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The Secret of Parenting

"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 child-raising.)

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 worth knowing.

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