PARENTS AND CHILDREN:
Growing a Healthy Family Together
It’s no secret that we’re living in times of very high expectations. Expectations for both parents to work in order to uphold a certain lifestyle, expectations for the education of children to be the best available, not to mention all the extra curricular activities. Expectations to shower love on aforementioned children in a fashion that doesn’t ‘damage’ them, but not too much, as to avoid said damage. And of course, there’s the expectations to ‘manage’ your emotions despite all the expectations. How are you going living up to the dream?!
“The most contented families are the ones that have clear goals …, who know their values, are realistic about what they can achieve…, and who know how to prioritise what’s important to them.”
From my experience I’ve found that the most contented families are the ones that have clear goals setting the direction for their family despite expectations, who know their values, are realistic about what they can achieve (and let go of what they can’t), and who know how to prioritise what’s important to them. In this e-book you will learn how to identify what your family values are by taking the needs of each family member into account, how to differentiate between what you want and what is expected of you, how to design goals to move you forward and how to communicate effectively as a family unit in order to reduce conflict.
First, we’ll explore what makes your children tick, then we’ll look at how we can communicate more effectively with them based on this information. We’ll then implement some great strategies to strengthen the communication between you and your co-parent. Finally we’re going to have a look at self-care, because we all know you can’t put on your child’s oxygen mask until yours is secure.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR CHILDREN
EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF CHILDREN
Children are very emotional. They’re very needy. They’re very emotionally needy. I think from my own experience as a parent, the single most exhausting element of parenting is managing the emotions of my kids. And I guess what this means is educating them on the most appropriate emotional response to a situation whilst at the same time acknowledging their feelings and making them feel understood and supported. But if their emotions have triggered ours, managing this well can be mighty tricky. However, if we have a little information to add to our toolkit about what’s going on for them in that moment, it may help us sail a little more smoothly. Children have three deep emotional needs: to be loved, to be enough and to belong. When your child is experiencing an ‘emotional moment’ it’s often because one of these needs isn’t being met, or that they perceive this to be the case. The more often we can consolidate these needs, the less reactive they will be when their buttons are pushed because their ‘need tank’ will be pretty full. Please note, when I say less reactive, what I mean is their response will be less intense and of a shorter duration (they’ll get over it faster). So how do we meet their emotional needs?
“Children have three deep emotional needs: to be loved, to be enough and to belong.”
Show that they are loved often through words, cuddles, time together, doing things for them or even gifts from time to time. When they’re having an ‘emotional moment’, let go of your frustration and switch into ‘I love you, how can I support you through this?’ mode. This will make them feel worthy of your love and attention.
Show your child that they are enough by supporting their efforts, whether it’s in school, sport or play. Compliment them and find positives in all that they do. This will go a long way to supporting healthy self-esteem and confidence in your child. Reduce criticism and comparison. In an ‘emotional moment’ acknowledge that what they are feeling is acceptable to cement the feeling that they are enough.
Take all opportunities to show your child that they belong by including them in family activities as much as you can. Even if they’re still too young to help or understand certain tasks, allow them to give it a go, so that they feel a part of something. When they are having an ‘emotional moment’ you could say something like ‘I know how you’re feeling, I felt like that once when…’ and then they feel less alone and more a part of something.
EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS FOR CHILDREN
If you’re an observant parent, you’ll know that there are certain things that trigger emotional outbursts in your children. My eldest child is pretty chilled emotionally, but one thing that really gets him is when he can’t do something he’d like to without having to ask. Instead of asking he’ll just whinge and whine and say “I can’t do it”. For the second child he completely loses his head when he has a plan for an artwork or something he’s building, or just an expectation of the way something should happen and it doesn’t work out. Once you identify the triggers it’s much easier to predict when they’re about to happen and therefore avoid them in the first place. And it’s really important to make your child aware of and part of the process, so that they learn that they have the power to manage their own emotions. So for example, with my eldest, I know what his level of ability is in certain areas better than he does and I know his expectations of himself are probably a bit unrealistic, so when I see him about to attempt something out of his league I’ll just pre-face it with something along these lines: “Wow, I’m really impressed with how ambitious you are giving that a go. If you need a hand remember I’m happy to help.” I’ll say it casually and immediately disengage, so that he still feels confident to give it a go himself, but then isn’t surprised when he finds it too hard. As for the second one, before he begins a project or is in the preliminary stages of formulating an idea I ask him loads of questions so that he has a clear idea of how he wants it to turn out and we discuss whether certain ideas are realistically able to be carried out. I also assess the expectations he has on me in terms of participating in the idea to ensure I don’t say or do the wrong thing.
