That Moment You Realize Your Children Are Their Own People
When I was a new mom, I was full of ideas of what my children might grow to be like. I spent hours staring at my babies, thinking about the intelligent, independent thinkers they would become.
As they grew older, I saw that they were smart and so curious! But they were also strong willed and often frustrating… and far more demanding than I had imagined in my immature fantasies of motherhood!
They wanted me to “play” all the time! And not interesting games, but to get down on the floor and pretend that I was a “mama cat” or a “pet store owner” to indulge their fantasies of being furry animals. They wanted to me to read to them; not just Beatrix Potter stories, but “Doctor Dan the Bandage Man” for the ten-thousandth time!
How to Respect Who They Are While Guiding Them to who they Might Become
I have learned that being a parent is less about exposing my precious little protégés to science and culture (though I still strive to do that)… but more about letting them discover the world on their own terms while encouraging them in their discoveries (however tedious those interests may be at the time).
A wonderful psychiatric nurse I used to work with had a saying, “You’ve got to meet them where they’re at.” It’s so true, whether you’re talking to your patient or your own child. If you want to connect with someone, you need to recognize where they are developmentally and emotionally and be ready to meet them there.
Sometimes this means getting down on the floor to be a mama cat, and sometimes this means appreciating the humor of poop jokes when you’re learning about the workings of the human body. It’s about being receptive to the interests of your child and joining them in their enthusiasm so you can strengthen your relationship.
Disclosure: Excuse the messy house. I was a single mom and full-time nursing student at the time, whatdoyawant?
Man Cub the Scientist (learning about the working of the circulatory and digestive systems). As a full-time nursing student when this video was made in 2011 or so, I was all about teaching my kids about the workings of the human body, and they ate it up! Man Cub’s favorite part was always the pooping.
How do you build a strong relationship with your child?
For children to grow up confident and healthy, they need to feel validated and respected. They need to believe that you value what they have to offer the world, even if it’s very different than what you might be offering.
As the parents of young children, it’s not always easy to appreciate what they are interested in or what they find funny, but it is very important if you want to build a strong relationship with your child.
Your Kids Are Trying to Connect With You Already. How Are You Responding?
John Gottman and Julie Gottman, both doctors (and, yes, they are married), coined the term “emotional bids” to describe certain transactions in relationships. While their research focuses on relationships and marriage (and what makes them or ‘breaks them’), the concept of bids translates well to parenting.
What are “bids?”
When your child turns to you with excitement to tell you about something they saw or heard, when your child asks you to look at what they are coloring, or when they tell you yet another fart joke… that is a ‘bid’ for connection.
When you turn toward your child and respond with interest, you are making a deposit in your ”emotional bank account.” These small interactions add up to build a strong relationship of mutual affection and security between you and your child.
What message do you send when you accept a bid by responding positively? Here is Dr. Gottman’s answer:
When you “turn towards” bids, the bidder hears:
“I’m interested in you.”
“I hear you.”
“I understand you (or would like to).”
“I’m on your side.”
“I’d like to help you (whether I can or not).”
“I’d like to be with you (whether I can or not).”
“I accept you (even if I don’t accept all your behavior).”
What message do you send when you respond negatively?
Conversely, if a child’s bids are often rejected – if a parent or caretaker responds with “Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?” or “That’s not funny! That was inappropriate!” they weaken the relationship, making the child feel rejected and creating a sense of insecurity.
SNIPS AND SNAILS AND PUPPYDOG TAILS – LEARNING TO APPRECIATE BURPS and farts
I was never the type of girl who burped aloud or laughed at fart jokes. I am now, thanks to my son. Those burps bring such delight to my son when he “catches” me and shares a laugh about it! You shouldn’t discount even these small interactions for what they are: your child’s “bids.”
Bids are invitations to share a moment together – they don’t have to be a big production, but they still “bond” the two of you!
One of my son’s favorite “bids” is to approach me and say, “I have something for you, Mama.”
Then I always say, “You do, Man Cub? Oh, what is it? I love surprises!” Very often, this is a hug or a kiss on the cheek. He is a very affectionate little boy.
