back in awe and wonder, and marvel at the people they become.
When Your Child Uses "Bad" Language
It seems clear to me that when someone swears, curses or uses "bad" language it is because their previous efforts to communicate have failed. In other words, those around them have not listened to them and taken them seriously.
Rather than punish a child for his/her choice of words, seek to understand why they feel so strongly and why they haven't felt heard without the use of such language. Seek to identify the emotions behind the words. (See EQ Based Listening)
To Build Self-Esteem and Bonding:
Try to help your children feel:
Acknowledged, admired, appreciated, confident, trusted, needed, important, respected, approved of, heard, safe, supported, understood, independent, free, cared about, valued
Express your feelings rather than issuing commands.
Express your fears. Own them by taking responsibility for them.
Say: "I am afraid you will hurt yourself.", rather than "You are going to kill yourself if you keep that up!"
Take care of yourself. Don't try to get your emotional needs met through your children. That is emotional abuse just as having sex with them is sexual abuse.
Seek first to understand, then be understood.
Show understanding, compassion, empathy. Teach it, model it.
Remember that children are emotional sponges. Infants are pre-logical, all emotional. If you feel negative emotions, they will soak them up even if you try to hide them, so you must work on eliminating them. (the negative feelings, not the kids!)
Become aware of your facial expressions and tone of voice. These carry powerful emotional messages.
Express your regret when you feel it or when you make a mistake. Say: I feel bad about... Let them know it is okay to admit mistakes & normal to feel regret.
Ask their forgiveness. Help them learn to forgive themselves, rather than try to "teach them a lesson they will never forget."
To help them feel confident, don't underestimate them. Let them try more things on their own. Stand back and only offer assistance when it is sought. For example, when a toddler is trying to climb over a fence that his big brother just climbed over, don't just lift him up and put him down on the other side, as I saw a nanny do one day. Instead, stand behind him and make sure he doesn't hurt himself. Even let him fall a few more times than you think you "should." This is also how you help a child not feel overprotected, as many children do. I am amazed to see what happens when children are simply left alone to keep trying. They are incredibly persistent and resilient. They keep trying long after most adults would have given up. I suspect that we have actually been trained to give up and to seek assistance or expect someone else is going to come to the rescue.
Also, teach your older children to let the younger ones do things on their own. I once saw a pre-schooler struggling with buckling her shoes. Her older brother started to do it for her and I said, "Bradley, I think Mary will feel good if she can do that by herself." He said "okay" and soon after she succeeded on her own and briefly looked up to me for recognition. I gave her a wink and a smile to reinforce her proud feeling of accomplishment and independence. I find that sometimes parents exaggerate such small accomplishments and say "Spectacular!" I have mixed feelings about this. It might help a child feel more proud, but it also might set the child up to be approval seeking and externally motivated. It might also diminish the value of positive reinforcement over time, so I feel cautious about verbalizing too much approval, excitement etc. I would be especially cautious if it feels forced to you, as this could be subtly felt as insincerity by an intelligent, sensitive child. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden points out that some children, especially those who are already a bit insecure might think, "They must think I am really pathetic if they have to compliment me for that." Because I want to encourage children to be set their own standards, I tend to follow the child's lead. In other words, I wait to see how the child seems to feel about their effort. If they seem to want recognition, or show that they are proud, I will acknowledge them and their pride. But if they are content without my approval or recognition, I might simply smile to myself, knowing they are becoming independent human beings.
Getting to Know Your Child & Helping Find His/Her Place in the World
One day I heard a six year old say "I hate organic food." The mother said, "She doesn't really hate it. She doesn't even know what it is." I began thinking later that maybe it is true that the child doesn't know what organic food is, but I am still curious why the child would say she hates it. Then again maybe the child does know what it is and the mother has underestimated the child. This led me to think about how we can use such interactions to get to know our children. In such an instance, the parent might say, "You do?" The child might then say "Yes. I do. I hate it."
The parent could say, 'Oh, I didn't realize you knew what organic food was. You are pretty smart!' The parent might then say, with genuine curiosity, "Can you tell me why you don't like it. I would like to know."
The child might surprise the parent with a very articulate answer. Or perhaps the child can't explain why she doesn't like it. She might say, "I don't know. I just do."
Then the parent could accept this by saying, "Okay." Or the parent could add, "Well, if you think about it later, could you tell me because I am still curious. Okay?" I suspect most children will agree to this. In fact, I think they will be pleased that their parents are interested. This could help them feel more important, for example. It will also help them feel more in control of when they share information, rather than feeling interrogated. My guess is that later they will volunteer why they don't like things in the future.
