3 Things You Can Do To Meet Your Child
Often times, I find myself wondering about my parents. What were they like when they were my age? What were they like as kids? What did they wish from life in their 20’s? What were they dealing with as young parents? Of course, I am fortunate enough that I can still ask them. My suspicion is that the answer would be more reflective and based on memories, rather than their authentic emotional world at the time.
My parents and I will never be the same age. We will never experience the same daily concerns or will we simultaneously share the same excitement about playground swings, the same hurt over a broken heart, the same frustration over a crying baby in the middle of the night. In that sense, I feel that I will never meet the individual humans behind the title “my parents”.
Why Does It Matter?
Not seeing the human behind the parent is a double-edge sword. One of the basic needs in children is the notion of being seen. When I am seen - I exist. But as a child, if my emotional world is not seen, then I learn to ignore my feelings, to a point that as a grownup, I may live a life that is constricted to a limited set of experiences.
So yes, parenting has a fundamental role in enabling children to develop a better sense of selfhood, and a balanced emotional world.
As a parent, if you and your kids continue to grow while maintaining the intellectual mind gap, you will never know your child. Here are three things you can do to change that, either by meeting your child at their age or bringing them up to your age.
Don’t Be That Parent at the Playground.
I often see myself playing the role of the parent at the playground. You know, when your kid is playing in the sandbox and you suddenly feel like you finally have a few moments to just zone out and look at your smartphone.
What I’m suggesting, is that the playground is a perfect opportunity to meet your child. Climb the ropes with him, slides the slides, meet him at the end of a maze, swing side by side. And most importantly, feel him. If he’s smiling and full of joy, then be joyful, mirror it. If he’s cautious and hesitant about jumping on to the monkey bars or sliding the tall slide - then be with him. Resonate the possible emotional state by saying something like “hmm… that’s new. What do we do here? Let’s see how it works.”” or “What do you think? Is this too tall? It looks safe to me, how about you?”
Create an Environment for Dialogue.
How many times have you asked your child "how was kindergarten today?" Or "what did you learn at school today?" only to receive an "I don't know" or "I don't want to talk about it.”
To change that, you must create an environment of sharing experiences. Create a family culture where everyone talks about their lives, it is not just the adults that investigate their kids. Kids can investigate their parents too. Begin by talking to your kids about your day. Talk as an adult. Tell them a bit about your world and your day – what made you excited today, what made you disappointed? Maybe share an act of kindness that you’ve witnessed, or an act of wrongdoing, and explain why you felt that way towards these instances.
Once this form of dialogue becomes the custom that grownups do, at some point, your child natural wanting-to-be-a-grownup will drive him to be a part of that interaction as well. Let your child speak about whatever they believe is important to share. And lastly, identify or recognize their felt state as they describe an event. For example, your child may describe how he told a joke to his classmates, and you might want to say back “Wow, it must have felt good to speak up.”
It doesn’t have to be at the dinner table, in fact, it is better if at the beginning, you do that in more intimate settings, where your child feels that by sharing his world with you, he actually bonds with his parent.
Stop Trying to Win Battles.
Instead, work to provide the unmet need. What children need from infancy is three things: To be loved, to feel safe, and to be seen. When one of these is continuously being neglected or contradicted by the primary caretakers, parents grow distance from their children.
For example, many children (toddlers to preteens) show up at their parents’ bed in the middle of the night asking to sleep with their parents. After a while, we as the parents, begin a psychological war, and worse, we get annoyed that our child is trying to outsmart us. We think it is a battle and that we must have the upper hand.
There are two problems with that condition: 1. Children love competitions and challenges, so by creating one, we are turning this situation into a game. 2. We are missing the culprit. When a child comes in to the parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night, it means that he/she does not feel confident enough to sleep on their own. Their need to feel safe has been, at some point, revoked or have never been established to begin with. Therefore, the approach should be to sensitively find out what happened that created the unsafe feeling, and/or strengthen the child’s self-confident and independency. By not trying to win a battle, but rather meet our child at the basic level of their development – we are able to meet them without widening the gap.