How do parents nurture children without under-doing it or helicoptering them? And perhaps even trickier, you don’t know how you’ve done raising your kids until they are adults and you see how they treat themselves, others, and you, their parents.
Of course there is not one right way to raise children, either. You want them to have a high EQ (emotional intelligence) and be able to support themselves. You want them to be happy. You want our kids to love you back. You want them to share your view that family is important. You have to demonstrate that.
Two things stand out to me that parents have control over (because you actually have very little control over anything in this universe):
1. You can learn the language of feelings and teach your children.
2. You can help and encourage your kids to become their true selves; figure out who they are and what gifts they bring into this world.
The challenge? You have to figure these things out for yourselves in order to teach your beloved kids.
The Harvard Negotiation Team wrote a book called ‘Difficult Conversations’. It’s actually a business book, but the main concepts are critical for all relationships.
There is emotional content underneath every conversation. Not acknowledging and addressing it is at your own peril.
I had this demonstrated recently in a medical appointment to discuss genetic testing. I felt like a bug under a microscope, a walking, talking bundle of (likely faulty) genes in a container known as a body. The genetic counselor’s job is not to provide emotional support to her patients, but neither should she pretend that there is no emotional content regarding genetic testing and the potential results. It is her job, however, to be thoughtful and compassionate to patients in a scary and potentially life-changing situation.
The concept of Intention and Impact is described.
Everyone says and acts with an intention (usually positive). The impact of those words and actions on others (kids, partner, friends, co-workers, family), are often completely different than your intention.
As the recipient, you have to give the benefit of the doubt (his/her intention was good despite my reaction and the impact on me), and ask what their intention was.
After you listen and digest their intention, you get to say what the impact on you was.
It goes like this: Have eye contact during the conversation. Please tell me what your intention was when you said _______________, because the impact on me was probably different than what you intended. [S/he tells you kindly, calmly and in an even tone of voice what his/her intention was, which is not the content again. Thanks for telling me your intention was ________________ (to clarify, let me know what you think, etc.). When I heard you say ____________________, the impact on me was that I felt ______________, (e.g., unseen, unheard, unimportant). Share your feelings, not thoughts, because now you’re sharing the emotions (process) underneath the words spoken (the content).
Now you are on the same page (whether or not you agree about the content), you’re calm, communicating and open to one another’s feelings, ideas, thoughts, and point of view.
So how does this translate to teaching your kids? When they are distressed, name feelings they may be feeling, and say one or more of these: “I’m here. We’re together. You’re not alone. Tell me about it.” This teaches them the language of feelings, and how to work through them.
It goes like this: Your child is crying or shut down or another mood you recognize is not his/her regular way of being in the world. You get down to his/her eye level, gently touch him/her, and say, “You’re having a hard time. Maybe you’re feeling sad, upset, confused.” Usually the child will latch on to one of the feelings, or say a different one. You say, “Tell me about it. I’m here.” Yes, make eye contact. Continue to listen, soothe and be present. You don’t have to fix it. You have to be emotionally present. Kids being kids, it’s likely s/he will recover fairly quickly and run back to whatever activity they were involved in.
As to helping your children be who they are: Kids are not a mini-me. There is nurture and nature. And your child is his/her own person, with likes, dislikes, and interests. Each carries a gift into this world that needs to be shared (both for their own health and inner resonance), and because no one else can bring their particular gift). Encourage him/her to be who they are, not who you hope for him/her to be. That’s a gift you can give your child.
Also, if we all live by Robert Fulghum's "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" the world will be a much better place:
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don't hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
7. Say you're SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.”
Please see a feeling list with drawings of expressions.
Let me know how this goes (even though it’s a multi-decades process).