The parent might continue the conversation by saying, "So you really don't like this food and would prefer to have so and so food? Is that right?" The child will likely say yes. Now the mother and child have reached some agreement, which feels good to both. The child also feels very understood. Feeling understood puts all of us in a better, safer, more cooperative mood. We also then feel safer to share our feelings, our preferences, our likes and dislikes, our ideas, beliefs and opinions. In this way the parent is opening the doors to really getting to know their child.
In my experience it is more important for us to feel understood than it is for us to get what we want.
While one of the roles of the parent is to feed the child and take care of its physical needs, another role is to help it find its place in life. To be able to do that the parent must really know the person who is living with them for the first years of their lives. One of the best ways to make sure they do get to know this person is by consistently accepting the child's feelings and enquiring into the reasons for those feelings without judging the feelings or the explanations behind them.
My recommendation is that you show appreciation and say "thank you" only when you actually feel appreciative. This contrasts with using false appreciation as a positive reinforment type of behavior control. I saw an example of this type of attempted behavior control or behavior modification in a copy center in one day.
On Crime and Violence
Remember that violence comes from feeling small, powerless, frustrated, controlled, trapped. Guns are a substitute for feeling respected-- children who were respected don't need guns to feel powerful.
Crime is a very often a result of unmet emotional needs rather than physical needs. People are more likely to hurt others when they have been hurt themselves, either physicall or emotionally. They are also more likely to hurt others when they feel no empathy for others. Kids join gangs to get the feelings they didn't get at home. For example: important, protected, respected, heard, connected, accepted, needed, challenged. I had a teenager tell me that her gang gives her love, and I know that she did not get this from her mother or father.
On Conflicts of Needs and Abuse
The parent's role is to meet the child's needs. This is how the relationship begins, and how nature has designed the relationship to work. The best parent, then, has few unmet needs. Thus he/she can be there to attend to the child's needs. The worst parents are the ones with the most unmet emotional needs.
When the parent has many unmet needs, roles quickly become reversed; instead of the parent being there to meet the child's nees, the child gets used in an attempt to fill the parent's needs. This creates an unnatural situation. Such unnatural use of a child is the first step to the abuse of the child. It matters little which unmet needs the parent is trying to fill--physical, sexual or emotional--it is still role reversal, still an unnatural situation-- and still abuse.
Alice Miller on Mirroring, Feelings & Self-Esteem
The child has to be mirrored by the mother, which means that the child has to be able to find his true self in his mother. If he does find himself in the mother, he knows that he is accepted with all his needs and wants. If he does not find himself in her, he will find the projections and wants of his mother by which he has to develop. Since this development is not a development on own terms, the child will develop a false self to meet the mother's expectations. See also The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller
Notes from article on "Best Parents" -- 3/3/95 D1 St. Pete Times, St. Petersburg, FL
1. Willingness to listen rather than lecture.
2. Respect for kids and their friends.
3. The ability to treat kids as individuals.
Teens say parents hold the key to good communication. All the parents have to do is listen. "If I tell my parents that some of my friends are doing drugs, they'll explode, so I don't talk to them about it, I talk to other parents," said one teen.
Teens want parents who will not cut them off in mid-sentence once the parent thinks they know the direction things are going.
In other words, teens want parents who don't try to control every aspect of their lives, even their communication style.
The best parents keep listening even when they don't like what is being said.
Notes from a radio interview with author of the book "What should I tell the kids?"
Parents are most important role model.
When the child is about 5 they begin to leave the house and get influenced by other adults, then other students.
The child follows what the parent does, not what they say.
IE don't try to teach someone to not hit their sister by hitting them. Do as I say not as I do.
She says the most important thing for parents to do is have a good relationship between them.
And for them not to complain, judge and set other bad examples.
Teaching them how to solve problems (with words, not anger or violence) is one of the most important skills to teach.
And to teach them it is okay to have feelings and how to verbalize feelings.
And to finish what they start (sph), and control their own behavior and emotions. But no matter how well we teach them kids still need to learn their own lessons and find their own solutions.
She says you can both over value or undervalue kids. IE making them too much center of attention
Compassion, communication, comprehend, competence
Start with compassion (example, I understand that x is important to you), then you can communicate, and help them to comprehend which leads to their competence.