I think the key to managing your child’s emotional triggers is being really observant and aware and then opening a line of communication that supports them through the trigger period.
“The key to managing your child’s emotional triggers is being really observant and aware and then opening a line of communication that supports them through the trigger period.”
HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN RELIEVE STRESS
One of the amazing things about children is that they actually know how to relieve their stress in an effective way. It may not be acceptable to us adults, but it’s effective for them. The most important thing we can do to support our children in dealing with stress is to just trust them in knowing how to manage it for themselves. Stress is a process that the body goes through in order to deal with certain situations. If this process is disrupted either by an adult looking down on the response or additional stress put on the child, then the process can’t complete its cycle and the stress gets trapped within the body. This can lead to illness, physical pain and increased sensitivity to future emotional triggers.
Just as we trust that a child will learn to walk, or talk, or read or write when the time is right and they are developmentally ready, a child, if supported through the process will in their own time find effective and acceptable ways of relieving their stress. When they’re young it’s through tantrums and crying. As they grow it might be through sport, meditation, talking or a hobby. In the meantime, we must not judge the way in which they do it, provide a safe space for them to process stress and make them feel loved and accepted.
HOW TO BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL FOR YOUR CHILDREN
The reason it’s important to be a good role model for your children is because they learn everything from you! That might be an exaggeration but only just. They are little sponges, especially from the womb to age 7 and if you are their primary care giver, most of what they take in will be from you. So how do we make sure we’re being a good role model? Basically, we have to be who we want them to be. I encourage you to take the time to sit down and write a list of the things about you that you don’t want your kids to copy. Everything from eating healthier food, drinking less, being less angry, prioritising family time. Give yourself some time to make the changes, perhaps just implement one at a time. And if you find yourself struggling just remind yourself why you’re doing it, and this should get you back on track. If it doesn’t, perhaps you have some unresolved stresses residing within your unconscious. If this is the case, you may choose to seek professional help.
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CHILDREN
HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHILD FEEL LOVED
“The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Gary Chapman takes a look at the ways in which people both express and understand love. This is particularly relevant for the parent-child relationship because a child’s feeling of love is the foundation upon which they build their entire lives. When a child feels completely loved, this enables the child to learn effectively, be motivated by others, motivate themselves, take responsibility, achieve their goals more successfully, take initiative, have increased self-esteem, be more resilient, avoid rebellion and attention seeking behavior and avoid resentment, guilt, fear and insecurity.
The 5 Love Languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Physical touch
We each respond to all of the languages but one will be more important than the others and as parents we must put more energy into that one for our child.
Words of affirmation not just includes saying ‘I love you’. It incorporates all the genuine and meaningful words you use to express your love for your child and why you love them.
Acts of serviceare all those little things you can do to help your child – packing their lunch, finding their lost school books, fixing their broken toy, building them a tree house and so on.
Receiving gifts is pretty self-explanatory and something most of us can understand very easily. With this love language though you have to be really careful that the gift doesn’t get linked to positive behaviour or used as a reward. It must simply be a ‘just because I love you’ gift. And don’t worry, you don’t have to spend heaps of money!
Quality time can be one of the most challenging love languages to express, particularly for busy families. It requires you to set some time aside to spend with your child one on one, focusing on something they enjoy doing. Quality time does not include getting them to help you with the household chores or dragging them with you to run errands!
