During pre-children years, I was a fantastic parent. I was an expert on parenting issues, always had something to add or say – no sweat! Till one day, I had one then two of my own. It turns my world upside down. Comments are just not enough. Like people said, “saying is one thing; doing is another”. How true…how true!
First, the baby cries to communicate his wants – you are like playing “win, draw or lose” always looking for clues to his blues. Soon, you’ll find him learning to walk and talk. How adorable! He starts to discover many uses of his limbs. Every word and action deserves the blue ribbon! He also adopts the “monkeys see, monkeys do” behaviour – oh yes, so be careful of what you say and do in front of that little bundle of your joy. Don’t be surprised when they repeat your sentences perfectly to someone else.
To some, as this firstborn grows, the second baby comes along. Boy, how they wear you down. Armed with parenting books, parent groups, internet, we make sure we are ready for each casualty. Haa…haa..no matter how ready you feel, kids somehow have a way to spring surprises at you. Parenthood is fun and challenging, yeah?
Have we ever realised that most often than not, we have been denying their feelings without realising it? Take for instance, your elder child told you that he doesn’t like the new baby. What do you say next? Would you say something like “I don’t think so. I’m sure deep in your heart, you really love the baby“. Do you find yourself smiling now? Ah-ha!
Another example : Your young chap came to you and said that he doesn’t like the new football boots, the one he insisted on buying in the first place. Are you going to say something like, “I’m sure it takes time for your feet to get used to the new boots. After all the money we spent on it, you’ll have to wear them whether you like it or not.” Ooops!
When we deny their feelings, we are actually telling them that they have no reason to be upset, they are just being petty and it’s foolish to feel that way. Then, we’ll “force” them to smile, hoping that this smile would distract their mind from the issue at hand. Do you think they’ll feel better instantly? Try to force that smile out when you are feeling lousy….hard huh?
When our little ones come running to us, they are actually seeking validation to their feelings. Usually, with so many things spinning in our heads, we unintentionally dismiss their feelings and try our best to make it look better for them. We would be quick to explain that the world is like that and there’s nothing much we can do about it; we offer advice, we question them, there are instances where we even defend the other party, or we start to analyse the whole thing which makes them feel worse and even more confused.
The young ones are like us. When we feel hurt, the last thing they want is an advice. When we pity them, they feel more sorry for themselves. When we question them, they become more defensive. When we defend the other party, they would just give up and would try not to tell you anything anymore. They’d feel that whatever they say or do, it’ll always be wrong in your eyes.
What we need most when we are stuck in this situation is what they need also. That is, they want to feel that someone really listens to them, acknowledges their feelings of pain and disappointment, lets them have the chance to express themselves, to finish their sentences without interruption. Usually after they pour out their heart’s content, with a little lead, they could find answers to their questions, they could find solutions to their issues, on their own. All they need is a listening ear and emphatic response.
You notice that in all my posts, I prefer not to mention “Problems“. I refer to them as “Issues“. Problems seem big and heavy in the head, but Issues are more manageable – like a phase you have to pass through before you could move on to the next thing on your mind. Psychologically, the right choice of words can help you and your children have more meaningful conversation. It also allows them to feel that they can safely come to you, without being judged.
I find that this is one of the right ways to build a child’s confidence to express their feelings and to help themselves to solving their own issues. We grow up having our feelings denied. Yes, we survived but do we want to duplicate this method on our kids, knowing very well how it feels like being in their shoes?
It’s certainly not easy to adopt this new language of acceptance but it is also not impossible. I trust that with the right practice, we’ll be able to make a difference. I always believe in small differences at a time. As a result, it does make a huge impact in our children’s lives. Our influence is like a ripple on the water.
So, if we have not already done that, let’s do something differently this time. See if you can detect a sign of hope in your children’s eyes, a sigh of relief when you just listen, with occasional responses like “Mmm”, “Oh”, “really”, “I see”, etc. Encourage them to express their feelings….they need to. Besides being a good parent, we must also be their trusted friend.