** Don't put down something they value, that will put them on the defensive and alienate them from you.
The Washing Up
While visiting a friend, I woke up to the sound of the mother and 10 year old daughter arguing. I could tell the conflict was escalating so I went in to see if I could be of help. As I walked down the hall I heard the daughter say, "Mom, there are heaps!" The mother shot back, "There are not heaps!"
When I arrived in the kitchen, I asked the daughter what was going on. She said her mother wanted her to do the washing up (the dishes) and she was making her late for school. I asked if I could mediate the situation and they both agreed. I began with the daughter. I started out by saying, "Okay, so Mom wants you to do the dishes and you don't want to. Plus Mom said she isn't going to take you to school until you do them? Is that right so far?"
Anja Lea answered, "Yes."
Then I said, "Okay, so you are probably feeling forced...?"
She didn't know what intimidation was so I explained it to her, then she said "Yes."
"And are you feeling loved...?"
"Okay. And how much do you feel understood by your mom?"
"On a scale of zero to ten?" (I had been teaching the children to express their feelings from 0-10 for the past few days.)
"Yes, from 0-10."
I then asked Anja Lea to explain why she didn't want to do the dishes. Several times the mother interrupted us to defend herself, but I wanted to make sure Anja Lea was finished talking before I addressed the mother and the mother cooperated as best she could, even though it was noticeably hard for her to sit there and listen in silence.
As Anja Lea talked I felt impressed by how articulate a 10 year old could be. She had very logical arguments. She said for example, that there were dishes there from the weekend when it had been her sisters turn to do them. She also said she didn't think it was fair that in the past week her mother had allowed her sister to do the dishes in the afternoon rather than before school, so she didn't see why she had to do them now. I said, "So you think it is not fair that Kay could do the dishes in the afternoon, but you have to do them before you go to school this morning?"
She added that she didn't even really ever agree to the idea of one person doing the dishes one week and then the next person doing them the next week. She said that it was her mother and sister's idea, but she wasn't in complete agreement when they were discussing it. In fact, she wasn't even in the room until the decision was already virtually made. I said, "So you don't believe you are obligated to stick to an agreement you didn't enter into voluntarily?"
At one point I asked her if she felt a little defiant. She said "Yes." I then said, "What does your mother usually do to get you to do something you don't want to do?" Anja Lea told me she usually threatens her with no TV or something like that. I asked if she were afraid of her mother hitting her. She said she wasn't. I asked, "What if your mother said you would never get to watch TV again and she was never giving you a ride to school again? Then would you do the dishes?"
I smiled a little and said, "Personally I admire that, but I don't want to make things worse, so let's ask mom how she feels about hearing you say that." The mother said she felt powerless, helpless and very frustrated.
I then returned to A.L. to make sure I understood everything she had said so far and to show her that I understood by paraphrasing, checking facts, etc. When it seemed she was finished explaining herself, I asked her how much she felt understood by me. She said, "8."
I then said, "Hmmm. We are missing two... what else....?" She wrinkled her eyebrows, thought for a few seconds, then told me that she had told her mother she would do the dishes after school.
"So you don't feel trusted?"
I then asked the mother how much she usually trusted A.L. and the mother said about an 8. I asked A.L. if she would like to be trusted more, like at a 9 or 10 level and she said yes. I then asked if she thought she that a 9 or 10 would be possible if she showed her mother consistently she could be trusted. Again she said yes.
"Okay.... Anything else that I need to understand about why you don't want to do the dishes right now?"
"All right, of all of this, what bothers you the most?"
Anja Lea said that it was that her mother didn't trust her keep her word and do them after school.
"Okay. Now, how much do you feel understood by me."
"10," she said, with obvious satisfaction.
Next I turned my attention to the mother. I may add more detail later but for now I will just say the mother felt very defensive, very demanding, very upset. She also felt defied and disobeyed. And she felt offended that her daughter accused her of not being fair. She said she does everything she can to treat them equally and she is still accused of not being fair by both of them. I asked her how important it was to her that the dishes get done in the morning and she said "10." I made a mental note that she had painted herself into a corner by trying to force A.L. to do something she didn't want to do. Now her happiness was out of her hands, and in the hands of A.L. She really seemed to need A.L. to do the dishes, similar to the way a drug addict needs a fix.