“Quality time does not include getting them to help you with the household chores”
When it comes to kids, Physical touchcan include holding hands, lots of cuddles, tickles, high fives, knuckles. For a teenager who may seem to need less of this ‘lovey dovey’ sort of stuff, they may be better communicated to through playful wrestling or even contact sport.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHILD FEEL UNDERSTOOD
One of the greatest fears of all humans is the fear that we don’t belong. When a child feels understood it goes hand in hand that they feel as though they belong. Often a child can come into a family feeling as though they are ‘different’ in some way. This may be because their skills or interests lie in areas not shared by their parents and siblings, or maybe they just interpret experiences in a different way than that of the rest of their family. In this situation it’s really important to make your child feel as though they belong to the family, regardless of their differences and a special effort must be made to understand their perspective. This can be done by listening to the child and giving them a chance to tell their story. Be curious about them and invite them to share their interests with you. Even if it’s an activity that you don’t enjoy, find ways to enjoy it by focusing on the joy in their face, and feeling the bond between you strengthen. Do some research into behaviour or personality profiles so that you can learn more about what makes them tick, what excites them, what their values are, what’s important to them and what motivates them. When you have a bond with a child based on similarities it’s a really special and effortless connection. But when you make the effort to connect with a child that in the past you may not have seen eye to eye with, it’s truly rewarding.
“One of the greatest fears of all humans is the fear that we don’t belong.”
HOW TO TALK TO MY KIDS
The most important thing about talking to your kids is to make sure you’re present. Obviously you can’t be present ALL of the time, but regularly you need to sit down with them, get down to their level, look them in the eye and show them that you care about what they’re saying and that you love them, no matter what they’re saying. Make a real effort to understand them and listen to them, even when things are chaotic and more than three voices are trying to talk to you at once and the majority of them are whingy voices! Just address one at a time. If one of the voices has something serious to say (according of course to them, not you) and you’re not in a position to address it right now, schedule a time. Say “I’m sorry sweetheart, I have to change the baby’s nappy right now, then I have to get Bobby on the bus. After that we’ll sit down and you can tell me what’s on your mind.” Dismissing your kids is a pretty awful thing to do, so avoid that at all costs. That’s the whole “oh yeah, yep, ok, really…” while you’re actually thinking about how to get Tina at work to dob in Tracey. Not cool. Your kids come first and they should be the most important thing on your mind, especially when they’re right there. And if you do have other important things, give them the benefit of the doubt and explain to them that there’s just this thing you really have to do. Kids are pretty smart, they’ll get it if you treat them with respect. So, when you do talk to them, don’t just communicate with your words. Use your body language to convey your understanding, appreciation, love and respect for them. And remember to be curious, they have a lot that they could teach you.
Having more than one kid is challenging enough with their endless chattering and demands. But when there’s more than one, the demands don’t just double, they escalate because they’re not just interacting with you, they’re also interacting with each other. So, all the same communication challenges in terms of needs, love languages and behavioural profiles apply. Only this time, adult logic and understanding don’t apply.
One of the reasons why kids fight is because it’s modelled for them. When you and your partner are constantly brawling as a means of attempted communication it’s hard to expect your kids to find better, more mature ways to do it. And that’s all it is. Kids fight because they don’t know how to express their needs more effectively. This is where you come in to it.
“Kids fight because they don’t know how to express their needs more effectively.”
When an issue arises, and your kids have their hands around each other’s throats, shouting at them definitely shouldn’t be your first move, because this just demonstrates that shouting is an acceptable tool. Instead, walk over to them. Your energy and presence will disrupt their bubble more effectively than if you remain on the other side of the room. Break them up gently so they’re no longer in physical contact with one another. Assess which of them is more distressed and ask them their side of the story. Then give the other child a chance to express themselves. If you’re still unclear what happened, keep asking questions until you understand. And this is what you’re trying to understand: Who has an unmet need and how can it be met? Chances are they both have needs. Once you understand what’s happened, explain it to them. Kids have trouble figuring out what’s happening, but if you can figure it out and then tell them they’re likely to understand. And if you are patient and calm with them, they’re likely to take what you’ve said on board, especially if you’re out to help them get what they want!
