I often get calls from worrisome parents who are concerned with their child's behavior. "She isn't crazy," they feel obliged to clarify as they describe the misbehavior, "just is out of control."
Feelings of shame and guilt are common among parents of strong willed children. Parents should know that children act out for various reasons and none necessarily mean they are "crazy" or "mentally ill." As the prefrontal lobe that is in charge of executive functioning has yet to develop, the more primal part of the brain is often used. That primal part of the brain also called the reptilian brain, is highly instinctual and is often activated during threatening and stressful moments.
Learning how to communicate effectively with your child assist in the optimal development of the prefrontal lobe. The results can further enhance the child's ability to self-express and improve their sense of competency. The following three steps should be used as guidelines for parents, teachers, and/or other caretakers. An accurate application of those steps can increase effective communication, enhance the child's ability to problem-solve, and ultimately improve your relationship.
Step # 1: Listen
Do you remember the last time you felt listened to or really heard? Feeling heard affects self-esteem and builds self-value. Even at a time of disagreement, listening alone can reduce resistance. When you listen to your children, you don't need to agree with them. You simply first need to remain calm, keep silent and let them do the talking. If your child tends to be reserved and reluctant to talk, it is important to sit next to him or her, versus directly in front. Some parents claim that they have the best talks with their children while driving in the car, and the fact that the child is sitting in the rear seat might be a key reason (please note that this is more common in boys). Some children—and adults as well--do not feel comfortable when a pair of eyes is staring right at them. The primal part of our brain can perceive this as a threat and therefore, act defensively and uncooperative.
It is also important when listening to your children, to try to keep an open mind to their experience. At this point try to keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself. You are not asked to agree but simply listen.
Step #2: Paraphrase
If you truly listen to your child, you should be able, to sum up, what was said and put it into your own words. You can start with, "I hear that you … ," or, "What I hear you say is … " Paraphrasing shows your child that you are on board. It is further a subtle way to own your power as a parent and neutralize a power struggle.
After paraphrasing, asks your child: "Did I miss anything?" or "Is there anything else you'd like to add?" It's important that your child is able to safely express his or her emotions without judgment. This process validates your child's experience and feelings of self-esteem and trust are generated.
Step #3: Model
As mentioned earlier, your child's executive functioning is still developing and, at the end of the day, you still decide what is best for your child. See the experience as modeling executive functioning, and know that your child will be learning not only from what you do but also HOW you did it. For example, if you want your child to listen, model the ability to do the same. Let them know they are loved and that, as a parent, you'd do anything within your power to keep them safe and happy. Now although it's time to share, be sure not to steal their limelight. This is about your child's learning experience, so make it less about you and more about them.
Feelings color our memories and decode them. In other words, we tend to better remember experiences that leave a strong emotional impression. Following these three simple steps will increase positive memories and a healthy bond for you and your child. Even challenging moments can positively affect how individuals relate to one another. Use these steps as a guide. Remember to remain calm, say less (avoid lectures) and listen.
For questions, comments, or to share your experience please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.