Parenting

Parenting: Emotionally Healthy Children

Monday, December 06, 2010

How familiar does this sound: You are playing with your young child. Your phone rings, there's a knock at the door or something bubbles over on the stove. You jump up to address it and shortly your little person is pulling at your leg or somehow trying to get your attention. "Hey, don't interrupt," you say, visibly annoyed. "Can't you see Mommy/Daddy is in the middle of something?"

Of course, children need to learn their "Excuse me" and how to wait their turn. But a parenting seminar I went to recently changed my thinking on that sort of regular parental exchange. Peter Moses, a local child expert and entertainer, based his talk on a book by Dr. Gerlad Newmark, called "How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children." The key tenants are kids need to feel five things: respected, important, accepted, included and secure.

But, according to Newmark, the way most parents handle the opening example misses the mark. If you were talking to an adult and had a distraction, you'd apologize. "Excuse me, I need to grab that phone." It means a lot to a kid when you do the same thing: You show them they are important and that you respect you are breaking time with them to do something else. And it sets them up to feel accepted and included when you say,"Can I play with you again in a moment when I finish this?" In the end, that sort of exchange makes your child feel secure in himself and with you.

Peter gave some other examples that also made me think about how I interact with my child. He himself is a new father a second time after raising a group of now adult children. He is a mild mannered guy who relates well to children and thought he was pretty emotionally on tract with his kids. But he said Newmark's book made him re-evaluate things he had done with his older children and things he'd like to do differently with his new child.

He told about one adult son who also works with children. The son has a stammer. Shortly after the son took a new job, the two of them were out when a friend asked the son about his new gig. The son began to stammer. Peter jumped in. "He really likes it..." The friend put up a hand to block him from view and turned to the son. "How are you liking the new job." Peter said a light went off. He thought he was helping his son by filling the silence. But really it was a sign of disrespect that threw his son emotionally off-kilter.

"In my own parenting at times and in observing other parents and educators, there can be a general lack of respect relating to children," Peter tells me. "We are often overly controlling or do too much for our kids, which is not at all empowering. I have also seen too much yelling, interrupting and name calling. Of course, this is not the role model we would consciously choose to be."

That has really stayed with me as I deal with my toddler. It takes longer to let him do things himself, like climb the steps up to the front walk to make it to the front door. But I can tell it means the world to him to make it over the threshold himself rather than me just picking him up every time.

Newmark's teaching have even made me think differently about something increasingly a part of my life: The toddler tantrum. It's very easy to get mad at a kid in meltdown, yet again. But Peter leader said even these tough moments are a chance for helping my child develop emotionally. Feelings well known to me---fatigue, irritation, anger---are brand new to him and hit him like a storm. Even though he can't speak English yet, Peter advised, taking the time to acknowledge what might be bothering my toddler is key.

So now rather than getting cross with him, I try to reach through his flailing arms and catch his eye: " I know you're probably tired, but you need to eat dinner..." "I know you want to keep playing and you're mad about naptime, but you really need the sleep..." "I know you're it's upsetting I don't understand exactly what you want...."

No, he doesn't know what I'm saying. But I have to believe there's a different amount of compassion in my voice. And this is the habit I want, of acknowledging and honoring his feelings---even if I can't agree with what he wants.

If you are interested in learning more about Newmark and his program, he has a website www.emotionallyhealthychildren.org. I'm going to check out more of the program myself. I think it's part of living up to the Golden Rule I'll teach him when he's older, treating him, even as a little person, the way I want to be treated myself.

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