HOW FATHERS CAN CONNECT WITH THEIR KIDS
Often, I hear of men desperate to connect with their kids but sometimes it doesn’t come as naturally or easily to them as it might to mums. Here’s some tips for dads to help shed some light on connecting with their kids. Firstly, you have to spend quality time with them. They want to be known by you so that they can make you proud and this is the only way to really get to know who they are. Your kids will often come to you with problems. Your instinct will be to leap in and solve it for them. This is great and there’s certainly a time for that. But first, you must acknowledge their feelings. You need to communicate to them that yes what they’re experiencing is acceptable and okay. And once this is done, it’s then fine to say “but this is how we’re going to change it”. Kids need to be touched. For dads this can be uncomfortable because they’re very aware of not being inappropriate. But it’s ok to embrace your kids in a warm, loving, safe hug. It’s great to tickle them, to wrestle with them if they want to (and at their skill level), or play a contact sport with them. All kids see their dad as their hero. You have a lot of power and influence over them given this position, so don’t abuse it and instead use it to their advantage. When their hero is proud of them, they feel a deep sense of significance and self-worth. Demonstrate to your kids that you are trustworthy, reliable and dependable. You are their rock and they need you to fulfill your promises and be there for them when they need your help.
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CO-PARENT
DISCUSSING ISSUES AROUND RAISING YOUR KIDS
Couples can have varying opinions when it comes to raising their kids, simply because they were raised differently themselves. When you have a difference of opinion consider whether it’s a hang up from your own childhood that you’re unable to let go of rather than putting the child’s needs first. Is your opinion coming from a place of fear, or a desire to ‘win’ against your partner (or the child’s other parent as the case may be). Are you fighting for what you would want in the same situation or are you really putting their desires first? When you’re discussing issues with your co-parent always keep your child at the centre of the conversation! Keep in mind their personality, their personal needs, their talents, skills and abilities. And always remember that so long as the child knows it’s loved and is safe, then everything will be okay. And yes, sometimes putting the needs and opinion of your co-parent first is the best thing for the child.
“When you’re discussing issues with your co-parent always keep your child at the centre of the conversation.”
HOW PARENTS CAN SUPPORT EACH OTHER WHEN STRESSED
The single most important thing you can do for your child’s other parent is to respect them. By putting your ego aside, understanding and enabling the fulfilment of their needs and supporting them in their parenting effort provide the foundation for a stress-free family. Realise that what stresses you out is different from what causes stress to your partner. If they’re stressed, rather than saying “are you serious, it’s not a big deal” offer support by saying “how can I help?” You might have stuff of your own going on at work that could be perceived as more stressful, but what’s more important that your own family? When someone is stressed within a family unit it affects everyone in that family, making them feel potentially insecure, fearful and anxious. Work can wait. Identify the source of the stress with your partner and design strategies to overcome them, one at a time. If negative past experiences or trauma are a cause of the stress you may want to discuss the support of some professional help to overcome it. If you have trouble identifying the source of the stress, simply love them. Go the extra mile to show your love for them (preferably in their love language) because when someone feels loved, their stress levels naturally drop. Relationships are give and take. But we don’t keep score. If your partner needs you, they need you, even if they tend to need you more than you need them. You just have to do what you can when you can. You never know when the tables might turn.
“The single most important thing you can do for your child’s other parent is to respect them.”
STAYING CONNECTED AND MAINTAINING INTIMACY WITH YOUR PARTNER
Parenting is full on! It’s stressful, it’s confusing, it’s a time sucker. As a result, intimacy can be hard to come by. In order to maintain your intimacy, firstly it’s important to maintain your connection with one another. Two people who are disconnected find it very hard to be intimate. In order to stay connected I encourage you to be open and honest with your partner, give them the benefit of the doubt, share your life with them, deal with any past issues you have that might be preventing you from truly connecting, and reducing any unnecessary stress in your life. Take the time to show your partner that they are the most important person in your life and make space in your lives for a little fun from time to time.
