The last few weeks I have been working and playing a lot with families who have young children (under the age of five). Often the parentâ€™s ask me questions along the lines of â€śHow can I make my child listenâ€ť or â€śWhat can I do to stop the tantrumsâ€ť. They often make comments about their children such as â€śhe/she is naughtyâ€ť or â€śIâ€™m worried that they will grow up badâ€ť. I never maintain that I have all the answers, in fact I spend a lot of my time helping the parents realise that they already have the solutions, deep down inside them. I am merely the avenue for helping the parents find the solutions. So this monthâ€™s topic â€śGrowing Great familiesâ€ť struck me as being about how important it is to start this â€śgrowingâ€ť in the early years.
The greatest amount of brain development occurs within the first three years of life. During this time a child moves from being seemingly helpless and only able to breathe, cry, eat and sleep to a fully functioning moving, thinking, talking and doing being. What we do as parents and as families impacts this progress the MOST out of any external influences. To build healthy families we as parents need to think about what our roles are as parents and consider how our actions will affect our childrenâ€™s futures, no matter what age they are.
When working with families I often get them to think about their childhoods. We discuss the happy memories and the positive things they recall their parents/caregivers doing and consider the possibilities of trying to incorporate similar things into their own parenting. Such memories often include sitting down at dinner time, traditions such as family holidays and how their mum or dad used to sit and talk with them at the end of the day and really engage with them. We then discuss aspects from their childhood that they wish to leave behind; these often include shouting, arguing, smacking or lack of boundaries. Some call this conscious parenting, this introspective thinking. To me, it is a great initial building block to creating a strong and healthy family.
This sort of thinking can be taken into all aspects of family life. Consider for a moment the 2.5year old child having a tantrum (or the 14 year old shouting and slamming doors and saying they hate you). What is your immediate reaction to this behaviour? Do you get angry and shout â€śNo!â€ť and not listen to the child? Do you put the child straight into a â€śtime outâ€ť situation? This immediate reaction likely stems from how you were parented, it is your automatic responseâ€¦and it is NORMAL, however, if it is an automatic response that is unhelpful, the situation is likely to escalate and leave you and your child feeling horrible. By considering how you were parented as a child, you will be able to recognise what your â€śautomaticâ€ť isâ€¦and with practice be able to control it (most of the time) thus giving you and your child a better chance at being heard. So when faced with the tantrum/slamming scenario you will be able to stop and think: â€śwhat is it this child is trying to tell meâ€ť? Is it really that they are â€śnaughtyâ€ť or they really hate meâ€ť or is it that we have been so busy today rushing around doing all the errands etc. that neither of us have been able to stop and hang out and share some peaceful times together and really listen to one another.
Another aspect that I have been discussing with parents of late is what they want for their children and families. How do they see their current 4 year old behaving as a 20 year old, or their current 16 year old behaving as a 30 year old. What sort of person do they want their children to be? What sort of household do they want to live in? How do they want their children to feel about themselves and about their parents? Thinking about the future results is a wonderful way to path a smoother road for our children (and ourselves!).
Again, reflecting on our childhood and also on our actions will help this journey. When you are asking your child to sit at the table to eat and use their fork and knife correctly, this WHY is this important to me/us? Probably because table manners are widely regarded as important in societyâ€¦.we donâ€™t want him taking his future partner out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and he has to eat is pasta salad with his fingers now, do we?!? So keep at it, be consistent, you will get there! He will thank you for it (and so will his future partner)! When your child keeps asking you to sit with them and read to them (for the hundredth time), think ahead to school/university/job time when she can figure out the difficult concepts because her brain was working so hard reading with you in the early years. And when you think â€śOh my 7 year old just wonâ€™t listen to meâ€ť, try sitting on the end of his bed each night and listen to himâ€¦..youâ€™ll be thankful when he is 17 and knows you will listen to him thenâ€¦and maybeâ€¦just maybeâ€¦he will listen to you.
Parenting is a continuum. It starts at pregnancy and doesnâ€™t stop. Growing great families is not just about physical health. It is emotional, intellectual and spiritual too. Reflecting on how we were parented and on our own parenting will create a strong foundation to build upon, hopefully setting up for some positive experiences throughout the family years.