Have you ever told your child the same thing again and again, but haven't been able to get him or her to stop hitting a sibling, shouting at you, or ignoring your requests? Do you sometimes wish your child would listen or be more respectful? Do you ever wonder if and when the tantrums will stop?
Well, I think most parents face these and many more challenges with their kids. Often parents can feel helpless and alone when it comes to handling and correcting their children's behavior. Many people may not have learned how to parent effectively from their own parents, or there may just be so much conflicting information out there that it only produces more confusion.
There is, however, a place that you can reach, where you are "in-sync" with your kids. It springs from an intention to be with them in the moment as fully as possible, and leads to a more powerful and influential attachment. You can feel it in your bones, and suddenly you may have more of a sense of what is needed in the moment with your child; this incredibly challenging role of parenting becomes intuitive. Once the attachment is in place, we can tune into what our "gut" is saying. From this simple act we may know how to handle difficult situations that had earlier left us at a loss. Our children are also more likely to respond to us when they are feeling our loving attachment towards them. In order to come closer to this state of connection, we first and foremost need to practice self-love. From this will come an increased ability to both listen to ourselves and hear what our children need more clearly.
Here are four simple steps that lead to attaching and influencing behavior in the moment -
Touch and eye contact
When you are talking to your child and you feel they are not listening, bend down to their level, touch them gently on the arm, and look into their eyes as you speak to them. This is a formula for attaching in that moment where you need to quickly increase your influence in order to convey something important. That way, you will not have to say something five times before getting a response, and your child will feel the love and power of your words even when you are correcting behavior. It is so easy to forget this tiny action, but when we do it, it reminds us of how simple truly connecting to our little ones really is, and how much influence we can exert when needed.
Three compliments to every one behavior correction
When there are behavior problems, we can sometimes find ourselves correcting our children over and over again, and the attachment can feel tenuous because of it. But what else to do? Aren't we supposed to correct their behavior? Yes, and you can do it in a way that reminds the children how loved they are at the same time. Try to find as many times as possible throughout the day to make light of the things they are doing well. For example, if there are times where siblings are playing well together or someone is sharing easily, bring it up and let them know that you see this good behavior! If you notice that your child has done something to help you, no matter how small, or finished his snack, acknowledge this. When you then need to correct a behavior like hitting, whining, or not sharing, you can say: "Before I saw you being so careful with your hands and sharing so nicely, I would like you to continue showing the same gentleness as before." Your attachment will become stronger through the act of noticing when your child is doing it right because she will feel like you are seeing her, not just the disruptive but also the great behavior. He will feel more confident and aim to please you, to get the attention through increasing the attachment, and he will look eagerly to you for approval instead of seeking attention through difficult behavior.
Use your intuition
This is not an easy one. But the more you attach, the more loudly your intuition will guide you. Learn to tune in when you are confused about how to discipline the little ones, or how to handle a certain behavior. If you are angry, which we can often be as parents, take a time out for yourself, calm down, and tune in. This is a gift to yourself and your child and will teach her to take time alone when she is very angry. This becomes a way to relax and breathe before communicating rather than a punishment. In order to communicate effectively, and this goes for adults and children, we often need to calm down first, to breath a little - then we can talk effectively and resolve whatever is going on. We will also be more able to listen to our children empathically. During the quiet that you take for yourself, tune in to you, love yourself, and listen to what is best to do right now for your child. Sometimes the answer will be quite simple, such as, listen.
How can you be expected to parent effectively if you are not appreciating, loving, and nurturing yourself as well? This is one thing I find is often missing when we talk about parenting. You deserve to be loved just as much as your child does. When you take that quiet time for yourself, and you don't need to get upset to take it, love yourself. Take short breaks throughout the day to sit quietly and imagine a beautiful light surrounding you, loving and reviving you. Breathe it in, feel it giving to you. Then imagine yourself with your child and that light surrounding you both. Feel the healing and listen for anything you may need for yourself in order to maintain the immense energy it takes to be a parent. Appreciate yourself, because giving to yourself is just as important as giving to your children, believe me, they will thank you for it
Parenting is one of the most challenging but rewarding things that can happen to us. Giving birth is the start of this amazing journey into parenthood. Beginning even in the womb and as babies, our children are listening to us. They do not expect us to be perfect, but they do want us to love ourselves and them. They ask us to model the behaviors for them that we want them to emulate. And often that means forgiving ourselves when we make mistakes. The more you love yourself, the more you will be able to give to your children. And when you take the time daily to love yourself, that gut feeling will make itself increasingly known. Loving and nurturing yourself, and thereby listening to your inner guidance system, helps you to nurture yourself, maintain attachment with your child, and deal with challenging behaviors.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT