I have been having such fun interviewing so many wonderful people for the Purposeful Parenting: Expert Advice on Creating Your Family Plan summit. Although they are talking about different aspects of parenting and coming from different disciplines and perspectives, the message I have been hearing over and over again is that it is all about relationship. Maybe I should put that in all caps: IT IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP. It's all about knowing your individual kid and meeting him right where he is. When expert after expert talks about using connection as the foundation for all parenting, it is time to listen.
At the end of the day, you want a close, warm relationship with your child. You want him to feel that you will always be there for him; that you are his biggest champion. As someone said (I forget who), every child ought to have someone who is simply crazy about her. And who better than the parent to play that role? Or as Aristotle said, educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. Pedagogically, we call this lowering the affective filter. Education theory states that a child will not learn until he feels safe and connected to his teacher.
You are your child's first teacher. Your child wants to learn and wants to please you. From nearly the moment she is born, your child is watching you, tracking you, gaging your emotions and reactions. As long as she feels safe and secure, she will look to you for the lessons of the world--both social emotional and "academic."
What does your child need to feel close, connected, safe and secure? She needs your love, your warmth, your approval. She needs to hear things like:
That's okay. Those things happen sometimes.
I can see that you are really upset. Don't worry. It won't always feel bad.
Honey, we all make mistakes. That's how we learn.
I know you can figure that out, and I am here if you need me.
If you don't figure it out today, come back tomorrow and see if it looks different.
I'm so proud of you; you really tried your best on that.
No matter what, I will always love you. Now, what can we do to fix this?
I know that you're really angry/disappointed/sad/frustrated right now, and when you are ready to talk about it, I am here.
I can see the bad feelings zinging around inside of you, and I would love to hear what is going on for you when you are ready to talk and not yell.
These are the kinds of messages that allow children to feel loved even when they are misbehaving, even when they are failing, even when they doubt themselves. Does responding with these "kinder and gentler" words mean that you are a softy? A complete pushover? A bad disciplinarian? Not at all. I still expect you to hold your limit with your child, but do it calmly and with empathy.