SETTING FAMILY GOALS
Setting family goals is important not just because kids need to learn how to set goals in order to more effectively get what they want out of life, but because it gives life to your family values. It allows you to express and make real what’s important to you as a family. Before you go about setting goals, have a discussion about what your family values are. Values are essentially emotional states that you wish to experience often, like joy, love, adventure, curiosity and wellbeing. Your goals should enable you to experience these things. It’s a bit silly to work towards a family holiday to Canberra to visit the art gallery, war museum and Questacon when your primary value is adventure. Don’t do something because you think you should because it’s good for the kids. If they value adventure too, take them to the snow! They’re only going to be bored in Canberra, as will you. From about the age of five kids are able to contribute to a conversation about goals. They’ll have their own goals which the whole family unit will need to support. It’s really important to ask your kids for their ideas and opinions because this makes them feel like an important part of the team. Discuss where the family wants to be in 10 years’ time, 5 years, 1 year and 6 months. Discuss what you want to do more of as a family, whether it’s spending more time together, or fighting less, or listening to each other better. Talk about where you want to live, what you want to spend money on, how to spend your free time and time off. Chat about any projects you want to work towards, any people you want to spend more time with, or less. Listen to what your kids have to contribute, you know they’re wiser than they seem and find ways to incorporate their needs and desires.
LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF AS A PARENT
STRESS RELIEF FOR PARENTS
Stress is a given when it comes to parenting. And the more stressed you are the more stress you tend to create. The two best ever techniques I’ve found to reduce stress are EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique – Tapping) and Meditation. These are two services I offer my clients with great success. Other activities that may help you relieve your stress include massage, your chosen form of exercise, holidays, talking it through with a friend, hobbies or just time alone doing whatever makes you feel good. Of course, it can be a real juggle to find the time to fit these things in. Remember though just how important it is and imagine what might happen if you don’t manage the stress on a regular basis.
TIME MANAGEMENT FOR BUSY PARENTS
The best tip I ever learnt for time management is to segregate each activity into one of four categories. First though, you need to write a ‘to do list’. And you also need to have an idea of what you’re wanting to achieve, because this gives the tasks context against which to ask the following questions: “is this task urgent?” or “is this task important?” in relation to achieving your family goals. As you do this, put each task into one of the following categories:
1. Important and Urgent – this is fire-fighting, get these done as fast as you can so you can move on to the next category
2. Important but not Urgent – this is the state you want to live in most of the time, where everything you’re doing is important and valuable but there’s no stress attached
3. Urgent but not Important – these are usually things that other people want you to do but don’t actually aligned with your own goals
4. Not important or urgent – don’t do these things at all, ever, take them off your ‘to do list’
Once things are in their categories, you can just delete all the tasks in group 3 and 4. Well maybe you’ll keep group 3 for when you’re bored!! Then get on with throwing yourself in to the urgent and important things (group 1). You might want to bust your guts for a little while to put out all these number 1 fires before any more erupt, but once you do, you’ll be in the ideal state of doing the important things without the stress of urgency. Initially you might find that you really have to take some time to evaluate the tasks against your goals and categorise them but eventually it will come naturally and you’ll stop even giving non urgent non important tasks a second thought.
CREATING “ME” TIME
What do you like to do in your down time? What really helps you recharge your batteries? What enables you to be invigorated and inspired enough to keep on going? When we have kids it’s so easy to put their needs first and tell ourselves that we’ll get to us “one day”. Well, as I write this, I’ve realised I’m just as bad as the rest of you! I’ve put ‘art classes’ on my to-do list for my retirement and it’s just occurred to me that maybe it would be okay to dabble in it from time to time right now. So that’s the commitment I’ve made to myself, the next one-day workshop I’m interested in, I’m going to make it happen. Did you notice how I said ‘one-day’ workshop? I’m not going to be over ambitious and commit to an ongoing course, I’m just going to be realistic. This is key when assigning time for yourself. Be realistic. Rather than just saying “Oh, I can’t make time for myself to do what I want because taking two years off to study archaelogy full time isn’t going to happen, so I might as well just forget it”, choose instead to buy some text books and read them in the bath once a week. Have in the back of your mind what it is you want to do and then when you have time, you can just slip it in, rather than just waiting for the time to present itself and then figuring out how you want the time to be spent. And when you know what it is you want to do for yourself, you might just find a way to make the time to make it happen.
“What do you like to do in your down time? What really helps you recharge your batteries? What enables you to be invigorated and inspired enough to keep on going?”
I really hope that this book has given you a starting point to understand your family better, get a clearer picture of what you want your relationship with your kids to be like and find within yourself the tools to set you in the right direction. If you want to take the next step, simply book a FREE one-hour consultation with me where we can discuss how I can assist you personally in Growing a Healthy and Happy Family.