But about one in ten times, he farts as loudly as he can and giggles hysterically! At this point, I could put on a mom voice and frown or lecture him on manners, but I don’t.
“Oh, Baby, I love it!! Thank you!” I say. Then we both laugh hysterically!
The thing is, he knows that farts are inappropriate. That what makes them funny! Reminding him of that won’t teach him much except that I don’t appreciate his sense of humor – and that I don’t care about the fact that he just sought me out during the day to find me and pull me in for a good laugh. That is what a ‘bid’ is.
“The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children.” – Dr. Gottman
A Strong Relationship Builds Respect
Man Cub knows that I’m reasonable and that while fart jokes are allowed at home, when we are out in public, I would not find such jokes amusing. And because of this close relationship, he is more motivated to respect those rules. (That being said, he does sometimes blurt out things due to his ADHD impulsivity, but he is usually receptive to a reminder and it goes over well because of our basis of goodwill.)
Creating this solid relationship also creates a foundation of trust for when I ask him to respect certain rules. I usually get good results when I say to the kids, “While we’re out for dinner tonight, we all need to be on our best behavior. We need to keep our hands in our laps, use inside voices, and use ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ This is a grown-up place with grown-up rules. If you have a question about anything, ask me privately. We can talk about everything on the drive home, okay?”
Being present with your kids is a gift.
Being responsive does not come naturally to all parents, and Adult ADHD can contribute to this problem if a parent gets hyperfocused and is unapproachable. Awareness about this can help, but it may be necessary to create specific “work hours” or set up interventions to reduce distractions so the parent can be more available.
Distracted parents and rejected bids leads to insecurity.
The problem is that when a child’s bids are rejected, the child him or herself feels rejected. Over time, this causes decreased self-esteem, insecurity, and contributes to problem behaviors that are meant to “test” a parent’s affection or caring (but can make things worse).
When a child feels distant or insecure in the relationship with a parent, it causes anxiety and resentment, and most psychologists agree that it contributes to lifelong difficulties in forming secure relationships with others.
How to Meet Your Kids “Where They’re At”
We all want to build strong relationships with our kids and we all want them to grow up confident and secure in their relationships with their parents. Luckily, this doesn’t require paying for private school or being a stay at home mother. You don’t have to be available all day every day, just make the most of the time you do have with them.
What you need to do to build a strong relationship with your kid is to “turn toward your child” by responding to their bids (and making your own bids). Give them the gift of your attention and affection.
Here are some ideas:
- Laugh with them. Pay attention to what they think is funny and why.
- When they show you something they made or found, find out why they like it.
- Ask their opinions! You’ll learn so much about how their minds work, and it will start so many interesting conversations.
- Sing songs with them. Make up some songs! Show them what you were like as a kid!
- Learn something together. Make mistakes and look silly together! (I recommend the ukulele!)
- Give your kids physical affection. Hugs and nose kisses are precious to children.
- Ask them to show you their projects. Show them how impressed you are.
- Talk to your kids what they want to be when they grown up.
- Pay attention to their hopes and fears, and be someone they can trust with their secrets.
- Listen to their favorite radio station with them and learn who the singers are, even it’s not your taste.
- Read books aloud together. Take turns choosing your favorites.
- Do a puzzle together. Talk and see where the conversation leads.
- Enlist your child’s help to cook or bake. Kids love to feel helpful.
- Do a craft projects together. Follow my Pinterest Board below for ideas!
It comes down to this: To build a strong relationship with your child, get on their level and get to know your children for who they are, rather than who you want them to be.
Give them your attention and show them you care. The rest will follow naturally.
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In Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman, PhD, psychology professor John Gottman explores the emotional relationship between parents and children. It’s not enough to simply reject an authoritarian model of parenting, Gottman says. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child is a guide to teaching children to understand and regulate their emotional world. And as acclaimed psychologist and researcher John Gottman shows, once they master this important life skill, emotionally intelligent children will enjoy increased self-confidence, greater physical health, better performance in school, and healthier social relationships.
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