Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Parenting - It's About You, Not the Kids

Source: timcoulson.com
Some days you've simply got it. You know that magic touch that is exactly what the kids need? Sunday was my day to get it absolutely right.

Miss L had turned two years old the day before. She was coming down from too much sugar, chocolate, and from being awake far too long. After trying to put her to sleep for her daytime nap, Mrs Happy Families was tired out and handed Miss L to me.

"You deal with her" was my wife's clear instruction.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What to do with your child's negative emotions

Source: www.timcoulson.com
No matter how patient we are as parents, most of us will concede that our children's negative emotions are challenging (at best) and frustratingly inconvenient (at worst). Our children would be so much easier to work with if they could simply regulate their emotions. Keeping their anger, sadness, and frustrations to themselves would make life so much easier. (Of course, we didn't have children to make our lives easy.)

There also seems to be something inherent in family life that makes us predisposed to flaring up at the slightest provocation. If a stranger or work associate (or even an acquaintance) were to do something that made us uncomfortable or that made life inconvenient, we might typically be patient, smile knowingly, and give them the benefit of the doubt. We are unlikely to tell them just how annoying they are being. Conversely, when our children, spouse, or mother-in-law make that same error we tend to be less reserved in our expressions, often becoming immediately and overtly annoyed.

Unfortunately for our children, one of many parents' most common strategies for dealing with difficult emotions is to dismiss them. We think that if we can get our children to 'get over' those emotions, things will be much smoother sailing. We can do it nastily, or nicely, and we can even do it thinking we're doing the right thing. Four of the most common ways we dismiss emotions include:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

When Will Our Children Learn?

Last week my eight year-old daughter, Miss E, was playing in her room with her big sister, nine year-old Miss A. The globe in their bedside lamp had blown and, without any parental knowledge, the two girls were playing with the light. While the switch was flicked to "on" Miss A stuck her finger straight into the socket.

Zap.

Miss A experienced enough discomfort to know not to do that again. But now both she and Miss E were intrigued. How did that happen? And why did it hurt so much?

Miss A cajoled Miss E into placing her finger into the socket. Reluctantly she did so.

Zap.

Miss E's finger tip was stinging. But the lesson was not yet learned. Half laughing, half crying, Miss E sucked on her finger to take away the pain. Then, for some unknowable reason that had to do with morbid curiosity and a child's innocent fascination, Miss E stuck her now sucked-on, wet finger back into the socket.

ZAP!

This time Miss E got the full 240 volt experience. She fell to the floor, crying out in pain. Her fingertip was singed black. The house went suddenly dark as the kill-switch clicked into gear. Mrs Happy Families and I dashed for the stairs, racing upwards towards the source of the screaming eight year-old.

Miss A briefed us on what had happened. It immediately became clear to us that we had never had the 'electricity' talk with our children. It also became clear that we needed to have the talk now.

And now seemed the perfect time, given that Miss E and Miss A had just witnessed the amazing power of electricity. It was tempting to half-soothe and half-lecture our distressed daughter. After all, if we didn't make it clear to her now, anything might happen.

But - and this is the important bit - Miss E was not ready to be taught by us. Emotionally, she was distressed. We might even say that she was emotionally flooded. Her capacity to process any new information was close to zero because her emotions were literally flooding every part of her system.

When will our children learn? When we ensure that they feel safe and comfortable. The great parenting educator, Haim Ginott, said:

"When children are in the midst of strong emotions, they cannot listen to anyone. They cannot accept advice or consolation or constructive criticism."

Therefore, when our children need to learn something it is essential that we make sure they are feeling secure, emotionally stable, and are capable of concentration. Statements of comfort and understanding should always precede statements of instruction and advice.

After spending quite some time consoling Miss E she was finally able to be receptive. At this point we asked her some questions.

Was she aware of what had happened?
Did she understand why it happened?
What would be the ramifications of doing that again (best and worst case scenario)?
How would she act if someone else were to attempt to do that?

Miss E's answers helped us identify the gaps in her knowledge about electricity. She didn't really know much at all. We provided the discipline that she needed to learn the right way to act, and to understand why. In this case, Miss E simply needed further induction - or explicit information - to help her understand the dangers of electricity.

If we want our children to learn the right ways to act, we need to accommodate their emotions. Once their emotions are controlled, then they are far more likely to learn.

As a conclusion to Miss E's experience, we also taught her about electricity and water. She fully understood that the two should not mix. Some time later, I found Miss E distressed and crying again. When I inquired as to why, she sobbed, 

"I'm thirsty but you said I can't put water with electricity. Now I've got electricity in me I can't have a drink."

Once again I comforted her, and then explained that the electricity was no longer in her. And I thanked Heaven for such a precious child who was so innocent and willing to listen to her dad.