Parenting for Connection
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
When I was a boy I received a King Kong action figure for my birthday. At that time I really liked King Kong and this gift was very special. While playing with my toy I soon found out that my little brother (around 3 years old) was afraid of my King Kong doll. So like a good big brother I ran around the house scaring him by showing him the doll and by roaring like King Kong.
My brother, of course, would run and tell my parents. My parents would take my doll away and then give it back with the condition that I not scare my brother. This process happened many times. On one occasion they even told me that if I did it again they would burn my King Kong doll in the fireplace.
Well, I could not resist the temptation to scare my little brother one more time. I grabbed my toy and roared like King Kong once again and he started running and crying. But he did something that I will never forget this particular time. He ran as fast as he could right towards my father’s leg, grabbing and hanging on for dear life. He would not let go and we could not pry his hands off of my father’s leg. This image has stayed with me over the years. It reminds me of what I and my brother have always known – that no matter what the circumstance my father would always protect us and keep us safe. We both knew that we could count on my father to love us unconditionally and be there for us.
What saddens me is that many times in our society kids are running away from their parents because they are afraid of them. I long for all children to be safe and loved at all times. I hope that they can always feel secure enough to run to their parents when they are in need. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many homes.
The reason is that some parents have been educated to use strategies to deal with tension and stress in their lives that lead to lack of trust, resistance and power struggles. When parents get upset with their children they may raise their voice and criticize them. Then they may start to blame them and use threats. Eventually some parents will even hit their children or grab their ears or pinch them. These are all manifestations of power and control. Parents get upset with a child’s behavior and resort to what others may have taught them – that it is okay to impose one’s will on another by using power.
The message some parents have received is that they need to use their power (size, strength, ability to intimidate, etc.) to control their children. Yet, this strategy brings resentment, guilt, fear and shame into children’s lives. Unfortunately, most children who do obey do it out of that energy. When children respond to us out of fear or guilt we will always pay for it later on.
Most parents do not want their children to clean their room or eat their vegetables because of fear of punishment or guilt, but rather because they see the value in doing what they are being asked to do. For instance, by cleaning their room they can fulfill their need for order and beauty or an opportunity to contribute to their parent’s well being and desire to see order in the home.
So, what can parents do to promote love, compassion, cooperation and understanding in their relationship with their children?
Parents can model these values by focusing on their children’s feelings and needs instead of focusing on labeling the behavior that they dislike. When parents focus on labeling a behavior they begin to diagnose or evaluate the behavior and to think in terms of right and wrong. Bodies and muscles tighten, tension increases. They create a story that implies wrongness and stands in the way of opening their heart and connecting with their child. It is not uncommon for “should” statements to follow. Whenever we feel angry, there is a “should” statement close by. “Should” statements and moralistic judgments produce anger and when verbalized produce alienation, resistance and resentment.
But when we focus on the child’s feelings and needs and ask, “What is my child feeling and needing?” we open the door to understanding why they are doing the behavior and connecting to their needs. This is very important information (the child’s feelings and needs) because it helps us to empathize with them and discover their needs. This helps us to suggest something that not only meets our needs but also those of the child. The goal is to meet everyone’s needs and to let our children know that their needs matter.
For example if a child does not want to come home because he is having too much fun playing in the playground we can ask ourselves, “What is he feeling and needing?” The question is not that hard to answer if we take time to consider their situation and allow ourselves to be curious. The child may be feeling happy and excited and desiring to play more with his friends. So, when we realize this we can then ask the child, “Are you happy and excited because you are having fun playing?” The child will probably say, “Yes.”
The child’s feelings and needs are validated and matter. After connecting with their feelings and needs we can share our feelings and needs. We can say, “I feel concerned because I am longing to honor your mother’s time and would like to be home to meet her for dinner. How about you play for 10 more minutes and then we go home?” There is a higher probability that the child will say “yes” and do it out of a giving energy instead of fear. But even if the child does not say “yes” to our request it is important to remember that is not the goal. The goal is to connect and work together to meet everyone’s needs because everyone’s needs matter. When a child says “no” it is an invitation for further dialogue.
By focusing on our child’s needs we stay connected to them in a way that builds them up, models our values and fosters connection with them. It produces trust and a desire in them to want to run to us in their times of need rather than running away from us.
Eddie Zacapa is the author of Essentials for Cultivating Passionate Volunteers and Leaders: Guidelines for Organizations that Value Connection. He is also the co-founder of Life Enriching Communication, a certified trainer with The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC), and a collaborative trainer with BayNVC. Eddie’s book is available on Amazon and most online booksellers. He offers personal coaching to individuals, families and executives, as well as assistance with conflict resolution. He blogs at www.harmonyoftheheart.com.
Contact Eddie at firstname.lastname@example.org