She also seemed to feel threatened in the sense that her daughter was questioning her judgment and her decision making authority by basically saying that when she let the sister Kay wait until the afternoon it was a poor decision. Although the mother never acknowledged it, I sensed that this is what actually bothered the mother the most. I base this assessment on the mothers tone of voice and facial expressions as she talked about the various aspects. I believe she felt afraid of Anja Lea questioning her decisions in the future and wanted to teach her a lesson not to question her decisions, i.e. her authority. I also believe that the mother did not want to admit this to me, herself or to Anja Lea and that is why even when I suggested it, she denied this was one of the things which bothered her, let alone the thing which bothered her the most. (See her own account of the incident below) I continued to let the mother explain herself until she also felt understood by me a 10. At that point everyone was happy and they drove off to school.
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Later when the mother told me what happened on the way to school I learned two more interesting facts.
First, Anja Lea was the first to apologize when the got in the car. This supports my beliefs that a) children are quick to apologize when the feel bad for something, since they have not yet learned to see apologizing as a sign of weakness, and b) that children often feel responsible for the feelings of their parents and try to do what they can to help them feel better, as long as they themselves feel understood and not attacked.
Second, the mother then also apologized and Anja Lea quickly accepted her apology and said, "That's okay mom." But what is noteworthy is that even when Anja Lea accepted her mother's apology, the mother kept seeking reassurance by saying things like "Are you sure you are not upset?" I have seen this before in insecure parents who need reassurance from their children or from others. (for a related story see "The overly apologetic coach")
Now, here is the he Mother's account:
My friend Steve Hein was staying with
us. He had been with us for 4 days and was conducting some
observation/ intervention work with us. The usual morning
rush was under way, Monday..breakfast, school lunches, getting
dressed, washing up..the typical demands and expectations
flitting about. As the minutes wore by, and school time got
closer and closer, the demands and needs heightened. As
this all amplified, I was aware of my stress level beginning to
rise. Trying to remain calm and enjoy my pot of tea, whilst
dealing with the needs and pleas of the two children, became
increasingly difficult. We have an agreement amongst us,
that we take it in turns to wash the dishes each week.
This week it was Anja Lea's week. She was aware of this, and I chose to remind her at 8am, in an effort to diminish the chances of both the girls being late for school. Immediately Anja Lea objected, as she believed that there was washing up from the weekend, dishes and pots that she had not eaten from. I informed her that it was only from last night's dinner and that it wasn't "heaps of stuff" at all. She then said that Kay had left it till the afternoon one day last week. I reminded her that on that occasion, Anja Lea had took it upon herself to admonish Kay for not doing the dishes in the morning, as we had all agreed, and had in fact given Kay major grief over the issue.
A little later I was in the shower. Anja Lea came in and we once again debated the issue of the washing up, and her desire to postpone the chore till the afternoon. I was aware of Steve, still in his room, listening, and I wanted to work on the feelings and my responses to my kids. I felt unheard, and repeated the same arguments to Anja Lea. In my bedroom dressing, Kay began hassling me about the need to leave for school, because she didn't want to be late (an everyday scene). At this time, I wasn't yet concerned about the hour, and told Kay that Anja Lea had to do the washing up, that I had insisted, and that I wouldn't be driving them to school until the washing up was done. I suggested that if Kay wasn't prepared to wait for a ride, then perhaps she should walk to school right then. Needless to say, she wasn't happy. I reiterated the uproar from last week over the dishes, and reconfirmed our agreement that every day, the dishes would be done in the morning, not left till the afternoon, no matter what. Kay was far from happy, walked through the front door, threw a snarl my way and slammed the door behind her. I instantly felt guilty. Kay was being punished for Anja Lea's crime. Oh well, let's just get this washing up done I thought.
In the kitchen, after inquiring where her
sister was, Anja Lea requested that I do two braids in her hair,
and indicated that she would do the washing up if I did the
plates. Steve appeared in the kitchen and aware of the
stress levels, inquired as to what the hullabaloo was all
about. I happily plaited Anja Lea's hair, feeling relieved
that the washing up would be done, as I set about explaining the
situation to Steve. Steve interrupted my tirade of
justification and asked both Anja Lea and I how we felt.
Anja Lea said she felt mistrusted (that I did not trust that she
would do the dishes that afternoon), misunderstood, determined
and defiant. I stated that I felt powerless, helpless,
unassisted, misunderstood, needy (that the dishes be done),
guilty for Kay, and perhaps even desperate. Steve asked how
understood Anja Lea felt on this washing up issue (0). He
then queried the "trust" feelings, by asking Anja Lea
how much she felt that I trusted her on this issue (5) and in
general (9). My trust level of her was 5-6 on this issue
and 7-8 in general (it is important to note that by this stage,
Anja Lea had already begun washing the dishes). Anja Lea
indicated that she would like my trust of her to be 9, to which I
acquiesced a 9 on the trust scale is acceptable.
