Offering the right kind of responses will enable to demonstrate a constructive attitude that children can adopt toward themselves and thereby develop a resiliency that will serve them well in future struggles.
Be sensitive and attuned, not reactive or parental
From the moment they speak their first words, it’s essential to encourage our kids to talk to us. When it comes to influencing our kids, just making rules never works, but maintaining an open and equal sense of communication does. However for this to work, we must be accountable: we have to live up to our word in order to gain our children’s trust. If we invite our children to talk to us honestly, then are defensive or erratic in our responses, we give them very good reasons NOT to tell us what’s really going on in their lives.
For example, a friend of mine noticed his 6-yeard-old son acting oddly angry and rebellious at the dinner table. Doing his best to react sensitively, he took the boy aside and asked if something had upset him that day. His son replied that his feelings had been hurt when his dad didn’t play baseball with him that evening, as he usually did when he came home from work. Inadvertently, my friend reacted defensively: he said that he’d had to work late that day and besides, he hadn’t promised to play catch with his son, and then he drove home the fact that just because he was disappointed was no excuse to misbehave at dinner.
Later that night my friend realized that his response had been insensitive. He immediately approached his son and initiated a second conversation with him. He told him that he knew that playing baseball together in the evening meant a lot to him. He said that it was one of his favorite times of his day and that he had also missed playing it that evening. He communicated to his son that he not only understood the boy’s disappointment but also shared it. Then he encouraged his son to talk to him the next time he felt bad, so they could avoid a scene like the one at the dinner table. He also reassured his son that he would really listen to what he was saying about himself and not respond the way he had during their first conversation. Both father and son went to bed that night feeling happy and on good terms with each other.
As parents, we should do our best not to react defensively to our children or try to talk them out of their reality. Instead, we should apologize that their feelings were hurt and help them make sense of their unique perspective and experience. Then we can share our own feelings about how they acted and enjoy an equal, honest level of interaction. If we do slip up and react in a way that is insensitive or inappropriate, it is important to go back and undo the damage that we have done to our child’s trust in being able to communicate with us.
Invite them to spend time with you
When it comes to spending time with our kids, quality is much more important than quantity. It is advisable to set aside a specific time in which we engage in activities directed by our children; a realistic time period during which we offer our kids our uninterrupted attention and let them know they are a priority. Letting our kids decide what we do does not mean allowing them to set unrealistic expectations about activities that cost too much in time or money. Rather it is an opportunity to share an activity with our children and create a situation in which they can talk to us.
We can learn about them from what they suggest we do or games they opt to play. Parents who take the time to sit with their young children, while they play with dolls or action figures, are often surprised to hear Barbie saying the very things that Mommy does or Spiderman acting in ways that Daddy does. Games that involve make believe or pretend can be very telling when it comes to kids. And we shouldn’t be surprised when one character reflects the role – and consequently, the thoughts, feelings and behaviors – of our own children.
If they won’t talk to you, help them find a situation they trust
Many parents wonder what to do when their kids will not open up to them. This is especially true of parents with teenage children. Yet, even if our kids refuse our offerings, it’s important to keep putting ourselves out there and to keep letting them know we are there whenever they want to talk. If we are consistently there for our kids, we never know when they may come around.
If our children do not feel comfortable talking to us, we must remember that there is no shame in helping them find someone they do trust who they can open up to. Each of us can think of someone in our lives who meant something to us as kids – a warm uncle, a dear grandmother, an outgoing teacher. Parents aren’t always the easiest people for children to talk to, especially if their struggles involve their parents in some way. Letting our kids know they can talk to someone besides us can help secure their trust in us and will encourage them to deal with whatever they are feeling outwardly with someone they feel comfortable to confide in.
If they are in real trouble get them the help they need
If a child shows an unusual amount of anxiety, fear, anger, stress or pain, it is important to get him the help he needs. As parents, we must not be too prideful when it comes to raising our kids. How our children feel should always outweigh how we are viewed as their parents. The best thing we can do for our children is to be selfless in our commitment to getting their emotional needs met.
Take care of your emotional health
Although it’s important to prioritize our kid’s needs, it’s equally important to remember that little affects our kids more than how we ourselves are feeling. Children are naturally highly attuned to their parents’ moods. Putting on a brave face or denying our frustrations will never fully mask what we are feeling, and these feelings, which our children undoubtedly perceive, are sure to impact them.
Therefore, taking care of our own mental health is a key factor in helping our kids feel happy. No matter how much we fuss over, worry about or take interest in them, if we are not feeling content and fulfilled in ourselves, we are very likely doing more bad than good in terms of our children’s emotional well being.
That is why we, as parents, have to ask ourselves: How am I feeling? Am I getting enough support in my own mental health? How do the answers to these questions influence the way I am caring for my children? Am I focusing on them too much or too little? Am I putting too much pressure on them, looking to them to meet my needs instead of the other way around? Am I relating to them in a personal way? Although we may falsely label such self-reflection as selfish, looking deeper into ourselves and focusing on what lights us up is truly beneficial to the spirits of our children.