The Best Gift For Our Kids – Our Full Presence Here And Now For Them!
The Holiday Season has just gone by taking away with it the spirit of giving and sharing, which many of us wish to cherish all year long. Maybe you dedicated considerable time thinking what to give your children that would have more meaning then a mere reproduction of what was shown in the commercials that kids themselves started perceiving as their own wishes. Maybe you did not have time to think through and just went with a flow. Whatever your strategy was, you might find yourself wondering what happened to the presents you actually gave? Why aren’t kids playing with them anymore? What is it that our children really want? I am sure, you already know the answer: Care, respect and understanding; being here for them in this very moment, see them exactly how they are and accept them just like that!
As the Xmas season is the time when we celebrate love for humanity and peace in our soul and in the world, you may wonder how to give the gift of love and peace to those closest to you and in the first place your children all year long?
Child psychologists say that one of the reasons children wish for what they see in the commercials is their wish for family time together as those commercials often show parents playing with their kids. The need for attention, love, and acceptance never fades away and very often influences the expressed wishes. So think of your time with them as the gift for the whole year. Whether you are among those who come up with the New Year Resolutions or not, try to make that one Resolution: to dedicate every day at least five minutes of your time, if your obligations do not allow for more, to your child. In families with more children that will mean more of your time as you need it for each child, respectively.
Why is that important, you may wonder?
Isn’t it better to think of a common game to involve the whole family?
It is important, because every child has a distinct need to be seen by the parent (not only looked at when asked to do so) and accepted as he/she is, which sets the foundation of his/her self-confidence, self-esteem, future aspirations and the overall sense of well-being.
How many times have you heard your child shouting: “Mummy, look! Daddy look what I can do…” Or sadly “you did not see me…” Children have super sensors and know when we really see them, and when we just look at them while our thoughts wonder around. Parents in the midst of daily challenges and problems with the great desire to offer their children much more then they themselves had in childhood try to apply multi-tasking even within the family boundaries. They run with cell phones or any other device of modern technology to read, follow, respond… and with dispersed attention turn to their children with brief and usual comments. Children read that as lack of attention and then start insisting even more until the parent explodes and from the patient and modern peacemaker turns into an impatient dragon throwing the fire. The child hesitates and remains speechless for a moment, and then backfires when we least expect it, if not right away. How to get out of that vicious circle and experience the moments of full presence here and now with our children?
Being here and now for them does not only mean see them how they shine and carefully listen to what they say. It also means trying to see how things look like from their perspective, how they feel in the given situation and what need of theirs has or has not been met. It means having compassion for our children. Empathising with them we may see things differently, shifting from our usual repertoire of responses. A new road to establishing connection will come forward opening up the doors of communication and eventually showing the way to children’s heart.
Unfortunately, empathic reactions do not come spontaneously to us. They require our full presence and conscious effort to acknowledge feelings that are overwhelming the child and identify needs behind them. Most of us had not had a chance while growing up to face and accept our own feelings often denied, especially if they had to do with fear, worry, shame, or guilt. It is necessary to practice the language of compassion and acceptance to make it habitual, enabling children manage their own feelings in the best possible way, conquering them and not being overwhelmed by them. The research in interpersonal neurobiology shows the healing power of empathy.
Faber and Mazlish in their bestseller “How to talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk” speak about direct connection between children’s feelings and behaviour, stressing that when children feel good they behave good. Parents may help children feel good by accepting their feelings. The biggest problem is that we, as parents, usually do not do that, not even being aware of it: “it is not possible that it is so difficult for you…”, ”you are saying that only because you are tired…”, “there is no reason to get angry…”, “there is nothing to fear…”, “come on, don’t be shy!” Constant denial of children’s feelings may confuse them, make even more angry, and finally teaches them not to trust their own feelings and not to pay attention to them.