We then discussed the issue of the "heaps" of washing up. Anja Lea thought it was heaps, whilst I didn't. Steve pointed out the "how long is a piece of string" factor. Who decides what constitutes "heaps" and does it matter? We then focussed on the urgency of the situation. My needs were in fact urgent, I felt that I "needed" the washing up done at a rating of 9-10. Our agreement was non-negotiable, particularly after the fuss Anja Lea made last week after Kay not doing the chore. For me, that was the crux of the issue. How could I let Anja Lea off the hook, when she had chided me for allowing Kay the same extravagance? We had an agreement after all. After expressing our feelings, Steve once again inquired as to how we now felt understood. Anja Lea - 8. Two missing Steve pointed out. Anja Lea then added another point to her case, and informed us that she was now understood to a 10. Hooray!! As for me,7.three missing! I expressed the additional details I felt lacking or not yet understood, and Woo Hoo, it's a 10 Steve!
Soon, the washing up was completed, I thanked Anja Lea and we headed to school. On the way up the hill, she apologised for arguing with me. I apologised for arguing with her. A great outcome, but I pushed it.I sought more reassurance and attempted to justify my position once more. Oh well, that's my baggage from a lifetime of negative conditioning. The result was a good one, and next time, maybe the apology will satisfy me as I would like to think.
It is interesting to see how the mother and I have different recollections of the same thing. I already mentioned the issue of when the braids were put in the hair. Now I notice that the mother says she thanked Anja Lea for doing the dishes. I definitely don't recall this. Knowing me, had she done so I would have asked Anja Lea how much she felt appreciated! I won't say anymore about the mother's account, because I am afraid she already will never speak to me again if she reads this!!
Last night I was invited to play a game of Scrabble with my Australian friend Lee and her 13 year old son Casey. Near the beginning of the game Lee looked at her letters and said, "Too bad you can't use swear words..."
I think about this for a moment and say, "Hey, let's say we do! That could make the game a lot more interesting! What do you say, Casey?" He grinned and said "Sure," so his mother spelled out "SHIT." We made few jokes using this new word in combination with the other words on the board. When I felt afraid we were getting a little too crude I thought of Casey and said "I don't suppose you talk like this at school, do you?" He smiled. Then I smiled and said, "How old are you again, Case?"
Then in my usual provocative and direct way, I asked him if he ever says the "F" word. I enjoy seeing how parents and kids react to questions like this. What I have found is that there is a wide variety of responses, but each one says something about the relationship between the parent and child. Casey hesitated just a moment, then said, "Sometimes... when I hurt myself."
I was pleasantly surprised he would admit this in front of his mother. I saw this as a sign of good parenting, whereas in more rigid and authoritarian families this kind of question and answer would be "totally inappropriate" in some families. (link to story on totally inappropriate).
I noted that Lee and I were basically treating Casey as one of the "adults." This seems much healthier and much more natural than being afraid to say things in front of "the children." I would prefer to keep the crude language to a minimum, but I don't want to pretend it doesn't exist or that kids don't swear around each other, like many parents, teachers and principals seem to do.
During the game we bent the rules several more times. For example, we used abbreviations when we saw a chance for them, such as "IV" and "etc." even though they are allowed by the rules which come with the game.
Growing up in my family it was different. Though we played a lot of Scrabble, we never allowed ourselves to break or bend the rules. In fact, we would check the rule book if we were ever in doubt. Also, we wouldn't let someone change their word once they had taken their finger off of the last letter, which I think came from the rule book as well.
Now my philosophy is that the rule book is just a list of guidelines. Now I say, let's be creative and improve upon them to make the game more fun and less competitive. Let's help each other find the best word rather than worrying about who has the highest score.
This was more the way we played last night. Last night when one of use would get stuck we would show our letters to the others. This was something else rarely done in my family.
Also, last night when I started to put down the word "zone," Lee exclaimed, "Oh darn! That was the space I wanted..." I felt bad, so I said, "Aww.." and stopped forming the word. Lee quickly said, "Oh that's okay. I just wanted to use my "Q" there."
Still, I took away my letters and said "Well, tell you what...I will let you use it, just to see if something good will happen to me for being generous."
Actually this was an interesting thing to say because I was thinking in terms of being externally rewarded for my feelings and behavior, rather than letting the positive feeling of helping her be its own reward.
