"Ironically, when children communicate their unmet needs through needy behavior, the action adults often take is to try to change the child's behavior. As long as we keep trying to change the behavior instead of meeting the need, those needy behaviors persist. If we look at our own behavior when our children's needy behavior is driving us crazy, we usually find we've been too busy and stressed to connect with them. "-Pam Leo
The most important secret of effective parenting is a close connection to our
kids. Before you say "Duh, of course..." please hear me out. Nothing
else you do really matters without this. In fact, I would go so far as to
say that Connection is 90% of parenting. This includes:
1. Intimacy, that indefinable closeness that makes your
heart melt. Every interaction we have with another person either brings us
closer or moves us further away. That open heart of intimacy is how we repair
our inevitable missteps in the dance of connection. When in doubt, try curing
it with cuddling.
2. Presence. Connecting with our child (or anyone else)
requires that we bring ourselves 100% into the moment. Most of us cheat on
this most of the time, especially as we've become addicted to electronics. Unfortunately,
we see the results as our children act out to get our "attention." The bad
news is that only way to fill your child's cup is with yourself. The good
news is that children with full cups thrive and are a joy to live with, meaning
they fill our cups in return. In fact, presence is what gives meaning to life (and
3. Trust. Responsiveness is what earns our child's trust.
Forget the rules. If you show up and really attend to your child, you'll
be able to give him what he needs--even when he doesn't really know what that is.
When we've earned our child's trust, he's more open to our guidance. When
we trust him, we know that sometimes what he needs is just a little time to explore
and figure something out for himself.
4. Empathy, which is the compassionate understanding that makes
our human tears and fears bearable. Sometimes what our child needs is simply
for us to "hear" her pain. Accepting our child's feelings, including the
inconvenient ones, is what helps her learn to manage her emotions, and thus her
behavior. (Of course, this requires us to accept and soothe our own emotions, right?)
5. Respect, which means seeing our child as a full human
being from his or her first moment on earth, rather than a lesser being to be fixed,
changed, or controlled. Most "attitude" in children is a symptom of their
feeling disrespected and disconnected.
That's 90% of parenting. The last 10% is everything else, including food,
sleep, and what most parents spend most of their time stewing about--discipline.
Of course there are times when kids need guidance, but that only sticks if the
connection is there to support our teaching, and if we teach in a respectful, compassionate
way that facilitates learning. Without that close bond, we have little
influence ("My kids won't listen!") and, frankly, parenting becomes an
exhausting, thankless task.
Welcome to the work of parenting. Of course, that's where the rewards are,
too. And the best news of all is that if you really focus on the first 90%, the
rest takes care of itself, and parenting is a lot more fun. And that's a secret