All of us strive to become the kind of parents we’ve always wanted to be: Confident, Optimistic, and even Joyful. But we find ourselves confused and often frustrated by the seemingly endless challenges we experience when it comes to connecting, interacting and building deeper relationships with our children.
Why is it so? Why do we feel so inadequate? And feel so frustrated?
During early years, children feel a range of emotions, but often cannot express, interpret or process them. To help children make sense of this, and have the best effect, children need to be approached with empathy, supporting and guiding them to identify and deal with their emotions effectively.
Research shows that experiences and adult responses are the primary influencers of how children self-regulate and deal with their emotions. Meeting children’s emotional needs is critical, even when some of these are harder to understand or when they evoke strong feelings in us.
Being present in the moment
Every child is special and deserves to be treated as a full-fledged individual. And the only way this can happen is when parents realize the importance of being present for their children, despite the overwhelming pressures of modern-day living and the demands it makes on their time.
Right from the time a baby is born, she is already dealing with her own emotional reactions in response to what is impacting her. A baby expresses her frustration, hunger or pain by crying. As she continues to grow and learn, a child is further exposed to even more complex experiences that trigger unpredictable emotional reactions that are difficult to process and impossible to manage with them at first.
This is where you as a parent can be of great help. Being present with your child means you are not only physically present, but you are also acting as an emotional sounding board for your child.
Bonding in the present
This is what emotional maturity is all about, helping you to connect effectively with your child. While it is a skill a child will also develop as she grows, the ability to understand, express and cope with these emotions need to be nurtured throughout early childhood by parents.
The first step in this direction involves getting your child to accept her emotions and to start learning how to label them. For instance, you could say, “You look really thrilled”, after coming back from a visit to the zoo. Or when your child is upset, you could enquire, “You look sad, is something bothering you?”. Once your child learns to label her emotions, she will have the right words to describe how feels about them.
The advantages of teaching labelling skills and being present for your child are many. Suffice it to say, with free exchange and flow of emotions and information, communication becomes easier. The chances of misunderstanding are minimised. And the reasons for a child to act out her emotions to tell you how she is feeling disappear. Simple?
Other ways to be present for your child
Thoughts, feelings, actions.
When you are with your child, never miss an opportunity to help replace negative thoughts with positive ones. This is also the best way to share with your child how thoughts, feelings and actions actually influence each other and show her how to help break the chain. Especially, after a traumatic event.
Sit down with her, make it a point to face her squarely and maintain eye contact. Tell her to take a deep breath, and repeat this exercise a couple of times. Once your child feels relaxed and comfortable, ask her about the event that made her feel so anxious or afraid.
Thoughts make feelings
Exploring her thoughts and feelings together is important. For instance, an event that was upsetting. This may have been a test your child prepared for and didn’t get the results she wanted. This made your child to conclude, “I am not good at anything. I’ll never get a star”. She begins doubting her own abilities and begins to feel scared about future tests.
Feelings affect actions
When you ask your child what she did as a result of such thoughts, she might say that the next test is making her more anxious and is finding it more difficult to prepare for it. Thoughts about how bad she felt the last time keep coming back, making her put off studying altogether!
Actions influence thoughts
Ask your child: What if she thought about this event in a different way instead? Example: What if she decides to focus and prepare for the test? This way, instead of giving in to a situation, you are helping your child tackle the situation head-on. Get her to start thinking “I will keep trying until I do well. Earn my star!” This automatically sets in motion a chain of hope and positive thinking.
Remember, feeling let down or bad is completely normal. But, it’s important to remind your child that not every thought or feeling is necessarily true, even if it feels that way in the moment. It is always helpful to try and change the way we think about or react to events we encounter.
Go beyond just listening to your child
Express interest in what your child is saying. Whether it seems trivial or big should have any bearing. Listen with full attention, and observe her body language, actions, sounds and words carefully. By being present emotionally for your child, you are validating your child’s true feelings and your own responses.
It will be helpful to allow your child to talk freely about her feelings, like anger or wanting something so badly that she snatched it from her sibling’s hand. Ask what made her angry? Why didn’t she wait for her turn to come? Her answers will help you respond in a clear and positive way and allows you to set limits without sounding harsh.
Reflecting statements back to your child acknowledges and provides words to describe her feelings more accurately. Validating your child’s feelings is also extremely important because it tells your child that you care about how she feels deep inside.
Be an empathetic parent
To best meet and support your child’s emotions, be sympathetic, warm, accepting and curious. The more you lead with empathy, the more inspiring you become to your children.
As you are someone they trust, make it a point to overcome the barriers you may have of your own — busy schedules and daily office pressures. Commit to working tirelessly to help your children be happier, more resilient and more confident.
Be present to get your children through their daily adventures. Support self-expression throughout the day, through stories, painting and drawing, crafts, roleplay and general play. Encourage active physical movement and lots of opportunities for conversations.
As part of helping children to self-regulate and deal with emotions, it’s important to set expectations and boundaries for them. They need to understand the importance of following rules as it makes them more friendly, open and easy to play and talk to.
Finally, have fun. Help your children stay away from electronic devices. If that is not possible, minimize screentime, and remind your child about it on a daily basis. Get her to read books or paint or just doodle. If your child is very young, reading to her will expose her to a new world and stimulate her imagination.
Get her to be adventurous. Visit parks, galleries, and museums. Take her to concerts. Try out new ways to enjoy and turn these into unforgettable experiences. More importantly, be present while spending more time together. Remember, your time is hers to drive, and not the other way around!
About My Gym & Abrakadoodle
My Gym aims to lay a firm foundation for personal, academic and future growth by involving your child in age-appropriate, structured and unstructured physical activities. Helping strengthen neural networks within the brain and developing a child’s thinking and problem-solving skills.
At Abrakadoodle, process art learning experiences inspire toddlers and young children to help articulate their thoughts and feelings. Children also discover visual art is the easiest way to relax and meditate. Doodling, scribbling, painting and drawing help children to think differently, be innovative, and explore new ways to grow their minds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Connecting with children refers to the emotional maturity that parents develop when their toddler navigates through the crucial stages of early childhood development. By exercising these skills, parents focus on allowing children to express their emotions, understanding their child's deeper feelings, and helping children cope with such emotions by channeling their energy into structured and unstructured play activities.
The way parents respond to their children lays the foundation for children to successfully navigate their emotions. The ability of parents to understand their children as they experience the full spectrum of emotions and to assist them in putting their feelings into words is critical for their overall well-being. Parents can help their children develop healthy coping mechanisms by approaching them with empathy and providing guidance on how to handle their emotions. Positive thinking abilities and a strong emotional connection between parent and child are essential for fostering a healthy and supportive relationship.
Practicing empathy during a child's early childhood development can help parents identify and understand their child's emotions, and guide them through the process of regulation. Parents who strive to be empathetic towards their children and practise active listening, validation, and understanding can foster a stronger and more positive relationship with their children.
Essential parenting skills that impact parent-child bonding include:
- Being flexible, consistent, and adaptable in the parenting approach helps parents provide a safe and secure environment for a child's growth.
- Active listening, keen observation, and understanding emotions beyond actions are prerequisites to a harmonious parent-child bond.
- Practicing empathy and positive reinforcement can uplift the child's morale and influence their problem-solving skills.
- Playfulness and direct communication encourage parents to engage with their child while building mutual trust as well as having fun by exercising both gross motor skills and fine motor skills.