After recently engaging in a 16-hour road trip with my family, including two children under the age of 10, the topic of parenting has been at the forefront of my mind. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on mindfulness and attitude that can help any parent to deal with common childhood behaviors- from the mundane to the more severe.
Let’s begin with what children are not: children are not nefarious, deviant masterminds who are out to create mischief and cause trouble. They are not trying to make you angry. They are not trying to ruin other people’s good times. As adults, we often forget that there was a time in our lives when we didn’t have as much control over our surroundings as we do right now. In addition, we forget what it feels like to not be able to express ourselves. I too am guilty of this, occasionally asking my wife, “Are they trying to push my buttons today?”.
Here’s what children are: children are curious, fresh, watchful faces taking in as much of the world as they can. Children are exploring their world with hope, excitement, or trepidation, and they expect adults to help them interpret what they experience. They need us to be their interpreter. Children are looking to push boundaries but only because they often don’t understand why boundaries are there in the first place. It is our job as parents to help them see that boundaries keep them safe, physically and emotionally.
Being mindful and present as a parent can be key to helping interpret children’s behaviors and respond in positive ways. Try understanding what they’re going through! While walking in the Florida sun for several hours, my 8 year old daughter became more irritable. It’s easy to get frustrated as her “bad mood ruins everyone else’s fun”, but being mindful help me to understand that she couldn’t cope with or communicate the fact that she was amazingly uncomfortable and she didn’t know what to do. Being aware of what is going on for her, helped me to be able to respond in a positive way.
Once we’re aware of the problem as adults, next we have to choose how to respond to it. It’s important to be able to empathize with children in order to gain the patience needed to parent successfully. This empathy comes from understanding the lack of control children have in their environment. For them, the world is a confusing place with rules that don’t make sense and feelings they don’t always know how to communicate. Imagine yourself being dropped on an island with a group who all speak a different language from you. They all have their own customs and ways of doing things, and you are expected to interact with them with a clue about what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. This is often how our children feel, and if we can empathize with them, we are better equipped to help them while resolving conflict.
Next, let’s offer solutions. Now the problem here is that not all solutions available will be to the child’s liking. That’s ok! This is another great opportunity to help them understand that things don’t always work out in the ways they want. It can be helpful to give children choices. It helps them to feel like they still have a choice and offers some control. For my daughter, I can ask her if she’d either like to sit down for a while and have some water or if she’d like to end the activity and head back home. She gets the opportunity to make the choice, even though I know that either will help her.
Finally, it’s important as parents to check-in on ourselves and measure our responses to our kids. Because we don’t always remember all of the things kids are not, from earlier in the blog, we can very quickly get caught up feeling angry, irritable, disappointed, and depressed by our children’s behavior. Those feelings are natural and understandable, but we can’t let those feelings dictate how we behave! Remember, you are the interpreter for your children, and when the interpreter is affected by emotion the message doesn’t get through. Take a deep breath… be aware of what your child is really expressing to you, and then consider the best way to help them fix it. I find it helpful to sometimes consider how I would respond emotionally to an adult demonstrating the same behavior. If an adult spills a glass, I hand them a paper towel with little feelings about it. If then my daughter spills a glass, why would I get angry at her for the same behavior? It doesn’t make sense, and it is important to remember that when checking and measuring our own responses to our children.
Parenting is hard. There are some things that we can do, however, to help us ensure that we are better equipped to handle the things parenting throws at us. Remember that our kids are not master manipulators, just lost in translation. Be mindful about what they’re going through and aware that they are asking for your help to navigate and translate what they are experiencing. Then, choose a measured response to help them solve a problem or assimilate whatever new information they’re trying to understand. They’ll appreciate your efforts and we’ll all feel better for avoiding conflict in our relationship with our children.
Good luck to all of us as parents!
Also, make sure to fully charge all I-pad batteries before a long car trip….. Sorry, honey. Daddy dropped the ball on that one.