Later I said to Lee, "I should have told you I would let you have that space if you would agree not to deduct the ten points for the "Z if I get stuck with it." Now I feel a little embarrassed to admit this, since is shows that I was overly focused on winning, than on having fun and helping Casey learn words.
Something else I am a little embarrassed to admit is that at another point I joked that we might play for 100 dollars and we allow each other to buy letters from each other. For example, I might say "I will give you five dollars for an "S," Casey." Then I said "Or we could buy them with points, like "I will give you five points off of my score for it."
I wondered later if this kind of competitiveness, materialism and deal making, was partly a function of the American culture I was raised in. I thought this all would make a good basis for some research on national and religious attitudes and values.
At the end of the game instead of deducting points for unused letters, as we did in my family, Lee and Casey took a more creative approach. They began looking for a place to put everyone's remaining letters. I joined them in this novel approach to finishing the game and when we had found a spot for the last letter, we all felt a sense of success and teamwork. This seems to me to be a much healthier way to end a game of Scrabble than focusing on who has the most points. The next time we might just try to work together to see how high we can make one cumulative score, instead of competitively keeping three separate scores. This reminds me of another friend of mine who recently played a game of tennis where the object was to see how long they could keep the volley going, not to beat the other person. He joked that the next time they play they might take the net down, though, because the "bloody thing kept on getting in the way!"
S. Hein. - Jan 2002
Expressing Fears and Taking Action While Allowing Fun
This is an account of how I applied my theory of being aware of my feelings, expressing them and letting them guide me to take relevant action. -- S. Hein Jan 2002
Today I am watching two six year old twins. One stands up on the arm of the futon/sofa and looks at me and asks if she can jump down. I say "if you feel safe." She jumps down like she is diving into a swimming pool. Then I realize I am afraid she could break the boards under the cushion, so I explain this to her. I lift the futon cushion and show her the boards. Not wanting to spoil her fun though, I ask her to wait a minute so I can put a I put a thick, fluffy blanket (known as a doonah in Australia) on the sofa.
Her twin sister joins her in the fun of jumping off the arm. But then I start to feel afraid they will hit their heads on the wooden arm on the other side of the lounge, so I explain this to them and I put a pillow on it. Then later I add another one because I realize I am afraid one is insufficient.
Then they climb up higher, onto the back of the lounge and jump from there. I feel afraid this extra height will be too much for the boards so I stop the fun for a moment and put a pillow under the blanket. Then later I still feel afraid so I add another one.I explain each time that I am afraid the board will break. Then they both try to climb up and jump at the same time and I start to feel afraid they will fall into each other and hit their heads together or fall back onto the piano. They are also starting to fight to get in position to jump. One is jumping more than the other and the second one feels cheated, so there is a little conflict. After the first one jumps again I hold her and ask if we can let her sister have a turn.
I have a guideline of trying never to tell a child what to do, or at least not when there is a conflict. I try to let them feel noble and in control of the decision. This is based on the belief that children do care about other people's feelings. I feel a little afraid the fun is getting out of control. I tell them what I am afraid of but then don't seem to pay too much attention.
I decide to try to redirect their energy
and the fun of the sofa with the pile of blankets and pillows. I
pick one up and we start a new game. I drop her onto the fluffy
pile. I tell her to hold her ankles and I pick her up by her feet
and drop her. She thinks this is great fun so I do it
several times. Then her sister wants to join us. Later I
cover one of the twins up in the doona and tickle her. She
laughs. Then I sit on her and pretend that I don't know she is
under the blanket. I say "Hmmm, this blanket is very bumpy.
I wonder what is making it so bumpy! I will have to try to find
the cause of the
bump!" So I pretend to be looking for the bump and tickle her some more and she laughs. Then she wants me to sit on her again. We all take turns tickling each other and laughing, while I think about how different things would have gone if initially I would have simply said "No jumping off of the arm of the sofa."
Other-Esteem vs. Self-Esteem - (Casey and the skateboard) (approx 2,000 words)
This is a small example of developing self-esteem in a child and the dangers of invalidation.
The other day 11 year old Casey came out of the hostel on a skateboard he had modified. He had attached a long threaded rod to it. Then attached a handle to the rod, so he sort of made a scooter out of his skateboard. His mother proudly told me to look at what he had created. This was already a small boost to his self-esteem -- just the acknowledgement and approval and pride of his mother. She didn't make a big deal out of it. She didn't try to make herself look good through him-- in other words she didn't try to use him to fill her own unmet esteem needs. She just mentioned it with a mother's glow as she looked over at him.