Instead, try to listen with full attention, acknowledging and naming child’s feelings or if the situation calls for silence making sure the body gestures show that you are carefully listening. Try to identify what it is that the child really wants. The child will feel relieved that you have understood him/her even if the wish cannot be fulfilled. Sometimes, you may fulfil it in fantasy, e.g. “you are disappointed that it is so cold now and you cannot swim while the sea is calling for you with its clear blue waters…you would like to jump and splash as much as you want, to throw a ball, ride in the boat ….” And who knows what, that you think the child may enjoy. If he/she is nodding, you are on the right track. Maybe the kid will cry and become desperate because that moment of feeling understood made possible for the whole avalanche of accumulated feelings related to who knows how many unfulfilled wishes or difficult situations to pour out.
If we allow children to express their feelings the result will be beneficial not only for them but for us as well. They will become more relaxed and ready for cooperation. That is why it is important to resist their anger and rage. Behind them, there is usually fear, sorrow and tears as pointed out by Doctor of Clinical Psychology Laura Markham and many other authors in the field of parenting and non-violent communication. Children feel the most secure with their parents to express all the difficulties encountered in the course of the day. Do not get surprised if the teachers or baby sitters say that your kids have been fantastic the entire day, and once they see you the outburst of emotions come out which in the worst case turns into tantrum. It is a great challenge for parents to remain calm in those moments. The hardest task of our parenting endeavour is regulating our own feelings. No matter how hard it may be, the research shows that it is worthwhile taking care of our own feelings for the sake of our own well-being and even more so, that of our children and the family as a whole. Every little step forward in the long run may give a significant betterment.
Seeing things from our children’s point of view will enable us to give them a dew respect and to seek solutions which satisfy both our and their needs. It will help us understand behaviour that has been driving us crazy. Further more, it will help us manage our own emotions so when our kid starts getting on our nervous we do not start seeing an enemy but a human being seeking to meet his own needs exactly like the rest of us.
The language of compassion is not judgmental, there are no threats, or conditioning of any kind, but an open expression of feelings, without hurting others, respecting both the needs of children and our own, enabling children to grow up into caring and responsible human beings.
At the end, let’s try to enjoy the beauty of the moment throughout the year together with our children whether we are looking into their eyes, holding hands, touching their hair or listening their laughter. Establishing warm human connection with our children is the first step on the long and challenging road of raising them: “First Connect, then Correct”!!!
If we are not ready to make that step, all the others will be more difficult, if not unreachable.
Article by: Ranka Šarenac*, who is the founder and director of the Centre for Mutual Education “VidiMe” (SeeMe) Kotor, Montenegro inspiring and supporting parents and professional educators to behave with children the way they want them to behave towards others: with understanding, respect and compassion.
Together we may come up with the best way to support your needs, either through workshop, practice group, one to one contact or any other way you may find appealing.
I am also interested in supporting children learning compassionate communication having been certified to organise a series of workshops (from 5 to 18 years) prepared by a team of psychologist at the University of Belgrade, supported by UNICEF. If you would like your child to take part in the workshops please feel free to contact me.
If you are interested in getting more information on compassionate parenting or simply more inspiration to sustain your already compassionate approach you may contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or call: 691 229933
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Last updated: Wednesday 20th January, 2016
* Ranka Šarenac graduated Psychology at the University of Belgrade in 1997 and became the Master of Science in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1999. In 2005 she was one of the emerging leaders international fellows at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York. In 2006 Ranka completed the Joint European Master in Comparative Local Development for the Balkans and Other Areas in Transformation at the University of Trento, Italy and in 2007 the Master in Peacekeeping Management at the University of Turin, Italy.
After ten years of working in the field of democratisation for various international organisations including OSCE and UN primarily on local government reform Ranka has shifted her professional interests towards democratisation of parent child relations and educational systems. Living in Sweden and becoming a parent facilitated her interest in active parenting, non violent communication and competent child approaches leading to a successful implementation of the project “Non violent communication (NVC) in Montenegrin Primary Education”.
Her best advisors on parenting issues and the key motivators for her professional and personal growth are her two children, now six and four years old. Ranka is currently residing in Luxembourg with her family.