Updated: Mar 24, 2022
I often find that with the best will in the world, time spent with my children can be more about micro-managing them than actually enjoying quality time with them. The school run feels less like a pleasant stroll and more like herding cats and I have been known to move the clock forward half an hour just so I can bundle the kids into bed at night with the hope of some peace! In reality though when this happens I’m torn between wanting to go to sleep or enjoying some quiet time to myself whilst being conscious of it so that I may ease my knackered brain with a mind numbing Netflix show and a cheeky glass of Merlot.
I'm acutely aware though that when I find myself becoming snappy at everything my kids do, when I start mumbling obscenities into the fridge and finishing WhatsApp messages to friends with “FFS!” I know I’m losing connection with them and spiralling into reactive parenting mode. Other signs might be attempting to escape the madness at home by connecting with what other grown-ups are doing on social media which inevitable makes me feel worse!
Connection is why we are here, humans have an innate desire to connect to one another and I’ve noticed when my children feel disconnected from me their behaviour ramps up so I sometimes have to dig really deep to keep that in mind. Think of a time when you’ve belly laughed with your child or played a long game of tag or hide and seek – that’s connection. It’s highly likely in these moments of joy you've both experienced, you’ve not needed to pull out the "behaviour management" guide - no rules, no constraints you've just been in your flow with them.
It’s true what they say, parenting is the most rewarding, joyful, infuriating, exhausting job in the world. Children don't come with a manual, (or a receipt sadly!) - there is no appraisal at the end of each year to reassure you that you're doing a good job – in fact you never find out if you’ve done a good job, its all a mirage because at what point do you actually arrive at a moment in their lives where you can say “Well I think I've done a pretty good job of bringing up this child, I think my work here is done.” It’s continuous - we never stop being a parent, and that can be exhausting.
As if we aren't already exhausted with the day to day plate spinning and ever changing needs of our children, we also appear to be living in a world where being "good enough" isn't good enough - we compare ourselves to those parents who apparently have it all under control and seemingly cruise through these years with the perfect work/life balance. Sure, we all want to lovingly support our children when they have a meltdown in the middle of a restaurant but sometimes our instinctive reactions to these stressful situations are driven more by our own fear of being judged by those around us - whether they are family, friends or even complete strangers! and feeling guilt that we aren’t doing a “good enough” job. This is then nicely topped off with the fact we’ve been running on empty all day because (heaven forbid) we put ourselves first, even just for a moment! - because that would be selfish right?! It’s in these moments we begin to disconnect.
So, why are we doing this what's the end game? Let’s go back in time a bit to BC (before children) when we thought about what family life might be like. Was the intention to merely “survive” it? Or did we have visions of ourselves and our children "thriving". What is it that we ultimately want for our children? What qualities do we hope they develop and take into their adult lives? Is it happiness, independence, success? To enjoy fulfilling relationships and live a life full of meaning and purpose? If this is the case, how much time do we actually spend intentionally developing these qualities in our children and what if I told you that all these qualities we want our children to develop aren't about sanctions and punishments, but relationships and connection.
So easily we get caught up in the day-to-day "behaviour management" rut
“Stop hitting your sister”
“If I have to tell you one more time to clean your teeth…”
“I said NO!”
"Right that's it - no TV for you tonight"
I know because I naturally slip into this myself, especially when I'm under stress or have a time limit.
We implement sanctions and consequences for the behaviour we don’t want but in doing this we are forgetting to purposefully create those joyful connected experiences that help our children develop all the qualities we do want from them so they can thrive both now and in the future.
We all know how to nurture our children’s physical health, we know what foods send them crazy before bedtime and how to bring their temperature down when they’re not well but are you as confident when it comes to nurturing their brains and supporting their emotional development? Our brains pretty much determine who we are and how we behave in the world, it plays a central role in developing sophisticated skills such as emotional regulation, decision-making, self-awareness, impulse control, reflective & logical thinking, and relationships. We know our children’s brains are significantly shaped by their early experiences so it is vital that we as parents understand how the brain can be altered in response to our parenting.
We do this through connection.
How to Connect
There are many ways we can connect but keeping these concepts in mind when connecting with your child can be useful:
Playfulness – a fun way to connect through games and play with younger children or jokes/light-hearted mocking or banter with older children – this communicates reciprocal enjoyment within the relationship and demonstrates that the relationship between you is unconditional
Acceptance – demonstrates that a child’s inner emotional state is not right or wrong, it simply IS. Conveyed with understanding, without trying to change or judge their experience this communicates that the child’s emotions are safe with you.
Curiosity – a tentative wondering with the child about their experience. Gentle questioning allowing us to truly understand the child's experience of a situation and express a desire to help them. When we are curious we are not falling into lecturing or implying that our child’s inner experience is wrong in some way, we are simply communicating that we genuinely wish to connect with and understand their inner world and are trying to figure it out with them.
Empathy – The ability to feel with someone. Allowing the child to feel our compassion. Demonstrates to the child that their inner life is important to us and that we are there for them during times of sadness or distress.
How can I learn more about this?
If you want to learn more about how you can deepen the connections with your children, shout less, feel calmer and be confident in helping them to develop their emotional intelligence you need to enrol on my Everyday Parenting course.
This course is aimed at parents who are interested in exploring how to connect with and understand their child’s behaviour and learning new ways to approach parenting. The course draws on scientific research and the science of brain development to help you understand why children don’t listen, why they’re impulsive, why despite your best efforts to sanction they will make the same mistake over and over again that leaves you pulling your hair out. Whilst we can’t eradicate challenging behaviour in children we can help you to reframe the survival moments into opportunities to connect through an attitude of Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy (PACE) which will allow you to experience more joy in your parenting interactions and less shouting. You will feel more in control, forming a much deeper understanding of your children. In addition, the approaches I share with you help develop the area's of the brain that house the sophisticated cognitive skills required to develop those key qualities we want in our children.
You will explore how your own attachments and early experiences of parenting can impact how you parent and how self-care is a crucial part of effective parenting.
Sign up today and join me for this immersive course, where you will come away feeling positive, inspired, rested and confident in your parenting abilities. The course supports a move away from the typical “classroom” approach to provide a more relaxed, informal learning environment involving whole group discussion, small group work and self-reflection with opportunities for self-care throughout the day as well as chances to ask questions and gain advice.
For more information or to book your place get in touch:
@rootspsychology across social media