I said something to acknowledge him and his creation. Something like "wow" or "cool." Then I asked, "Did you make it all by yourself?" He nodded. Then I thought of saying, "Good job" or "Good on you," as they say in Australia. But I remembered it was more important what he thought of it than what I thought of it. So I asked, "Are you happy with it?"
He looked at me puzzled. Not many people ask something like that of a child. We are always offering our judgment of something, but rarely asking people for their own self-judgment. In other words, we are always setting them up to seek and respond to what I call "other-esteem."
Over years and years of other people passing judgment on us we learn to seek the approval of others. It becomes more important than our own self-approval and self-acceptance. Their standards become more important than our own standards. We become externally oriented and outwardly directed instead of internally oriented and inwardly directed. We listen to the external voice of "authority" over our inner voice. We respond to extrinsic rewards and fears rather than intrinsic ones. There are lots of ways to say it, but the key is that over time, little by little, we lose our sense of self. Or perhaps we could say our "self" never get develops.
I asked Casey another question: "Are you satisfied with the way it turned out?" This time he smiled and said yes. I have noticed that children smile more when they are pleased with something as opposed to when an adult is pleased with it. Evidently it feels better for them to have a chance to affirm their own satisfaction in the presence of someone else. I suspect that different chemicals in the brain are created when someone else judges or evaluates us. I wonder if a child starts out being more interested in his own self- evaluation. If he lives in his own world more, so to speak. It seems this is probably the case. Children can be so amused and so pleased with such small things.
When you give a child an opportunity to assess himself, you give him a power; you are empowering him. But when you judge him, you disempower him. You rob him of his need to set his own standards and form his own inner compass. Those that have a strong sense of inner direction have perseverance in the face of public disapproval. These are the people who become the leaders, the creators, the inventors. .
A critical factor in building self-esteem and empowering the child is not to invalidate his self-assessment, whatever it is. If he says something like "I'm not very happy with it," it is important not to try to talk him out of his feelings, even though you may have good intentions for trying to do so. For example I have seen some adults who would invalidate the child and say something like, "What do you mean?! Don't say that. How could you not be happy with it? It is a great invention. You should be really proud of it."
When you over-rule his own assessment you are doing several things which could unintentionally damage him or your relationship with him. First, you are confusing him. You are telling him that his own assessment is wrong. You are telling him his thinking process is wrong and that his feelings are wrong. You are telling him his brain isn't working well. Thus you may be teaching him to lose confidence in his greatest asset and most valuable survival tool: his own mind.
Another source of confusion may come from the child who thinks something like "I know it isn't as good as they are saying. Why would they be telling me it is good?" Psychologist Nathaniel Branden suggests some children may think like this: "They must be lying because they feel sorry for me or they think I am too weak to handle the truth."
Second, you may be giving him the message that your opinion is more important than his opinion. He fells instantly smaller, less of a person. His self-esteem plummets. You might think that you are helping him by trying to build up his self-esteem, but you aren't; you are doing just the opposite.
Third, you may be teaching him to keep his opinions to himself. Over time, the more you invalidate a child and disagree with what they say, especially in the area of feelings, the less they will share with you. And what they do share will be mostly what they have learned that you want to hear. Things they know you will debate with, disagree with or invalidate, they learn to leave out of the conversation. It just doesn't pay for them to try to argue with you. Parents are generally much more powerful in every way: physically, financially, verbally, logically.
You are also more powerful emotionally. First, you can frighten them with any number of threats. Second, because you are more able to control your emotions, to show the emotion you want to show-- to talk yourself out of your true feelings and to put on an act that you really feel something else. For example, you may feel a little sad that they aren't happy, but instead of saying the most truthful -- and actually, the easiest -- thing, that you are sad to hear that, you think that encouragement is called for so you muster up your best cheerful tone of voice and tell them there is nothing to be unhappy about!
So because you are more powerful in all these ways, and because it doesn't feel good to constantly lose battles with you, you risk creating a situation where your child shares less and less over time. In the homes where such processes continue you find almost a total breakdown of communication by the time the child is a teen. Mom doesn't know where her son is or what he is doing most of the time. She doesn't know how he feels about school, about his teachers, about his subjects about drugs or about how she is doing as a parent.
So, then, what do you say if the child puts himself or his work down?
One thing you can do is say how you honestly feel using a feeling word. Over the long term, by the way, not only are you teaching emotional honesty by doing this, but you will find it becomes easier and easier. And you actually feel better because it takes less energy and creates less stress to be honest.
Minimize your negative feeling if you want, but don't totally change it. Remember though, how you feel is not what is most important. What is most important is how your child feels. Remember, you are there to fill your child's unmet emotional needs- - he is not on earth to fill yours. And if you are too emotionally expressive, you risk creating a role reversal situation where the child begins to parent you and put your emotions first.
So don't elaborate on your feelings. Don't give him a mini-lecture. Don't try to talk yourself thru your own feelings, don't even explain them to him unless it is a relatively major issue, and even then, if you really feel the need to explain yourself, wait till your child has explained his.
Instead of talking about yourself, put the focus right back on him. The sooner the better; so the less you say, the better. Kids need to talk. They need to be heard. They need to be understood. The way this happens is you learn to listen and seek to understand.
So you say something like, "Yeah? How come you are unhappy with it?" Then whatever your child says, you accept. You accept their perception. Even it makes no sense to you, it is still their perception. They own it. Don't try to steal their perception from them or tell them they shouldn't or can't keep it. It has some value to them because it is part of them at that moment. No matter how unhappy they are, I believe it is better to accept their perception. After you accept it, then they can start to solve their own problems. And they will. They always will. Just give them the opportunity. Don't rob them of the chance to learn to manage their own emotions by instantly trying to talk them out of their feelings.
In my experience, once you accept their unhappiness, the next thing that happens is they say something positive. In other words, like pendulums, they start to move back towards equilibrium. Humans are pleasure seeking animals. When we are out of equilibrium we naturally seek ways to get back to it. One of the most precious things about children is their creativity. Give them a chance to develop it, to excersise it. Let them come up with their own solutions. Offer gentle coaching if you want, by saying something like, "What would help you feel better about it?" Or if they seem stuck, offer them support by saying something like, "Is there anything I can do to help."
If they aren't talking, it might be best to just silently offer them a hug or a caring moment of silence with your hand touching them. Many parents fill the need to fill the uncomfortable silence with their own words. I suggest you avoid doing this. There is power in a quiet moment with your child. You might let them know you are willing to listen if they want to talk about it later, and that you are sorry they are feeling so bad, if that is actually how you are feeling.
Or you might be feeling frustrated or helpless. If so, go ahead and tell them, but minimize it so your feelings don't become the central issue. Just communicate honestly and compassionately with them. Stay if they seem to want you to, or just let them work it out a bit on their own, confident that they will. In fact, when you do this, you are showing your confidence in them and helping them develop self-confidence.
Most of the time, kids can quickly figure things out for themselves. Most of the time they can solve their own problems and heal their own wounds with just the smallest amount of sincere empathy and validation on your part. And when they need more help, they ask for it. With our love for them and our good intentions we so often underestimate them and over-protect them. To build their self-confidence, self-esteem and sense of self, we can help them most when we ask for their own self-appraisals while keeping our input to the very minimum. Then we simply validate their reponses and seek understanding of why they feel the way they do. This is how we help nature unfold before our eyes. Then we step back and watch in awe as out of this young child grows a unique individual unlike any other in the universe.
One controlling mother
Here is a list of what one controlling mother did, all within a few minutes one morning:
- she told her daughters to stop what they were doing and eat
- she ordered one of her daughters to go to the store and buy something
- she brought me food without asking me if I wanted any, or what I would like to eat
- she brought me tea when I told her I didn't want tea
- she told me that I should tell her brother, who is a very intelligent friend of mine, what he should do
- she forced her daughter to stand in front of her while the mother pulled a hair brush through her daughter's hair, even though it was obviously hurting the daugther's head
- she told her other daughter to come over so she could brush her hair. She banged the brush on the table, as I have seen teachers bang rulers on desks in Thailand and Peru, and told her to hurry up
- she said something like "I give the orders in this house"
This mother is also a teacher. She went to school for five years to be trained to be a teacher. Evidently no where in the training was a course on how to listen or how to treat others with respect. This is just a small example of what goes on in millions or even billions of homes everyday. I have to wonder what effect this has on the world.
Links for Parents
Mark Reuther's Heartmates Page
Ron Brill's Emotional Honesty Page
Jan Hunt's Natural Child Page -- lots of good articles by Alice Miller and others
http://www.valdosta.edu/~whuitt/psy702/files/optimism.html -- a sample of Martin Seligman's work on learned optimism, pessimism, and helplessness.
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